Lambeth ‘Calls’, Lambeth I.10, and the nature of the Anglican Communion (2): the future

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In my previous article, I explored the place of Lambeth I.10 in the Communion, mapped how different people and provinces had responded, and explored this as the background to the present controversy about the Lambeth Calls at this conference. I now turn to look at the Call on Human Dignity in detail, the changes that were made, and the impact this might have on the Communion’s future.

Lambeth Calls: Take One

On July 18tha study document was released containing the text of 11 calls. Within this, in the call on Human Dignity, reference was made to Lambeth I.10. The introduction stated that, amongst other things, it was a call for “a reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 that upholds marriage as between a man and a woman and requires deeper work to uphold the dignity and witness of LGBTQ Anglicans” (p 31). The key section (2.3, p 32) reads: 

“Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. It is the mind of the Communion to uphold “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” (I.10, 1998). It is also the mind of the Communion that “all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998).”

This raised a number of questions, particularly for those committed to Lambeth I.10 and seeking for it to be reaffirmed:

  • Why is the reference to “same gender marriage” rather than “same sex marriage”?
  • What is meant by “the Anglican Communion as a whole” and “not permissible” given some parts of the Anglican Communion have clearly rejected this but the calls nowhere address the consequences of such actions despite the statement and decisions of the Primates in 2016 and there being a call on Anglican Identity (pp. 21-24)?
  • Is there a difference between saying that “Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states” something and saying that something from Lambeth I.10 “is the mind of the Communion”?
  • Why is only the part of the relevant clause from I.10 that refers to “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” quoted? Why not the opening that makes clear that this position is taken “in view of the teaching of Scripture” or the words that follow immediately after what is quoted – “and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”?
  • Why is the clause that 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” not referred to anywhere?
  • Why is this all discussed under “Human Dignity” rather than, say, in the call referring to discipleship?

Before these could be explored, however, those opposed to Lambeth I.10 (now dominated by “federal liberals” committed to “autonomous inclusivism”) began a major campaign, particularly through social media, to oppose any reaffirmation of it at all. Triggered it seems by a Facebook post from the Bishop of Los Angeles on July 21st, statements expressing pain and horror at the proposed call flooded in from LGBT Anglicans, pressure groups and their leaders, bishops from provinces who have rejected I.10, and a small number of Church of England bishops. Then, on July 24th, Bishop Kevin Robertson, who is a suffragan bishop in the diocese of Toronto and one of a number of bishops attending the Conference who is in a same-sex marriage, posted on Facebook that 

“as a member of the Human Dignity Call drafting group, I never agreed to this Call in its current form. At no point in our meetings did we discuss the reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 at the Conference, and it never appeared in any of the early drafts of our work together. I can confidently say that the Human Dignity Call in its current form does not represent the mind of the drafting group, and I distance myself from the reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 in the strongest possible ways. I also unequivocally reject the phrase within the Call, “It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible.” This statement is simply not true. “

This raised concerns to a new level and led to a statement from the Chair of the Lambeth Calls Subgroup on July 25th which, while offering no explanation as to the process that had produced the call, accepted bishops could reject a call (an option not originally given and now enabling a full set of traffic lights in their voting – red as well as amber or green) and stated that, having “listened carefully to the responses of bishops to Lambeth Calls: Guidance and Study Documents”, “The drafting group for the Call on Human Dignity will be making some revisions to the Call”. The following day, July 26th, a new statement and new version of the calls was released where although changes were also reported in 3 other calls the focus was inevitably on Call 2.3 in the Call on Human Dignity.

Lambeth Calls: Take Two

The new wording is significantly different from the original:

“Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998). Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.”

To summarise the changes:

  1. “It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible” has been removed.
  2. This sentence has effectively been replaced with “Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception”. Although this uses the common language of “reception” it does so in an illegitimate way because, as The Windsor Report noted, “We should note, however, that the doctrine of reception only makes sense if the proposals concern matters on which the Church has not so far made up its mind. It cannot be applied in the case of actions which are explicitly against the current teaching of the Anglican Communion as a whole, and/or of individual provinces. No province, diocese or parish has the right to introduce a novelty which goes against such teaching and excuse it on the grounds that it has simply been put forward for reception” (para 69).
  3. “It is the mind of the Communion to uphold “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” (I.10, 1998) has been removed.
  4. “It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998)” has been retained and moved higher up the call.
  5. “As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues” has been added.

