Lambeth 2020: what is the future of the Anglican Communion?

Andrew Goddard writes: With preparations for Lambeth 2020 well underway, the questions already raised about who will attend (Section A) have become even more serious following two events at the end of 2018: Archbishop Justin invited all bishops in Communion provinces to attend and one of those invited then married his same-sex partner in his diocese’s cathedral.  After setting out some basic information about the Lambeth Conference (Section B), it is shown (Section C) that Archbishop Justin’s decision marks a definite, significant and unexplained break with both the invitation policy and theological rationale of his predecessor.

The dilemma created by the Toronto bishop’s same-sex marriage is then explored (Section D) by showing the major problems that arise particularly if he is invited (Option A) but also if only he (and other bishops in a similar situation) are not invited (Option B).  Two alternative solutions are noted but rejected (Section E) before it is argued that the best way forward is not to focus on bishops in same-sex marriages but to take seriously the impairment of communion arising in relation to all bishops who have rejected Communion teaching on marriage (Section F).  This approach requires a re-visioning of the Lambeth Conference by the incorporation within it of some form of visible differentiation, as already accepted in principle by Communion Primates.  This would both recognise the reality of impaired communion and also seek to gather together as many Anglican bishops as possible.

In conclusion (Section G) it is argued that the stakes here are now very high: if the apparent current policy is maintained and the issues raised by it are not adequately addressed there is a real risk that Lambeth 2020 will be a very different gathering from what it has been in the past and that it will fail to gather Anglican bishops from across the Communion “to safeguard, and take counsel for, the well-being of the Anglican Communion”. There is therefore a real risk that these failures could mean it will mark the end of the Lambeth Conference as in any sense an effective Instrument of Communion.

(Dr Ephraim Radner responds to and develops these observations over at Living Church by proposing six resolutions that a smaller gathering of those in communion with one another might pass.)

A. Lambeth Preparations & Invitations – Questions Raised

The preparations for Lambeth 2020 are now well underway with a developing website, the ongoing work of the Lambeth Design Group (which met again this past week), the preparation of studies in 1 Peter, a video message from Archbishop Justin Welby, and the issuing of invitations.  There is much to be excited about but there are also signs that major challenges and dangers lie ahead in turning these visions and preparations into a lived reality.

At least since GAFCON met in Jerusalem in June 2018 and issued its letter to the churches there have been questions as to whether the Lambeth Conference will, as in 2008, fail to gather a significant number of Anglicans from across the Communion because of divisions over sexuality and ecclesiology.

GAFCON respectfully urged the Archbishop “not to invite bishops of those Provinces which have endorsed by word or deed sexual practices which are in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture and Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, unless they have repented of their actions and reversed their decisions”.  It also said that “in the event that this does not occur, we urge GAFCON members to decline the invitation to attend Lambeth 2020 and all other meetings of the Instruments of Communion”.   GAFCON also asked for bishops of new provinces in North America (ACNA, recognised by both GAFCON and Global South) and Brazil to be invited. Already the provinces of UgandaNigeria, and most recently Rwanda have stated their bishops will not attend Lambeth 2020 unless the GAFCON conditions are met, although GAFCON Primates did attend the recent meeting of the Primates of the Americas which included the Presiding Bishop of TEC.

These challenges became even more serious between Christmas and New Year with news (producing surprisingly little publicity or comment) that one of the partnered gay bishops within the Communion – Bishop Kevin Robertson, an area bishop in the Diocese of Toronto in the Anglican Church of Canada – had married his partner on December 28th in a church service at St James Cathedral in the diocese.

B. The Lambeth Conference – A Very Short Introduction

Before exploring the question of invitations to the Lambeth Conference, it is important to recall its historic purpose and authority (explored most fully in a recent edited volume) as the longest standing corporate Instrument of Communion bringing together the bishops of the Anglican Communion at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The Windsor Report of 2004 stated (para 102) that “From its inception, the Lambeth Conference has proved to be a powerful vehicle for the expression of a concept central to Anglican ecclesiology, the collegiality of the bishops”.  That collegiality of bishops is explored in Towards a Symphony of Instruments produced by IASCUFO which states (2.2.3) in its discussion of the Lambeth Conference:

Episcopal collegiality is intimately related to the communion of the Church: collegiality is not only a salient expression of ‘visible communion’ (Archbishop Longley’s phrase: see 2.3.2), it is also one of the key constituents of visible communion. In other words, the manifest collegiality of the bishops is not merely ornamental or functional: it is constitutive of the visible fabric of the Church. Collegiality manifests itself in several ways, but underlying them all is the acceptance of a shared responsibility for the welfare of the Church, for maintaining its unity and leading its mission.

The Windsor Report also included (Appendix 1, para 3) the following description:

While the decisions of Lambeth Conferences do not have canonical force, they do have moral authority across the Communion. Consequently, provinces of the Communion should not proceed with controversial developments in the face of teaching to the contrary from all the bishops gathered together in Lambeth Conferences. This might go to the heart of receiving what was said about synodality in The Virginia Report. It is a fact that just as bishops of a particular province meet together from time to time to take counsel together as guardians both of the unity and teaching of the Church, so too bishops in the past have come together in council to give leadership to the Church on important issues. The Lambeth Conference follows this tradition (italics added).

In the words of the Anglican Communion Covenant (3.1.4):

The   Lambeth  Conference  expresses   episcopal   collegiality   worldwide, and   brings together the bishops for common worship, counsel, consultation and encouragement in their ministry of guarding the faith and unity of the Communion and equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4.12) and mission (italics added).

C. Lambeth Invitations – Archbishop Justin’s Reversal of Archbishop Rowan’s Practice and Theological Rationale

At the end of November, the Church Times reported that “Every “active bishop” within the Anglican Communion’s 40 provinces — Chile became the 40th this month— will be invited, with spouses bringing the total to more than 800”.  The Lambeth website has FAQs which begin with “Why haven’t I received my invitation yet?” to which the answer is “Every active bishop should receive their official invitation during late 2018. If you are eligible but have not received an invitation by 31 December 2018, please contact your provincial secretary”.

It would therefore appear that the decision has been made by Archbishop Justin to invite all bishops who are in good standing within each and every province of the Communion. Initial responses are apparently being requested for the end of March 2019.

What is significant about this decision and the events in Toronto is that for the last Lambeth Conference in 2008, then Archbishop Rowan Williams decided not to invite a number of “active bishops”.  It was confirmed in March 2008 that this included Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, at the time the only same-sex partnered (but at that stage not legally married) bishop in a Communion province. A report on the options considered at the time provides insights into the various concerns and possible compromises which were explored.

In his general letter of invitation in May 2007 Rowan Williams clearly set out the position and its rationale:

At this point, and with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion. Indeed there are currently one or two cases on which I am seeking further advice. I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this. Such trust is a great deal harder to sustain if there are some involved who are generally seen as fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution (italics added).

The Windsor Report had stated (para 110) that

This Commission is of the opinion that the Archbishop has the right to call or not to call to these gatherings [of the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Meeting] whomsoever he believes is appropriate, in order to safeguard, and take counsel for, the well-being of the Anglican Communion. The Commission believes that in the exercise of this right the Archbishop of Canterbury should invite participants to the Lambeth Conference on restricted terms at his sole discretion if circumstances exist where full voting membership of the Conference is perceived to be an undesirable status, or would militate against the greater unity of the Communion(italics added).

Many wanted a larger number of bishops not to be invited (hence the significant number of bishops ultimately refusing to attend) because of their actions in relation to same-sex unions.  At that time in 2007, however, there was (unlike now in 2019) a certain degree of unclarity as to whether the Episcopal Church (USA) was in fact working within the Windsor Report recommendations.  Archbishop Rowan explained this in his important Advent Letter of 2007 in which he also set out an account of the problems this uncertainty created and their implications for Lambeth 2008.  Some of the key parts of this letter are worth quoting despite their length in order to understand the former Archbishop’s thinking about the Lambeth Conference, the significance of the divisions within the Communion, and the implications for any Lambeth Conference:

…The deeper question is about what we believe we are free to do, if we seek to be recognisably faithful to Scripture and the moral tradition of the wider Church, with respect to blessing and sanctioning in the name of the Church certain personal decisions about what constitutes an acceptable Christian lifestyle.  Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about this, it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible.

