Brazilian Anglicans’ ‘yes’ to marrying same-sex couples

By Savi Hensman
June 3, 2018

The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil has decided to open up church marriage to same-sex couples. On 1 June 2018 its synod voted by a huge majority – 57 in favour, three against and two abstentions – to amend the rules (canons) on who could marry.

“I felt the decision was a result of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work. This widens our boundaries, allowing us to be more welcoming to the diversity of people in our country”, said the Primate (most senior bishop), Francisco de Assis da Silva.

This follows decades of discussion on sexuality, with more intensive debate in recent years. A handful of churches in the Anglican Communion (and certain other denominations) already allow clergy to marry same-sex couples, though Brazil is the first in the South to say ‘yes’.

Heavily influenced by liberation theology, the church has long taken an interest in a range of issues related to justice, including on inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. As a result it has been targeted by those strongly opposed to a more affirming stance and faced threats of a split.

In 2004 the former bishop of Recife, Robinson Cavalcanti, broke away from the church. The following year the primate of another province, the Southern Cone, claimed to be in control of that diocese, though Anglican tradition forbids ‘border-crossing’.

Attempts at reconciliation by Brazilian church leaders were rebuffed by the rebels. By 2008 these were backed by the hardline international faction Gafcon. It declared, “We thank God for the courageous actions of those Primates and provinces who have offered orthodox oversight to churches under false leadership, especially in North and South America.”

These efforts intensified as support for greater inclusion grew. In May 2018, a bishop in the breakaway group was ordained primate of the ‘Anglican Church in Brazil’. Similar schismatic churches (not part of the Communion) have been created to undermine other provinces moving towards greater inclusion.

The theological basis for the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil’s historic decision is perhaps reflected in a talk at a Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion conference, held in Recife in 2017. The speaker, Professor Paulo Ueti, is a theological advisor and the Latin American facilitator of the Anglican Alliance.

“In Latin America (and particularly Brazil where I live most of the time) one cannot speak the words 'movement' (mission) and 'resilience' without imagining (i.e., bringing memory into aesthetics) the reality of social movements such as the Landless Rural Workers Movement, my place of activism; the homeless movement; the movement for public health; struggles for democracy, to guarantee fundamental rights, currently jeopardised; movements against religious and cultural intolerances, against homophobic, sexist, totalitarian and ethnocentric thinking which generate exclusions, violence and death”, he said.

“The word was made flesh and camped among us. And not only by becoming human, but becoming vulnerable, poor, marginalised. This way of approaching the theology of incarnation has been a strong inspiration for Latin America to remain faithful to the God’s request and desire of justice, mobilisation, movement, transgression for life and unconditional love (see Is 58; Ho 1-3;11; Jr 9:10-11; Mt 18:15-21; Jn 12:1-9). The vulnerable and dependent body is a figure of Jesus Christ resurrected (see 1 Cor 12 and Rm 12).

“The spirit of justice of the God of Life and Deliverance, which sees and causes to see and engages himself (Ex 3:7-10) cannot be silenced. If we are the image and likeness of God and if we are born of Him, we must do the same thing that He did, does, and will continue to do.”

Attentiveness to the experiences and struggles of those pushed to the margins, as well as faithfulness to the God to whom the Bible witnesses, can lead churches on journeys which are not always comfortable. There may be strong opposition, even divisions, which may take time to heal.

Yet for many – not only Anglicans and far beyond Brazil – this move will be seen as truly good news.

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion. She wrote on ‘Health or Wealth?’ in Feast or Famine? (http://dltbooks.com/titles/2195-9780232532616-feast-or-famine)

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