Ethics and policy for invitations to Lambeth 2020

Andrew Goddard writes: Last month Archbishop Justin made his first public statements about his invitation policy for the Lambeth Conference in 2020.  He is reported as having told The Times:

Well over 90 per cent of the Anglican Communion are conservative on issues of sexuality. I’ve invited all the bishops, including those in same-sex marriages. And I had to consider…getting as many people as possible there and excluding as few as possible. It’s a lose-lose situation. I had to take what is a really difficult and painful decision to say, in order for the conference to be as representative as possible and get all the bishops there and not have the risk of some provinces not coming because they felt I was pushing the envelope too far, that I couldn’t ask all the spouses.

Instant reactions on social media showed this brief explanation and justification was unlikely to satisfy the many people, across the range of views on sexuality, who were unhappy when the decision was originally announced (see for example Marcus Green’s blog). It is important to consider why that is the case, what these comments reveal about how decisions are being reached, and whether there is a better way forward.

In making difficult decisions as a leader of a community, in deciding what it is right to do, and in communicating that decision and its rationale there are many different approaches that can be taken.  One spectrum is between a calculating pragmatism and a conviction-based policy. There are parallels here to the contrasting poles in moral philosophy between consequentialist ethics in which the end justifies the means and deontological ethics based on simply doing what one ought to do even when it appears likely to have unpleasant consequences.

Calculating Pragmatism

The explanation offered above appears much closer to the pole of calculating pragmatism albeit a rather bleak and despairing one which views the situation as “a lose-lose situation”.  It’s almost as if the challenge is being framed as a sort of ecclesiastical form of the classic trolley problem: if I send out invitations to all bishops and spouses I’ll have started a trolley down a track where it will run over hundreds of conservative, particularly African, bishops but perhaps I can pull a switch (by pulling out a few invitations), and the trolley will then be diverted and only run over two (now three) gay spouses. A “really difficult and painful decision” but clearly the right one if those are the circumstances and how the problem is framed.  That this was how the decision was being framed was already suggested by the earlier comments of Kevin Robertson, one of the gay bishops whose husband was not invited.  He reported his private conversation with Justin Welby (before the election of a same-sex married priest as Bishop of Maine) in these words – “He said to me there are only two of you in the communion in this situation, you and Mary, and he said if I invite your spouses to the Lambeth Conference, there won’t be a Lambeth Conference”.  A similar formulation was reported in the defence offered before the start of the ACC:

The most painful part, to me, of the decisions that have to be made, is that I know that, at every moment that I write a letter or make a decision, I am making a decision about people — and that there is no decision that will result in nobody getting hurt. If I’d decided differently on the decision about same-sex spouses — and it hurt a lot of people, by the way — I would have hurt a huge number of people elsewhere in the Communion. And there wasn’t a nice solution which I looked and thought, ‘Nah, I don’t want to do that, I’ll take the nasty solution.’ It’s not as simple as that.

The major problem with such a way of thinking and explanation for a decision is that it sounds horribly like that offered by the high priest Caiaphas according to John 11:50 – “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish”.  And that is how the policy and its rationale are being heard by many Anglicans.  They are understandably outraged that it might be thought better, despite being committed to “radical Christian inclusion”, to exclude a few gay spouses just to reduce the risk that the Lambeth Conference not happen or the Anglican Communion disintegrate further.  Once again, it appears to them, gay and lesbian Christians are being viewed as expendable, a small enough minority to be sacrificed to placate the conservative majority.

Conviction Policy: Whose Justice?

The approach at the alternative end of the spectrum is that of conviction-based policy.  It was brilliantly summed up by the then Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, in the face of criticism when he appointed Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading.  Although I disagreed with the appointment I had great respect that in insisting on his decision Bishop Richard was putting into practice, within his outlook, the principle “let justice be done though the heavens fall”.

The problem with Lambeth invitations, as with the appointment to Reading, is that we need to ask “Whose justice?” and the answers are very different and fundamentally incompatible.

For many Anglicans the demands of justice are clear as shown in the recently launched campaign for equal marriage in the CofE whose open letter to the bishops protests against discrimination and asks “How can we effectively share the good news of Jesus Christ and the love of God when we ourselves behave unlovingly and unjustly?”.  This understanding is also what has led the University of Kent where the Lambeth Conference meets to protest against the Archbishop’s policy and state that “Council members were clear that exclusion of same sex spouses, on grounds of orientation, would be contrary to the values of the University”.

For many other Anglicans, however, the demands of justice are not understood with reference to categories of marriage equality and sexual orientation but determined from the way of righteousness which God has revealed in Scripture and built into creation and which they understand to include limiting moral sexual behaviour to within the marriage of a man and a woman.  For them the problem with the current invitation policy is not focussed on the exclusion of a few spouses.  Their problem is the fact that the Archbishop has, in a break with past precedent, “invited all the bishops, including those in same-sex marriages”. He seems thereby to view biblical and Communion teaching on marriage and sexual holiness as a matter of indifference (adiaphora) even though the ACC’s focus on “going deeper in intentional discipleship” highlights the importance of a shared moral vision.

The former group, following this “let justice be done” approach, would say justice requires all bishops and spouses to be invited even if the Lambeth Conference therefore falls. The latter group, following this approach, would – even if the Lambeth Conference therefore falls – not invite either partner in a same-sex marriage and likely also disinvite all bishops, whatever their marital status or sexuality, who have approved same-sex marriage.

Which rationality?

In thinking about the invitations to the Lambeth Conference and disagreements about the decisions already made it is important to consider these two different forms of rationality – calculating pragmatism and conviction policy.  Is the argument about the invitation policy an argument within a particular form of rationality and how to apply it or is it between different approaches and which one to apply?  The limited explanations so far offered show the need for greater clarity here.

The words of Archbishop Justin appear to present the decision as a calculated, painful, pragmatic compromise.  As we’ve noted, many reject this approach but within this approach serious questions can also be raised about the political calculation: Given, as he acknowledges, “Well over 90 per cent of the Anglican Communion are conservative on issues of sexuality” is it realistic to think that simply by excluding three spouses in a same-sex marriage but nevertheless inviting “all the bishops, including those in same-sex marriages” he has significantly reduced “the risk of some provinces not coming because they felt I was pushing the envelope too far”?  To return to the ecclesiastical trolley problem – is there not the likelihood that, having pulled the switch so the trolley hits the gay spouses, we will discover that the trolley then continues down a track which loops back so that it still runs into hundreds of conservative bishops anyway?

In contrast to the Times interview, the original explanation from the Secretary General of the Communion, appeared to be more of a conviction-based policy:

Invitations have been sent to every active bishop. That is how it should be – we are recognising that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend. The invitation process has also needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference.

Within this approach there is a potential principled logic on the basis that these three individuals are not bishops’ spouses according to Communion teaching and so are not being invited on that basis.  But if this is the rationale then why is the Archbishop not offering this explanation and defending this line of reasoning?  The approach does however still raise a number of serious questions as to its coherence (as I have already set out in some detail here, building on an earlier account here). A central one of these is again highlighted in a 2018 interview with the Chief Executive Officer of the Lambeth Conference Company, recently reposted on the ACO website:

There will be differences in 2020. Every active bishop from around the Communion will be invited. But there won’t be a spouse’s conference running in parallel. Instead the intention is to run a joint conference. We see that bishops and their spouses often have a joint ministry so we want to equip them both, rather than separate off the spouses.