This is why the episcopal ordination of a person in a same-sex union or a claim to the freedom to make liturgical declarations about the character of same-sex unions inevitably raises the question of whether a local church is still fully recognisable within the one family of practice and reflection.  Where one part of the family makes a decisive move that plainly implies a new understanding of Scripture that has not been received and agreed by the wider Church, it is not surprising that others find a problem in knowing how far they are still speaking the same language.  And because what one local church says is naturally taken as representative of what others might say, we have the painful situation of some communities being associated with views and actions which they deplore or which they simply have not considered.

Archbishop Rowan was clear that

While argument continues about exactly how much force is possessed by a Resolution of the Lambeth Conference such as the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution on sexuality, it is true, as I have repeatedly said, that the 1998 Resolution is the only point of reference clearly agreed by the overwhelming majority of the Communion.  This is the point where our common reading of Scripture stands, along with the common reading of the majority within the Christian churches worldwide and through the centuries.

Thus it is not surprising if some have concluded that the official organs of The Episcopal Church, in confirming the election of Gene Robinson and in giving what many regard as implicit sanction to same-sex blessings of a public nature have put in question the degree to which it can be recognised as belonging to the same family by deciding to act against the strong, reiterated and consistent advice of the Instruments of Communion

The implications of this for the 2008 Conference and his issuing of invitations to it were then clearly set out.  These stand as the last statement by an Archbishop of Canterbury as to the principles by which Lambeth invitations are issued:

The whole of this discussion is naturally affected by what people are thinking about the character and scope of the Lambeth Conference, and I need to say a word about this here. Thus far, invitations have been issued with two considerations in mind.

First: I have not felt able to invite those whose episcopal ordination was carried through against the counsel of the Instruments of Communion, and I have not seen any reason to revisit this (the reference in the New Orleans statement to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ‘expressed desire’ to invite the Bishop of New Hampshire misunderstands what was said earlier this year, when the question was left open as to whether the Bishop, as a non-participant, could conceivably be present as a guest at some point or at some optional event).  And while (as I have said above) I understand and respect the good faith of those who have felt called to provide additional episcopal oversight in the USA, there can be no doubt that these ordinations have not been encouraged or legitimised by the Communion overall.

I acknowledge that this limitation on invitations will pose problems for some in its outworking.  But I would strongly urge those whose strong commitments create such problems to ask what they are prepared to offer for the sake of a Conference that will have some general credibility in and for the Communion overall.

Second: I have underlined in my letter of invitation that acceptance of the invitationmust be taken as implyingwillingness to work with those aspects of the Conference’s agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a Covenant.  The Conference needs of course to be a place where diversity of opinion can be expressed, and there is no intention to foreclose the discussion – for example – of what sort of Covenant document is needed.  But I believe we need to be able to take for granted a certain level of willingness to follow through the question of how we avoid the present degree of damaging and draining tension arising again.  I intend to be in direct contact with those who have expressed unease about this, so as to try and clarify how deep their difficulties go with accepting or adopting the Conference’s agenda (italics original).

This simply restated what had already been said in the initial invitation letter earlier in 2007:

I have said, and repeat here, that coming to the Conference does not commit you to accepting every position held by other bishops as equally legitimate or true. But I hope it does commit us all to striving together for a more effective and coherent worldwide body, working for God’s glory and Christ’s Kingdom. The Instruments of Communion have offered for this purpose a set of resources and processes, focused on the Windsor Report and the Covenant proposals. My hope is that as we gather we can trust that your acceptance of the invitation carries a willingness to work with these tools to shape our future. I urge you all most strongly to strive during the intervening period to strengthen confidence and understanding between our provinces and not to undermine it.

The understanding of the nature of the Lambeth Conference undergirding this approach and the consequent importance of attendance was then articulated towards the end of the Advent Letter:

How then should the Lambeth Conference be viewed?  It is not a canonical tribunal, but neither is it merely a general consultation.  It is a meeting of the chief pastors and teachers of the Communion, seeking an authoritative common voice.  It is also a meeting designed to strengthen and deepen the sense of what the episcopal vocation is.

Some reactions to my original invitation have implied that meeting for prayer, mutual spiritual enrichment and development of ministry is somehow a way of avoiding difficult issues.  On the contrary: I would insist that onlyin such a context can we usefully address divisive issues.  If, as the opening section of this letter claimed, our difficulties have their root in whether or how far we can recognise the same gospel and ministry in diverse places and policies, we need to engage more not less directly with each other.  This is why I have repeatedly said that an invitation to Lambeth does not constitute a certificate of orthodoxy but simply a challenge to pray seriously together and to seek a resolution that will be as widely owned as may be.

And this is also why I have said that the refusal to meet can be a refusal of the cross – and so of the resurrection.  We are being asked to see our handling of conflict and potential division as part of our maturing both as pastors and as disciples.  I do not think this is either an incidental matter or an evasion of more basic questions.

Clearly we are now, eleven years after this letter was written, in many ways in a different place in the Communion. Despite his explanation, many bishops did not attend Lambeth 2008.  The Covenant ratification process has subsequently stalled although its vision of what it means to be a communion of churches has not been replaced by an alternative vision. There are, however, also no longer any doubts whatsoever as to the settled mind of TEC and some other provinces (notably, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada).  They are resolutely and formally opposed to the mind of the Communion on same-sex unions including now (unlike in 2008) in relation to same-sex marriage.  They are also committed to proceeding with unilateral action in these matters – including in relation to appointments to the episcopate – and thereby disregarding the Communion’s own understanding of marriage, the episcopate, and what it means to live faithfully as a communion of churches.

Almost exactly three years ago, the Primates decided (following some of the logic found in the Covenant) that all this would have consequences for The Episcopal Church in relation to the Communion and the Primates then applied these consequences to The Scottish Episcopal Church at their meeting in October 2017.  No such action has been taken yet against the Anglican Church of Canada because, although Toronto and other dioceses in the province have approved liturgies for same-sex marriages such as that used for Bishop Robertson, the province will only decide at its General Synod in July this year whether or not to confirm and finalise its initial decision in 2016 to revise its marriage canon.

Despite these previous statements from Canterbury and the subsequent developments in the Communion, it would appear from the reports at the end of 2018 and the FAQs on the website that invitations have now been sent out to allCommunion bishops by Archbishop Justin.  They have been sent without reference to any of these matters and in a marked departure from Archbishop Rowan’s carefully explained logic of invitations to the 2008 Conference as set out above.

D. Lambeth Invitations and Same-Sex Married or Partnered Bishops: A Painful Dilemma

The question raised by the marriage of Bishop Robertson last month brings to a fore, and at a heightened level, one of the crucial questions about Lambeth invitations: what about invitations to same-sex partnered (and now same-sex legally married) bishops within the Communion?  Here Archbishop Justin seems to a face a major dilemma in the light of the precedent set by Archbishop Rowan in relation to Gene Robinson in 2008.

Option A: Invite Bishop Robertson

If Archbishop Justin invites Bishop Robertson to the Lambeth Conference (as it appears he already has done) he will be inviting as a fully recognised bishop of the Communion someone whose pattern of life would make them ineligible to be a bishop – and indeed place him under discipline as a priest – within the Church of England and in the overwhelming majority of Communion provinces. His ministry as a bishop is also one rejected by Communion teaching (the repeatedly reaffirmed Lambeth I.10 from the 1998 Conference) and by the decisions of the Instruments in support of the moratoria of the Windsor Report.  Unlike Gene Robinson in 2008 he is not simply in a partnership recognised in civil law but in a marriage which he entered in a service in his diocese’s cathedral, using the rite approved by TEC, and authorised in his diocese since 2016 (despite the province of Canada not having yet officially approved same-sex marriages). This event in December 2018 marks a new development within the Anglican Communion and creates a further and deeper tear in the fabric of the Communion beyond that made in 2003 by the consecration of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire.