This proposed new wording, replacing statements of the mind of the Communion on matters of doctrine rooted in Scripture with descriptions of a plurality of practice across Communion provinces, stands in stark contrast not only to the whole approach derived from “communion Catholicism” and the Windsor process’ rationale. It tears up and replaces the understanding reached when the Primates met for the first time under Archbishop Justin as expressed in their 2016 statement. Their account is opposed in a number of crucial ways to that found in the call:

  1. Rather than simply offering a description of the situation by stating “Many provinces..other provinces” they said, “Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage”.
  2. They were clear, echoing the language of I.10 now removed from the first draft of the call, that “The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching”.
  3. Rather than claiming there has been “careful theological reflection and a process of reception” they stated that “In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion”.
  4. Instead of simply stating “we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues” they stated a “unanimous desire to walk together” but noted that “All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion” and “Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships”.
  5. As a result, rather than doing nothing in relation to the life of the Instruments of Communion, they decided that “given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance” by “requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity”.

In what might provide significant background to some of the changes in the new draft call, the leading canon lawyer, Mark Hill, published a critique of the language of “the mind of the Communion” in the first draft of the call just before the new wording was released. In it he “seeks to expose the legal and ecclesiological illiteracy of the Call in general” by describing a significant change in the new edition of The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion to be launched at the Conference next week. What he writes of this document’s treatment of marriage, which has as far as I know has not been made public until now, is worth quoting in full and reading alongside the wording of the new call:

“Significantly, the only matter on which it was unable to find a common principle concerned the nature and definition of marriage. Accordingly, the preamble to Part VI includes the following:

“The working groups operating under the auspices of the Ecclesiastical Law Society, as part of the revision process worldwide for this second iteration of the Principles, reported significant changes in some church laws with regard to whether two persons of the same sex may marry. As a result, there are now differences between the laws of the churches of the Communion on this point. Some churches provide only for marriage between one man and one woman. Some churches also provide for marriage between people of the same sex. Mindful of this difference, and of the principle of autonomy, it has not been possible to discern a common principle of canon law on who may marry whom.”

“This is further expressed in the text of Principle 70 which declares that it was impossible to discern a common principle of canon law in this regard.”

He then concludes that…

“Since no common principle of canon law is discernible within the laws of each component Church in the Anglican Communion, no bishop, properly advised, can in conscience support a Call which purports to state that it is ‘the mind of the Anglican Communion’ that same-gender marriage is not permissible.”

It is not possible to offer a full critique of this position here but two brief, initial comments can be made. Firstly, it is interesting that the revised Call is still willing to use the language of “it is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole” with reference to one part of Lambeth I.10. This is either inconsistent with Hill’s argument (as this is not a common principle of canon law and Hill’s claim that “The bishops who attend this year’s Lambeth Conference cannot possibly make statements declaratory of the mind of the Anglican Communion. At best they can declare the majority mind of the 2022 Lambeth Conference but nothing more” presumably applied also to the bishops attending in 1998) or it means that Lambeth Conferences can state the “mind of the Anglican Communion” but their statements cease to be accurate as soon as any province acts against that mind and exercises its autonomy to revise its canons, as has been done in recent years on marriage. This latter is clearly the total opposite of the ecclesiology underpinning the whole Windsor process and the logic of the actions and rationale of the Primates in 2016.

