Church Leaders Discuss Human Sexuality

The Challenge

The Anglican Communion is an international Protestant denomination. Every ten years, leaders within the Anglican Communion gather at Lambeth Palace in England to worship, study together, and recommend policy. Although tensions over the Communion's diverse perspectives and responses to homosexuality had been building for many years, they crystallized at the Lambeth meeting of 1998. Many left the meeting feeling outraged or wounded and deeply unhappy in relation to this challenging issue. The Archbishop convened the dialogue group to try a new way of engaging to enhance mutual understanding and constructive communication in the face of profound disagreement.

The Action

Over the course of three years, Public Conversations worked with a diverse group of the religion's primates—the chief clerical authorities of a country—and bishops, those responsible for a region within their country. Coming from across the five continents, each participant had publicly espoused deeply held, differing viewpoints about human sexuality and the church—especially the hot button issues of ordination of non-celibate lesbian or gay persons and the blessing of same-sex unions. They were invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to join a dialogue.

The Shift

Public Conversations worked with the group’s chair, The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, then-Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of the United States, to plan a four-day retreat that PCP facilitated at the Holy Cross Monastery in the Hudson River Valley in 1999. With some variation in membership, this group continued the conversation in Alton, England, in 2000 and in Parrish, FL, in 2001. A final report with recommendations to the Anglican Communion was written by the group and has been published in a pamphlet, “International Anglican Conversations on Human Sexuality,” that includes introductions by the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold and The Most Rev. George Carey, then-Archbishop of Canterbury.

Practitioner perspective

Based on their experience with preparation, shared agreements and face-to-face communication in the retreats, the Bishops and Archbishops joined in recommending a different, more dialogic way of engaging conflict across the world-wide Anglican Communion.

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While our differences remain, the relationships between us have been strengthened and deepened. We have gained in mutual respect, affection, and appreciation of one another as followers of Jesus and fellow-bishops.

Anglican Community & Human Sexuality retreat participant

There should be opportunities throughout the [Anglican] Communion for ongoing structured conversations regarding difficult issues. These should engage persons at all levels within and between Provinces and should be guided by agreed covenants similar to those that have assisted our conversations.

Anglican Community & Human Sexuality retreat participant

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