In summary, Archbishop Justin would be clearly stating that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s policy as regards invitations has shifted from that set out and applied in 2008.  He, unlike his predecessor, has for some unstated reason decided not to exercise his “right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion” (Archbishop Rowan). The goalposts have thereby been moved and clearly moved in a direction which is more accepting of disregard for Communion teaching and decision-making processes so as effectively to treat a bishop being in a same-sex marriage as among matters of indifference (ie adiaphora) within the Instruments of Communion.

Such a break with the precedent set out and explained in relation to Gene Robinson with regard to Lambeth 2008 should require major public theological justification, just as Archbishop Rowan offered a rationale for his decision not to invite. Central to this justification would be explaining why different conclusions have now been reached. This has never been provided and it is hard to see how it could be offered on the basis of the theological account of the nature of communion which the Communion, in line with the wider church, has developed.

Even with such an explanation, this decision is likely to increase significantly the probability, and the number, of bishops refusing to attend Lambeth 2020. It is highly unlikely that those provinces which stayed away in 2008 (even though Gene Robinson was not invited) will now attend when a bishop married to his same-sex partner in a church service is invited to attend.

All bishops, including those from provinces who attended in 2008, will now need to think about what it means to attend a Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in which definite departure from Communion teaching and being a bishop in a same-sex marriage are viewed as of no consequence when it comes to gathering bishops “to take counsel together as guardians both of the unity and teaching of the Church” (Windsor Report). This situation is unprecedented and seems to change the very nature of the Lambeth Conference as it has been understood until now.

Option B: Follow Archbishop Rowan’s approach and refuse to invite Bishop Robertson

If, however, Archbishop Justin follows the precedent set in 2008 and refuses to invite Bishop Robertson (or withdraws his already issued invitation) then it is very difficult to see such action as anything other than an unjust and discriminatory (in popular parlance, “homophobic”) action.  This is because it treats the bishop as a special case simply because his sexuality means that he personally lives out the theology of marriage now accepted and liturgically celebrated within his province.  It would be saying that bishops authorising same-sex marriages, bishops presiding at them, and bishops approving of fellow bishops in such marriages within the episcopate of their own province, do not thereby render their full involvement in a Lambeth Conference problematic.  Such unilateral disregard for the teaching of the Church in their episcopal ministry does not in any way alter their standing in the councils of the Communion.  It is only if they are a gay or lesbian bishop who actually dares to enter a same-sex marriage themselves that a problem rises.  Only that action of marrying someone of the same sex, on this understanding, amounts to crossing a red line.

In other words, although this option would appear on the surface to follow the 2008 precedent, once set in the new wider ecclesial context, it has a different meaning and significance and it too represents a shift from the ecclesiological and theological rationale that led to the non-invitation of Gene Robinson.

The Challenge

It is very hard to see how, when it comes to inviting or not inviting Bishop Robertson (and presumably also Bishop Mary Glasspool of New York diocese – whose original election in 2009 in breach of the Windsor moratoria contributed to a major boycott of the Dublin Primates Meeting in January 2011– and any other same-sex partnered/married bishops) Archbishop Justin can avoid having to take one of these paths and facing the serious negative consequences that follow either way.

E. Two Possible but Flawed Alternative Ways Forward

One alternative path (Option C) would be to invite those bishops in a same-sex marriage but not invite their spouses.  This would be on the basis that their marriage was not recognised by the Archbishop as a marriage and so the spouses are not eligible to attend.  This, however, would also need to be justified and risks producing the worst of all possible worlds.  It too breaks with the invitation policy and theological rationale of 2008, continues to treat such a bishop as a full bishop of the Communion, and so creates all the problems noted above under Option A. However, it then treats the partners of the married gay and lesbian bishops differently even though spouses do not have the same authoritative role as bishops within a Conference and same-sex spouses will be playing a very similar practical and spiritual role in the ministries of their episcopal husbands or wives.

Another option (Option D) would be to invite the bishops but on different terms to other bishops as was explored in relation to Gene Robinson for 2008. This, however, like Option B of non-invitation, again seems to distinguish and discriminate against these bishops because of their sexuality and ignore the many “straight” bishops whose teaching and pattern of episcopal ministry is fully supportive of same-sex marriages.

Both these possible ways forward would also need a serious theological rationale to be given and each appears to face significant theological and practical problems.

F. Is There a Better Vision? Wide but Differentiated Invitations

A better option (Option E) would be for this particular challenge and dilemma to engender a radical rethink which goes beyond the focus on individual same-sex partnered bishops and the simple binary question – “to invite or not to invite?” – only in relation to them.  Such a rethink would require a recognition that global Anglicanism is now a large and fractured family where it is unhelpful to talk simply of “in communion” and “not in communion”.  The reality is rather one of varying degrees of “impaired communion” (a subject on which Bishop George Sumner of Dallas, a member of the Lambeth Design Group and a Communion Partner bishop within TEC, has recently written).  Given that “episcopal collegiality is intimately related to the communion of the Church” (IASCUFO), it follows that forms of episcopal collegiality will have to recognise this impairment (just as they do, to an even greater extent, in, for example, the relationships between Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops).

This means that some new vision for a Lambeth Conference needs to be developed if Lambeth 2020 is “to safeguard, and take counsel for, the well-being of the Anglican Communion” (Windsor Report) and be “a meeting of the chief pastors and teachers of the Communion, seeking an authoritative common voice” (Archbishop Rowan) in which the bishops are recognisable to each other and the wider church as bishops who are able to act together with integrity “as guardians both of the unity and teaching of the Church” (Windsor Report).

This new vision will require acknowledging that Anglicans now clearly no longer share once common convictions and judgments about key elements of Christian faith and practice.  This means that some bishops cannot be trusted within the councils of the Communion to act as guardians of the Church’s unity and teaching.  The question of whether a local church “is still fully recognisable within the one family of practice and reflection” (Archbishop Rowan) and the “degree to which it can be recognised as belonging to the same family by deciding to act against the strong, reiterated and consistent advice of the Instruments of Communion” (Archbishop Rowan) are now matters which are, with same-sex marriage and the ministry of same-sex married bishops, even more pressing than they were in 2008.

And yet alongside this it also remains important to try to find – across these deeply significant differences and divisions – a way for as many bishops as possible within the Anglican tradition to come together to embody the communion that does still exist and to seek, with God’s grace, a way forward.  The Conference must be constructed so as somehow to gather as many bishops as possible “for prayer, mutual spiritual enrichment and development of ministry” and “to seek a resolution that will be as widely owned as may be” (Archbishop Rowan).  The creating of forms of episcopal partnership even in the context of impaired communion is one which has been explored and embodied ecumenically, for example in the 2016 commissioning of pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops for joint mission by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope.

This approach will entail some degree of visible differentiation to take place among bishops invited to such a Lambeth Conference.  But this differentiation cannot be on the basis of their sexuality or marital status.  It must instead be on the basis of their commitment to, or departure from, Communion teaching.  Such a judgment could either be made on a provincial level and apply to all bishops of certain provinces or on the basis of each bishop’s own pattern of episcopal ministry (thus distinguishing, for example, Communion Partner bishops from the majority of bishops in their provinces).

This principle is already established to some extent in the decisions of the 2016 and 2017 Primates’ Meetings.  These made clear that representatives of certain provinces “while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion” would “not take part in decision making on any issues of doctrine or polity”.  There are, however, a number of unresolved questions here including:

  1. The initial decision in relation to TEC has now officially lapsed after three years.
  2. Canada has not yet had these consequences applied to it (although it may do after its General Synod this year) and so it is not clear how they would apply to Bishop Robertson despite the fact he has married his same-sex partner using an approved liturgy in the Cathedral of his diocese.
  3. The application of the 2016 decision led to controversy after the last Anglican Consultative Council as it was unclear what it meant and also whether and how it had been applied in practice. This led to protests from the Global South in September 2017.
  4. Nothing has been said as to how the decision will apply to a Lambeth Conference where it will certainly be in force in relation to the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church given the decision of the Primates in October 2017.

