A working party of bishops set up by Dr Carey after the 1998 Lambeth Conference, to explore Anglican divisions over sexuality, has agreed, for the time being, to disagree on key issues. The working party has twelve members: Simon Chiwanga of Mpwapwa; Roger Herft of Newcastle; Josiah Idowu-Fearon of Kaduna; Michael Scott-Joynt of Winchester; Peter Watson, archbishop of Melbourne; Rowan Williams, archbishop of Wales; Terence Finlay of Toronto; Chilton Knudsen of Maine; John Lipscomb of Southwest Florida; Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of ECUSA; Peter Kwong, archbishop of Hong Kong; Glauco Soares de Lima, Primate of Brazil. The “international conversation” of bishops met three times under the chairmanship of the Most Revd Frank Griswold, reported that it was “not able to reach a common mind regarding a single pattern of holy living for homosexual people”; and also that “we have different perceptions of the relationship of the authority of scripture to that of reason and tradition, and contemporary experience.” But the bishops spoke warmly of the “atmosphere of confidentiality and trust” that marked their meetings.
Publicly regretting that “we have often participated in, and responded to, half-truths about others”, the bishops say that, in their conversations, they “discovered again the importance of restraining our desire to persuade the other to agree with our position”. They also stressed the importance of “interpretive charity”: imputing to colleagues and other members of the Communion “the best intentions [and] telling the better stories about them”.
Commending the Report on Human Sexuality, Dr Carey said that the point of the working party had not necessarily been to resolve disagreements, but “to deepen the dialogue”. He recognised, he said, that the report would disappoint both those who believed the practice of homosexuality to be “inherently wrong”, and also homosexuals in the Communion who felt “marginalised, misunderstood and maligned”.
Among the points the bishops agreed on was that the issue was not homosexual people, but homosexual behaviour; that homosexuality was “a more varied phenomenon than the singular noun suggested”; and that the divisions it caused were “a burden and a distraction” from other priorities.
The bishops, who were drawn, for the conversations, from all the continents, clearly valued highly the experience of face-to-face conversation in a small and trusted group. Beforehand, they agreed a “covenant” (or set of rules), among which were respectful listening, open-mindedness, an effort to learn, and keeping confidential each other’s statements.
Urging group visitations of bishops between provinces, “to enhance understanding within the Communion”, the report says: “It is important that bishops have the opportunity to better understand other positions than their own.” Throughout the Communion, difficult issues should be tackled in “ongoing structured conversations” that “engage persons at all levels within and between provinces”. As well as being a Communion, the bishops say, “we are also in the process of becoming a Communion” as they struggle with difficult questions. They value the Communion as “a gift”; and warn that “for it to be further divided by the issue of homosexual behaviour would be . . . making sexuality more powerful, or more claiming of our attention, than God.” They urge those proposing changes to the Church’s traditional teaching on human sexuality, or other significant issues, to take account of the repercussions their decisions may have on other provinces, and also any ecumenical and interfaith implications.