Listening Process ready to move to next phase

Anglican Consultative Council supports renewal of cross-communion conversations
May 6, 2009

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) asked May 6 for a renewal of the Anglican Communion's process of listening to homosexual persons and those who struggle with the full inclusion of such persons in the life of the church.

A resolution passed by the ACC on the fifth day of its May 2-12 meeting here says the council "recognizes that listening is a long-term process" and is linked to the Windsor Continuation Group's call (in paragraph 26 of its final report) for "gracious restraint" from blessing same-gender relationships and the ordination and consecration as bishops of people living in such relationships.

The resolution also notes its request echoes the continuation group's call for the renewal of the Listening Process and "a real seeking of a common mind upon the issues which threaten to divide us."

The resolution came to the council after the representatives heard a progress report on the Listening Process from the Rev. Canon Phil Groves, who facilitates the effort. Aspects of the process's work thus far, including summaries of listening done in each province, are available here.

Groves told the ACC that he and his colleagues have found the need for a "biblical model for speaking to one another," as opposed to "the adversarial model of speaking" which he said "may not always reflect what is actually helpful in moving us on as a common mind, as a communion."

"We are committed to developing trust and ensuring transparency," Groves continued. "It was something that I had to work very hard on. People didn't actually trust that they were going to be quoted in the right way." He added that trust must be based on the belief that "we're not going to amend or betray the Gospel, either in its open word of welcome to all people or in its call to obedience to all people."

Groves said the process is "looking at new ways of moving forward." One effort will be to encourage the development of "theological resources, perhaps theological hubs around the world, to reflect on Scripture in the light of the traditions of that place, to reflect on the traditions of the church in the light of that place."

Groves said the results of those conversations could be published either in book form or on the internet. There will also be an effort to develop training materials for facilitating what he called "Anglican indaba processes," referring to a Zulu method of decision-making by consensus that was used during the 2008 Lambeth Conference of bishops.

Groves announced that the Listening Process has received a 2.5-year grant from the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia to run five "pilot conversations" around the communion. Each conversation would include three very different dioceses. They would focus on the mission of the communion while "not avoiding hard questions -- not only related to sexuality, but also to the authority of Scripture, faithfulness to tradition and the respect for the dignity of all," according to a written summary distributed after Groves' presentation.

Another aim of the conversations, Groves said, is not just to have bishops talk, "but to have the people of those places engage one another in conversation."

"We expect hard questions to be asked of one another," he said. "We do expect some very difficult times."

Only a few people commented on the resolution. Jerusalem and the Middle East President Bishop Mouneer Anis questioned the goals of the Listening Process, saying that "if we are to achieve better pastoral care and combating homophobia, this would be an honorable achievement because I don't think we all know how to care for people with homosexual orientation and some [people] are actually homophobic."

"Homophobia is not good and it doesn't go with our Christian love at all," he said. "We should be loving, we should be caring for homosexuals." However, Anis said that the goal cannot be toleration of homosexual.

He told the council that he knows there are "people of homosexual orientation" in his province. He said that while he was a medical doctor before becoming a bishop he edited a youth magazine and often received what he called "secret letters" from young people.

"They all the time seek help," he said. "They feel that there is something abnormal and they want to corrected, but I could not really encounter them and sit and talk with them because it's a shameful thing in our country and practicing homosexuality … is a crime."

Thus, he told the council, "it is very difficult in some provinces to have this listening."

"I don't know how I [could] listen within the province," he said, adding that he would like to see a theological conversation across provinces.

Anis also warned the council about "another dimension" to the Listening Process. He said
"several people," including at least one bishop, have told him that they do not disapprove of people with a homosexual orientation, but that they disapprove of homosexual practice because they know it is against Scripture. However, Anis said, they can't say so because their dioceses are "dependent on the donations that come from the west."

Dato Stanley Isaacs of the Church of South East Asia told the council "there's a need to consider a process of healing and reconciliation for the Episcopal Church … and we believe this cannot come about without also having a listening process for those who have been affected and are in some ways suffering" from what he called the "affirmative actions" of the Episcopal Church "on homosexuality -- on human sexuality."

He said he hoped an upcoming resolution would require the Listening Process to include a provision "for those who have been affected and are in some ways suffering" because of choices made in the Episcopal Church.

The resolution will be posted here. The ACC is the Anglican Communion's most representative decision-making body and includes bishops, clergy and laity. While it has no jurisdiction over the provinces of the communion, it makes policy, approves the Anglican Communion Office's budget and encourages the communion's members to engage together in mission and ministry.

The Anglican Communion is made up of around 77 million members in 44 regional and national churches around the globe in 164 countries.

More information about plans for the meeting is available here.

Video clips from the meeting can be found here.