Justin Welby Archishop of Canterbury officiating during the service as Bishops, their spouses and invited guests attend the Opening Service at Canterbury Cathedral during the 2022 Lambeth in the United Kingdom. Photo: Neil Turner for The Lambeth Conference. Sunday 31st July 2022

Recently the once-popular TV soap opera Neighbours came to an end after 37 years on the air.

Media website Digital Spy reported that ‘the finale was an emotional one,’ as the once-compelling story of community bickering, clashes and attempts at neighbourliness finally shuffled off into its grave. Which, for some inexplicable reason, brings to mind the Anglican Communion.

As most readers will be aware, bishops from around the world have been meeting for an event known as ‘Lambeth 2022’. It’s a gathering that happens every 10 years or thereabouts. So how has it gone? Has it been – like the recent Neighbours finale – a last hurrah? Or is it – like Love Island – going to somehow keep going despite widespread incredulity that such a thing should even exist in the 21st century? There is, I think, both bad news and good news.

Firstly, at least from what I can see, it was a bad week for Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Poor man – he has the most impossible job, of course, and struggles with depression, which is a monster. We can all recognise the enormous pressure he must feel, and he seems, whatever else might be said, a sincere and well-meaning man who loves the Lord for sure. Some people I trust heard him speak locally not so long ago and said he was excellent.

But he seems to have lost the plot on sexuality. How else to explain his assertion, in the context of different Anglican churches holding diametrically opposing positions on the issue, that, “We do not… go down the road of expelling other Christians?” The Apostle Paul would beg to differ. He told the Christians at Corinth that they should expel those living in sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5v13).

It is true, of course, that he personally cannot expel whole national groups (such as the US Episcopalians) from the worldwide Anglican Communion. But he could give a lead among Primates in enforcing some sort of discipline (which has happened before). He could give a lead in enforcing Godly discipline in the Church of England.

By contrast, a recent Synod of the Orthodox Church in America got it right, stating that “those who refuse correction” in this area “open themselves to ecclesiastical discipline”. The Orthodox statement is well worth reading in full – it is gracious, clear, orthodox (in its widest sense), pastorally kind but doctrinally clear – everything most readers of this website would hope for. The contrast with Justin Welby’s line is stark, and telling. 

There’s another issue with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s actions this week: his letter to bishops about the Lambeth Conference resolution of 1998 in relation to sexuality. In this, he said he wished “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.” It was a classic Anglican fudge – simply stating the facts, but not necessarily supporting them, nor indeed opposing them. And this from the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion!

Interestingly many of those present at Lambeth itself seem to think Justin Welby has had a good week. Well, they are of course entitled to that view. But it is easy to get swept along in the internal emotional dynamic of an intense event such as this (in which many of the participants are personally invested as well) without seeing how it looks from the outside – in other words, being so much involved in the thick of things that it becomes impossible to see the wood from the trees.

For once, I find myself in agreement with liberal campaigner Jayne Ozanne who wrote on Twitter: “I’ve returned from Lambeth Conference with a very heavy heart. It is clear the focus is ‘unity at all costs’…” And she’s right. Unity based on fudge and evasion is no unity at all. As I understand it from the Bible, true unity comes from being united in the truth of Scripture under the authority of Scripture.

Read it all in Christian Today