To follow this path forward will mean doing the hard theological, ecclesiological, political and relational work to seek to enable the gathering of a new type of Conference. This will probably require differentiated functions and levels of authority that honestly but painfully acknowledge the degrees of communion that currently exist between Anglicans.  Such an approach, embodying the already recognised reality of “walking together but at a distance” may enable a more positive response to GAFCON’s pleas (including their request for invitations to ACNA bishops) than currently appears to be envisaged.  It may also allow the participation, in some form, at Lambeth 2020 of both

  1. Those bishops who no longer believe and teach (and, in a few cases, fail to embody in their own lives) received Christian teaching about marriage and also
  2. Those bishops who do accept Communion teaching – and whom a large number (perhaps the majority) of bishops committed to that Communion teaching recognise as Anglican bishops and would like the Archbishop to invite – but are not currently in communion with Canterbury.

In a surprising offer after GAFCON, the Archbishop of Sydney signalled a willingness to consider attending such a way of gathering Anglicans together.  Despite GAFCON’s apparent rejection a few months earlier of meeting with TEC bishops, he floated the idea of a Conference which recognised we no longer share common doctrine but would be “the fellowship of bishops who share our Anglican heritage” and “could celebrate our heritage, our common desire to see Christ glorified, without pretending there are no differences among us”.  He asked “Would that not be a celebration worth having?”.

G. Conclusion

At the moment in relation to Lambeth 2020 we have important preparatory work being done but we also appear to have the reversal of previous policy, the rejection of previous theological rationales in relation to invitations, no justification of these changes, and no public response to the requests from GAFCON or engagement with their theological rationale.

These are all worrying signs that preparations for the Conference are refusing to consider any creative proposals for its restructuring in response to the realities of impaired communion, even though the consequences of these realities have already been recognised by the Instruments.  It is as if, in planning the Conference, we are in denial of the truth articulated by Rowan Williams back in 2006: “There is no way in which the Anglican Communion can remain unchanged by what is happening at the moment”.

It seems as if there is a determination simply to call the bluff of those who have warned they may not attend and even to aggravate them further by altering the invitation policy from 2008.  Why not rather engage them in dialogue and offer them grounds on which they may conclude it is right and profitable to attend, despite their current concerns?  The other side of this stance is an apparent willingness to accept that many bishops (particularly from provinces marked by significant Anglican growth) will indeed stay away but to say that this doesn’t really matter and is a price worth paying in order to uphold the current but novel and unexplained invitation policy.  It is almost as if, rather than address these issues, the view is that the Conference will happen as currently planned however many cannot in conscience attend it.  Even if, as I’ve heard it put, the Conference ends up being small enough to meet in a telephone box.

There is of course no chance the Conference will be that small because whatever happens there will undoubtedly be a significant turnout on current plans.  It would, however, be a serious error to (a) ignore the significant shift in the nature of the Conference which has been created by the moving of the goalposts embodied in the current invitation policy or (b) minimise how widespread and deep the concerns (and possible absences) are likely to be with that new policy. These concerns are not limited to the more hard-line GAFCON provinces or even just to GAFCON as a whole.  The 6thGlobal South Conference in October 2016 was clear about the Communion’s problems in its communiqué:

  1. The prolonged failure to resolve disputes over faith and order in our Communion exposes the Communion’s ecclesial deficit, which was highlighted in the Windsor Continuation Group Report (2008).
  2. This deficit is evident in the inability of existing Communion instruments to discern truth and error and take binding ecclesiastical action. The instruments have been found wanting in their ability to discipline those leaders who have abandoned the biblical and historic faith. To make matters worse, the instruments have failed to check the marginalisation of Anglicans in heterodox Provinces who are faithful, and in some cases have even sanctioned or deposed them. The instruments have also sent conflicting signals on issues of discipline which confuse the whole Body and weaken our confidence in them.

“… for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

  1. The instruments are therefore unable to sustain the common life and unity of the Anglican Churches worldwide, especially in an increasingly connected and globalising world, where different ideas and lifestyles are quickly disseminated through social media. This undermines the mission of the Church in today’s world.


  1. The present and potentially escalating crisis poses challenges to the Global South in the shepherding of her people. We recognise the need for our enhanced ecclesial responsibility. We need to strengthen our doctrinal teaching, our ecclesiastical ordering of our collective life as a global fellowship and the flourishing of our gifts in the one another-ness of our mission.
  2. The Global South Primates will therefore form a task force to recommend how these needs can be effectively addressed.

If the challenges identified in this article are ignored and if no attempt is made to find a consensus among the Communion’s bishops about the nature of the Conference and the status of participants, the real danger is that these Global South conclusions will simply be applied to Lambeth 2020, perhaps at their next Global South Conference later this year.  It may even be that some bishops in the Global North draw the same conclusions and seriously consider the implications of this for their attendance.

If this happens, it will represent a tragic failure of leadership as the Conference will demonstrate how far apart from each other we are now walking. It will likely solidify the “walking apart” which The Windsor Report prophetically warned would follow were its vision of communion life and its proposals ignored, as they clearly have been by certain provinces and now also appear to have been by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Were this to happen and were, once again, hundreds of invited bishops to refuse to attend, it will mean that (with the next Conference not due until 2028 or 2030) there will be at least 30 years without a global gathering of Anglican bishops at a Lambeth Conference as developed between 1867 and 1998.  This means that the stakes are now very high. Such a prolonged failure to gather Anglican bishops “to safeguard, and take counsel for, the well-being of the Anglican Communion” risks Lambeth 2020 marking the end of the Lambeth Conference as in any sense an effective Instrument of Communion due to four factors:

  1. The failure to respond adequately to unilateral actions by various provinces which rejected teaching, decisions, and requests repeatedly issued by all the Instruments and by numerous individual provinces and networks within the Communion
  2. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s changed but unexplained policy on invitations to the Lambeth Conference
  3. The unwillingness to explore the logic of impaired communion, recognised by the 2016 Primates’ Gathering decision, for the structure of any Lambeth Conference
  4. The conscientious conviction of a large number of bishops that they cannot, as a result of the above, meet together in a traditional Lambeth Conference with those bishops whose own conscientious convictions have led them to act in ways which have ignored the fact that although the Lambeth Conference “does not claim to exercise any powers of control or command” it nevertheless “stands for the far more spiritual and more Christian principle of loyalty to the fellowship. The churches represented in it 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” (Lambeth 1920 Letter).

These factors now risk coming together to create a perfect storm in the aftermath of which it may well become clear that 1998 will go down in history as the last Lambeth Conference ever to be able to gather Anglican bishops together from all provinces across the globe at the invitation of the Archbishop of the Canterbury.

(The full text of this piece is available as a PDF: lambeth2020)

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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46 thoughts on “Lambeth 2020: what is the future of the Anglican Communion?”

  1. I asked a question at General Synod following the 2016 Primates meeting, and two supplementary questions followed that I think have a bearing here. This is the transcript:

    Archbishop of Canterbury:
    The Primates addressed the impact on relationships within the Anglican Communion when any Province makes a unilateral change in doctrine. They have set out specific consequences in the functioning of the Communion and a task group will be appointed to carry forward the implications of their decision.

    Supplementary Questions (transcribed from the audio recording)

    Andrew Godsall:
    Is there a difference between the specific consequences referred to in the answer and the relational consequences envisaged in section 4.2.7 of the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant that the dioceses of the Church of England rejected. And if there is, what is it?

    Archbishop of Canterbury:
    Thank you, that’s a very interesting question. The Covenant was not considered at all during the Primates Meeting. I don’t… I think it may have been mentioned once in passing. And therefore the way in which the consequences were looked at was not related to the Covenant in any way at all. I think to the best of my knowledge no more than 16, it may have only been 11, provinces have actually signed up to the Covenant. Therefore the vast majority would not consider it relevant in considering this. So there was no link.