Why, if this is a single conference, designed to support a joint ministry, does the Lambeth 1998 resolution and its teaching only have a bearing on the invitations to non-bishops attending the joint conference but not to bishops?

A Principled Pragmatism?

In reality, of course, decision-making is not able to be divided simply into one of these two poles on the spectrum.  Calculated pragmatism, for example, involves devising the best means to secure certain ends and those ends are often sought because of deep principles.  It is important to see that there is a clear principle embedded within the Archbishop’s strongly pragmatic approach:

I had to consider…getting as many people as possible there and excluding as few as possible…

Here we see a very strong and important principle guiding his decisions: it is shaped by his commitment to reconciliation and his vision of Christian unity.  The problems with it are that it is expressed in crude numerical terms (“as many people as possible…as few as possible”), a simple dichotomy between “getting there” and “excluding”, and an assumption that we know what it is people are either getting to or being excluded from (“there”).

Must it be “a lose-lose situation”? Principled Pluralism

If we approach the deep disagreements in the Communion (such as those summarised above with reference to how we determine what is just and right) in this way, attempting to solve them by some form of calculating pragmatism which is willing to exclude some in order to maximise attendance at a common venture, then this will almost certainly appear to be “a lose-lose situation”.  It will also appear to many that there are no theological, ecclesiological or moral principles guiding policy decisions.

If, however, it is admitted that the problem is that there are contrasting, competing, and seemingly incompatible, theological principles and visions now present within global Anglicanism then it may be possible to frame the questions in new ways. Across faith communities there is much wisdom that has been learned from inter-faith dialogue and co-operation. These practices have to recognise and work with the reality of deep disagreements and the limits that these create for inter-faith relationships even as they work to build mutual understanding and diminish conflict.  Across the Christian church there is much wisdom that has been learned from ecumenical dialogue and co-operation.  This, too, needs to acknowledge both what is shared in common and what remains in dispute between different Christian traditions and denominations.  Inter-denominational and ecumenical structures need to discern and be clear as to what degrees of agreement in truth exist and hence what degrees of visible communion can be expressed structurally.  These structures will therefore take different forms as Christians seek to journey together as closely as possible even as they also have to remain distinct and so to some degree distant from one another in order for each to bear witness with integrity to what they believe in contrast to some fellow Christians.

If one were to apply the lessons learned from these areas to intra-Anglican gatherings and try to view such meetings through the lens of inter-faith or ecumenical ventures then the question can be reframed into something like

How, given the recent history and current fractured Anglican Communion with impaired and broken communion between provinces and bishops, can the Archbishop of Canterbury structure the Lambeth Conference and issue invitations to it in order both

(a) to gather as many as possible together to express, embody and enrich the highest degree of communion currently possible between them, and also

(b) to enable the expression and embodiment of an even higher degree of communion both in the present and in the future between those – smaller in number – willing and able to pursue such communion on the basis of their wider and deeper shared beliefs?

Such an approach could recognise the reality of theological and moral pluralism among all those who stand in the Anglican tradition but seek to respond to it by means other than a consequentialist, calculating pragmatism which plays off excluding some so as to include others in a single undifferentiated gathering.  This would be a principled approach to pluralism which could draw not only on the wisdom from the experience of inter-faith and ecumenical discussions but also from the riches of recent Anglican (and wider catholic) communion ecclesiology.  In doing so it could apply the already established principles that the Communion has a clear teaching on marriage and sexuality which is still (as the Archbishop notes) overwhelmingly accepted  by most Anglicans and that departing unilaterally from that teaching inevitably has relational and structural consequences as regards a church’s standing within the Communion, because it impairs communion.  But rather than simply imposing one principled viewpoint within a “one-size-fits-all” structure this approach and perhaps letting the heavens fall as a result, this would seek to create a new form of Lambeth Conference.  This would apply these principles learned from other forms of conversation and co-operation across theological difference.  It would seek to create a Conference explicitly structured so as both to gather together as large and diverse a group of Anglicans as possible while also visibly differentiating among them by giving expression in some way to the variable degrees of communion that now indisputably exist among Anglicans as a result of their fundamentally different principled perspectives focussed on issues of marriage and sexual ethics.

Ecumenical postscript

In the last few days, announcements have been made about more invitations– those to ecumenical observers.  This is a long tradition at Lambeth Conferences but it is being stressed that “invitations are being extended to a greater number of Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches and bodies than at previous Lambeth Conferences” and particular attention has been given to invitations to the new province in North America (ACNA), although the response from its Primate shows the problems faced even in describing such decisions without causing offence.  This invitation decision and his response further highlights the need for serious rethinking about the nature and structure of the Lambeth Conference.

The invitations have continued to be structured as if there is a clearly defined and basically united Anglican Communion and then a diverse number of other churches who are in vary degrees of communion with and separation from the Communion and the churches within it.  As a result, all the churches in the former have had all their bishops invited (“we are recognising that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend”) while all the churches in the latter are only invited to send a certain number of observers.

In his Presidential Address to ACC, Archbishop Justin said

The miracle of the Communion is that through the work of Jesus Christ alone we are made one by the grace of God alone, not by our choice or our selection. For that reason our unity is a call of obedience in Christ. Through unity the beauty of the Communion is increased and is a blessing to the world, and our unity will draw us towards the unity of the whole Church, through which alone the world sees the truth of Christ.

But “the work of Jesus” through which “alone we are made one by the grace of God alone, not by our choice or our selection” is not a “miracle of the Communion” but of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.  The Communion and the churches within it are but a small and themselves increasingly internally divided part of the one fragmented and wounded body of Christ.  They cannot claim for themselves the work of Jesus or appeal to their own obedience to Christ or speak of “our unity” as if they are a more united or more privileged part of the whole church.  The “beauty of the Communion is increased and is a blessing to the world” and “will draw us towards the unity of the whole Church” only if we are honest about the broken reality of our own common life and only if we seek a unity which includes a reference to truth.

It is the lack of unity in truth which explains the historic distinction at Lambeth Conferences between Communion bishops and ecumenical observers and which underlies the rationale for this new set of distinct invitations.  But this lack of unity in truth now marks the churches, bishops and Instruments of the formal Communion as well – we are tragically becoming less of a Communion and more of a gathering of ecumenical partners. This has been recognised to an extent by the Primates of the Communion making clear in 2016 and reaffirming in 2017 that representatives of certain provinces:

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.

Furthermore, in a manner unprecedented at any previous Lambeth Conferences, many provinces are now in fuller communion and greater unity in the truth with ACNA than they are now with a number of other Communion provinces.

In short, the classic, relatively clear, distinction between Communion bishops and ecumenical observers which has shaped invitation policy no longer makes any sense given the reality of the (in many cases diminishing) degrees of communion existing between various Anglican churches.  Using these categories therefore as a tool to address the recent divisions within global Anglicanism not only lacks coherence as conviction policy but risks increasing those divisions and so is a questionable form of calculating pragmatism.

Conclusion: What sort of invitation to what sort of Conference?

