Skip over navigation
By Ralinda B. Gregor
The American Anglican Council
The next stage of the Anglican Communion's attempt to resolve its differences over theology, sexuality and the authority of scripture will involve more "listening processes," but this time those processes will be paid for by a retired Episcopal priest who advocates same-sex blessings. The money given by the Episcopal priest will be monitored by a group of sex "experts" who advocate a vision of sexual freedom and "justice" that bears little resemblance to mainstream Christian doctrine or tradition, and at least one of these "experts" believes that pornography, bestiality, and multiple sex partners are not inherently harmful or wrong. Working quietly in the background is a foundation advocating sexual and reproductive health "rights" and charting a strategy to increase the voice and influence of progressive religious groups in the public sphere.
The Listening Process, also known as the "Continuing Indaba Project," was announced last month at the Kingston, Jamaica meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council after a briefing by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Anglican Communion Office (ACO). The staff of the ACO, under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury, announced that a $1.5 million gift was given to fund this project-a gift 2-3 times the size of any previous gift received by the Anglican Communion Office for its work, and at a time when financial reports concede diminishing giving and reserves for the troubled Communion. The delegates to the Anglican Consultative Council were told that the money was coming from a grant through the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.
After subsequent questioning at press conferences, it turns out that the Satcher Institute is not the source of the $1.5 million dollars.
So where did the money come from? The Rev. Marta Weeks, a retired Episcopal priest from the diocese of Southeast Florida, has donated $1.5 million to fund the entire project through 2011. Weeks and her late husband have supported a wide variety of causes and educational institutions. As noteworthy as her gifts are, her beliefs on the issues the Anglican Communion is dealing with are even more significant. In January of 2000, she signed the Religious Declaration on Sexuality, Morality, Justice, and Healing which calls for a "sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure." This sexual ethic "applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status, or sexual orientation." It calls for "full inclusion of women and sexual minorities in congregational life, including their ordination and the blessing of same sex unions" as well as "a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment." [emphasis added]
After questions arose about the source of the funding, the ACO admitted the gift came from Weeks and issued a disclaimer from her that the funds were given without any strings attached. But subsequent contradictory and confusing statements by the ACO, Weeks and the Satcher Institute raise serious questions about the influence associated with this gift and the institution administering it.
Who is in charge?
According to the ACO, the Continuing Indaba Project will be led by the Rev. Canon Philip Groves of the ACO and the Rev. Canon Flora Winfield of Lambeth Palace. Groves is the facilitator of the "Listening Process," begun in 1998 to seek a "common mind upon the issues which threaten to divide us," according to an ACC-14 publication.
But Weeks told the American Anglican Council that she was approached and asked to fund the project by the Satcher Institute, not by the ACO or its staff. Weeks said her association with staff members of the Satcher Institute's Center of Excellence for Sexual Health (CESH) goes back to their leadership of another organization she supported, the Center for Sexuality and Religion (CSR), which merged with Satcher's CESH in 2008.
We contacted Christian Thrasher, Satcher's Director of the CESH and certified sexuality educator, to find out what role CESH will play in facilitating the Anglican Communion's Continuing Indaba Project. He insisted that CESH will not be consultants or facilitators for the project. He went on to assert that the funding had no strings attached.
However, Canon Groves told this reporter that the Satcher CESH will exercise some control of the process by monitoring project spending to ensure the funds are being used "as intended." Groves added that CESH will also conduct an ecumenical study of the project to evaluate its effectiveness and suitablity for use by other faiths and denominations.
The public attempts by leaders of the Satcher Institute to minimize their delegated role in the Anglican Communion's Listening/Continuing Indaba process are disturbing and suggest an agenda that is neither objective nor benign.
Blueprint for Changing Society's View of Sexuality and Abortion
The primary funder of the CESH, the Ford Foundation, is a wealthy independent grant-making organization devoted to progressive causes. The Ford Foundation's website lists "sexuality and reproductive health rights" as one of its core funding areas. The Ford Foundation gave Morehouse School of Medicine more than $3 million to establish and operate the CESH.
