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It's conscience, say Lambeth absentees

26 June 2008

by Paul Handley

Won't be going: Bishop Wallace Benn at a press briefing on Gospel and Leadership at GAFCON on Wednesday PETER FRANK

Won't be going: Bishop Wallace Benn at a press briefing on Gospel and Leadership at GAFCON on Wednesday PETER FRANK

THE Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, will not attend the Lambeth Conference, he announced this week. His decision brings the number of English bishops staying away to three.

The other two are the Area Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, and the Area Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent.

In a brief statement, Dr Nazir-Ali said: “As I said last October, my difficulty in attending the Lambeth Conference has to do with being in eucharistic fellowship with and teaching the common faith alongside those who have ordained a person to be bishop whose style of life is contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Church and of the Church down the ages. . .

“My views have not changed on this matter, and I continue to pray for both those attending and those unable to attend.”

At a press conference at GAFCON in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening, Dr Nazir-Ali said that it was not a boycott: “This is a matter of conscience. I would find it difficult to be in a eucharistic gathering around the Lord’s table with people who have, again and again, said no to the Church’s request not to do something that is contrary to the Bible and the unanimous teaching of the Church down the ages.”

He hoped that the introduction of a covenant “with teeth” would help correct the problem. He did not think that the Lambeth Conference should be scrapped. “What we need is a more effective way of working together.”

One problem was that the Lambeth Conference was only consultative. What had originally been asked for was a general synod of the whole Anglican Communion. “We now know that we need something more than moral authority.”

The impairment he felt in communion with US bishops who had consecrated Gene Robinson was not duplicated in the Church of England, he said, since the Bishops had publicly supported the statement on human sexuality and Lambeth 1998 resolution 1.10.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, said that there were also authentic Anglican bishops who had not been invited to the Lambeth Conference, i.e. those who had been consecrated to minister in other provinces. “That tells us that the Lambeth Conference is not as important as it once was.”

Dr Jensen said at an earlier press conference that the withdrawal of bishops such as those from the Sydney diocese was positive. “Our absence is helpful, because it forces the issue. Our absence is a vote, if you like, to say that this is an enormously important issue.”

Bishop Benn said in Jerusalem on Wednesday that staying away from Lambeth was “a very, very hard decision”, but “In a nutshell, I don’t feel I can pretend to have fellowship with people with whom I know there is broken fellowship, and sit down and take meat and have communion with people who are persecuting my friends in north America.”

Plea for “extreme care”. Bishops in the south-west of England wrote to the church press last week to call on participants in both GAFCON and the Lambeth Conference to take “extreme care” with their language in relation to the part that lesbian and gay people in active sexual relationships might play in church leadership.

The Bishops say that they are aware that “both at home and internationally there are recorded incidents of violence against gay and lesbian people. Though we represent different views in relation to the part that gay and lesbian people in active sexual relationships might play in church leadership, we are united in condemning such acts of violence.” They warn: “Inflammatory language in relation to this is irresponsible and could lead to the sort of violence we corporately condemn.”

The letter is signed by the Bishops of Bristol, Gloucester, Bath & Wells, Salisbury, Exeter, Swindon, Tewkesbury, Taunton, Sherborne, Plymouth, and St Germans.

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