SAME-SEX relationships, the topic that has riven the Anglican Communion for the past two decades, is not officially on the agenda of this week’s meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in Hong Kong.
It is not a topic that can be ignored, however, not least because three Provinces — Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda — have declined to be represented here because of the involvement of Provinces with which they profoundly disagree.
At the opening press conference, on Saturday, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke again about his dilemma when issuing invitations to the Lambeth Conference next year. He has been under fire for not inviting the partners of bishops in same-sex marriages to join the rest of the spouses at next year’s gathering (News, 22 February).
There are currently two bishops in this position: the Rt Revd Mary Glasspool, Assistant Bishop of New York, and the Rt Revd Kevin Robertson, Suffragan Bishop of Toronto. Next month, they are due to be joined by a third, when the Revd Thomas Brown is consecrated Bishop of Maine.
“It is worth noting that the controversy is not only one way,” Archbishop Welby said. He had received “a considerable number of letters as well” about the fact that he had extended an invitation to bishops who were in same-sex partnerships: a change from 2008, when the Rt Revd Gene Robinson was barred from attending by the Archbishop’s predecessor.
“How we deal with people of different views, from views that are passionately, deeply against any same-sex relations through to people who believe it is a matter of justice . . . and [that] it is injustice not to accept same-sex marriage . . . whichever you’re dealing with, the first rule is: these are people.
“The most painful part, to me, of the decisions that have to be made, is that I know that, at every moment that I write a letter or make a decision, I am making a decision about people — and that there is no decision that will result in nobody getting hurt.
“If I’d decided differently on the decision about same-sex spouses — and it hurt a lot of people, by the way — I would have hurt a huge number of people elsewhere in the Communion. And there wasn’t a nice solution which I looked and thought, ‘Nah, I don’t want to do that, I’ll take the nasty solution.’ It’s not as simple as that.”
In response to a question about the importance of the topic, Archbishop Welby acknowledged that it was a pressing issue “in parts of the Anglican Communion”. Given that it was not something that the Communion could agree on, he said, “it is a very pressing issue for how we disagree well, and whether we’re capable of disagreeing well.”
Elsewhere, however, Anglicans were concerned with matters of life or death, he said. For him, “it is one of a very significant number of issues on the agenda. At times, it’s the most important, and at times, other issues shove it aside.”
The ACC was was not free to discuss what it wished, the Archbishop explained. Unlike the other instruments of the Communion, it was legally set up as an English company with charitable aims, governed by trust deeds which defined what it could and could not do. “Doctrine is not one of the issues that it does.”
That said, there was to be an unofficial consultation about the C of E’s sexuality project, Living in Love and Faith, and Archbishop Welby was making himself available for a Q&A session with members, at which the subject was almost bound to come up, he said.
Listen to editor Paul Handley preview ACC-17 on the Church Times Podcast.
Watch the opening press conference:
Hear more about ACC-17 on the Church Times Podcast