There are examples of exceptions to the Church’s moral teaching made for pastoral reasons. The African adaptation of the teaching on marriage so as to be able to incorporate polygamists and their wives is a good example. This exception also allows African Anglicans to teach the classic doctrine that marriage is for one man, one woman. One could object that allowing polygamists into the church””at whatever level””is de facto an approval of adultery. That in fact was the initial objection, and on the face of it, polygamy (or polyandry, or its contemporary expression in the West, polyamory), is adulterous in nature. However, the overriding concerns of justice for the wives and children, and mercy for the polygamist, allow the exception to be made. From the biblical perspective, some evidence is found to allow polygamy, as the Mormons will tell you, even though the prophets and the church of the New Testament did not accept it. This ambiguity also gives the exception some sort of biblical backing.
On this basis an exception can be made, and it is clear that Anglicans everywhere now accept it. That the Lambeth Conference came into being to advise on the case of Bishop Colenso, deposed for, among other things, advocating this exception, is proof that this process of approval is by no means automatic or rapid.
However, while a province may make such exceptions, there are limits. Polygamists are not allowed to add more wives, for instance. In particular, when one makes a pastoral exception for a certain group of people, ordaining them to the ministry, and especially the episcopate, is unacceptable. It must be pointed out, however, that the first consecrations of bishops of color were justified as pastoral exceptions made for the sake of mission””while sinfully continuing to deny the equality of those first bishops with others, since they were themselves part of an “inferior race.”
The churches that are dealing with the open presence of gay people in their midst are developing strategies to reach out to them. This Conference recognized that this development in these churches is not the fruit of doctrinal drift or abandonment of the faith. They are trying to create ways of incorporating gay people as part of their mission. As the Lambeth Indaba document states (para. 22), the church exists as the instrument of God’s mission””God is doing the sending, and the church is the extension into humanity of that mission. Furthermore, successive Lambeth Conferences have affirmed for thirty years that gay people are worthy to be received into the church, equally beloved with the rest of us by God.
As those churches trying to accomplish this mission in their context wrestle with the appropriate missional approach to and with gay people, they are trying to discern whether a pastoral exception is called for, as with polygamy, or whether in fact homosexuality can be fully accepted as part of living a holy Christian life for those who are so oriented. As Bishop Gene Robinson has pointed out a number of times, there is still significant indecision in the American context itself.
But I think Bishop Wright put the question squarely: can homosexual practice be validated as an acceptable way of life for those whose sexuality orients them toward it? The answer will clearly outline the shape of evangelism and mission to gays and lesbians, as well as pastoral and ascetical practice with gay people.
Read it all.