Perhaps the underlying problem here is that in our confused context we have no clarity and no seeming coherence as to the structure and rationale of the Conference and the varied invitations to it.  In some cases we are continuing with past processes while in others we are changing those, sometimes significantly.  As a result, each set of invitations is increasingly becoming the focus of further confusion and conflict.  Currently there are three categories of invitation but the distinctions between them in terms of practical involvement at the Conference and the ecclesiological rationale for these distinctions and for the various invitation policies remains unclear.

In relation to Communion bishops, all have been invited in a break with past practice (as set out here especially in section C).  This is despite the fact that by their actions many have acted in violation of the principles set down at the 1920 Conference a century ago that the churches of the Communion

are indeed independent, but independent with the Christian freedom which recognises the restraint of truth and love. They are not free to deny the truth. They are not free to ignore the fellowship.

As a result of these actions not apparently having consequences in relation to Lambeth invitations, although over 500 bishops and nearly 400 spouses have accepted invitations, it seems likely that at least 200 bishops will decline to attend on principle while some attending may make clear their impaired or broken communion.

In relation to spouses, in a break with past practice they are being invited not to an overlapping Spouses’ Conference but to a single joint conference.  It appears, however, that they will be excluded from certain parts of that conference and those spouses who are legally married to a bishop of the same sex are wholly excluded.

In relation to ecumenical observers, many (perhaps even most) Communion bishops invited to the Conference are formally in fuller communion with some of the churches in this category than they are with a number of the other Communion churches and bishops (while other Communion bishops are not in communion and in long-running legal battles with them over church property).  It is unclear how their role at the Conference will be different from that of Communion bishops and their spouses.

If that were not confusing enough, when it comes to any decision-making at the Conference (about which there are at present no public details) one assumes that the spouses and ecumenical observers will not participate.  However, neither will all Communion bishops unless there is a reversal of the decision of the Primates in 2016 and 2017. And so there is a further, perhaps even more contentious, decision about differences among invitations that needs to be drawn and defended at some point.

The former bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, wrote that the Communion “resembles a spilled bowl of spaghetti” and messiness will inevitably mark Lambeth 2020.  There are, however, ways of thinking about, describing, and responding to our current mess (I think, for example, of The way of Anglican communion: Walking together before God drawing on Lambeth 1920) which offer a better path for the Lambeth Conference than that currently on offer in occasional official statements.

What we urgently need is the construction and articulation of a coherent and compelling vision that has theological and ecclesiological integrity, is honest about the painful lived reality of our common life, and is in continuity with the responses developed in recent decades and what the Communion’s General Secretary has recently summed up as “the principle of walking together at a distance as a means of recognising and addressing difference of understanding and practice across the Communion”.  Once we have such a vision we can perhaps develop conviction policies on specifics and even find a way towards a “win-win” situation which has a greater possibility of reaching the Archbishop’s goal of “getting as many people as possible there and excluding as few as possible”.


Revd Dr Andrew Goddard is Associate Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE), Cambridge and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anglican Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.


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68 thoughts on “Ethics and policy for invitations to Lambeth 2020”

  1. “What we urgently need is the construction and articulation of a coherent and compelling vision that has theological and ecclesiological integrity, is honest about the painful lived reality of our common life.”

    I’m reminded of David’s mountain cave encounter with King Saul. Despite the disobedience and hostile pursuit of the king, David forwent his opportunity for reprisal:
    “But I took pity on you and said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, because he is Yahweh’s anointed one.’ Now, my father, see, yes, see, the hem of your robe in my hand! For when I cut the hem of your robe I did not kill you. Know and realize that there is no evil or rebellion in my hand. I did not sin against you, but you are hunting down my life to take it. May Yahweh judge between me and you, and may Yahweh avenge me on you, but my hand will not be against you! Just as the ancient proverb says, ‘From the wicked, wickedness goes out,’ but my hand will not be against you! After whom did the king of Israel go out? After whom are you pursuing? After a dead dog? After one flea? May Yahweh be the judge, and let him judge between me and you, and may he see and plead my case. May he vindicate me against you!”

    It is not a connivance for conservative bishops (whose position is known and endorsed by a previous Lambeth resolution) to exercise similar grace in close quarters at a global conference attended by same-sex married bishops and their spouses.

    What’s missed is the opportunity to emulate David’s exceptional forbearance which elicited this response from Saul: “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me the good, but I have repaid you the evil. You have explained to me today that you have dealt well with me, how Yahweh delivered me into your hand but you did not kill me. For a man has found his enemy but sent him on his way safely. Now may Yahweh reward you with good in return for this day, for what you have done for me.” (1 Sam. 24: 16 – 18)

    To discover this way forwards in a much smaller Lambeth Conference would have been a treasure to behold.

    Reply
    • David: It is not a connivance for conservative bishops (whose position is known and endorsed by a previous Lambeth resolution)…..

      It’s just helpful to recall what the Lambeth resolution you allude to actually says:

      “We have prayed, studied and discussed these issues, and we are unable to reach a common mind on the scriptural, theological, historical, and scientific questions which are raised. There is much that we do not yet understand. We request the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council to establish a means of monitoring work done in the Communion on these issues and to share statements and resources among us.

      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.”

      Reply
      • Andrew,

        That’s the report (Called to full humanity – Section 1.

        The resolution itself goes:
        “Resolution I.10 Human Sexuality
        This Conference:
        commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality [1];
        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;
        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;
        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;
        cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;
        requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;
        notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.

        This is the position that a significant majority of conservative bishops has entirely espoused.

        Reply
  2. It is the lack of unity in truth which explains the historic distinction at Lambeth Conferences between Communion bishops and ecumenical observers and which underlies the rationale for this new set of distinct invitations.

    I’m not sure that the distinction between the Anglican Communion and other churches can be characterised as necessarily a lack of ‘unity in truth’. The Anglican Communion is a distinct ecclesiastical organisation with formal and structural unity. Those outside it aren’t necessarily considered to be lacking in truth, just not part of this ecclesiastical structure. We don’t think Anglican bishops are the sole legitimate source of ecclesiastical authority in the way Catholics traditionally do of their bishops.

    The Church of England is in communion with some non-Anglican churches.

    There is a question of how much agreement there needs to be in doctrine for communion and formal ecumenical relations. I believe that to be in communion with a church implies that we regard the church as orthodox. This does raise the issue of how consistent it is to be in communion with churches which endorse same-sex marriage. I’d need to know more about how the Church of England and Anglican Communion understand the relationship between orthodoxy and communion and the scope of disagreement permitted within that.

    Reply
    • Hi Will,

      I’d charitably suggest that by the phrase ‘unity of truth’, Andrew actually meant ‘unity of settled belief’.

      However, I think that the real distinction lies in a lack of “unity in tradition”, a part of which is the development of distinctive ecclesiastical structures.

      As you explain: “the Church of England is in communion with some non-Anglican churches.”

      As an example, in the Porvoo Statement (http://www.porvoocommunion.org/porvoo_communion/statement/the-statement-in-english/#1B), we find one of the key lynchpins which holds that communion together:
      “57 In the light of all this we find that the time has come when all our churches can affirm together the value and use of the sign of the historic episcopal succession. This means that those churches in which the sign has at some time not been used are free to recognise the value of the sign and should embrace it without denying their own apostolic continuity. This also means that those churches in which the sign has been used are free to recognise the reality of the episcopal office and should affirm the apostolic continuity of those churches in which the sign of episcopal succession has at some time not been used.”

