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Leader comment: Bishops, can you not talk about sex, please?

29 July 2022

WELL, that could have gone better. . . The calm, carefully organised run-up to this week’s Lambeth Conference, taking advantage of the two-year delay caused by Covid to host lots of online prayer and bonding sessions, was temporarily disrupted by a re-appearance of the ghost of ’98 in the form of a draft inviting bishops to vote once again on Lambeth Resolution 1.10. The hastily produced solution — to allow bishops at the conference to vote against something — might well backfire.

There will, however, always be divisions in a faith group whose scriptures include two apparently contradictory statements: “He that is not with me is against me” (Luke 11.23) and, from Monday’s Morning Prayer reading, “He that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9.50). It is an easy game to map the two sayings on to two tendencies in Anglicanism. But there are not two tribes in Christianity: the inclusive, outward-looking “liberals” and the self-sacrificing, inward-looking “orthodox”, and the Communion must resist those who succumb to the temptation to put themselves and, more especially, others into those camps. Sexuality has been used too frequently, too carelessly, and, at times, too wickedly to caricature and demonise others. In reality, every Christian exercises degrees of tolerance and intolerance on a large range of topics, based only in part on theological understanding and mostly on upbringing, politics, character, and cultural influences. A life of faith involves examining those prejudices and biases in the light of Christ’s key instruction: to love God, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. The value of the Lambeth Conference is that it allows mature Christians from a vast range of global cultures to learn from others how universal truths might be tested against cultural particularities.

In Anglicanism, this process has a specific focus at this time, as the Communion reflects on the legacy of empire and whether relations between Provinces continue to be influenced by the cultural imposition that accompanied its founding. It is salutary that the bishops are meeting in the week that Pope Francis apologised to indigenous Canadians for the “disastrous error” of the residential schools and “the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples”.

The row about sexuality has perhaps distracted people’s attention from another proposal in the human-dignity section of the Lambeth Conference study guide: the suggested creation of an Archbishop’s Commission for Redemptive Action, which talks of Communion-wide reparations for colonialism and slavery funded by the Church Commissioners for England — which might be unwelcome news to the new bond-holders. It is a sign that there is much more to talk about — and disagree about, if the bishops are so inclined — than sexuality, which needs to be put back in the box fashioned for it by the conference organisers.

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