    Dr Rachel Jepson:
    Would the House of Bishops also then take the opportunity to discuss plans to impose similar relational consequences for those provinces that support the criminalisation of homosexuality and in so doing are in breach of the Lambeth resolution.

    Archbishop of Canterbury:
    Thank you very much. I hope it’s clear that the House of Bishops was not involved in the Primates Meeting. It was the Primates Meeting, and the House of Bishops has not imposed any relational consequences in any way at all. As I hope I made clear earlier, such consequences are those at Communion level, and cannot bind any particular province. Having said that, I think the point you raise is a very, very important one. And if you look at the communiqué, which you will find on the primates meeting website, you will find that there is a very, very clear statement of the longstanding opposition of the Anglican Communion to the criminalisation of LGBTI people. And given that that is a very important part of the thinking of the Anglican Communion in this area, one could anticipate that the primates when they meet, were someone to be advocating such, would need to consider that. If they were to continue to advocate it since the primates meeting we just had. But I am one vote out of 38 and I couldn’t possibly predict or anticipate what the outcome would be. But thank you.

    I think the answers from the Archbishop demonstrate why he has had to re-think invitation policies. And just how complicated the invitation process must have been. Add to this that Nigeria have just ordained four new bishops who they are basically imposing on ACNA/CANA and it’s also very clear that not everything is rosy in GAFCON.

    • Thanks for adding this Andrew–very helpful.

      It is clear that Rowan’s theological and strategic approach would have indeed disallowed the attendance of those advocating violence against gay people and others, and rightly so. In abandoning that principled approach, ironically Justin is not easily able to do this in the same way.

      • I agree. But it also shows (despite his denial) that the Primates were pretty much operating along the lines of the proposed Covenant, even though it was rejected by so many provinces. And in the light of what Andrew Goddard says above, I think that’s significant. Maybe the Primates meeting of 2016 busted that particular flush?

      • Ian, would you mind clarifying what you mean by ‘advocating violence’? Is this extra-judicial punishment that Bishops are advocating, or is it that they reside in countries where the law punishes homosexual practice? As we are the only country, I believe, which has Bishops directly involved in law-making, is it fair to hold Bishops in other countries accountable for laws of which we do not approve? Are we expecting them to make a public disclaimer against such laws in order to qualify for attendance? If the parallel holds, would this mean that New York Bishops would be disallowed because New York now allows abortion up to full term for instance – a law which I am sure Lambeth is opposed to?

  2. Maybe Canterbury has just unilaterally decided to change the nature of the Lambeth Conference? I believe there is no intention to make it possible to pass any more resolutions anyway. Raises the question of what Lambeth is actually for, and what it means to be in communion.

    The basic issue here is that all provinces want to be able to claim to be ‘true’ Anglicans in good standing with the communion, but most of them aren’t happy to be in communion with provinces that bless same-sex unions. Canterbury however is not among those ‘disgruntled’ provinces and is happy to be in communion with ‘affirming’ provinces. This creates a problem as communion with Canterbury is a fundamental element of being an Anglican in good standing, so without support from Canterbury ‘disgruntled’ provinces are unable entirely to break communion with ‘affirming’ provinces.

    The solution that appears to have settled de facto for this is for all provinces to remain in communion with Canterbury while effectively breaking communion with one another (so-called walking together at a distance), which will be possible as long as Canterbury itself does not embrace same-sex unions. This works tolerably well as long as all you want to do is keep your rights to the Anglican brand, but as soon as you want to do more than that and do anything together – gather, come to common mind, cooperate, resolve – you have serious problems as ‘disgruntled’ provinces won’t want to do any (or much) of this with ‘affirming’ provinces.

    If Canterbury is not prepared to support the cause of the ‘disgruntled’ provinces then it will have to accept that gatherings now will always be fractious and dysfunctional affairs. This will continue until either Canterbury itself accepts same-sex unions, at which point the communion will simply split and there will be (at least) two credible version of Anglicanism in the world, one with and one without Canterbury (the most likely scenario), or Canterbury comes to its senses and insists on biblical orthodoxy on same-sex unions in order to be in communion with it (less likely by the year). A third scenario, that the ‘disgruntled’ become content to be in communion with the ‘affirming’ seems unlikely, however much Canterbury might want it. One unknown is how long the status quo, with Canterbury remaining opposed to same-sex unions, will actually continue for – the ‘direction of travel’ seems clear, but can it be stopped or turned around?

    • I wonder if Justin is in fact *recognising* the changed nature of the Lambeth conference, rather than changing it per se.

      I think your analysis of the dynamics of Canterbury relating to the ‘disgruntled’ and the ‘affirming’ is correct.

      • Thanks Ian.

        Since the nature of the Lambeth conference as one of the four instruments of communion is set down in official documents and established by long precedent, most recently by Rowan in 2007-8, I don’t see how it can change nature except by the ABC choosing to do so. I don’t think there is an independent reality besides its established nature to which he can claim to be conforming in any changes he makes. So I think it is unilateral change, not merely a recognition of a reality that exists elsewhere.

    • “Canterbury however is not among those ‘disgruntled’ provinces and is happy to be in communion with ‘affirming’ provinces.”

      I’m not so sure whether ‘happy’ is the right word. I mean, what should we then make of last year’s letter from William Nye in response to the consultation on TEC’s new liturgical rites for same-sex marriage and the blessing of same-sex unions.

      Here are few relevant excerpts:
      “Changing doctrine is, we believe, a matter that must be undertaken in a highly consultative and ecumenical manner across the major Christian churches of the world as well as among Anglicans globally”

      After describing as unhelpful TEC’s promulgation of new same-sex marriage liturgies, Nye continues:
      The matter also affects us at a second level, in that the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of the instruments of unity within the Communion, as well as the Primate of All England, puts the actions of the Church of England under particular scrutiny in a way that no other province experiences. Our response to TEC’s evolving position on these matters must, of necessity, be shaped partly by that international role which is symbolic as much as structural.
      Nye listed the options, as he understood them:
      a) Incorporate the new rite within the Book of Common Prayer as the only marriage rite therein;
      b) Incorporate the new rite, alongside the existing rite, as alternatives
      c) retain the new rites for “Trial Use” indefinitely
      d) Some other status, uspecified.

      The letter continues:
      I am not quite clear from your message whether option b), above is actually being contemplated. I believe it is worth considering as a step that might ameliorate the potential fractures between TEC, the Church of England, and the Communion.

      However, according to TEC Resolution B012:
      “Resolved, the period of trial use for these liturgies shall extend until the completion of the next comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer”.
      “Resolved, That this Church continue to honor theological diversity in regard to matters of human sexuality”

      Despite Andrew Goddard’s misgivings, I wonder whether the Archbishop understands the latter resolution as a response in good faith which aims (in Nye’s words) “to ameliorate the potential fractures between TEC, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.”

      As such, (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) does he really have a choice other than to invite all bishops?

      • Hi David

        He most certainly does have a choice. He has a choice whether to keep Lambeth on the same lines as it has been run before, which would mean not inviting those whose actions have torn the fabric of the communion at the deepest level. Or to try unilaterally to turn it into something it hasn’t been before. It’s clear what he has chosen. But it is definitely a choice, and his alone, and highly controversial.

  3. Andrew, thank you for a painstaking analysis.
    Would it have been inappropriate to have used inverted comments for this statement:
    ‘The question raised by the “marriage” of Bishop Robertson last month’ – was it really a marriage as there had been no finalisation of the change to doctrine in his jurisdiction. Would that not have made it effectively a civil marriage?

    If I might ‘add the view of a 100 IQ in an Anglican pew’: this whole business is tortuous and frustrating. It reminds one of the goings-on in Parliament at the moment where they will not make their mind up about Brexit and the whole thing just drags on and on with endless recriminations. Please, can the trumpet make a certain sound which we can follow and declare the Kingdom of God in Jesus with complete moral clarity. When the church had the circumcision crisis in Acts 15 they got it sorted in no time with 4 simple bullet points to follow: ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ – I’m sure the Holy Spirit likes to keep things simple and straightforward!