      So, even in the absence of the actual sign of episcopal succession, that communion involves churches mutually affirming each other’s apostolic continuity, and, on that basis, they commit to a corporate willingness and capacity to coordinate more closely with each other on mission and ministry.

      In contrast, I’d doubt that communion could ever entail doctrinal uniformity.

      For instance, I’d be surprised if this communion with the CofE (and as enshrined in the Porvoo Statement) has been affected by the Norway Lutheran church’s 2017 decision to authorise a new marriage liturgy for same-sex couples.

      Of course, I recognised that, despite some similarities, the Anglican Communion is also a significantly different affiliation.

      Reply
  3. What is lacking greatly is any sense that the revisionists are aware of what the many counter-arguments are – and that a majority of them have no connection to scripture.

    No-one can be impressed when they frame things always from the same one angle (civil rights, itself questionably relevant since it applies to inborn states) as though all the many other angles did not exist. We would believe in their honesty if they did not do this.

    Also (a second point) why do they present this as a rank injustice when they must know that their configuration of things is eccentric in the extreme throughout Christian history internationally?

    Reply
  4. It regularly perplexes me why it is that so many of us Christians seem to be unaware even of the basics of how to run an organisation in a logical, open, honest and orderly fashion. We can talk the hind leg off a donkey when it comes to theology, read and write endlessly about what we believe, how we should live, how we should treat our fellow Christians and those who are not Christians. Yet the most common sense processes which would facilitate openness and honesty in our churches often seem to be beyond us.

    The discomfort in which Justin Welby has found himself over Lambeth 2020 does none of us in the Anglican Communion any good. Discourtesy, double standards, incoherence, hypocrisy even, are all evident and none of us can be happy about that. We could probably all point to good reasons why this situation underlines our own particular position on sexual ethics, but I’d suggest that it’s a fundamental error of process which has led us to this embarrassing place.

    Essentially, the key to the confusion that Justin Welby has got into over Lambeth 2020 is timing (an essential element of process): in this case, when do you decide what is right or wrong and when do you apply that decision?

    In the real world (where money, customer relations, jobs, and legal imperatives are at stake), before any contract is signed, goods delivered or services provided, businesses write the ‘small print’ which unambiguously sets out the terms under which business is transacted; and they make it available to all interested parties. It’s a pre decided set of rules to which both sides agree to abide. And I use the term ‘real world’ because those things (money, customer relations etc.) have direct consequences for the profits and survival of the business; those consequences force businesses to do things properly, if only for their own survival.

    The area where faith in the eternal world (where God is at the heart of what we do) is certainly no less ‘real’ for those of us who believe but, because that realm is not subject to the same kind of earthly ‘survival’ constraints, it is all too easy to get away with doing things in a haphazard, ad hoc, muddled or even dishonest way (and to excuse that by recourse to using spiritual language in a way which is hard to challenge). While individuals can operate according to their own imagination, personal quirks, gifts and weaknesses, organisations such as businesses or churches have a far greater need and responsibility to work within coherent processes.

    Justin’s Canterbury conundrum has arisen because actions have been allowed to occur which blatantly ignore the Communion’s ‘small print’ (Anglican doctrine). While a majority of the communion continues to respect Anglican doctrine relating to sexual ethics, a sizeable minority (including a whole church in the case of TEC) has ignored it; and this has been happening for so long that precedents have developed where there have been no serious consequences, and that has led to assumptions and expectations which are in sharp contrast to the communion’s doctrine. In such a situation Justin has been making it up as he goes along. Now at Lambeth 2020 that modus operandi has hit the buffers; inevitably, bad feeling (with some justification) has arisen.

    And this is where timing comes in. The necessary debate and decision over whether to change the Communion’s doctrine should have been held long before any ‘innovations’ were allowed to happen: that would have been the correct timing. And the great thing about getting that timing right long before any possible dispute is a) that it provides absolute clarity (thus reducing the chance of a dispute arising), and b) that, if written unambiguously, it eliminates any excuse for bad feeling and cause for a claim of unfair treatment.

    And that’s exactly the reason why ‘good disagreement’ is never going to work: it assumes 2 (or more) separate sets of small print, written at 2 separate times. You cannot run a coherent business which has 2 separate sets of small print. It’s neither rational nor practical. It’s going to land you in court. The church is not a business but I believe the same principle applies, perhaps the more so because our small print is about truth – and there can not be two opposing truths in the one church.

    Reply
    • Don Thanks for your comments. A couple of responses from my own thinking. I do not think we are talking about changing the doctrine of marriage so much as extending who may marry. That is different – but I know others here will not accept that. As to ‘good disagreement’ – the church is not a business so I do not think the image of doctrine and faith as contractural small print is helpful. Nor are there only two views being debated. The church has lived with disagreements throughout its history. The Bishop of Sheffield in General Synod on 2014 put it like this: ‘there is a task to be done of encouraging those within the church who are at odds on this issue to express their concerns in a safe environment, listen carefully to those with whom they disagree profoundly, find something of Christ in each other and consider together what the practical consequence of disagreement might be. From New Testament times the church of Christ has had to face disagreement. Fashioning our life as a church includes finding ways to “disagree Christianly”.’ That says it for me.

      Reply
      • The church has lived with disagreements throughout its history

        As someone from outside the Church of England, and therefore lacking the background knowledge that I guess you are presuming, could I ask for a few examples (say, four)?

        How does the Church of England deal with, for example, those who deny the validity of infant baptisms? What does ‘Christian disagreement’ look like in that case?

        Reply
      • Thanks, David,

        ‘I do not think we are talking about changing the doctrine of marriage so much as extending who may marry.’

        Yes, as you suspect, I’d take the view that the limits around who is allowed to marry whom are inescapably part of the doctrine of marriage!

        Regarding ‘good disagreement’, it’s become a mantra in Anglican circles which we all assume is referring to first order issues. Other issues of lesser importance do divide us but we seem to muddle through our differences reasonably well. And isn’t this a reflection of the attitude Jesus took to the issues with which he was confronted? Some things got a surprisingly (to his disciples) easy pass, others were non negotiable.

        Yes, ‘disagreeing Christianly’ sounds right, but isn’t there just a hint of dog whistle in using that kind of phrase? Our instinct is to nod in agreement at first hearing but is there not a subtle implication that expression of strong views about what is true must take second place to being gracious or yielding to what is not true for the sake of good relationships?

        And is recognition of irreconcilable difference (and therefore separation) always the worst possible outcome? Perhaps (because we are a very long established church and we have an instinct to maintain the status quo) we have an inbuilt aversion to the idea of splitting for any reason. Yet even leaving a church can be done with grace on both sides:
        https://anglicanmainstream.org/an-example-of-good-separation-as-new-anglican-church-is-established-outside-the-c-of-e/

        I actually find the way that departure has apparently been handled on both sides (and it may become a much more frequent thing) gives me pause for thought: could good separation release tension and thereby allow fresh energy to invigorate God’s church? Perhaps in our fear of schism (and the bad impression we assume it gives to the world outside) we are missing something of the radical possibilities there are in letting things just happen and allowing God to work as he chooses?

