In the Lambeth Conference of Bishops 2022, Tuesday August 2 was to have been a critical moment of reflection and decision on the divisions that have rent the fabric of the Communion asunder. Tuesday was to have been the day when the Bishops discussed ] whether to reaffirm Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998) and its teaching on the authority of scripture, creation, human sexuality, marriage and leadership in the Church. In anticipation of the one hour session given to this in the Lambeth Call for Human Dignity, we released a special appeal to you for prayer. Here is my diary for the day:
The bad news began in this morning’s press briefing when those addressing questions about the Lambeth Call on Reconciliation cited differences within the Trinity as the basis for addressing differences within the Church. Did this analogy represent a departure from the apostolic teaching settled at the Council of Chalcedon (451AD) on the nature of the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—being three persons but one God, perfectly united?
When this question was put to the panel, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Chair of the Lambeth Conference Design Group, was stumped. Bishop Tim Thornton stepped in to say that distinctions within the Trinity do not necessarily mean differences. But if this is the case, how can such “differences” within the Trinity be used to justify the holding together of mutually exclusive positions on human sexuality and marriage within the churches of the Anglican Communion? Again, his answer raised suspicion that an unorthodox theology of the Trinity is evolving through the focus on reconciliation, a theology that would be unrecognizable to classic Christian teaching.
Then came a massive contradiction. Abp. Thabo, drawing upon his experience in reconciliation in South Africa, forcefully asserted that what needs to happen in the Anglican Communion is an eye-to-eye conversation between people of different views to present their facts on a matter to reach the truth. Moments later, it was noted that the churches of Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda have not attended any Communion meetings since 2008 due to repeated violations of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 by the Episcopal Church and others. When another correspondent on Zoom asked about resolving this situation, he was told the question was out of order. As he attempted to address the fundamental underlying issue (Lambeth 1.10), he was muted. It seems that the facts, in fact, are not welcome, despite what was asserted about the nature and practice of true reconciliation within the Anglican Communion.
Realizing the outrageous contradiction made, the Lambeth Press team later allowed the questioner to ask about Lambeth 1.10 in a very brief discussion on the Call for Human Dignity. In that discussion, Bishop Thornton again asserted that Lambeth is not legislative and that all provinces are autonomous. When asked what would happen if the Global South motion to reaffirm Lambeth 1.10 was affirmed, his only comment was, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” When asked about the process regarding the discussion of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 in the Human Dignity Call, Bishop Thornton said he could not talk about what process they would observe because it was confidential.
This kind of obfuscation continued as we awaited the results of the long-anticipated discussion on the Human Dignity Call. Instead of a report on the proceedings, we received at the Press Conference an email from the Lambeth conference that included only Archbishop Justin Welby’s opening remarks. In the Human Dignity session, the bishops were given only one hour to discuss the major cause of the division within the Anglian Communion around all that Lambeth 1.10, yet most of that time was taken up by Welby’s speech. (You can read the entire statement here) No time was given for the Global South leaders to speak out on the Resolution.
In his comments, Archbishop Welby stated: “There is no attempt being made to alter the historic teaching of the vast majority of churches in the Anglican Communion. For some, this paragraph [Lambeth 1.10] will be hugely painful, agonizing emotionally, for it is felt by many to state that who they are and who they love is wrong, that they are less than fully human.” Although Welby admits that the Communion will not attempt to alter the historic teaching of most churches, he focuses on the feelings of the relative few who are offended by the teaching rather than on the teaching’s faithfulness to the scriptures. This is at odds with the statement of the Global South bishops released today that steadfastly asserts that the reaffirmation of Resolution 1.10 is not about feelings but about being faithful to the authority of scripture.
The archbishop went on to say that “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 by their entire Church and the society in which they live. 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.” (Note that he calls this “traditional” without referring to the scriptures and the mind of the Church through the centuries.) To say that questioning the teaching is unthinkable, one could ask if he is inferring that those who hold this position are not, in fact, thinking Christians but are only driven by fear.
Archbishop Welby continued: “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.” His remarks imply that it is this group that did the careful thinking, theologizing, and studying of scripture. Are all interpretations of Scripture equally valid? Not according to those in the Global South who have equally studied, interpreted, and applied the scriptures in the plain and canonical sense within their own context, often at great sacrifice.
In his remarks, the archbishop also stated that because most Anglicans affirm traditional teaching on marriage, the doctrinal faithfulness of the teaching of Lambeth 1.10 does not need to be discussed. Is this a political or a theological decision? His remarks also focus only on marriage. Lambeth 1.10 addressed the full range of sexual expression, both outside and inside marriage, including qualifications for ordained leadership within the Church. His claim that “those churches that have blessed and welcomed same-sex unions or marriage have observed careful theological reflection and a process of reception,” is simply untrue. As I and others have written elsewhere, these decisions were made unilaterally by bishops and dioceses without consulting the rest of the Anglican Communion, without being subject to a process of reception, and, for that reason, resulted in the Anglican Communion asking these churches to observe a moratorium on blessing and welcoming same-sex unions or marriages. These churches never observed those moratoria. Moreover, their processes of “reception” in North America resulted in the wrongful deposition of hundreds of clergy and bishops who now constitute the Anglican Church in North America. For the Archbishop to claim that this was a careful and godly process of reception not only ignores the facts, it is shameful.
“When we will all answer to God on the Day of Judgment,” Welby says, “we will not be able to say—and there is no vote today—but if when, at some point, if ever we make a decision on this, we will not be able to say that I voted this or that way because others told me to. Please, therefore, be present in this room or online today. Do not spend the time looking at your phone at what others outside the room are saying.” To many bishops in the Global South, this kind of comment is demeaning, as if they are unable to think for themselves. He concluded with a word about his position as a focus of unity, an Instrument of Communion: “I neither have, nor do I seek, the authority to discipline or exclude a church of the Anglican Communion. I will not do so.” But when all the primates met in 2016 to discuss violations of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 and divisions in the Communion, one of their agreements was that the Episcopal Church would not be permitted to serve on bodies for the Anglican Communion that articulated the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Anglican Communion. It was his prerogative to choose committee members who decided how the Anglican Communion would move forward, and he chose to include the primate of the Episcopal Church. Therefore, he does have authority to exclude but continues to welcome offenders into full participation.
This statement alone shows that nothing will change regarding the current divisions within the Anglican Communion. All that holds the Communion together now is the closing comment of Archbishop Welby: “As bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree despite our deep disagreement on these issues.” In other words, our Communion is based on walking together, listening, and disagreeing well, not on the clarity and authority of God’s word as it applies to every area of our life. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer would be rolling over in his grave.
But hope remains as long as the Global South stands strong.
Today, they issued their own Call in the form of a resolution reaffirming Lambeth 1.10. This process of reaffirmation continues this week and will demonstrate the number of bishops, provinces, and dioceses from which they come, and the number of Anglicans which they represent. We pray this action will confirm that, in fact, the vast majority of Anglicans in the world today uphold the authority of scripture as the basis of Anglican