Bishops Trade Barbs over Sexuality

Anglican Journal, January 1998 | Go to article overview

Bishops Trade Barbs over Sexuality


EPISCOPAL NEWS SERVICE

London

A war of words about the variety of opinions on homosexuality in the Anglican Communion heated up in November when an outspoken liberal U.S. bishop and the evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury clashed in a series of public letters.

Strong accusations were made and tempers apparently flared during a harsh exchange of letters between Bishop John Spong of Newark, N.J., and Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey after Bishop Spong sent a "white paper" on homosexuality to all of the worldwide church's leading bishops.

In the paper, Bishop Spong accused Archbishop Carey of showing "no moral credibility" and "disappointing those who expect more of his leadership role." He demanded that homosexuality be "openly and authentically" discussed at this summer's Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops and questioned Archbishop Carey's ability to lead such a discussion in an impartial manner.

Archbishop Carey immediately responded, accusing Bishop Spong of using a "hectoring and intemperate tone" and inflaming an already explosive situation as nearly 800 bishops from around the world prepare to gather in England in July for Lambeth.

Sending a copy of his response to the recipients of Bishop Spong's letter, Archbishop Carey said he fears that the entire Lambeth Conference would be jeopardized by a "showdown" on the sexuality issues. The conference is an advisory gathering which helps to set the worldwide agenda for the church.

Archbishop Carey warned Bishop Spong and the other bishops of the "divisive potential of this, not just for the communion, but for people more generally. If bishops come to Lambeth expecting a showdown on this issue, I am quite clear that there will follow a very negative and destructive conflict ..."

Bishop Spong issued his letter to the primates of the Anglican Communion on November 12 in London, outlining his "deep concern for a significant part of both our communion and the human race; namely the gay and lesbian population of our world."

His nine-page paper is partly in response to recent statements which have openly criticized the American church for progressive views on sexuality.

During the Life and Witness conference in Dallas last fall, a group of conservative African and American bishops said "it is not acceptable for a pro-gay agenda to be smuggled into the church's program or foisted upon our people - and we will not permit it."

Earlier last year, a statement issued by the Second Anglican Encounter in the South in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, chastised the Episcopal Church for "setting aside biblical teaching" by ordaining homosexuals and for considering same-sex unions. "This is totally unacceptable to us," they wrote, and Archbishop Moses Tay of Singapore later threatened to move to "expel those provinces" considering such actions.

"I am fearful that when we meet at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, we will act out of our long-standing ignorance and fears, instead of out of the Gospel imperative and thus deal one more violent blow to these victims of our traditional prejudices," Bishop Spong wrote, adding he intended to "challenge the prejudice and ignorance that I believe has been inflicted upon this Communion. …

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