        If that is so, perhaps the political time and energy the church spends on holding itself together would be better spent on a corporate drive to holiness and seeking the will of God through deep, honest and patient submersion in his word, the Bible. (How about a decade of that?) Surely, then, the angst about holding things together could give way to a calm trust that things are in God’s hands, and that is exactly where they should be.

        Reply
      • Hi David. Would love it if you can unpack your comment that “I do not think we are talking about changing the doctrine of marriage so much as extending who may marry. That is different – but I know others here will not accept that“. I can see how that distinction could work in some changes eg changing age at which people can marry but cannot see how extending marriage to same sex couples does not also change the doctrine of marriage certainly as stated by the CofE. Am interested as to what I may be missing here.

        Reply
        • Andrew. Greetings. This has to be a brief reply to your very reasonable question.
          The Church of England does not believe in doctrinal infallibility. Rather, ‘Anglicans affirm the sovereign authority of the Holy Scriptures as the medium through which God by the Spirit communicates his word in the Church. The Scriptures are the uniquely inspired witness to divine revelation, and the primary norm for Christian faith and life. The Scriptures must be translated, read and understood, and their meaning grasped through a continuing process of interpretation …’ (from The Virginia Report of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission). A ‘continuing process’ surely involves some degree of doctrinal development? This may be provoked by new challenges and understandings emerging through history.
          So in a thoughtful collection of essays on marriage and relationships by conservative theologians (Marriage, Family and Relationships: Biblical, Doctrinal and Contemporary Perspectives) Oliver O’Donovan boldly warns, ‘We have to be alert to the possibility of doctrine being renewed out of scripture in a way that takes the church by surprise.’ I think being faced with the possibility of faithful, consecrated same-sex relationships in our time is one such surprise of God.
          Elsewhere he describes ‘the test of good doctrinal development is its capacity to be integrated into the wider understanding of the whole, and to shed new light where light has already fallen so that the faithful know themselves possessed of a rich, clearer and more coherent understanding of their lives before God, more equipped in sorts to meet the challenges of their contemporaries. When the faithful are at odds, struggling to understand unable to agree, development of doctrine does not happen.’ Well I would prefer to say the development it is still in process. Is there ever a moment when the church comes to a unanimous, peaceful decision on some core matter of belief and life?
          As to the relevance to marriage and who may marry I turn again to O’Donovan. ‘The world has never seen a phenomenal like the contemporary gay consciousness. There have been various patterns of homosexuality in various cultures, but none with the constellation of features and persistent self-assertion that this one presents. And we need hardly be surprised at this turn in history if we reflect on the extraordinary discontinuities that exist between late modern society, and ancient societies. To live in our time, as in any other, is to have a unique set of practical questions to address.’ (Church in Crisis: The Gay Controversy and the Anglican Communion p114)

          Reply
          • A ‘continuing process’ surely involves some degree of doctrinal development?

            So you are talking about a change in the doctrine of marriage, then? A development is after all a change.

          • S If you read my comments to Don I deliberately chose to express the process as an extension of the doctrine of marriage. I think this expresses it more accurately. D.

          • If you read my comments to Don I deliberately chose to express the process as an extension of the doctrine of marriage. I think this expresses it more accurately

            Okay, but when asked to justify that, you simply pointed to the idea that sometimes doctrine needs to be developed, ie, changed.

            I think the point is that changing the age of consent from 18 to 16 would be an extension of marriage, as it simply extends the range of people one may marry. It’s a quantitative not a qualitative difference.

            But as a same-sex marriage is a different kind of a thing entirely. So legitimising same-sex marriages is a difference of quality, not quantity, and therefore more accurately described as a change rather than an extension. No?

          • S ‘you simply pointed to the idea that sometimes doctrine needs to be developed’. I said rather more than that. But that is quite an important concession I think.

          • S ‘you simply pointed to the idea that sometimes doctrine needs to be developed’. I said rather more than that. But that is quite an important concession I think

            There was no concession. I merely referred to the idea you had pointed to, without conceding that it had any validity.

            Anyway. Point is, a qualitative difference is better described as a ‘change’ than an ‘extension ‘, isn’t it?

          • (If I had written ‘you merely pointed out that sometimes doctrine needs to be developed’ then that would have been reasonably read as a concession; I quite deliberately did not write that, for that reason.)

          • S Let’s leave it. I am happy to await for Andrew’s response if he so chooses. Thanks.

          • Thanks David for replying. I am probably just too tired at end of day but a bit confused as you originally distinguished a change of doctrine from extending who may marry and spoke of same sex marriage as latter. But your reply is a defence of the development of doctrine which sounds to me more like the former than the latter. I would say that same sex marriage is a radical – and I believe erroneous – development of doctrine that is so significant it amounts to a change of doctrine. I am unclear whether you are saying the doctrine is not changed (as one would for changing age of consent or, more contentious, for changing at least some of the bonds of affinity prohibitions or allowing remarriage in some circumstances during lifetime of former spouse) as I originally read your comment or that it is changed as your reply suggests. It is a complex issue eg how does this relate to polygamy as a form of marriage? Again apologies if I’ve misread or misunderstood. I was trying to understand how allowing two people of same sex to marry does not amount to a change in doctrine (but presumably is simply a form of pastoral accommodation instead).

          • Let’s leave it. I am happy to await for Andrew’s response if he so chooses. Thanks

            I accept your concession.

          • Andrew Thank you. I am shortly away for the next fortnight on work stuff and really will struggle to sustain this discussion.

            I agree the extension of marriage to include same -sex couples is significantly new. We are discussing ‘why not’? That this has not been seriously explored before is not in itself grounds for excluding the possibility. There is a great deal in the vision for the marriage relationship in the cofe wedding service that need not be confined to only heterosexual couples, for example.

            I thought the basis for suggesting that church doctrine is not an infallibly fixed or a final expression of God’s intention and meaning, and may therefore develop, needed outlining. I borrowed O’Donovan to do that.

            This debate is about same-sex relationships and marriage. Can we stay with that ? I do not know why you introduce polygamy or anything else here. Each issue needs to be debated on its own merits . It is hard to do when the concern is ‘if we accept this won’t that open to the door to xy and z?’ Doesn’t it also suggests a suspicion that what is being discussed cannot lead to good and blessing but will only corrupt. It sounds like the early debates opposing contraception in the 1920-30’s.

            I would like to know what you think of O’Donovan’s words in this context? Particularly that we are discussing something very significantly new – and therefore disturbing and challenging. That places a certain limit on appeals from history or ancient texts. If I have understood him I find my approach drawing on a highly respected and basically conservative Anglican ethicist at this point (though my conclusions are my own course).

            Finally there are those who basically want some kind of covenant relationship parallel to marriage for gay couples – but who want to call it something different. I feel the pull of that too. But I am a realist. Marriage is what it will be called. I also understand why gay folk and others find the language of ‘pastoral accommodation’ very patronising.

            Thanks again. I always read you with care and profit.

          • “This debate is about same-sex relationships and marriage. Can we stay with that ? I do not know why you introduce polygamy or anything else here.”

            In fact, introducing polygamy makes perfect sense because previous Lambeth Conferences have similarly debated whether toleration of polygamous unions (even as a pastoral accommodation) was also not “changing the doctrine of marriage so much as extending who may marry”.

            Most progressives would view Bishop Colenso (first Anglican bishop of Natal) as a trailblazer whose treatises on the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua challenged (as many of them do today) whether certain parts of these books should be understood literally.

