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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian

Gender and Sexuality

Written by: Russell P. Dawn

A much greater controversy in Anglicanism surrounds homosexual practice. Historically, Anglicanism (and Christianity generally) has condemned homosexual practice. Indeed, the 1998 Lambeth Conference upheld the biblical principles of fidelity between a man and a woman in marriage, and abstinence for those not called to marriage. By the time of that Conference, however, some Anglicans had begun to question this stance, and ordinations of openly gay clergy were already taking place. It has been argued that the biblical principle of fidelity remains relevant, while the specific biblical moral injunctions regarding homosexuality were culturally conditioned and are no longer applicable. Thus, the Church should support "monogamous" homosexual relationships.

This and similar arguments began to carry increasing weight in North American Anglicanism, and homosexual clergy had probably been quietly tolerated for years in some dioceses. Then two separate events of great significance occurred in 2003. In one, the Diocese of New Hampshire elected the first openly gay non-celibate bishop in the Anglican Communion, V. Gene Robinson. In the other, the Diocese of New Westminster (Canada) determined to bless same-sex unions in the Church. These events were hailed as transformative by progressives both inside and outside Anglicanism. They were condemned as apostate (contrary to the faith) by conservatives, again, both inside and outside Anglicanism. They were also condemned by some as contrary to the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and therefore schismatic in nature.

The resulting conflict is causing massive divisions, and indeed the continuing unity of the Anglican Communion is in doubt. And while on the surface it is differences over sexuality that are to blame, it may be seen that underlying these differences are fundamental theological disagreements that have stemmed, in large part, from the rise of liberalism.

Study Questions:
     1.    How has Liberal Anglicanism shaped conversations about gender and sexuality?
     2.    Do women have the same opportunities for leadership within the Anglican Church as men? Explain.
     3.    What is the Anglican stance on homosexual practice?


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