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Don’t look to Lambeth Conference for power

05 October 2011


From the Revd David Vannerley

Sir, — I am sure that many will regret the view of the Global South Primates that the Instruments of Unity are dysfunctional (News, 23 September); but, before such a judgement is made, we might pause to consider what the functions of the Instruments are.

In the case of the Lambeth Conference, it is clear that from the first it has functioned in a consultative and non-coercive way. Lambeth does not legislate: that power lies with the provinces; so it is difficult to see how exactly it could have “adopted resolutions that would have helped resolve the crisis in the Communion”.

A study of the resolutions of the Conferences over the years shows that they sample the majority view of the attending bishops — and no more. Further, that view may evolve over the decades in the face of external and internal pressures, as we can see in the case of the trails of resolutions on artificial contraception, for example.

A similar process can be seen at work in the expressed views of the bishops on women’s ministry. The study of successive Conferences, which I am currently undertaking, has led me to the conclusion that any appeal to the Conference resolutions as being authoritative is ultimately doomed.

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