            However, in his 1855 publication Remarks on the Proper Treatment of Polygamy, he wrote: But I certainly expressed a doubt, in my published Journal, whether the method, at present adopted by the Missionaries, of requiring a man, who had more than one wife, to put away all but one, before he could be received to Christian Baptism, was the right way of accomplishing this end. I have since given much closer consideration to the question, and I have now no hesitation in saying, that I believe the above-mentioned rule to be unwarranted by Scripture, opposed to the practice of the Apostles, condemned by common reason, and altogether unjustifiable.

            http://anglicanhistory.org/africa/colenso/polygamy1855.html

            There’s more cogency in and scriptural support for Colenso’s argument for pastoral accommodation of polygamous unions than for same-sex marriage. Certainly, there was no pastoral warrant for missionaries to making it a condition for baptism for African converts to be divorced from all but one wife:
            “Have the Missionaries ever duly considered this–the effect, I mean, which the reception of the Gospel, on any large scale, among this people, and the carrying out of their rule, would produce on the order of the colony, when every kraal and every hut, almost, would be the scene of some enforced separation, and of the hideous consequences that must follow, where so many married women, released from the law of their husbands and the strict discipline of their native customs,–with their best feelings outraged, and their passions inflamed, themselves and their children branded, in their people’s eyes, with a name of dishonour,–are turned loose upon their tribes?

            It was unfortunate that due to the hue and cry that arose over the controversy, Colenso was deposed without due process and had to resort to an appeal to the Privy Council for reinstatement.

            What’s scandalous is that it took 91 years (from 1867 to 1958) for the Lambeth Conference to include the following in a far more compassionate resolution 120:
            (a) The Conference bears witness to the truth that monogamy is the divine will, testified by the teaching of Christ himself, and therefore true for every race of men.
            (b) It acknowledges that the introduction of monogamy into societies that practice polygamy involves a social and economic revolution and raises problems which the Christian Church has as yet not solved.

            Even the official reflections from the 2008 conference contained the following statement: ” In the case of polygamy, there is a universal standard – it is understood to be a sin, therefore polygamists are not admitted to positions of leadership including Holy Orders, nor after acceptance of the Gospel can a convert take another wife, nor, in some areas, are they admitted to Holy Communion. “

            In contrast, the recommendations concerning same-sex sexual relationships have been far more accommodating and pastorally sensitive.

            And the difference in treatment is directly attributable to neo-colonial Western influence.

            In his seminal book Left Out, Prof. Martin Duberman, American historian, biographer, playwright, who is gay, explained how the urbanisation of the West has contributed to the phenomenon of gay consciousness:
            “We’ve only begun to analyze why, and to date can say little more then that certain significant pre-requisites developed in this country, and to some degree everywhere in the western world, that weren’t present, or hadn’t achieved the necessary critical mass, elsewhere.

            Among such factors were the weakening of the traditional religious link between sexuality and procreation (one which had made non-procreative same gender desire an automatic candidate for denunciation as “unnatural”).

            Secondly the rapid urbanization and industrialization of the United States, and the West in general, in the nineteen century weakened the material (and moral) authority of the nuclear family, and allowed mavericks to escape into welcome anonymity of city life, where they could choose a previously unacceptable lifestyle of singleness and nonconformity without constantly worrying about parental or village busybodies pouncing on them.

            Again, celebrated historian, John D’Emilio (who happens to be gay) has written: “I have argued that lesbian and gay identity and communities are historically created, the result of a process of capitalist development that has spanned many generations. A corollary of this argument is that we are not a fixed social minority composed for all time of a certain percentage of the population. There are more of us than one hundred years ago, more of us than forty years ago. And there may very well be more gay men and lesbians in the future. Claims made by gays and non-gays that sexual orientation is fixed at an early age, that large numbers of visible gay men and lesbians in society, the media, and schools will have no influence on the sexual identities of the young, are wrong.

            Capitalism has created the material conditions for homosexual desire to express itself as a central component of some individuals’ lives; now, our political movements are changing consciousness, creating the ideological conditions that make it easier for people to make that choice.”

            Prof Gilbert Herdt, co-founder of the Institute on Sexuality, Social Inequality and Health, concurs with this:
            “Certainly the gay movement is specialized somewhat to class and urban social formations, and it must be seen from the perspective of the decontextualization of sex. Only by disengaging sexuality from the traditions of family, reproduction, and parenthood was the evolution of the gay movement a social and historical likelihood.”

            So, given the West’s decontextualisation of sex,
            1) it’s no wonder that there’s a First World-Third World divide on this issue.
            2) It’s no wonder that Western theologians have led the argument for the Church to ‘listen to’ and affirm the goodness of same-sex sexual relationships as marriage, while doing little more to engage with the issue of African polygamy than to apply the ‘corrupt’ label (as you inferred) whenever it’s brought up.
            3) It’s no wonder that Anglican provinces in the Third World refuse to countenance this clearly neo-colonialist attempt to insinuate the affirmation of predominantly Western cultural norms into their respective cultures.

    • Hello Don,
      Perhaps another comparison are the combined memorandum and articles of association of a limited company, (foundational documents) the functioning of the company, meetings, directors and their duties and accountability and the legal doctrine of ultra vires. Sometimes it seems that in the CoE , much is behind the “veil of incorporation” and there is no sense of acting “ultra vires” the “corporation: no sense that there are two separate corporations, with different foundations, – in effect, two distinct entities flying under a flag of convenience, one with a universally unique niche, eternal “product”, the other with a western culture potpourri, not new or unique

      But to move to the language of contract, I’d suggest that it is far more substantial than the small print, of terms and conditions and exclusion clauses, but “fundamental conditions” (a legal term) a breach of which causes the contract to fall: more than express and implied, warranties and conditions. So it’s about breach, not good disagreement

      Reply
      • Thanks, Geoff

        To be honest, my point was really most concerned about the timing, which is to say that ill feeling is far more likely to be generated by decisions that are made ‘on the hoof’ than those that rest on the wording of documents previously decided and made clear to all concerned.

        But I would bow to your legal knowledge as to whether foundational documents of a legal company or “fundamental conditions” of a contract are a better analogy than ‘small print’ (as a layman I’ve probably used the term ‘small print’ as a not well informed description of all such documents!).

        In the case of sexual ethics, neither the Bible nor Anglican doctrine, which takes the Bible as its authority, have actually changed. But the way that church politics and events on the ground have been allowed to play out (not least by bishops and Archbishops) has resulted in expectations about what is acceptable to become, if not formally revised, at least considerably more ‘elastic’.

        That kind of informal (unwritten) editing as you go along has come about due to campaigning pressure as a response to attitudes outside the church rather than any formal process of revision inside the church; it has no ‘legal’ validity, is not proper process (not really worthy of the Anglican Communion) and I think it’s asking for trouble.

        Reply
    • I thought the problem was that the Anglican Communion did not have an agreed small print, but left such matters to each Province.

      Reply
      • Hi Nick

        As I’ve restated in another comment here, my point in the above comment to which you have responded is really about the importance of timing: ie it’s far better to have an agreed set of ‘first order’ issues (to which everyone adheres) before issues arise upon which you have to make a judgement. To do things in an orderly fashion in this way greatly reduces the chances of any misunderstanding and ill feeling which is likely to occur if you try to change things (‘edit’ the small print) as you go along.

