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ACC-17: Welby steps in after clash over sexuality

04 May 2019

ACC-17 agrees resolution brokered at the eleventh hour

ENS/Mary Frances Schjonberg

The impromptu resolution-drafting group during the tea break. The Bishop of Oklahoma, the Rt Revd Ed Konieczny, is seated to the left of Archbishop Welby

The impromptu resolution-drafting group during the tea break. The Bishop of Oklahoma, the Rt Revd Ed Konieczny, is seated to the left of Archbishop We...

A RESCUE grab by the Archbishop of Canterbury, on the last afternoon of its proceedings in Hong Kong, saved the Anglican Consultative Council as it teetered on the edge of a hole on the path towards unity.

When a pause for prayer, a short round-table discussion, and even a tea break proved ineffectual at halting a row over the listening process for those marginalised on account of their sexuality, Archbishop Welby helped to broker a replacement resolution, which passed nem. con., and led to an emotional hug between two bishops who, an hour earlier, had been strongly opposed to each other.

In a strategic move to garner support, and to justify his assuming control of the ACC’s business, Archbishop Welby apologised for mistakes he had made over invitations to the Lambeth Conference (News, 22 February).

And he committed himself, in his formal role as a focus of unity in the Communion, to ensuring that a new listening process was put in place, and, furthermore, that all discrimination across the Communion would be looked into.

The Conference, and the ongoing row over who had been not been invited — the partners of lesbian and gay bishops, as well as bishops in the breakaway Anglican networks; and those who had — LGBT bishops — were not part of the original resolution.

Resolutions at the ACC are, by and large, non-contentious, and go through merely on the basis of spoken assent, even on topics such as climate disaster, the subjugation of women, and nuclear weapons.

The resolution numbered A17.08, “Human sexuality: compiling outcomes of listening processes”, tabled by the Rt Revd Ed Konieczny, one of the members from the US-based Episcopal Church, appeared to be similar. It reaffirmed what has already been said about gender, and asked the standing committee “to gather the outcomes of the listening processes that have happened in various member Churches in order to learn from the shared experiences of persons who have been marginalised due to their human sexuality”. This was the process asked for at the 1998 Lambeth Conference in Resolution 1.10.

GAVIN DRAKE/ANGLICAN ARCHIVESGroup hug with the Rt Revd Joel Waweru (Kenya), the Rt Revd Ed Konieczny (US), and the Rt Revd Eraste Bigirimana (Burundi)

Objections first surfaced over the resolution’s preamble, which spoke of reaffirming those who had been marginalised because of their human sexuality “ . . . and that they should be fully included in the life of the Anglican Communion”.

The Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone (England) was concerned that the expression “fully included” “would be misinterpreted and misunderstood outside this room.

“There are many watching the ACC from afar this week who would, frankly, like to cause mischief amongst us. . . They will latch on to that phrase, and it will become a stick with which to beat the proceedings of the ACC. . . For others, it would imply a veiled rebuke to our Archbishop of Canterbury for not inviting all the spouses to the Lambeth Conference next year.”

He asked that the wording be amended to “are fully welcomed”.

Bishop Konieczny, having spoken to Dr Atherstone earlier, accepted the amendment, and, although several members spoke against it, it was passed on a vote by hands by 38 votes to 20, with a significant number of abstentions.

Things fell apart, however, when it came to debating the whole resolution. Kwame Asiedu-Basoah (West Africa) called it a “very funny subject” to emerge at the meeting. And he asked: “Who has marginalised who? . . . We are not sending anyone away.” In spite of all their efforts, he said, without specifying of whom he spoke, “they were not willing to speak to us.”

The Rt Revd Joel Waweru (Kenya) declared that he would not support the resolution. “What are we reaffirming?” he asked. He called the wording ambiguous and ambivalent.

There were many other people who were being marginalised in the world, he said. “We have talked about race. We have talked about ethnicity.” He suggested refocusing the resolution on general human dignity. As it stood, he said, “I feel that you are giving fodder to GAFCON”, and would cause a “a red signal” in many Provinces.

