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Lambeth Conference must not be dominated by sexuality again, say Primates

31 March 2022

Anglican Communion

The Anglican Primates on the steps of Lambeth Palace this week

The Anglican Primates on the steps of Lambeth Palace this week

THE Primates of the Anglican Communion are determined that the Lambeth Conference in July should not be dominated by debates about human sexuality, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. Instead, the Conference will focus on “those things which are destroying tens and hundreds of millions of lives”.

Archbishop Welby was speaking at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, at the end of this week’s Primates’ Meeting, which took place in Lambeth Palace. Thirty-seven Primates attended, including some online. It was the first time that the Primates had gathered in person since a meeting in Jordan in January 2020, shortly before the start of the pandemic (News, 17 January 2020).

A communiqué published on Thursday expresses “lament” at the absence of three Primates “who choose to stay away” from such meetings. These were the Primates of Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda, Archbishop Welby confirmed at the press conference. The Primate of Kenya, who has also in the past expressed misgivings about the stance of other Provinces on sexuality, did attend, however. There was also no representative of Papua New Guinea, because the Province is in between Primates.

Archbishop Welby reported that there was a “steady level of informal communication” with the absent Primates, who attended other meetings, such as the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa.

Asked whether those absent had given specific reasons for not attending, Archbishop Welby said: “Not that I’m aware of. I think they we know very well that they feel, for one reason or another, that they don’t want to be in the room with those who changed their teaching on the nature of marriage and human identity.”

The Primate of Canada, Dr Linda Nicholls, who was also at the press conference, urged the absent Primates to attend the Lambeth Conference: “We miss you, and we would we would like you to be present with us, so that we can pray together, so that we can listen to one another, and so that we can hear about the concerns for mission and ministry in your context.”

The Archbishop went on to acknowledge that there were differences of opinion regarding sexuality and same-sex marriage in the Communion.

But he said: “It is certainly one of the agreed aims of the Primates — I think by everyone — that we do not have the whole Lambeth Conference spent talking about issues of human sexuality, but we look at those things which are destroying tens and hundreds of millions of lives, and will do even more around the world.

“The title of the conference is ‘God’s Church for God’s world’, and the encouragement for it is to look outwards, and to look at other issues which are deeply troubling — to the way we treat people on the edge, food, insecurity, whether it’s rising sea levels, whether it’s war, persecution, freedom of religion and belief, torture, unfair trade practices, and a million other things. Those are things which come under the heading of God’s call to the Church to speak for justice in every area, and not about human sexuality alone.”

The communiqué speaks of “turmoil” around the world, particularly “the humanitarian crisis and other catastrophic effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”. It calls for an “immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine”.

Dr Nicholls said that the war in Ukraine had raised awareness of conflicts in other parts of the world: “War raises awareness of war everywhere.”

She said, however, that Primates from other parts of the Communion had been keen to say: “Don’t forget about the conflicts that continue in this place or that place” — as well as “the plight of refugees beyond the Ukrainian refugees, which is disastrous, but a reminder that there have been refugee migrations over the last number of years due to war that are that are equally challenging to address”.

The Archbishop of Alexandria, Dr Samy Fawzy, said that, last year, between 35,000 and 40,000 refugees had come to Egypt from surrounding countries such as Yemen, Eritrea, Syria, and Somalia. Anglicans in Egypt were supporting them, he said.

The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Dr Azad Marshall, spoke of the “devastating effect” of Covid in Pakistan. The Church, he said, had led the way in educating people about matters such as social distancing, as well as helping to feed those who had lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

The communiqué also speaks of “the worsening disaster of climate change and its effects on millions of people around the world”. Archbishop Welby said that the Primates had heard from the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean that, last year in Madagascar, which is in his Province, there were, for the first time, four cyclones. “One to hit them in a year would be very unusual,” he said, and to have four in two months had caused famine and devastation, and was a clear symptoms of climate change.

He said that the fifth mark of mission — the protection of creation — would be a core theme of Lambeth 2022. Those attending the Conference would hear about the effects of climate change in different provinces; and there would also be a commitment to tree-planting and campaigning to reduce carbon emissions.

Each one of the Primates across the Communion could speak about the harm caused by climate change, Dr Nicholls said. “Last year, the forest fires that raged through British Columbia [News, 9 July 2021], followed by floods that have never been seen before, destroyed a whole town in less than ten minutes. . . So, wherever you are, whichever Primate you speak to, you can hear about the effects of climate change. And it is heart wrenching.”

The consultation on increasing from one-in-15 to five-in-17 the voting members from the Communion on the Crown Nominations Commission which chooses the next Archbishop of Canterbury was also discussed by the Primates (News, 22 January). A “large majority” were “generally supportive of the direction of travel”, the communiqué says. Archbishop Welby described the consultation as “genuine”, but said that “no decisions have been taken”.

All of the Primates at the press conference expressed enthusiasm for the forthcoming Lambeth Conference. “For us, the Lambeth Conference has already started,” Dr Fawzy said. The first phase — monthly Zoom conversations between bishops (News, 11 June 2021) — had produced “very meaningful fellowship”.

Dr Nicholls, agreed, saying that her first Conference, in 2008, had been “overwhelming”. She had been among 700 bishops, most of whom she had never met.

“This time, I will go having met bishops from around the Communion in the virtual meetings, and shared something of their contexts and their challenges, and be able to recognise faces — so that, instead of seeing strangers on the streets of the University of Kent, [I will] look across the road and say: ‘Oh, hi, we met the first conversation, or we met in the second.

“I really think that will change the tone considerably, because there will be a sense of relationship that’s already the ground and the foundation, from which the rest of the conference will build.”

Archbishop Welby noted that bishops’ spouses had also been holding similar conversations, with similar effects. Asked whether the spouses of bishops in same-sex marriages had been excluded from such conversations, he replied: “I’m not 100 per cent sure, but I think very probably.”

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