        In the present case the original Anglican Communion ‘small print’ (as found in the 39 Articles, and to which all the churches in the Anglican Communion are supposed to assent) does include things related to sexual ethics; and at the Lambeth Conference of 1998 a resolution (1.10) addressed homosexual activity specifically:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambeth_Conference

        As I don’t claim any special knowledge, and if you want an overview of the Anglican Communion, you might try this link
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglican_Communion
        and this:
        https://www.anglicancommunion.org/

        Reply
  5. S Greetings. I was not referring to the CofE specifically. The NT church offers enough examples of its own – Paul at the end of Romans lays he ground rules for good disagreement on issues that divided Jewish and Gentile believers. Though the CofE list in the last 60 years would include divorce/remarriage, ordination of women, Catholic/Evangelical/Liberal approaches to scripture/priesthood/sacraments/doctrine. There have always been Anglicans who deny/struggle with the validity of adult baptism. But it is the official teaching of this church and, unlike other areas where the church has dented and moved to change its understanding or include (on conscience grounds) a range of positions (eg divorce/remarriage or ordaining women) there is no significant lobby to change baptism. If there were then the debate would need conducting in a spirit of good disagreement.

    Reply
    • But David in none of those cases has it involved going against the clear and direct teaching of scripture in a matter of basic ethics. That is why the comparison fails and why huge numbers of conservatives are not backing down.

      Reply
      • Will You are mistaken. People believed exactly that about all the issues on that list and left the church as a result. But I do not know why you are making this point. I made no such comparison – nor, if you read back, was it the question I was actually asked.

        Reply
    • Greetings. I was not referring to the CofE specifically

      Okay, but in general, what happens if one lot of Christians disagree with another lot is that they go their separate ways: see the anabaptists, for example. Or even just the Reformation in general. I was assuming you meant there was a way to disagree without forming a new denomination.

      (Obviously the traditionalists and the modernists in the Church of England splitting into separate denominations would be the sensible thing to do).

      But to take the examples:

      divorce/remarriage

      Is there really space for disagreement on that? I mean, it’s not really open for someone, clergy or otherwise, to regard a couple in a marriage which is a remarriage for one or both of them to be not really married, is it? So in this case there it seems is no disagreement allowed: remarried couples are regarded as being in valid marriages, end of, and anyone who doesn’t agree and thinks they are living in adultery has to keep their mouth shut.

      So this doesn’t seem a good example of ‘Christian disagreement’, this seems rather in issue where the church has decided one way and those who disagree can either lump it or leave.

      ordination of women

      Okay, this one there does seem to be a (massively cumbersome) structure in place to allow the two disagreeing sides to both co-exist, though I get the impression from outside that not everyone (on both sides) thinks it works very well, and almost everyone thinks that its a lot of faff and they would rather not have to replicate it for another issue.

      Catholic/Evangelical/Liberal approaches to scripture/priesthood/sacraments/doctrine

      This is a bit too vague for me to really know what to say. But to take the example of the sacraments, say, how would such a disagreement play out in a church which contained some members who think that the sacrament should be reserved in front of a candle, and some who though that such a practice was idolatrous and should not be allowed? I’m trying to imagine how such a polarised difference could lead to ‘good disagreement’ — it’s not like adoring the sacrament and not doing so on alternate months is going to please anybody! So how does ‘good disagreement’ function in this hypothetical church? Or is the solution going to be that one or other faction will have to leave and find somewhere else, with others who are of their opinion?

      There have always been Anglicans who deny/struggle with the validity of adult baptism

      Surely no one struggles with the validity of adult baptism! Jesus was baptised as an adult! It’s infant baptism that some people have a problem with on the grounds the infant doesn’t understand what is happening.

      Reply
      • S I think David (Runcorn) meant infant baptism.
        And in that case what clearly happens is that some parish clergy go ahead and re-baptise as adults fir exactly the reasons you give. They devise ways of using existing liturgy and if pressed by an enquiry as to what they were doing, will claim that the service allowed the adult to re-affirm their baptismal promises. I’ve heard this used directly to a bishop. I think it lacks some integrity because they have in fact made it clear to the candidate that they are really being baptised because their infant baptism was not sufficient. Everyone is aware of this ‘fudge’ and the approach is basically ‘don’t ask and don’t tell’.

        Reply
        • Everyone is aware of this ‘fudge’ and the approach is basically ‘don’t ask and don’t tell’.

          That doesn’t sound like ‘good disagreement’ though, that sounds like, well, a fudge that involves hypocrisy and acting in bad faith (ie, pretending that one is not doing what one is actually doing)

          Reply
          • So what would suggest is done about it S?

            That those who disagree do so honestly, and separate, instead of practising bad faith and hypocrisy.

          • And why do you think that doesn’t happen?

            I honesty have no idea, it seems to me obvious that it should and I simply don’t understand why it hasn’t already.

            I don’t understand why anyone who held those opinions would get ordained in the Church of England, where they would be required to dissemble, act as a hypocrite, and live in bad faith, rather than just being honest and going and joining the Baptists.

            Can you explain why someone would do that?

          • “Can you explain why someone would do that?”
            It’s simple: the Cof E is a broad church.

      • “I mean, it’s not really open for someone, clergy or otherwise, to regard a couple in a marriage which is a remarriage for one or both of them to be not really married, is it? ”

        The point about good disagreement in this case is that if a member of the clergy is not in agreement about the re-marriage of divorcees they are not obliged to solemnise such a marriage. So it is possible for disagreement here.

        Reply
        • The point about good disagreement in this case is that if a member of the clergy is not in agreement about the re-marriage of divorcees they are not obliged to solemnise such a marriage. So it is possible for disagreement here.

          But if a such couple arrives in their church having had their marriage solemnised elsewhere, isn’t the member of the clergy required to treat them as if they were married, and therefore act against their conscience?

          It doesn’t seem like ‘good disagreement’ that requires people on one side only to act against their consciences.

          Reply
          • Marriage is a legal thing S. Members of the clergy are not free to disregard the law. So members of the clergy have to recognise the marriage of those in same sex marriages who arrive in their church. I’m not quite sure what point you are making here.

          • Marriage is a legal thing S. Members of the clergy are not free to disregard the law. So members of the clergy have to recognise the marriage of those in same sex marriages who arrive in their church.

            Um, we are not talking about same-sex marriages, did you forget?

            The point is that this was claimed as being an example of an area where there was ‘good disagreement’.

            But ‘you must accept and treat all legal marriages as being morally valid, even if your conscience tells you they are not’ hardly seems like ‘good disagreement’, it seems like dictating to people what they are allowed to do.

          • Not at all. Clergy are not forced to solemnise the marriage of those who have been previously married. They can easily dissent.

          • Clergy are not forced to solemnise the marriage of those who have been previously married.

            But they are forced to pretend that such people, if they have had their marriage solemnised by another member of the clergy who is of the opinion that such marriages can be valid, are properly married, even if they don’t think they are, aren’t they?

            So they cannot dissent from the idea that such marriages are valid at all, can they?

