The perversion of Lambeth 1.10

George Conger reviews the creation of the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 and how it has now been turned on its head to promote a cause it had condemned

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt. Rev. Rachel Treweek, will preside at an “LGBTI Eucharist” on 15 Jan 2017, the diocesan chapter of Inclusive Church reports. “The Bishop of Gloucester will celebrate the Eucharist and spend time with group members,” the gay pressure group reports.

Will this be a violation of Lambeth 1.10? A plain reading of the document coupled with the original intention of the authors would say “yes”.

The presence of the Bishop of Chichester at a Brighton Gay Pride march and the Bishop of Salisbury at a similar affair, was raised in GAFCON-UK’s paper “The Church of England and Lambeth 1.10” released last week. They were cited as examples of the problematic stance of the church hierarchy on issues surrounding human sexuality — and as a violation of Lambeth 1.10.

The Bishop of Salisbury denounced GAFCON-UK’s criticism as “outrageous” and a perversion of the spirit of Lambeth 1.10. In a letter to the Church Times the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Holtam said he too had offered prayers at a Gay Pride parade, explaining: “The blessing of Gay Pride in Salisbury was a joyful celebration of a people who are part of our community and among the rich diversity of all God’s children. This is in keeping with Lambeth I.10, which calls us ‘to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals’.”

Bishop Holtam’s interpretation of Lambeth 1.10 and his advocacy for changing the church’s practices on same-sex marriage may have support among the liberal wing of the church, but it is foreign to the understanding of the authors of Lambeth 1.10, as I remember it.

At the 1998 Lambeth Conference I served in several capacities — I assisted in training the stewards; At the request of the Bishop of Monmouth, I prepared dossiers on each of the bishops in his section before the conference began; I raised the funds and compiled the conference directory on behalf of the Anglican Consultative Council; I was accredited as a reporter to the conference for the Church of England Newspaper; and I served as an aide-de-camp and general dogsbody for bishops from the developing world and in the conservative wing of the church.

I was the one who went out at night to get Chinese food; ran up to Heathrow or Gatwick to pick-up packages and people; chauffeured bishops down to the cathedral or to the train station from the university; served canapes and drinks at national dinners and private soirees; and served as a scribe for bishops who wished to submit resolutions or written statements. There was too many chiefs and not enough Indians at the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

I was the typist who transcribed the handwritten notes from the Human Sexuality subcommittee section meeting into the final document. There was an official secretary and staff, but the liberal South African in charge of the section did not engender trust amongst his traditionalist colleagues, prompting them to have their own “unofficial” support staff.

When the chairman of the section “mislaid” the committee’s resolution, which had rejected his resolution in favor of one crafted by a coalition of Australian and African bishops, and turned over to the conference secretary his recollection of the final resolution — which curiously was remarkably close to his, defeated, version — the copy on my floppy disk drive was reprinted and I was dispatched to hand it in to the Secretariat.

I had no role in the preparation of the document — possessing only the knowledge of the clerk who carries out his master’s directions.

Contrary to Bishop Holtam’s assertion, Lambeth 1.10 did not contemplate the blessing of Gay Pride parades or other activities that promoted as a moral good same-sex carnal relations. As it was explained to me by my episcopal masters, paragraph c of resolution 1.10 was crafted to make the following points: There were faithful Christians who experienced same-sex attractions. The church was called to assist these individuals and pray for their transformation.  The insertion of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit was suggested by Ugandan bishops who wanted the conference to go on record as stating the power of the Holy Spirit could help transform the disordered relations of Christians who experienced same-sex attractions.

The Bishop of Dallas, seconded by Prof. Stephen Noll, (who bears the distinction of having been one of the minds behind Lambeth 1.10 and the Jerusalem Declaration) asked the condemnation of “homophobia” be removed, as in the American context those who opposed the “gay” agenda were tarred with the brush of homophobia. In its place was substituted the awkward circumlocution “irrational fear of homosexuals”.

The paragraph concluded with a statement the church would listen to those who were struggling with their desires, noting that temptation was not the same as sin, and that all faithful Christians were loved.

Paragraph c stated: [The Conference] recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;”

Bishop Holtam’s interpretation of paragraph d in his letter to the Church Times as permitting the moral normalization of homosexual acts is disingenuous. The full clause states:

“while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;”

Pastoral ministry is to be offered in the context of rejecting homosexual practice, e.g., carnal relations, as being contrary to God’s word.

In his condemnation of the GAFCON-UK paper Bishop Holtam complains “Lambeth I.10 also contained statements about the way Provinces relate to one another. Nothing is said about GAFCON’s own repeated violations of these.”

Perhaps the bishop has confused Lambeth 1.10 with the Windsor Report. There is nothing in Lambeth 1.10 on this point and certainly nothing with which to reproach GAFCON.