    • I fully agree Christopher. The last place I’d want to spend a moment of my life on Earth is at a Lambeth Conference. It sounds like the dullest way to spend a few weeks……

  4. Thanks for this thorough, if depressing, post Andrew.

    If we could have gazed into the future and read this in 2003 when the Gene Robinson thing kicked off, we would have had no alternative but to agree with those who argued at the time that appeasement and dialogue were a fool’s errand.

    It seems a formal Reformation-like schism is now inevitable in the Anglican Communion. In fact, when the history is written, they will say that the point of no return was reached long before 2019.

    • It was so obvious at the time to many of us. Also it was incoherent for Presiding Bishop Griswold to make ‘yuk’ faces when the ancient protesting cleric was given the chance to spell out exactly the physical mechanics of what was protested against. For whatever is unwholesome in verbal description will be considerably *more* unwholesome, not less, in physical reality and ramifications.

  5. I am planning on going to Lambeth 2020.
    I am looking forward to it!
    I am happy to talk with the disgruntled and the affirming.
    I will presuppose that those who accept the invitation wish to be part of a Communion in which things are a bit messy and, logically, I will presuppose that those who do not accept the invitation wish the Communion was tidy and not at all messy.
    I will go as a bishop in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, that is, I will be representing a church which has agreed to (it can well be argued) a somewhat messy approach to the blessing of same sex marriages where they have been civilly contracted, and representing with my fellow bishops a church which straddles four national jurisdictions, in some of which homosexual acts are criminalised.
    I will be sad that not all Anglican bishops will be at Lambeth just as I am sad that a significant percentage of worshipping Anglicans in the Diocese of Christchurch have recently left us to form new Anglican churches.
    Finally, I wonder if Lambeth 2020 will set a direction for the future of the Anglican Communion in which the future is determined by whether we are willing to sit at table, both to talk and to break bread, because we are willing to meet with people we disagree with, and not because we have entered into an A to G calculation of “if this then that” scenarios?

    • Bishop Peter – do you see any context in which disagreement is of such seriousness that it is not possible ‘to sit at table, to talk and to break bread’. Clearly the apostles and our Lord in Revelation 2,3 on several occasions encouraged separation or rebuked the church for entertaining false teachers & advocates of sinful practises. You surely understand that for many traditionalists, being asked to bless what they believe to be sinful is a wilful sinful act. Such divergence then of views does not make table fellowship possible and any talk of Anglican Communion a misnomer. Separation over doctrine and ethics is a NT concept. The question is whether the matter in hand requires such.

    • Peter, thanks very much for commenting, and Simon, thanks for asking the question.

      Doesn’t this exchange uncover what has always been the issue in relation to teaching and practice on sexual ethics? It as, for as long as I can remember, been the case that there have been two different views on same-sex marriage in the Communion. The ‘traditionalist’ view (if there is just one of those) has always had the better claim to be rooted in Scripture and in historic Christian teaching—but has in parts of the Communion been associated with violence and hatred of gay people too. The ‘revisionist’ view has better claims to wider acceptability, but is rooted in a very different approach to reality, texts, and meaning of what it means to be human.

      And really the only question that we have needed to answer all this time is this: is this disagreement ‘a thing indifferent’ (one of the ‘adiaphora’) or not? Given the way that the ‘revisionist’ position rejects some pretty central Christian claims about what texts mean, what Jesus taught, and how the Bible describes the human condition, I don’t see how it can be.

      But Peter you seem to have come to a different conclusion—agreeing with Justin, but disagreeing with Rowan’s detailed argument set out above..?

    • Bishop Peter, thank you for your input. I’m struggling to work out what ‘messy’ and ‘tidy’ mean theologically. The New Testament doesn’t really use the language of ‘messy’ and ‘tidy’ as far as I can see.

      It speaks of a holy church that is the pillar and foundation of truth, in which the fear of God is found, and in which error is refuted by its leaders. And it speaks of a worldly church in which people tolerate and embrace divisive doctrines and practices, calling for clear discipline, even handing people over to Satan in extreme cases.

  6. Hello
    Simon: No. How could one part of the body cease fellowship with another part?

    Ian: I think both Rowan then and Justin now have had their finger on the pulse of the Communion. Notwithstanding fine justifying words, GR not coming to 2008 was a political, not a theological calculation. No, the matter is not adiaphora: it is a living disagreement among Anglicans convicted differently on a matter.

    John: that is precisely the point. The New Testament has limitations. It is not particularly helpful in understanding homosexuality as many today understand it; it offers no help to a church which is composed of people who are very fussed by SSM, SSB and by people who cannot understand what the fuss is about; it is not actually a tidy compendium for those who want a tidy church but it is read as though it is a tidy compendium, even though that hypothesised compendium is spread through four diverse gospels, an uneven history, a range of letters (one of which, 1 Corinthians is not a tidy letter and is addressed to a messy church) and an apocalypse. The matter at hand is not the holy church versus the worldly church. It is the church engaged with the mystery of sexuality and unable to come to a common mind. Rather than frame this difference within out Communion in terms of truth and error, holiness and sin, I suggest we need to re read 1 Corinthians 7 and ponder afresh how Paul engages with matters of strong sexual desire, the demands of the kingdom, ideal and real life, commands and concessions.

    • Peter wrote “Simon: No. How could one part of the body cease fellowship with another part?”
      In faithfulness to Christ when one part is deviating from believing or living the faith?

    • Thank you for this, Bishop Peter. I will go back and prayerfully re-read 1 Corinthians 7 in the way you suggest. My gut feeling on this thread though is that, so long as some of us in the Communion regard Scripture as “not particularly helpful” and others of us see it as sufficient and authoritative, we will alas forever be condemned as “unable to come to a common mind.” That, I think, is the core issue – to which everything else is subsidiary – and it has been since the present crisis began in 2003.

    • Peter… “How could one part… cease fellowship?”

      Uncomfortable as it is surely this is (one) an additional factor…

      1 Cor 6:9 “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister [23] who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13 God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

      Being in Christ has some content of behaviour or of commitment to holiness that contrary deliberate behaviour renders empty.

      You suggested reading 1 Cor 7 for a methodology of handling the sexuality issues. My reaction is that it seems to assume that methodology is the way forward and not any foundational truths. Can one compromise with the demands of the kingdom? Is this my just being disobedient?

    • “How could one part of the body cease fellowship with another part?”

      The simple answer, in a very embodied way, is ‘by refusing to turn up’, which sadly is likely to happen for Lambeth 2020.

    • Hi Peter,

      You suggest that “we need to re-read 1 Corinthians 7 and ponder afresh how Paul engages with matters of strong sexual desire, the demands of the kingdom, ideal and real life, commands and concessions.”

      Your own 2013 paper entitled Two theologies of marriage: working from creation and companionship is helpful in this regard, in which you contrasted ‘creational’ marriage with ‘evolutionary’ marriage. (Of course, I appreciate that your own thinking on this would have evolved since this was written).

      Nevertheless, you explained the creational approach, by writing: “Marriage, on this account, is humanity organising itself to continue the procreation of life from one generation to another.; whereas in describing the alternative, you wrote: “Evolutionary marriage, in theological terms, is marriage as it adapts and adjusts in the course of history, from creation to the present.

      You make good points about the respective strengths and weaknesses of these very different understandings of marriage. For example:
      For a theology of creational marriage I suggest a significant weakness lies in respect of how its supporters respond to real life situations. If Scripture offers a coherent theology of creational marriage, how far is this theology to be followed in respect of the reality that at the vicarage door combinations of couples can appear requesting weddings which are not a tight fit with creational theology?

      “With respect to Genesis 1 and 2, the question of a strong connection between creation of humanity as male and female, procreation and companionship arises. Does evolutionary marriage go too far if and when it advocates that marriage need not involve gender differentiation?

      Well, I doubt that any here would disagree that marriage has adapted and adjusted over time and Moses’ Law allowing divorce is probably the most obvious scriptural example of this.

