The 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 refers to 'homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture'.
When the bishops voted in favour of the Resolution, it was a stormy meeting. We print here two descriptions, one from Njongonkulu Ndungane, Archbishop of Cape Town, and the other from John Shelby Spong, an American bishop.
During the first two weeks of our three weeks together, Bishops spent considerable time working on particular questions. I chaired Section 1, which had the overarching theme of 'Called to Full Humanity'. Some 200 bishops opted for this Section, of whom 60 signed up to consider human sexuality. Let me tell you, these 60 spanned the broadest spectrum imaginable, from the hardest line conservatives to the most radical liberals!
Someone calculated that we devoted 800 bishop hours to this thorny subject. It was the most difficult group of the whole conference - there was huge pain and division as discussions began. But 800 bishop hours later, we had thrashed out a common position.
The result was the 11 carefully crafted paragraphs of Theme 3 of the Section 1 Report... We recommended that the Conference Resolution should not go into details, but merely accept and affirm our report, and refer it to the Provinces for discussion. The rest of the 200 Bishops of the Section agreed with this approach, recognising that it resulted from refining in a real crucible of fire.
Now this is where clumsiness prevailed. The Archbishop of Canterbury found himself under considerable pressure for there to be a fuller resolution on homosexuality. Contrary to all the usual normal procedures for handling resolutions, a draft was presented, and then debated and substantially amended in an hour-and-a-half plenary meeting, of over 600 bishops, spouses, observers, guests, and all in the full glare of the cameras.
The result was Resolution 1:10. Though it does commend the report of the subsection, the points that follow did not arise out of the long hard wrestling that we had done, and did not reflect the way that, despite such differences, we had managed to enunciate our differences in ways that allowed us to keep working together. It was as if our 800 bishop hours had never happened!
For all that resolutions are advisory and not binding, some of its clauses, those which 'reject homosexuality as incompatibly with Scripture' have taken on a life of their own. Other clauses, including those advocating continuing listening and also monitoring work in the area of human sexuality - alongside all the rest of the resolutions of the Conference - are given nothing like the same prominence!
The quotation refers to '11 carefully crafted paragraphs of Theme 3'. By comparison with the Resolution which was passed those paragraphs are a model of patient wisdom: but judge for yourself. Here they are:
Human sexuality is the gift of a loving God. It is a gift to be honoured and cherished by all people. As a means for the expression of the deepest human love and intimacy, sexuality has great power.
The Holy Scriptures and Christian tradition teach that human sexuality is intended by God to find its rightful and full expression between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage, established by God in creation, and affirmed by our Lord Jesus Christ. Holy Matrimony is, by intention and divine purpose, to be a life-long, monogamous and unconditional commitment between a woman and a man. The Lambeth Conference 1978 and 1988 both affirmed "marriage to be sacred, instituted by God and blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ."
The New Testament and Christian history identify singleness and dedicated celibacy as Christ-like ways of living. The Church needs to recognise the demands and pressures upon both single and married people. Human beings define themselves by relationships with God and other persons. Churches need to find effective ways of encouraging Christ-like living, as well as providing opportunities for the flourishing of friendship, and the building of supportive community life.
We also recognise that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ. We call upon the Church and all its members to work to end any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and to oppose homophobia.
Clearly some expressions of sexuality are inherently contrary to the Christian way and are sinful. Such unacceptable expressions of sexuality include promiscuity, prostitution, incest, pornography, paedophilia, predatory sexual behaviour, and sadomasochism (all of which may be heterosexual and homosexual), adultery, violence against women and in families, rape and female circumcision. From a Christian perspective these forms of sexual expression remain sinful in any context. We are particularly concerned about the pressures on young people to engage in sexual activity at an early age, and we urge our churches to teach the virtue of abstinence.
All human relationships need the transforming power of Christ which is available to all, and particularly when we fall short of biblical norms.
We must confess that we are not of one mind about homosexuality. Our variety of understanding encompasses:
those who believe that homosexual orientation is a disorder, but that through the grace of Christ people can be changed, although not without pain and struggle;
those who believe that relationships between people of the same gender should not include genital expression, that this is the clear teaching of the Bible and of the Church universal, and that such activity (if unrepented of) is a barrier to the Kingdom of God;
those who believe that committed homosexual relationships fall short of the biblical norm, but are to be preferred to relationships that are anonymous and transient;
those who believe that the Church should accept and support or bless monogamous covenant relationships between homosexual people and that they may be ordained.
It appears that a majority of bishops is not prepared to bless same sex unions or to ordain active homosexuals. Furthermore many believe there should be a moratorium on such practices.
We have prayed, studied and discussed these issues, and we are unable to reach a common mind on the scriptural, theological, historical, and scientific questions that are raised. There is much that we do not yet understand. We request the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council to establish a means of monitoring work done in the Communion on these issues and to share statements and resources among us.
The challenge to our Church is to maintain its unity while we seek, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to discern the way of Christ for the world today with respect to human sexuality. To do so will require sacrifice, trust, and charity towards one another, remembering that ultimately the identity of each person is defined in Christ.
There can be no description of human reality, in general or in particular, outside the reality of Christ. We must be on guard, therefore, against constructing, any other ground for our identities than the redeemed humanity given us in him. Those who understand themselves as homosexuals, no more and no less than those who do not, are liable to false understandings based on personal or family histories, emotional dispositions, social settings and solidarities formed by common experiences or ambitions. Our sexual affections can no more define who we are than can our class, race or nationality. At the deepest ontological level, therefore, there is no such thing as "an homosexual" or "an heterosexual"; there are human beings, male and female, called to redeemed humanity in Christ, endowed with a complex variety of emotional potentialities and threatened by a complex variety of forms of alienation.
This once every ten years event, convened at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was overwhelmed by a homophobic combination of First World Anglican evangelicals with Third World Bible-quoting Anglican fundamentalists, both being orchestrated by the inept leadership of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. That particular alliance possessed more zeal than wisdom. The ensuing debate at that gathering reached a level of rudeness that I have never witnessed before in church circles. It was punctuated by hisses and catcalls made when those, who opposed the predudice present in that gathering, tried to speak. George Carey violated every protocol. He sat on the stage in full view of his supporters gleefully leading the vote with his raised hand, as the amendments grew more and more severe. He then went to a microphone to say how pleased he was "that scripture had been upheld" in the vote, only to be reminded that the vote had not yet been taken! This was the first time in the three of these conferences I attended where bishops were actively lobbied in an effort fueled with American dollars, primarily from Texas. The progressive voices of the Church were so battered by their conservative opponents that for all practical purposes they withdrew from the fight.
Clatworthy & Taylor, Ed, The Windsor Report: A Liberal Response, p. x.