The Church of England on Tuesday urged a full debate on the issue of homosexuality, publishing a guide designed to foster unbiased communication on the contentious issue. The report, "Some Issues in Human Sexuality," said that homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual people should be treated with compassion, but it stopped short of recommending any new policy for the church. The guide was designed to be used by study groups at local parishes as well as at higher levels.
Published by the Church of England House of Bishops, it comes just two days after the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire. His elevation by the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, has threatened to split the 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion. "Recent events have highlighted the need for such a guide, and the House of
Bishops believe it has become timely to publish this study guide now to help Christian people think through different aspects of gay, lesbian, and transsexual relationships," the Reverend Richard Harries, bishop of Oxford, said in London on Tuesday.
The report, compiled by Harries and three other bishops after several years of research and consultation, said the divisive debate on sexuality will not go away and that Christians must remember that "real people really do have homosexual and bisexual desires." Referring to homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual people, it said, "It is likely that they will have encountered misunderstandings or hostility from members of the Christian Church in the past, and, if the Christian gospel is to be meaningful to them, it will need to be incarnated in terms of Christ's love.
"If this is in the context of pastoral care, then that must offer them understanding, support, and unconditional love as they seek to meet the challenges to Christian discipleship that their particular form of sexuality raises," it added.
The guide also questions the "unhealthy obsession" with sexual sin and asks Christians to explore whether this is preventing them from focusing on other forms of sin, such as commercial greed, poverty, and inequalities of wealth.
But Harries stressed that the document does not seek to change a 1991 statement by the House of Bishops, which essentially forms the current Church of England policy that heterosexual marriage is the proper context for sexual activity. That statement also said that gay people in long-term relationships should not be excluded from the fellowship of the Christian church but that gay clergy should remain celibate.