      Here, Jesus’ response on this issue implies that, however human passion, frailty and intransigence might have been accommodated before the advent of Christ, several millenia later, this does not overturn God’s unrevoked intent for marriage, as revealed through the Genesis archetype to which Jesus harked back.

      So, while, as you say, the New Testament is “not actually a tidy compendium for those who want a tidy church”, some of the marital situations which its most prominent figures addressed were as messy as the illustrative example that you provided.

      For instance, imagine a couple with the following messy personal histories, turning up at the vicarage door and requesting a wedding:
      H is now forty-odd and divorced. She was previously orphaned by her violent grandfather, and then, as a minor, forced into an arranged child marriage to her half-uncle, She was vacationing in Rome, when she met and fell in love with A. To make the dilemma a little
      more acute: H is the brother of A’s ex-husband, P!

      Similar to your own illustration, “a minister comfortable in the skin of evolutionary marriage theology arguably will have a more straightforward time responding to such a request.

      Yet, whatever any minister might make of this messy situation, who among us could possibly failed to be stunned by the revelation that H, on learning that A would be deported to Lyon (previously Gaul) by the authorities, would decide to abandon every privilege she enjoyed to live with him there?

      How could any minister not be stunned by their tragic circumstances, their obvious commitment to each other and affirm such a relationship as marriage?

      Well, despite evolutionary marriage theology, if H was Herodias, A was Antipas and P was Herod Philip (whose exile was ordered by Caligula), then such an affirmation would fly in the face of John the Baptist’s firm denunciation of the Tetrarch’s re-marriage to his half-brother’s wife.

      So, for all you say, I wonder out loud why Christ would eulogise his fore-runner as a “burning and a shining light” (John 5:35), if, in this messy situation, he couldn’t see the dawning gospel era in which marriage could adapt and adjust; in which “love is love”, whatever Lev. 20:21 or any other warmed-over Pentateuchal view might say.

      • Hi David (S),
        Your reference to Lev. 20:21 is not inappropriate in the context, given that this verse was the grounds on which Henry VIII sought the annulment of his marriage to Catherine. The refusal by the pope precipitated the formation of the Church of England and hence Anglicanism.

        I think the verse relates to marriage to the brother of a former husband while the ex is still alive, as was the case with Herodias (Philip died in AD 33or 34 according to Wikipedia). Levirate marriage, which served to give descendants to a dead man, was accepted as shown by the Sadducees use of it in an example to attempt to disprove the resurrection. Thus the Levitical prohibition was to avoid a woman being married to one brother while her previous husband is stilll around in the extended family.

        If your vicar approved of the marriage, he might have had second thoughts when H caused her daughter from her first marriage to dance so seductively in front of her new husband that he enabled ‘H’ to exact further revenge on the firery lay preacher who had objected to the match.

    • Sorry, in paragraph 10, I meant to write: To make the dilemma a little
      more acute: A is the brother of H’s ex-husband, P!

  7. At LC 2008 Rowan Williams, in the retreat addresses, tried hard to maintain that the AC was a church, or at least that the language of ‘church’ could be applied to it. In the event this has collapsed. The AC is a federation of individual churches in various degrees of communion and impaired communion.

    Does this explain the changed policy on invitations?

    Presumably the increase in the unit fee from under £3k to £5k, for a shorter meeting, means that it is anticipated that the attendance will be limited?

    Perhaps it will turn out to be more of a consultation than a conference, but if it is to be a consultation, it ought to be planned as such, I would have thought.

    Peter Forster

  8. I don’t really have much to add to this, believing that such unseemly goings on should be left to those with whom they are to do. However, perhaps a view from outside might be interesting to someone. That view is this: it has been evident to me ever since I first stepped inside an Anglican church over 35 years ago that the notion of an “Anglican Communion” is little other than a form of words. Indeed, the “Anglican Communion” since that time has increasingly been about forms of words which it remains to this day. All these forms of words are intended to paper over the cracks of the fact that there are now several differing traditions within Anglicanism which essentially hold to their own beliefs and practice regardless of what the others do. So it is not so much that there are cracks to paper over. The building that was Anglicanism has fallen apart and each tradition has moved into its own home.

    The only question left to answer is if the “Anglican Communion” is to continue hiding behind forms of words or if these differing traditions establish themselves in every sense of “establish”.

  9. The reason for the change of policy in relation to invitations is presumably because whereas Lambeth 2008 was approached as a meeting of an ecclesial body called the Anglican Communion, Lambeth 2020 is regarded as a meeting of individual and separate ecclesial bodies, which are in various degrees of communion and impaired communion, for consultation and fellowship.

      • No. There’s a natural unwillingness to talk about the death of the Windsor process, and the reasons for this – and the ‘consequences’.

        Peter Forster

        • It’s human nature to want to draw lines and decide who is in and who is out. Read The Lord of the flies. Go to any school playground. Look at most world religions and especially the church. The ecumenical movement, for all its good intentions, flies in the face of human nature. The human bit of the New Testament shows this tendency very quickly developing in the church. The divine Gospel tells us that the lines are not necessarily where we think they are and are often pretty blurred – right there even at the cross.

          The Windsor process, and the failed covenant idea are just another attempt to draw lines and decide who is in and who is out. Thank goodness they did fail is all I can say. Andrew Goddard is simply trying to resurrect the idea and displaying those human tendencies. What’s worrying is that the primates might think Windsor is still in play.

          Peter Forster – can I suggest you get out more? Outside of the House of Bishops ordinary church members have little idea about the difference between an ecclesial body and a federation. Inside the Dog and Duck and on the Clapham Omnibus no one cares about the difference at all. It doesn’t impinge on trying to pay the bills, get decent mental health care, or even make sense of what the government are trying to do about the B word. Get real. If it’s going to cost £5k for you to have a nice time in Canterbury consulting about the difference, then I think the money might be better spent and Ian Paul’s blog often does a better job of good disagreement.
          /rant mode off.

  10. Hello
    Apologies for taking so long to come back to this interesting discussion. Besides weekend duties there has been a rather annoying and unresolved problem with my bicycle … 🙂
    A few notes, by no means a comprehensive reply:

    1. It is unremarkable to observe the limitations of the New Testament in modern debates. When Christians argued on both sides of the slavery question, the NT alone did not settle the debate. Complementarian and egalitarian schools of thought among evangelicals remind us that the NT alone does not settle debates, even among evangelicals. And the NT alone is certainly not settling debates Down Under, where I am finding that evangelicals are choosing to leave our church and to remain in our church over the decision we made re the blessing of civil marriages.

    2. I don’t think my own views on marriage have evolved much but I recognise that my views on church have. Once upon an internet time (say, circa 2003-2012), as I engaged in online debates I think I harboured the view that some sturdy exegesis would settle the matter and I certainly hoped deep within myself that somehow “this” would go away. Since the 2013 conference (from which a paper I gave is cited above) I see myself increasingly recognising that our Anglican church and, as best I can tell, other Anglican churches such as the CofE, are simply not going to get rid of “two views” on homosexuality, and thus: (i) we need to find ways to live with differences on the matter; (ii) we need to avoid as many “red lines” as possible; (iii) we need to find ways not only to live with different views but with beloved siblings in Christ who come to the conclusion that Paul was right: it is better to marry than burn. Whatever I think about that, I am not going to shun my siblings.

    3. In contrast to something Ian Paul says above, I do not associate “revision” on marriage with general revision of theology in a liberal or progressive direction. Some of my friends and colleagues are as orthodox as I am re the Nicene Creed but take a very different view to me on blessing of civil marriages. (Again, why should I shun such a colleague?)

    4. Lambeth (1): the first good thing about ++Justin’s approach is that it is ambitious for a renewed Communion; the second good thing is that it puts that ambition on the line. If no one shows up – ok, if fewer show up than 2008 – then that ambition is likely to be proven to have failed. That is, the proof of whether ++Justin is taking the right line will come down to a simple democratic vote as bishops accept or reject the invitation. Obviously no one expects Nigeria and other GAFCON oriented provinces to show up but how many bishops will be there from Tanzania, Kenya, South-East Asia, etc? That is, might Lambeth 2020 show a resolve across the Communion for most provinces – yes, that is not most Anglicans – to continue to be the Anglican Communion, living with differences, embracing, even if not agreeing with, those bishops in same-sex marriages?

