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Welby holds open Lambeth Conference door to conservative bishops

07 June 2022

Anglican Communion Office

Left to right: the Archbishops of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda

Left to right: the Archbishops of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has written to the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda saying that they and bishops from their Provinces are still welcome at the Lambeth Conference in July, despite repeated indications of a boycott.

In a joint statement issued last month, Archbishops Henry Ndukuba of Nigeria, Laurent Mbanda of Rwanda, and Stephen Kaziimba of Uganda reiterated their plans to be absent from the Conference, saying: “The Anglican Communion has failed to address with remorse and repentance the issues that necessitated their absence” at the last Lambeth Conference in 2008.

They described “the recognition of homosexual relations” as the main cause of contention, alongside the “underlying question” of “biblical revisionism, arising from the adoption of secular culture within the Church”.

The three are leading figures in the conservative Global Anglican Futures Network (GAFCON), which was founded in 2008 after the consecration of a gay bishop in the United States. It holds its own international gatherings every five years. The next is in Kigali, Rwanda, in April 2023.

Responding to their statement late last week, Archbishop Welby and the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, urged the stay-away Primates to reconsider. “Boycotts do not proclaim Christ,” their joint letter concluded. “Those who stay away cannot be heard, they will lose influence and the chance of shaping the future. All of us will be the poorer spiritually as a result of your absence.”

The letter also stated: “The Church of England has not in any way changed its teaching on marriage or the place of sexual relations.”

GAFCONThe last GAFCON gathering in 2018

In their turn, the three African Primates had been responding to a communiqué issued after the last Primates’ Meeting at Lambeth Palace in March, which expressed “lament” at their absence (News, 1 April). Archbishop Welby said in a press conference afterwards that the forthcoming Lambeth Conference should not be dominated by debates about human sexuality and rather focus on issues including climate change, war, freedom of religion and belief, and food supplies.

The three Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda said dismissively that the Lambeth Conference would be focusing on “peripheral matters”. The “focus on the environment should be rooted in biblical theology within an authentic salvation message and must not abandon that for any social cause.”

Archbishop Welby and Archbishop Idowu-Fearon wrote in response: “We are distressed to read that you consider matters of the environment, poverty and economic disadvantage to be ‘peripheral’. These are matters of life and death for large parts of the Communion.”

Archbishop Idowu-Fearon, who is a former Archbishop of Kaduna, a province in the Church of Nigeria, has previously described GAFCON as “not a movement of the Holy Spirit, because it is divisive”.

GAFCON first met a month before the 2008 Lambeth Conference and culminated in a doctrinal statement — “The Jerusalem Declaration” — which includes reference to “the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy”. Much attention at the time was on the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, then the only openly homosexual diocesan bishop (News, 13 March 2008). In the end, about 250 bishops answered the call for a conservative boycott, though many chose to attend both GAFCON and the Lambeth Conference.

One contentious issue surrounding the Lambeth Conference has been the presence of homosexual bishops and their spouses. In their statement last month, the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda wrote: “There are indications that homosexual ‘Bishops’ [sic] and maybe their spouses have been invited to the forthcoming Lambeth Conference.”

Archbishop Welby addressed this issue in his reply, writing that he had “not invited any same-sex spouses of bishops to the Lambeth Conference” (News, 22 April 2019). This, he wrote, had “caused a number of protests, including one from the University of Kent, which has offered accommodation to these spouses independent of the Lambeth Conference” (News, 29 March 2019).

The conference will be held between 26 July and 8 August this year, after being postponed from 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic (News, 8 July 2020).

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