The Ford Foundation does not mince words about its hostility towards traditional biblical and religious values shaping human sexuality: "Much more dialogue is needed among 'mainstream' and progressive religious groups on sexuality issues to counter narrow interpretations and to generate attention to alternative religious perspectives on sexuality." The Ford Foundation's 2005 report, "Sexuality and Social Change: Making the Connection, Strategies for Action and Investment," also expressed concern about
"conservative and fundamentalist forces [which] use sexuality to attack progressive sectors that work on reproductive health, women's rights, girls' education and other issues. Often using religion to justify their actions, these groups see sexuality and sexual rights-particularly women's control of their own sexuality and LGBT rights-as a tremendous threat to the status quo that they want to maintain (or a former order they are seeking to restore)."
The report presents a blueprint for directing attention and funding to issues of sexuality in order to influence public policy, public opinion, and religion to adopt a more "progressive" stance on issues of sex outside marriage, homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, and abortion. This agenda is utterly contrary to Anglican Communion teaching on human sexuality as set forth in Lambeth Resolution 1.10, yet the very organization which will monitor expenditures on the Anglican Communion listening process, the CESH, is itself heavily indebted to the Ford Foundation's funding for sexuality and reproductive health rights.
Center for Sexuality and Religion Advances this Agenda
The Ford Foundation also funded work of the Center for Sexuality and Religion (CSR). Although CSR billed itself as an educational, interfaith, and interdisciplinary organization "helping communities of faith promote sexual and spiritual health and justice since 1987," its primary focus was advocacy for "sexual justice" issues.
Along with endorsing the Religious Declaration on Sexuality, Morality, Justice, and Healing, CSR also sought to promote its "progressive" view of sexuality among clergy. A 2002 report by CSR developed guidelines to assess how seminaries trained clergy to deal with issues of sexuality. Those guidelines included appreciation for diverse spiritualities and sexualities; inclusive curriculum that addresses gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or questioning persons and their issues; and openness to sexually explicit resources (including audiovisuals) for clergy instruction.
This 2002 Ford Foundation funded report, "The Case for Comprehensive Sexuality Education within Theological Formation," also described "healthy clergy" as those who affirm their own sexual (gender) orientation and that of others; "engage in sexual expression in ways that are consistently faithful, consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable, and socially responsible;" "affirm 'family' in its many configurations;" and a multitude of other characteristics without reference to traditional biblical and Christian values or the sacrament of marriage.
Clearly the CSR advocated a revisionist view of human sexuality that is incompatible with 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10.
How does the CSR pertain to the Continuing Indaba Project? The CSR closed down in 2008 and merged with the Satcher Institute CESH. Christian Thrasher, the CESH director, served on the CSR board from 2004 to 2008 and was appointed treasurer in 2007. Dr. William R. Stayton, an ordained American Baptist minister, psychologist and sexologist, is an assistant director at CESH. He served on the CSR board for 18 years prior to becoming its executive director in 2006. The Rev. Weeks served as a consultant to CSR. She told the AAC that she agreed to donate $1.5 million to Continuing Indaba based on her association with these former leaders of CSR.
It is stunning that the Anglican Communion listening process will be evaluated by CSR alumni who hope to replicate the indaba process so they can export it and their consensus facilitation services to other denominations and faiths. It is also of concern that these are the same people that will be in charge of monitoring the funds for the Continuing Indaba Project.
Help from Influential Episcopalians
The Episcopal Church was well-represented in the CSR's leadership. The Rev. Canon Charles Cesaretti, who served as the CSR executive director from 1999 (or earlier) to 2002, is a retired priest in the diocese of Bethlehem. He served at Episcopal Church headquarters in the late 1980s as Deputy for Anglican Relations and later as assistant to the rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street. The Rt. Rev. David E. Richards, a long-term CSR board member and one of the Rev. Weeks' colleagues from the diocese of Southeast Florida, served as bishop of Central America and was the former director of the office of Pastoral Ministry for the Episcopal Church. Also associated with the CSR was Neva Rae Fox, the current Episcopal Church public affairs program officer, who performed public relations work for CSR in 1999 and 2000 through her firm, the Fox Group.
