The Archbishop of Southern Africa, the Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane, has called on Southern Africa's 10 million baptized Anglicans at all levels to urgently address the issue of homosexuality and to do so in a manner that will generate mutual understanding and bring people out of their "corners of conviction."
This follows a resolution adopted at the recent Anglican synod, which noted the pastoral needs of the homosexually orientated. The synod gave thanks for the role played by gay and lesbian members within the church and urged that they be affirmed and welcomed. The bishops were asked to designate task groups to address relevant practical pastoral issues, including same sex unions. Gay and lesbian members were urged to participate in the proceedings.
It is against this backdrop that Archbishop Ndungane has circulated an eight-page discussion document on human sexuality. This is being sent to bishops, clergy, parishes, theological colleges and Anglican organisations in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and St Helena.
The document warns that, besides threatening the unity of the Anglican Communion, the matter of homosexuality is causing deep pain on both sides of the debate.
"People are hurting as they continue to feel rejected, despised, misunderstood, demonised and 'unchurched' because of their orientation and their convictions. For reasons of compassion and care for each other in the Body of Christ, we have no option but to engage and to seek better understanding."
Furthermore, the document states that others are hurting because they believe that central Gospel demands are being compromised and need to be protected, defended and witnessed to. "They believe that somehow the Faith is at stake. Our zeal for the truth of the Gospel and the leading of the Spirit constrains us."
The first step is to first find common foundations. "We are all committed to seeking God's truth and respect the authority of the Scriptures, the disagreement only emerges when we try to understand and articulate the nature of this authority. There is also common ground in our belief that human sexuality is a gift from God but that promiscuity, predatory sexual behaviour, paedophilia and pornography are sinful. We all believe in moral standards and that all humans are loved by God and that we are called to love our neighbour."
Addressing the evolving interpretation of the Scriptures the discussion document lists several examples such as slavery, the status of women, remarriage after divorce and the lending of money at interest, where the Church has come to understand God's teaching in a different way.
"This," says the Archbishop, "Is not an issue that will go away, we must not only talk to each other but be prepared to listen as well."