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Lambeth 2022: everything you need to know about the sexuality row

by
05 August 2022

Paul Handley sums up the events that threatened to upset the Lambeth Conference

Richard Washbrooke/Lambeth Conference

Bishops during the Sunday-morning eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral. No record was made of who received communion

Bishops during the Sunday-morning eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral. No record was made of who received communion

ONLY insiders will know how close the Lambeth Conference was to coming off the rails earlier this week.

The cause, as so often in the past, was sexuality. As previously reported, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) came to Canterbury with the clear intent of forcing a public endorsement of the resolution from the 1998 Conference which has split Anglican opinion for the past 24 years: Lambeth 1.10, which defines marriage as “between a man and a woman in lifelong union” and rejects “homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture”.

The plan of the Conference organisers to invite the bishops to assent to “calls” rather than pass resolutions had backfired when it was found that an affirmation of Lambeth 1.10 had been slipped into the draft Call on Human Dignity.

The draft of the Call was amended last week, as the bishops gathered in Canterbury. But the GSFA leadership announced at a press conference last Friday, the opening day of discussions, that they would press for a reaffirmation of 1.10, press for sanctions against the Provinces that had approved same-sex marriage in defiance of it, and decline to take communion at the Conference’s opening eucharist because of the presence of bishops in same-sex unions.

“We have not taken this decision lightly,” the South Sudanese Primate, the Most Revd Justin Badi, told the press conference as chair of the GSFA. He suggested that the Anglican Communion had “for too long been driven by the views of the West” in the interests of “making it all easier” for people to choose to be part of it.

“We often feel that our voices are not listened to, or respected. . . Today, in Canterbury, we may be ‘gathered together’, but we most certainly cannot ‘walk together’ until Provinces which have gone against scripture — and the will of the consensus of the bishops — repent and return to orthodoxy. The Communion is not in a healthy condition at present, and only major surgery will put that right.”

Then, on Friday afternoon, it was announced that the Archbishop of Canterbury would meet the Primates aligned with the GSFA on Saturday evening. The meeting duly took place. Although the discussions were confidential, George Conger, a veteran journalist attached to the conservative Anglican Ink, blogged that Archbishop Welby’s office had “offered to write a letter re-affirming the Anglican Communion’s view that marriage should be between a man and a woman”. Archbishop Badi was said to have been appalled at the breach of confidence.

On Sunday, it was clear that some of the bishops remained in their seats in the cathedral during the eucharistic distribution, but there was no demonstration. Archbishop Welby acknowledged that there would be many who would feel unable to receive. These were nevertheless “beloved and valued”.

He asked: “In this moment, let us just remain in silence when they are sitting. Pray for God’s grace not just for the Anglican Communion but for the Church Universal and [for humankind].”

Later on Sunday, there was another important alteration to proceedings. Archbishop Welby announced that using electronic devices to record bishops’ response to the Lambeth “Calls” was being discontinued for the rest of the Conference.

The first news that bishops would be asked to record their individual choices — widely interpreted as voting — had come when the Lambeth Calls were published on 18 July. Initially, bishops were to be given two options: “This Call speaks for me. I add my voice to it and commit myself to take the action I can to implement it”: or “This Call requires further discernment. I commit my voice to the ongoing process.”

After widespread alarm when it was discovered that one of the draft calls included a a reaffirmation of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 from 1998 on the subject of sexuality (News, 22 July), a third option was added: “This Call does not speak for me. I do not add my voice to this Call.”

The announcement that, from that point, the sessions on the Calls would end with “a verbal indication of agreement” was met with general applause.

By Monday, it was becoming clear that the GSFA had backed away from presenting a resolution from the floor of the Conference. Instead, on Monday afternoon, it announced that “over 250 orthodox bishops signed up to receive GSFA notifications” would be invited by email to “anonymously reaffirm, and in a secure manner” their commitment to Lambeth 1.10 by means of a text that would be sent in advance to Archbishop Welby.

On Tuesday, it was made clear that the text for the bishops to affirm was the full text of Lambeth 1.10 (including the commitment to “listen to the experience of homosexual persons”) but with an added clause: “Urges that renewed steps be taken to ensure that all Provinces abide by this doctrine in their faith, order & practice.”

There was, though, a preamble from Archbishop Badi, which stated: “Anglican identity is first and foremost grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church.—

“Lambeth Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference is a test of faithfulness to this doctrinal standard, because it explicitly applies the clear and historic teaching of Scripture to matters of sexual morality. The Resolution does not take its authority from the Lambeth Conference, but from Holy Scripture.”