          • How are they so forced to do so S? I don’t understand.
            Such marriages are *legal*. But people are free to say the law is wrong and campaign for it to be changed. Identical situation to termination of pregnancy. It’s legal, but no one is forcing you to say you think the law is right.

          • ‘Termination of pregnancy’? Only the dishonest use periphrases. Termination of pregnancy is standardly a birth – otherwise unpacking of what is meant is required.

          • How are they so forced to do so S? I don’t understand.

            Well, presumably (and drawing inspiration from the original article) if they were to hold an event for some people in the congregation (members of the parish council, say) and their spouses, they would be censured if they were to exclude ‘spouses’ who were legally married but whose relationships they thought were actually adulterous because one or both of them was already married (albeit, in the eyes of the law. ‘divorced’).

            So they would be forced, to avoid censure, to pretend that a relationship that they thought was adultery and therefore sinful was actually a valid marriage, and therefore perfectly fine.

          • What if they had a civil marriage how would such a priest treat them? They could be remarried without even the tests of the Church of England remarriage guidelines. Should clergy question the marriage of every new couple who arrive in their church? Should people turning up need to provide references?

            You are very quickly moving towards the position of exclusive brethren.

            The church is a group of sinners who have found forgiveness in Jesus, not a group of the sinless!

          • What if they had a civil marriage how would such a priest treat them? They could be remarried without even the tests of the Church of England remarriage guidelines. Should clergy question the marriage of every new couple who arrive in their church? Should people turning up need to provide references?

            I would think that a policy of ‘assume good faith unless evidence of bad faith comes to light, then act accordingly’ would suffice.

            The church is a group of sinners who have found forgiveness in Jesus, not a group of the sinless!

            The Church is a group of repentant sinners. Adulterers who continue in (even legally-sanctioned) adultery are clearly not repentant and so should they really be counted part of the church?

          • I’m afraid I don’t consider your view of what the church should be at all convincing or even Christian S. The church is a group of people seeking the grace of God through a relationship with Jesus Christ and one another. It is not a group of people who have passed a particular test for moral soundness based on one particular and limited interpretation of scripture and tradition.

          • I’m afraid I don’t consider your view of what the church should be at all convincing or even Christian S.

            You don’t have to. The question is whether it is possible to have ‘good disagreement’ such that people who do not think that remarriages are valid, and people who do, can stay in the same organisation.

            If you do not think that one side’s views are ‘even Christian’ then that rather suggests you agree with me that there is not space for both views within the same organisation, and that one side or the other should leave. Yes?

          • No. I think good disagreement is perfectly possible and I think the Cof E has demonstrated it very well. I think that you have an odd view of what the Church is about for the reasons I have stated above, to which you have not responded.

      • “how would such a disagreement play out in a church which contained some members who think that the sacrament should be reserved in front of a candle, and some who though that such a practice was idolatrous and should not be allowed?”

        This one is fairly easy isn’t it? Some churches in the C of E do reserve the sacrament and some don’t. No church has to and no church can unless they obtain permission to do so – which will involve a resolution by the Church Council. There are plenty of churches where it happens and plenty where it doesn’t so people do have choice – and can disagree quite well about this matter.

        Reply
        • There are plenty of churches where it happens and plenty where it doesn’t so people do have choice – and can disagree quite well about this matter.

          So the ‘good disagreement’ here is, ‘each church picks a side and those who don’t like it have to leave and go to another church’?

          Then why, when it comes to a denomination-wide matter like definitions of marriage, is the ‘good disagreement’ by analogy, ‘pick a side and those who don’t like it can go to another denomination’?

          Reply
        • No. Clergy and churches would not be forced to solemnise marriages of same sex couples. It would be a parallel situation.

          Reply
          • Clergy and churches would not be forced to solemnise marriages of same sex couples

            No, a parallel situation would be to have some churches which recognised same-sex marriages and some which didn’t, so people could choose which one to go to.

            All churches being forced to recognise such marriages as valid is not a parallel.

          • They are not forced to recognise them. They are free to take whatever view they like of them.

          • They are not forced to recognise them. They are free to take whatever view they like of them.

            So if a legally-married couple turns up at a church where their marriage is regarded as not valid because one or both of them was already married (albeit in the eyes of the law ‘divorced’) when it happened, and they were therefore treated as not being married (eg, the partner not invited to ‘spouses’ events), then there should be no complaints?

            That seems implausible to me — it seems more likely that if that happened the clergy responsible would be hauled in front of the bishop, given a dressing-down, and told that in future they had to treat all legally-married couples the same.

            That is, the member of the clergy would be forced to recognise a marriage that they did not consider valid.

            Is that not what would happen?

          • Does the kind of behaviour you describe happen in the church of which you are a member S?
            In truth I’m not sure what would happen with a social event. My understanding of the sacramental life of the church is that clergy are not free to exclude people unless they have first sought advice and counsel from their bishop. So I don’t have any real idea if your supposed situation is plausible or not.

  6. “Then why, when it comes to a denomination-wide matter like definitions of marriage, is the ‘good disagreement’ by analogy, ‘pick a side and those who don’t like it can go to another denomination’?”

    Marriage is a legal matter S. C of E clergy aren’t permitted to solemnise such marriages and neither are they permitted to take place in C of E churches, but the C of E doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t legal. As I’ve said before, the only logical thing for someone in your position to do is campaign for the re-criminalisation of same sex activity.

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    • Marriage is a legal matter S. C of E clergy aren’t permitted to solemnise such marriages and neither are they permitted to take place in C of E churches, but the C of E doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t legal. As I’ve said before, the only logical thing for someone in your position to do is campaign for the re-criminalisation of same sex activity.

      What on earth has same-sex activity got to do with the moral validity of second marriages?

      The position ‘you must regard all legal marriages as morally valid’ is exactly the point on which there is disagreement. There are people who do not think that marriages of those who are divorced, though legal, are morally valid.

      You therefore can’t say that there is a practice of ‘good disagreement’ if you start off by assuming that the strongly-held beliefs of one side, ie that there exist marriages legal by the law of the land that are not morally valid because one or both of the couple were already married, has no place in the Church of England.

      You’re basically saying that anyone who does believe that there are legal marriages which are not morally valid should leave the Church of England. Which is fine (I would agree), but rather undermines the use of this as an example of where the Church of England encompasses ‘good disagreement’ between those of different sides of an issue, doesn’t it?

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  7. Any ethics that doesn’t take into account the human rights violations in countries that criminalize being LGBTQ+ isn’t worth much. If religion has anything, it’s symbolic power. So it isn’t just about the 3 bishops and their spouses and their children (often forgotten in all this).

    Also, the statements saying that 80 or 90 percent of the Anglican Communion are conservative on sexuality really needs scrutiny. GAFCON is mostly comprised of primates from provinces that are quite authoritarian and have little lay influence. I would think that the much more representative ACC16 and ACC17 would be a MUCH stronger indicator of the “mind of the Anglican Communion.” And they have been unwilling to take on the harsh positions of the all-male primates. Speaking of all-male, it’s really unacceptable to have any all-male body dictating to the rest of us. So please factor that into your ethics as well.

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    • Thanks Cynthia—I think those are important questions to ask.

      My puzzle is why there has not been clear emphasis on BOTH parts of Lambeth I.10, both affirming the Church’s teaching on marriage AND standing against persecution. We appear to have failed on both counts.

      Reply

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