The Rt Revd Eraste Bigirimana (Burundi) complained that sexuality had continued to divide the Communion since 1998. “In the Bible, human sexuality was very clear: fornication is a sin. Homosexuality is a sin — for the Christians.”

“This case has been discussed. It is now dividing our Anglican Communion. That is why we have GAFCON [the Global Anglican Fellowship of conservative provinces] and other movements fighting against these kinds of things.”

On the other side, the Rt Revd Jane Alexander (Canada) argued that the resolution “lifted up the intent” of Lambeth 1.10. The 1998 resolution rejected homosexual practice as “incompatible with scripture”, but also committed the bishops to “listen to the experience of homosexual persons” and assure them “that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ”.

Bishop Alexander said: “We are actually saying, ‘We promised to do this as a Church, but we acknowledge that we haven’t done it.’”

She referred to other words in the preamble: “If we cannot reaffirm the dignity and respect of people as children of God, then my heart is broken — and we’ve broken our baptismal covenant. And we passed, and we spoke to, our ethos section of the ACC code of conduct, and it means we didnt mean a word.”

Clifton Nedd (West Indies) attempted to emphasise the modest nature of the resolution, which was essentially about work that had already been done, he said. Most of the work was already contained in scattered reports.

“I’m worried when I hear such intense debate on a process which, really, in my mind, seems to me to collate work that has already been done.”

But attacks on the resolution continued. Canon Anthony Eiwuley (West Africa) called for the resolution to be dropped. The Most Revd Ezekiel Kondo (Sudan) spoke of living in a Muslim-majority country. “If we pass this, and we are taking it to my country, tomorrow the Church would be closed.”

The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell (England) attempted to rescue the original motion by deleting the section that contained the welcome to those marginalised on account of their sexuality.

Church TimesVotes are counted during the sexuality debate

Bishop Konieczny responded to the plan, and the debate thus far, saying: “I am distressed. My heart is broken. My faith is challenged — that, one, we cannot even affirm our own ethos of faith and code of conduct . . . and that we want to send a message to the world that we will respect you from a distance. This is not the body of Christ in which I belong. . .

“All it says is that all people are children of God and they are welcome in this Church. That we are debating that mere, basic premise of who we are and what our faith is, is beyond my understanding at this point in time.

It’s been said that we do not marginalise. Fifty per cent of this Communion, fifty per cent of the geographical areas of the member Churches of this body, disenfranchise, incarcerate, and execute people who are different in their human sexuality. Yet we say nothing.”

He was very conscious of the differences of view, he said; he was also very committed to the unity of the Church and to finding ways forward, but “I cannot tell people that they’re not welcome.”

After a brief pause for prayer together, the chair, Maggie Swinson, agreed that the suggested amendment would destroy the spirit of the resolution, and declined to put it to a vote.

At this point, Archbishop Welby asked for ten minutes so that members could discuss and reflect on the issue. When this proved insufficient, members broke early for tea. During the break, intense conversations were going on between the Archbishop, his staff, and members of the ACC standing committee.

Finally, after more than 45 minutes, the Archbishop mounted the stage, and Ms Swinson, from the chair, announced that the meeting was going off the record.

“We’ve been here before . . . so we must not panic,” Archbishop Welby said. He spoke as the fourth instrument of unity in the Communion, a position that he usually refers to with dismissive humour. In this instance, however, he was clearly exercising his right to intervene, and spoke several times of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the third person.

He explained: “The principle is that we express our concern around the invitations to the Lambeth Conference. That concern comes in two directions: the first is that certain people were invited, and the second is that certain people were not invited — and different people are very deeply concerned by both.

“And that is my fault, and my responsibility. And it may be, at the end of time, I will understand that I got that wrong, and I will answer for, it in one respect or another, on the day of judgement.

“But where I handled it badly, which I’m sure it did, for one group or another, I want to apologise to you, because I’ve not helped the Communion in that way. . . I ask your forgiveness where we made mistakes.”