Secondly, the argument ignores the fact that the bishops in 1998, and possibly now in 2022, do not simply speak to the Communion on the basis of common principles discerned by canon lawyers. As I.10 makes clear explicitly in two places (neither of them cited in either version of the call) they were exercising their teaching authority as bishops in relation to the witness of Scripture. In the words of Rowan Williams, in his 2007 Advent letter, part of the role of bishops gathered at Lambeth is to recognise that the Conference is intended “not [as] a canonical tribunal, but neither is it merely a general consultation. It is a meeting of the chief pastors and teachers of the Communion, seeking an authoritative common voice”. The bishops collectively at Lambeth Conferences have, in part, always exercised what the original common principles of canon law described in these words: “The bishop must teach, uphold and safeguard the faith and doctrine of the church” (Principle 37.4). In the words of the proposed Covenant, the Conference “expresses episcopal collegiality worldwide, and brings together the bishops for common worship, counsel, consultation and encouragement in their ministry of guarding the faith and unity of the Communion and equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4.12) and mission” (3.1.4, italics added). While lacking legal authority in provinces, such teaching by the bishops gathered at Lambeth has been recognised to have significant moral authority in Anglican ecclesiology. Certainly in relation to the nature of marriage which is not simply a technical legal matter but “a matter of doctrine” it arguably has at least as much right to be viewed as representing “the mind of the Anglican Communion” (one might, learning from the 2003 Emergency Primates Statement more accurately say “as a body” rather than “as a whole”) as any judgments reached by a comparative study of provinces’ canons.

The New Call and Mapping The Communion

Alongside these changes to this Call it is also important, in locating where it seems we now are as a Communion in relation to the mapping set out earlier, to note aspects of two other calls. 

Firstly, there is the shift in emphasis within the Anglican Identity call. The Covenant expressed our Anglican ecclesiology by speaking clearly (3.1.2) of “living ‘in communion with autonomy and accountability’” and being “enabled to be conformed together to the mind of Christ” as churches “bound together ‘not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference” and of the other instruments of Communion”. This was understood to entail a commitment on the part of each member church of the Communion “to have regard for the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its authority” (3.2.1) and “to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission” (3.2.5). Little or nothing of this is clearly spelt out in the Call on Anglican Identity which only says “Each Province of the Anglican Communion is autonomous and called to live interdependently. Four Instruments of Communion exist and express Anglican interdependence”. It offers no discussion of recent difficulties or of the ecclesiology which shaped Windsor and the Covenant, simply claiming that the Anglican tradition “seeks faithfulness to God in richly diverse cultures, distinct human experiences, and deep disagreements”. This shift is perhaps why the new draft simply approves a plurality of contradictory beliefs and practices between provinces arising from disregard for the Communion’s common good and may also be an underlying factor in the whole move from resolutions to calls (as I discussed when this innovation was announced).

Secondly, the change between the first and second draft of the call on Human Dignity appears to reflect the Archbishop’s particular understanding of, and approach to, reconciliation which shapes the call on this subject. Detailed analysis and critique is not possible (Martin Davie has recently critically reviewed Archbishop Justin’s book and offers some comments in his evaluation of the initial draft of the calls) but two aspects are, I think, important. Firstly, the opening declaration (2.1) here begins with the astonishing statement that “We believe in God who is both three and one, who holds difference and unity in the heart of God’s being, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and then connects this to ecclesiology by claiming “Our differences embodied in the Anglican Communion both challenge and deepen our experience of God in the other. As we join in God’s mission of reconciliation through Jesus and in the power of the Spirit, our differences are celebrated and redeemed, as we are made whole in the body of Christ. In that diverse whole, we more fully reflect the image of God”. The theological statement represents a serious, arguably heretical, error in relation to the doctrine of God while the ecclesiological application of this seems to make difference and diversity central without drawing any distinction between types of difference, particularly the difference between truth and error. This may help explain the new “Many…Other…” and “walking together…despite our deep disagreement” wordings in the Human Dignity call in relation to sexuality. Secondly, there is a call here for “the Archbishop of Canterbury and/or the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion to begin a new conversation with the Churches of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda seeking a full life together as an Anglican family of churches”. There is the question as to why these provinces are seen as the cause of the problem with no reference to those whose behaviour has meant they were in 2016 judged unable to participate in “a full life together” in the Communion. There can also be little doubt that the changes in relation to Lambeth I.10 and the lack of clarity as to what it means to have “a full life together as an Anglican family of churches” will simply confirm these churches in their analysis of the Communion’s failings and strengthen their resolve not to participate in the Instruments. The changes could well push many other provinces within GAFCON and the Global South to take a similar stance rather than continuing to be involved in the Instruments despite their deep concerns about the Communion’s direction.

Read it all in Psephizo