Based on these associations, the American Anglican Council questions whether The Episcopal Church had any influence in facilitating the involvement of the newly merged CSR and CESH with the Continuing Indaba Project.
Pornography, sex with children, multiple partners-no limits!
An assistant director and expert in the field of human sexuality for the CESH has expressed and promoted a view of sexual freedom that knows virtually no limits.
The expert, Dr. William Stayton, an ordained American Baptist minister, served as a witness for those seeking to strike down laws against pornography on the internet. As an expert witness for the American Civil Liberties Union in ACLU v. Reno, Stayton testified in 1996 that he did not believe viewing sexually explicit videos of sexual intercourse and oral sex were harmful to children and admitted that his five year old had seen one of these videos Stayton used in his sex therapy practice.
Stayton addressed bestiality in the 2006 edition of "Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia." In his entry on eroticism, he noted that it is not unusual for some people to have erotic feelings towards animals:
"While most people do not act on these sexual feelings, some do. Generally, it occurs out of experimentation or when no human partner is available, rather than because a person is eroticized only by animals. Most researchers agree that this type of sexual experimentation is not harmful, unless the person is discovered. Then, it is the reaction of the person who discovers the sexual event that can do the most harm psychologically and emotionally, rather than the experience itself."
Regarding sexual acts with children, in his entry on "Pederasty in Ancient and Early Christian History" in the 2006 "Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia," Stayton claims that:
"There is a story in the gospels of Matthew (8:5-13) and Luke (7:1-10) that most certainly illustrates pederasty as not having a negative value in Jesus's thought... Since pederastic relationships were so common and accepted in the ancient world of Jesus, it is likely that, as the story indicates, Jesus himself had no problem with the practice of pederasty."
His conclusion is devoid of Christian morality as well:
"There seems to be nothing inherently harmful or damaging in sexual acts alone, but rather harmfulness and damage must be interpreted within the context of the way each particular behavior is seen in each culture and in terms of its long-range effects on the individual."
This reckless and unsubstantiated conclusion is far outside the mainstream of Anglican interpretation of Scripture. In fact, it is outside the mainstream of any responsible biblical scholarship. And yet this sex therapist and minister is the assistant director and sole clergy representative of the very organization that will be involved in funding conversations on theology and sexuality throughout the Anglican Communion.
Stayton is also a member of Loving More, an education and advocacy organization for polyamory (mulitiple sex partners), and is listed on their website as a "poly friendly professional" offering relational and sex therapy in Pennsylvania.
It is precisely because Stayton is a minister and represents the religious (if not Christian) perspective within the CESH that his theological and moral opinions on sexuality are especially troubling. Furthermore, he is not just a sexuality educator, researcher and therapist, he is an advocate for sexual and reproductive "freedom" and "justice" that is incompatible with the teaching of the majority of Christian churches and denominations worldwide, including Anglicanism.
The corruption of Indaba
"Indaba" is based on an African-rooted process of decision making and consensus which brings all parties together for dialogue and decision making. Indaba assumes a community of shared values and morality. No such community exists throughout the Anglican Communion in regards to human sexuality-much less the more fundamental issues of the person and nature of Jesus Christ, the meaning and authority of the Bible, and how we define ourselves as Anglicans. Within the Anglican Communion, the Continuing Indaba Project will have to start with the basics, addressing issues over the authority of Scripture, faithfulness to tradition and respect for the dignity of all people, in an effort to resolve the many differences over theology and sexuality that have effectively split the Communion.
This would in itself be a daunting task if the forum were truly objective. But is it?
The leadership of the CESH advocates a view of human sexuality that is incompatible with the stated position of Anglican bishops worldwide based on God's creation of man and woman who become one flesh in lifelong marriage. Furthermore, the sole funder of the Continuing Indaba Project does not hold to the mainstream Christian view of marriage and sexuality. Even worse, both specifically target the Church in an attempt to gain support for their views. Given these facts, how can an honest, unbiased and responsible conversation take place?
Conclusion and Questions
The alliance between the Anglican Communion Office, the Rev. Marta Weeks, and the Satcher Institute leaves many questions unanswered:
The Anglican Communion Office has the answers. The rest of the Communion is waiting and listening.