Asked how trustworthy the voting process would be, the GSFA announced that, to sign the resolution, bishops must submit a photograph of their official Lambeth Conference pass, and send it to a dedicated email address.

It would also “ask a well-respected person to independently verify the processes to provide independent security, giving Anglicans across the globe assurance that the reaffirmation process was recorded accurately. Records, once verified, will be destroyed.”

As these details were emerging — i.e. an unofficial vote among supportive bishops of the global South — Lambeth Palace released the text of the letter that Archbishop Welby had promised to write. In it, he acknowledges that Lambeth 1.10 “continues to be a source of pain, anxiety and contention among us”, and that this has been “very clear” during the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury.

None the less, he writes: “I wanted to write this letter to you now so that I can clarify two matters for all of us. Given the deep differences that exist within the Communion over same-sex marriage and human sexuality, I thought it important to set down what is the case.

“I write therefore to affirm that the validity of the resolution passed at the Lambeth Conference 1998, 1.10, is not in doubt and that whole resolution is still in existence. Indeed the Call on Human Dignity made clear this is the case, as the resolution is quoted from three times in the paragraph 2.3 of the Call on Human Dignity.”

“The Call states that many Provinces — and I think we need to acknowledge it is the majority — continue to affirm that same-gender marriage is not permissible. The Call also states that other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage, after careful theological reflection and a process of reception.

“In that way, the Call states the reality of life in the Communion today. There is no mention of sanctions, or exclusion, in 1.10 1998. There is much mention of pastoral care.”

Archbishop Welby contends: “To be reconciled to one another across such divides is not something we can achieve by ourselves. That is why, as we continue to reflect on 1 Peter, I pray that we turn our gaze towards Christ who alone has the power to reconcile us to God and to one another.”

A further safety valve was revealed on Monday, with the news that, during a discussion about Anglican identity, “energy and support” had been evident for an Anglican Congress held in the global South. The details of such a meeting would be discussed within the Anglican Consultative Council, and a report would be expected next year.

According to the text of the Anglican Identity Call, the congress would seek to “discern afresh the mission of God amidst a celebration of the diversity and artistry of our many cultures”.

When the discussions on the Call on Human Dignity finally came round, on Tuesday afternoon, all seemed to be much calmer. Archbishop Welby set the tone with his opening remarks.

“For the large majority of the Anglican Communion, the traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, accepted and without question, not only by bishops, but their entire Church, and the societies in which they live,” he said.

“For them, to question this teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries would make the Church a victim of derision, contempt, and even attack. For many Churches, to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.

“For a minority, we can say almost the same. They have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study, and reflection on understandings of human nature.

“So let us not treat each other lightly or carelessly. We are deeply divided. That will not end soon. We are called by Christ himself both to truth and unity.”

Afterwards, the Bishop of Maine, the Rt Revd Thomas J. Brown, who has a same-sex partner, described himself as having experienced elation and “a sense of deep, deep respect” for Archbishop Welby’s teaching and pastoring.

Brother bishops from South Sudan, the Philippines, South Africa, Zambia, and England had agreed together, he said, that “sexuality is not the most important thing.

“I think the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury referred to [Resolution 1.10] and said that it exists, allows [Global South bishops] to use that. And to go back home and to say, the Archbishop of Canterbury says that this exists, it does exist. There’s no question that it exists.

“But having it exist does not mean that, in my context, I need to go home and say that it is enforced. So I think it was very artfully phrased — not to say disingenuous, just to say honest and artful — that something can exist, but it doesn’t mean that it needs to be applied universally.”

Also on Tuesday, a statement was circulated among the bishops for signature recognising “the hurt that many LGBT+ people have historically been wounded by the Church. . . . We wish to affirm the holiness of their love wherever it is found in committed relationships.” By Wednesday, it had attracted dozens of signatures, principally from the US, Canada, Brazil, and Australia.

Asked on Wednesday morning, at a press conference at the launch of the Communion Forest, whether the Anglican Communion was “out of the woods” on the issue of same-sex marriage, Archbishop Welby took a cautious line: “It has been the history of the Anglican Communion since 1867 that when it gets out of one wood, it tends to look carefully on the map for another wood to get into.”

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, who was sitting beside Archbishop Welby, suggested that the next wood should be the Communion Forest.

“Yesterday was a good day,” Archbishop Welby admitted, but added: “I’m not popping the champagne or blowing up the balloons yet. There is a very long road to travel.”

Reporting by Pat Ashworth, Francis Martin, and Ed Thornton.

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