Resolving issues around human sexuality within the Anglican Communion is like threading a needle – and there is no one solution in sight at present, the secretary general of the Communion has told the Church of England Synod.
Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon said the disagreements and struggles facing the Church of England were not unique to it but could not easily be resolved in some institutional or structural fashion.
“We are not up to the task of resolving them faithfully right now,” he said.
Archbishop Josiah said the “dispiriting and destructive dynamic” of the conflict over human sexuality was divisive between provinces of the Communion as well as within them. He said the differences could impede their common mission to the world. And he suggested the time might be right to set aside difficult matters.
“It may mean self-restraint of a sacrificial kind, for now. It may mean patience of a painful kind, for now,” he said.
The secretary general was addressing Synod in London the day after it rejected a report from the House of Bishops on marriage and sexuality. He told the meeting he knew the issue of same-sex marriage was highly emotive and any decision they took would leave some disappointed and wounded.
He said that in his home nation of Nigeria the single most pressing issue around human sexuality was the criminalisation of homosexuality.
“The struggle for the legal, social, spiritual and physical safety of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is our issue in Nigeria and other places in Africa,” he said. “The prophetic task for African Anglicans is to denounce violence... that (is) supported by members of our communities and leadership. This is about changing attitudes and we need the space to do this work on our own.”
Reflecting on Wednesday’s vote he added: “I pray that your decision may be received in such a way by the provinces of the Anglican Communion that will help our equally vital agenda to change attitudes that will make people safe.”
Turning his attention to other issues, Archbishop Josiah said the Church of England was seen as the ‘elder sister church’ within the worldwide Communion. And he paid tribute to the Archbishop of Canterbury for his ‘sacrificial and costly’ ministry and for being a focus of unity and common concern in the Anglican Communion.
“His ministry, with you, in the service of the Anglican Communion expresses most powerfully what it means to be the ‘elder sister church’.”
The secretary general said the Communion that the Church of England had shaped was vigorous and robust in fulfilling the apostolic mandate given by Jesus to make disciples of all the nations.
“Within the Anglican Communion the gospel is being proclaimed by church after church, in nation after nation,” he said. “The Body of Christ is growing, if not everywhere, at least widely. There is much effective evangelism, mission and discipleship. Scriptures are being translated and read. Schools are being built and children taught to find a path to a steadier life in this topsy-turvy system of not-very-benign economics and politics.”
The Archbishop praised the Church of England for its leadership role globally. He said the Church was giving necessary, effective and beautiful gifts to the wider Communion and had taken the lead in innovative methods of evangelism. He said the Church had a prescriptive vocation – and issued a challenge:
“Take your gifts and make them the centre of your local energies,” he said. “Nurture these gifts, share them among yourselves, share them around the world, share them with your entire sister churches of the Anglican Communion – not as a favour, but as the very source of your own life.”