More than half of Canada’s bishops have signed a statement condemning violence against homosexuals and calling for gays and lesbians to be treated with dignity and respect.
But at least two bishops who declined to sign say they did so because they feared doing so could open them to lawsuits from homosexuals denied ordination.
Bishop Steven Charleston, newly installed president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts, released the Cambridge Accord last October. He invited bishops around the world to sign on to the three points it makes.
In a telephone interview, Bishop Charleston said the catalyst for the accord was statements from the presidents in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda “with their really strong language and threats against gays and lesbians ? that were made with an appeal to the Christian faith.”
Bishop Charleston said those countries have a strong Anglican presence so it seemed important for the Anglican Communion to make a clear statement that although Christians may differ on their attitudes towards homosexuality, “that’s no sanction for the outright oppression or even incarceration of innocent men and women because of their sexuality ?
“I felt if we said this together, we could strengthen the relationship between ourselves as Christians on this subject instead of always beating each other to death over it. And at the same time we could make a witness that might protect innocent people.”
Most of the 135 or so bishops who had signed by Feb. 4 were from Canada, the United States and Britain, although a few bishops signed from South Africa, central Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia. (See www.episdivschool.org/preaching/camb_acc.html.)
“I assume it may take a while to reach some people,” Bishop Charleston said. “And in some places it may very well not reach them at all because the intention of the leadership is that they don’t respond and people don’t get it.”
Bishop Duncan Wallace of Qu’Appelle signed, calling the accord a fair and balanced statement.
“I thought it was saying we should try to remain in solidarity with all kinds of people,” he said. As for its impact, Bishop Wallace said, “my hope is that (such statements) would bring people to abandon hard hearts in any direction, and that we continue to talk.”
Bishop Tom Morgan of Saskatoon also put his name to the accord. “I don’t see how we could not be supportive of our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer persecution because of their sexual orientation ? I think there are some who feel that their signature would be misconstrued. Well, that’s too bad. If everybody had to understand why I do things, I would probably not do anything.
“It’s so much in line with what we said as a House of Bishops over and over again, so I’m entirely supportive of the initiative.”
Bishop Morgan said he believes the value of the accord will be limited, if the signatures remain limited largely to North America.
Bishop Eddie Marsh of Central Newfoundland said in a written statement that he signed “because I believe that all human beings have a right to be treated respectfully, and from the Christian perspective, to be loved. Violence is always abhorrent. My opposition to the ordination of practising homosexuals and to the blessing of same-sex unions is similarly motivated by caring.”
Bishop Tony Burton of Saskatchewan also refused to sign. “I’m entirely opposed to violence against gays, obviously,” he said. “The reason I didn’t sign the accord was because I wasn’t sure what it meant by civil rights and whether that would affect the church’s legal position in terms of ordination.”
Had the statement been worded differently, “I would have been happy to sign it,” he said, noting he relied on a ruling from the chancellor of the Diocese of the Arctic.
Bishop Chris Williams of the Arctic said he consulted his chancellor, John Bayly, because “the Diocese of the Arctic is one of the few dioceses in our church that has gone on record saying we will not ordain practising homosexuals and we will not marry same-sex couples.”
Mr. Bayly “gave me a judgment saying if I did sign it, I could possibly compromise myself if there was any future legal action over this.”
Told some Canadians were not signing for that reason, Bishop Charleston said it was the first he’d heard that argument. “It’s not a legally binding document. That’s fairly much of a stretch for me. It’s like someone really looking for any loophole in the language to say they can’t sign it.”
- That no homosexual person should ever be deprived of liberty, property or civil rights because of sexual orientation;
- That all acts of violence, oppression, and degradation against homosexual persons are wrong and cannot be sanctioned by an appeal to the Christian faith; and
- That every human being is created equal in the eyes of God and therefore deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.