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Lambeth 2022: Fire goes out of sexuality argument

02 August 2022

Neil Turner/Lambeth Conference

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba addresses the press on Tuesday evening

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba addresses the press on Tuesday evening

THE clearest sign that the argument over sexuality at this year’s Lambeth Conference has run its course was perhaps the flatness at the press conference that followed the Call on Human Dignity.

Passions seemed to have been spent, the fire gone out of the belly. The questions were predictable, mechanical rather than burning. There were no protests. Nothing to see here.

No detail has yet appeared of how the bishops responded to the Call in its final form, without revision, but there seems no doubt that the Archbishop of Canterbury managed to carry the day.

In opening remarks at the session at which the Call was discussed, Archbishop Welby said that people on both sides of the debate about sexuality were “vunerable”.

“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. For them, to question this different teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries is making the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For these churches not to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.

“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.”

The Call did not attempt to change people’s minds, he emphasised. 

It states as a fact that the vast majority of Anglicans in the large majority of provinces and dioceses do not believe that a change in teaching is right. Therefore, it is the case that the whole of Lambeth 1.10 1998 still exists. This Call does not in any way question the validity of that resolution.

“The Call states that many Provinces and I say again, I think we need to acknowledge it’s 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 or marriage, after careful theological reflection and a process of reception.”

As he had stated in a letter to bishops that day, he said: “There is no mention of sanctions, or exclusion, in 1.10 1998.”

Archbishop Welby concluded by saying that his “priority” was to be “a focus of unity”.

“Truth and unity must be held together, but Church history also says that this sometimes takes a very long time to reach a point where different teaching is rejected or received. I neither have, nor do I seek, the authority to discipline or exclude a Church of the Anglican Communion. I will not do so.  I may comment in public on occasions, but that is all. We are a Communion of Churches, not a single Church.”

Speaking at a press conference afterwards, a weary-looking Dr Thabo Makgoba, the South African Primate, said: “Let’s come together and agree that this is where we are.” To the question of what “affirming the validity” of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 meant, he said: “The Call is still an expression of where we stand.”

Gavin Drake, who is the communications director for the Anglican Communion Office, explained that the session had not been about “finding an answer to whether the Anglican Communion is [inclined] one way or another”.

A reporter from the Catholic Youth Agency of Germany, who has been paying close attention throughout the week, was genuinely nonplussed. “Was that it?” she asked me afterwards. “Was that the end of discussions? Did they stop talking about it now?” It was an opportunity for the Kent Bylines reporter to ask on Zoom when the war in Ukraine would get an airing at the Conference.

It was too early to elicit many comments from those who had been at the Calls session, but the Bishop of Maine, the Rt Revd Thomas J. Brown, described himself as having experienced elation and “a sense of deep, deep respect” for Archbishop Welby’s teaching and pastoring. (He received a standing ovation.)

Bishop Brown described it as: “Archbishop Welby telling the truth, teaching us about our polity, recognising that we don’t have to be of one mind. And yet we can come together in a spirit of respect, and a spirit of love, and especially a spirit of mission, so that we can heal the world.”

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.

“One of the bishops from South Sudan said, ‘Why are we not speaking about the fact that people are being murdered in my country right now; that last night, two members of one of my churches killed two other people? Why don’t we speak about that?”

Bishop Brown went on to reflect: “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.”

The Church in Wales was among the first to reiterate its affirmation of those in same-sex relationships. The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, said: “I recognise that many LGBT+ people have been wounded by the Church throughout history, and also by the events of the last few weeks. I wish to affirm the holiness of their mutual love in committed relationships.

“I commit to working with our friends in Christ across the Communion, to listen to their stories and understand their contexts, which vary greatly. I will never shy away from opposing discrimination and prejudice against children of God on the basis of their sexualities and gender identities.

“Together, we will proclaim Christ’s healing and hope to our broken world, and pray for the day when the Church will truly welcome, value, and affirm all the people of God. With all bishops of the Communion, I remain committed to listening and walking together despite our disagreement on this issue.”

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