Should gays and lesbians have full membership rights within the Anglican Church? Officially, though practising gays and lesbians can serve in any role short of ordination, it doesn't work that way in every diocese, and that is prompting a larger debate: what authority do individual dioceses have to depart from national guidelines?
Those issues came up again as part of the triennial synod of the Diocese of the Arctic in May.
In his charge to synod, Bishop Chris Williams essentially stuck with national guidelines on the matter of homosexuality and ordination -- first passed by the House of Bishops in 1979 and reaffirmed with revisions in 1997 and at last year's Lambeth conference -- which allow gays and lesbians to be ordained only if they remain celibate, and forbids bishops from blessing same-sex marriages.
"In our moral life we reach out in love to our brothers and sisters of homosexual or lesbian sexual orientation. As children of God for whom Christ died, they are full members of our church. We do not feel, however, that their marriage or ordination is compatible with the Word of God," said Bishop Williams in his charge.
The response committee was not so affirming, however. In the official reply to the Bishop's charge, committee members stated, "We did have considerable difficulty with some of your statements regarding our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We agree with you that they are, along with us, those for whom Christ died. Some of us have confusion and difficulty accepting that people unrepentantly continuing these biblically sinful practices are full members of the church called into baptismal ministry. However, we do agree with you that their marriage and ordination as priests is incompatible with the Word of God."
The notion of baptismal ministry is that everyone baptized in the Anglican Church has a ministry to offer, whether that be singing in the choir, say, or welcoming new people into a congregation. The suggestion that practising gays and lesbians be barred from offering even these gifts to the church is more restrictive than national church guidelines.
The suggestion is in keeping, however, with a canon passed by the diocese in 1993, said Rev. Anne Brandly, who wrote the response on behalf of the reply committee. The canon deals with licensing for lay leaders and states, "No person shall be eligible to hold the licence of minister in the Diocese of the Arctic who while licensed or seeking licence willing engages in homosexual, lesbian or bisexual practices." The canon also lists sex outside of marriage, with a minor, with someone a minister is counselling or with an employee, as well as failure to disclose prior convictions of sexual abuse as grounds to deny a lay licence. …