The issue of homosexuality is not a top priority for the world, the Anglican Consultative Council was told at its meeting in Panama today, 17 October 1996. Poverty, peace and reconciliation come much higher up the agenda, delegates pointed out.
Reviewing the various debates around the Anglican Communion, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, asserted that homosexuality was only one of a range of concerns under the general heading of human sexuality; the rejection, by many, of the traditional family unit, polygamy, pre-marital sex, divorce and others. The Bishop also recognised that for some Churches, homosexuality was simply not an issue, while for others, like the United States and Canada, it remained the most persistent nad potentially divisive issue facing their provinces.
On behalf of such Churches, the Bishop asked for the understanding of others, as well as their insights. "Although the issue of homosexuality is a pressing one for only a minority of Anglican Churches," he said "it does raise general questions of concern to all. For example, the relationship of Christian truth to the customs and way of life of the surrounding culture. This is a question whether the subject is polygamy or homosexuality."
Members of the Council appreciated Bishop Richard's review of the present thinking on the origin of the homosexual condition, how the Bible is being variously interpreted on the subject and the context within which the Church faces the issue. The increasing willingness of gay and lesbian Christians to identify themselves as such was leading to a change in society's response, he said.
"The public/private distinction may therefore become the same as it is for heterosexuals. If we know that a person is heterosexual in public, that leaves open the question about how they express their heterosexuality, whether they are chaste, promiscuous or engaged in a long-term relationship. Similarly, if we live in a society now where people are openly gay or lesbian, then the question of how they express their sexuality will belong to the private sphere."
Responding to the Bishop of Oxford, and the lively debate, the Rt Rev Simon Chiwanga, from Tanzania, the newly-elected Chairman of the ACC, said that all members of the Anglican Communion "must be attentive to each other, each others Churches and each others concerns." He said it was to everyone's advantage to keep up to date on the debate in those countries where it was an issue, and for those where it was not an issue, to keep what was learnt "for a rainy day". One delegate stated that the discussion reminded him of debates in past years on racism and the role of women in the Church.