He asked the ACC members “to ask the focus of unity, because we are divided, to find a way forward and take responsibility for this area. So, there is an idea that we note, that we are concerned by the pattern of invitations to the Lambeth Conference, and we ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to make sure that there is a listening process for all people, but especially for those who have felt themselves marginalised with regard to sexuality.”

It had been proposed by the 1998 Conference, and in many areas it had not been done, he said. “I need to take that more seriously than I have done.” They were also to ask the Archbishop (i.e. himself) to look at all the work that had been done.

A second section of the replacement resolution picked up the concerns of Bishop Waweru, who was named as the proposer of the amendment. “There are many ways in which we discriminate against people, and treat them as less than fully human,” Archbishop Welby said. Besides sexuality, he listed disability, ethnicity, tribe, race, and education.

A little later, he added language: this debate was the third time during the week that he had raised concerns about the predominance of English, and the possible exclusion of people for whom English was a second or third language. During the debate, he attempted to remedy this by repeating many of his remarks in French, and persuading two other members to repeat them in Spanish and Swahili.

He pledged to look at all issues of discrimination across the Communion, and to make recommendations to the standing committee and report back to the ACC.

He concluded: “I give you my word, I promise you, that it happens, neutrally, and independently, and properly, both over the next 12 months, probably starting in September . . . and thereafter.”

The resolution in full read:


The dignity of human beings

The Anglican Consultative Council

1. notes with concern the pattern of invitations to the Lambeth Conference 2020 and requests that the Archbishop of Canterbury as a focus of unity ensures that a listening process is put in place with supportive and independent facilitation in order to hear the concerns and voices of people especially those who have felt themselves marginalized with regard to sexuality. The Archbishop of Canterbury will also be responsible for compiling all the work done in this area across the Anglican Communion since Lambeth 1998 and reporting to the Standing Committee [of the ACC] and ACC18.

2. requests the Archbishop of Canterbury to look at all issues of discrimination across the Anglican Communion and make recommendations to the Standing Committee and to report back to ACC18.”


After an indicative show of hands, the meeting resumed in formal session. In a formal vote, the new resolution was approved by 83 to 0, with 3 abstentions. At this point, Bishop Wawera moved across the room and embraced Bishop Konieczny.

At a press conference later, Bishop Wawera insisted that, “even in the midst of whatever was going on, consultations and negotiations were not one-sided”. This was very much in line their Bible studies during the week, he suggested, which had focused on the two disciples walking together on the road to Emmaus.

Dr Paul Kwong, Archbishop of Hong Kong, reported that one of the ecumenical partners in attendance had said earlier that he was very much impressed that the Anglican Church “was being very open and frank that we have problems, that we are not trying to hide, or pretend, that we have no problems”.

And Vijula Arulananthan (Sri Lanka) said that, in a matter in which so much emotion had been expressed, “to turn to God in prayer, and to talk to each other in the love of Christ was very beautiful”.

Asked at the press conference whether those who were supposed to be being listened to were right to feel objectified by the process, Archbishop Welby said that the Church needed to be aware that there were parallels with the survivors of abuse.

“The experience of same-sex-attracted people, LGBTIQ+ people, is often very, very painful, and any listening process most not deepen the pain. . . You have to just listen, sometimes, and it is unbelievably painful [for the listener], and so it should be.”

Archbishop defeated. The averting of the crisis over the Episcopal Church’s resolution was not the end of the afternoon’s business. Another resolution, proposed by Dr Atherstone, lamented “the strained and broken relationships” in the Communion, and requested that the Archbishop of Canterbury consider setting up a theological task group to “clarify the core identity and boundaries” of the Communion.

Archbishop Welby welcomed the resolution; but after Bishop Konieczny objected that the resolution had, “hidden within it, [something] which sets us up to create some other body, or somebody, to adjudicate who’s in and who’s out of the Anglican Communion”.

The resolution was judged to have been accepted by general, verbal consent, but Bishop Konieczny, supported by more than one third of the members, asked for a counted vote, and it was found to have been defeated by 43 votes to 35, with 8 abstentions.

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