Thinking Anglicans writer Tom Ambrose gives his first thoughts on the Windsor Report:
Reading the foreword to the report, I feel that a greater sense of perspective is needed. The Church has always faced controversy, and to single out the issue of the ordination of women as the only point of disagreement prior to issues about homosexuality is singularly unfortunate. The great hymn ‘The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord’ was written at a time of particularly bitter disagreement in the 19th century, when a split in the church seemed almost inevitable. The arguments of those days were more closely related to doctrine than any of the current problems.
The report acknowledges that the teaching of the church is based on scripture, tradition and reason. We cannot take these in isolation, and assume that the passages in the Bible which refer to homosexual activity can simply be quoted as being incontrovertible and uncontroversial. To do that would be to lapse into fundamentalism.
There are still Christians today who might think that looking for Noah’s Ark is a legitimate way of ‘proving’ scripture. Some attempt to demonstrate, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that the world was made in six days. Some people deny that evolution could take place. Their motivation is largely to demonstrate the inerrancy of scripture, and hence its right to be regarded as the only test for Christian belief and teaching.
The issues about creation are not trivial. They underlie all that we understand about God’s work, and hence have a bearing on issues regarding our redemption. Reading the scriptures in isolation is not enough, for insights are available to us today which were not known in biblical times.
Views on homosexuality have changed massively in recent years. When I was an undergraduate, a fellow student was sent down after being convicted of having sex with another man. Today, discrimination against homosexual people is outlawed in most European countries (though the churches have asked to opt out!)
But we are not going to assume that there will be uniformity across the globe in the way that societies regard what they may see as sexual offences. Where people can be put to death for adultery, sexual activity between people of the same sex will always be frowned upon.
In Britain, we expect people of all faiths to observe the law which says marriages must be monogamous. In other countries, it may be permitted for men to take more than one wife. Similarly, in countries where homosexual activity is frowned upon, it would not be understood if Christians campaigned for greater tolerance. The reaction would be as uncomprehending as the reaction might be here if Muslims demanded the right to polygamy.
In such a world, there is no going back on the decision to consecrate Gene Robinson in the USA, and no going forward in Uganda or Pakistan to the acceptance of gay clergy. The responses from ECUSA and from other parts of the Anglican Communion have underlined this. It would be naïve to assume that a consensus can be achieved. In all of this, the one redeeming feature may be that it accepts that there are differences of opinion which are genuinely held by Christian people.