The bishop offers a quotation from The Section Report, Subsection 3 Human Sexuality in support of his reading of the text. He writes:

“Lambeth I.10 also acknowledged the Bishops’ inability to come to a common mind on the scriptural, theological, historical, and scientific questions which are raised. ‘The challenge to our Church is to maintain its unity while we seek, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to discern the way of Christ for the world today with respect to human sexuality. To do so will require sacrifice, trust and charity towards one another, remembering that ultimately the identity of each person is defined by Christ’.”

The spin placed on this passage by the bishop is that his violations of Lambeth 1.10 should be applauded  — and that it is outrageous that he be brought to book by GAFCON-UK for having, as he saw it, been faithful to the spirit of the resolution.

However, the sacrifices required are from those who seek to change church teaching — not from those upholding church teaching. The statement is quite clear the strong majority were opposed to any change in the church’s teaching, and that the standard set forth in paragraph b, “in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage” be upheld.

The committee report doubled down on the point made in the resolution, writing: “The Holy Scriptures and Christian tradition teach that human sexuality is intended by God to find its rightful and full expression between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage, established by God in creation, and affirmed by our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The bishop is correct in noting the report was not unanimous. However, the mind of the committee, and subsequently of the conference was: “It appears that the opinion of the majority of bishops is not prepared to bless same sex unions or to ordain active homosexuals. Furthermore many believe that there should be a moratorium on such practices.”

The committee report closed on an inconvenient note for Bishop Holtam’s interpretation — specifically rejecting the nostrum of gay pride and other sociological constructs as being contrary to Christian anthropology.

“There can be no description of human reality, in general or in particular, outside the reality of Christ. We must be on guard, therefore, against constructing any other ground for our identities than the redeemed humanity given to use in him. Those who understand themselves as homosexuals, no more and no less than those who do not, are liable to false understandings based on personal or family histories, emotional dispositions, social settings and solidarities formed by common experiences or ambitions. Our sexual affections can no more define who we are than our class race or nationality. At the deepest ontological level, therefore, there is no such thing as “a” homosexual or “a” hetrosexual; therefore there are human beings, male and female, called to redeemed humanity in Christ, endowed with a complex variety of emotional potentialities and threatened by a complex variety of forms of alienation. [Citing: An examination of the theological Principles Affecting the Homosexual Debate, St Andrew’s Day Statement 1995.]”

I have no expectation that my memories and papers from the conference will change any minds. The futility of finding common ground amongst a body of men and a handful of women who did not share a common theology or philosophy was widely discussed in the quiet corners of Lambeth ‘98.

It was chance that brought me to work at the conference. I was pursuing a doctorate in the History of Biblical Interpretation at Oxford in 1998. Over dinner at a pub on the Woodstock Road, my bishop, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, asked me to step back from my studies and assist with the preparations at the conference.

I did not mind the distraction, for I had been working my way unhappily through Kierkegaard at the time. In the middle of a 576-page book entitled “Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments: A Mimic-Pathetic-Dialectic Composition, An Existential Contribution,” I had come across the statement: “Subjectivity is truth.”

By that point in my reading, I had come to the conclusion that “subjectivity is truth” was the guiding theme in Kierkegaard’s thought. In an early journal entry Kierkegaard wrote:

“What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. . . . [T]he crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, and to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.”

Sharing my Kierkegaardian discoveries one off evening at Lambeth with an Evangelical bishop — yes, it will come as a shock to some to learn there are thinking Anglican evangelicals — my conversation partner asked if I knew “Fear and Trembling”(1843).

I did not. I learned that in this book Kierkegaard asks whether there is such a thing as a “teleological suspension of the ethical.”

“What did that mean?”, I asked. He told me that Kierkegaard was asking if there were certain individuals whose exceptional nature or religious calling placed them beyond the claims of ordinary ethical commandments. The story of the sacrifice of Isaac illustrated this point, Kierkegaard wrote. What can one conclude about Abraham from this story?

“Either, Abraham was every minute a murderer, or we are confronted by a paradox which is higher than all mediation.”  In other words, Abraham was exempt from the moral law. It would have been permissible for him to murder Isaac.

Modern Anglicanism had absorbed this lesson, my conversation partner, said. Those who were advocating for a pastoral approach to the problem of homosexuality, where arguing that a particular class of people deserved to be exceptions to the moral law. For liberal Anglicans there were some distinctions that exempted some from the clear teaching of Scripture.

Truth was not universal in 1998. There were, in the then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold’s words, a “pluriformity” of truths. Something could be a sin in Lagos but a cause for blessing in Manhattan. In 2016 the situation has become even more clouded. What was written as a solemn condemnation of the “gay agenda” is now used to justify supporting the “gay agenda”.

However we can, of course, take comfort in William Nye’s pronouncement that Lambeth 1.10 really doesn’t matter, and that all is well anyway in the Church of England.

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