    5. Lambeth (2): in the light of above comments I have re-read my Lambeth invitation. I suggest this is a pertinent paragraph: “The Lambeth Conference is an occasion when the Archbishop of Canterbury exercises his privilege in calling together bishops and spouses from across the Provinces of the Communion as we seek to live out our calling as the Body of Christ. We hope there will be a number of shared commitments and resolutions which, although they do not have legislative authority in any Province until they have been received by the Province concerned, will set the direction for the Communion in the years to come.”

    • From that invitation it looks like Justin is hoping just to move on from the sexuality debate and carry on with shared resolutions and vision in the Communion as if nothing has happened. Seems a bit absurd really, not to mention extraordinarily disrespectful, a raw exercise of power taking advantage of his prerogatives as ABC. As you say, will be interesting to see how it succeeds.

    • “I see myself increasingly recognising that our Anglican church and, as best I can tell, other Anglican churches such as the CofE, are simply not going to get rid of “two views” on homosexuality, and thus: (i) we need to find ways to live with differences on the matter; (ii) we need to avoid as many “red lines” as possible; (iii) we need to find ways not only to live with different views but with beloved siblings in Christ who come to the conclusion that Paul was right: it is better to marry than burn. Whatever I think about that, I am not going to shun my siblings.”

      Perhaps, as you suggest, we should all get used to the new reality (after the 2012 SSM debates, Archbishop Welby call it the “change in the cultural hinterland”) in which we cannot rid the Church of either of the ‘two views’ on homosexuality.

      In your paper entitled, Two theologies of marriage: working from creation and companionship, as a comparison to living with different perspectives of same-sex sexual activity, you provide several analogies to show where this already goes on. So, pacifists co-exist with supporters of military intervention; infant baptism co-exists with adult baptism; creedal inclusion of the filioque clause with its omission; ordained and lay ministries learn to co-exist fruitfully.

      The trouble with extending this approach to same-sex marriage is that none of your analogies relate to divine affirmation of behaviour which is explicitly and unequivocally condemned through scripture.

      So, pacifists might cite Matt 5:38 and Rom. 12:19, while those who would join the armed forces would cite Acts 10: 1 and Rom. 13:4.

      Baptism, whether infant or adult, is nowhere explicitly proscribed. And whatever the differences between ordained and lay ministry, neither is explicitly prohibited by scripture.

      In contrast, following your recommendation to “avoid as many ‘red lines’ as possible” would involve conservative evangelicals moving from forbearance to sheer connivance at the Church impenitent, unabashed encouragement and indulgence in the kind of behaviour for which the Kingdom of God is forfeited (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

      Respectfully, describing as ‘siblings’ those who impenitently want to persist in such behaviour is a travesty of Christian fraternal love (John 8:44-45)

      The ‘via media’ corollary is not a panacea.

  11. Once again the Anglican Church demonstrates a special skill in tearing itself apart over a second order issue. A large number of church members will be baffled and saddened by the impression given that the leadership of the church is giving so much attention to a single element of sexual ethics. This is a major factor driving the irrelevance of the church to the vast majority of the population in the Western world. The closely argued contributions of this post and replies are no doubt interesting to a tiny number of people, but I suspect would not have been much interest to Jesus.

    Let’s get off the subject of sex, and onto the subject of love!

    • Yeah, okay…And if John the Baptist had followed that approach, he would have just re-focuses on love and affirmed the obvious mutual devotion between Herod Antipas and Herodias.

      You can only (and I mean only) imagine how Jesus must have rolled his eyes when he overheard John the Baptist warming over an obscure Levitical prohibition against a man re-marrying his brother’s ex-wife!

  12. I’ll pick up on a point from +Peter’s paper which is referenced and referred to above concerning an ‘evolutionary’ understanding of marriage. If one considers biological evolution, there comes a point when a new species emerges. Although the definition of species is not exact, and the process may be gradual or quick, but clearly there are distinct species. Thus, the question about an evolutionary understanding of marriages is whether the change in understanding can reach a point when what is envisaged as ‘marriage’ is actually distinct in a real sense compared with what it was. I would suggest that SSM is a distinct species from the marriage (between man and woman) as seen in past times and in many places in the world today. Of the subspecies of other-sex marriage, that found in the West is most similar to SSM. But this does not mean they are the same, just as a tabby felis catus (domestic cat) looks very similar to a felis silvestris (European wildcat) but they are from distinct species.

  13. Could I thank Bishop Forster for his frankness and clarity? Will Jones for different reasons as well. Andrew Goddard for focusing the issue.

    This thread is one of the better ones I have read.

    It remains unclear me (1) what the original logic of a catholic anglicanism, based on a figural interpretation of the OT concerning a monarch, now is; (2) what such an understanding could mean given that the CofE no longer operates this way; (3) what a catholic Communion identity allegedly linked to such a timed-out logic means beyond a kind of ‘last man standing’ logic, itself being tested on the ground.

    Will Jones puts the dilemma succinctly. We have an ‘anglican identity’ determined by a See of Canterbury at a time when the logic of his role is unclear, and the upshot is provinces unsure what it means to be in communion with him and him in a kind of default communion with everyone.

  14. I often disagree with the Archbishop of Sydney (my archbishop) but I very much agree with his proposals that were put forward in New Zealand even thought they did not gain acceptance there. I think all bishops of churches of Anglican heritage and tradition should be invited to Lambeth for such fellowship and discussion as is possible, not least for further consideration of how each Church may help others, especially members of Churches in lands where there is great poverty, hunger, lack of education, and not least persecution. S.Paul himself sought aid for the Church of Jerusalem from which he differed so greatly. (Jesus said we are to love, i.e. care, even for our “enemies”). This would mean including the Churches incorporated in the Anglican Church of North America, and other Churches not “in communion with Canterbury” whatever that means, despite the limited extent of fellowship between some of the Churches of the Anglican tradition – the divisions not always extending to the lay-people on the ground.

    Lambeth has always been an unofficial, informal meeting, until now of Churches “in communion with Canterbury”, a gathering of Churches of what is an informal world-wide federation, with the Archbishop and I suggest a broadening of its membership now. One might add that at the very first Lambeth Conference, not all bishops came – and not all bishops were invited (the great Bishop Colenso the notable example). Archbishop Davies’ proposal would ensure that this would not happen in 2020.

  15. John Bunyan–there is, however, no evidence whatsoever that Canterbury is inviting to Lambeth Conference bodies like ACNA, and as such, doesn’t that negate rather fully your proposal? Exactly the opposite seems to be in place, as Will Jones and others note. Canterbury wants to (1) retain an absolutely individual role in determining who is anglican, and in that role, (2) he is not inviting bodies like ACNA, and (3) is inviting those who RDW did not invite, on the grounds there was something like a communion teaching, and those who quite self-consciously determined to go against that were by their own choice dis-inviting themselves.

    It is for this reason one is noting a sea-change. In question is whether this is happening by decision of Canterbury or is just being “recognised” by him as a fact on the ground. If the latter, then it is hard to see how Canterbury actually is an instrument, and is instead something like a poll taker. If that is so, it is an odd kind of retention of a former understanding and the granting of a strange kind of “authority” to it. I take the view it is the former.

  16. Andrew, this is a very careful and quite thought-provoking essay, and it has some good ideas in it. But there are two major assumptions running through it that I find a bit insurmountable in seeing a clear path forward.

    1. You open with describing the GAFCON letter at the 2018 as a respectful request to disinvite impaired province bishops and invite currently unrecognized provinces. I watched the conference closely, and I found that particular request anything but disrespectful. How is it respectful to ask of the Archbishop a request he cannot possibly meet in good faith? To exclude TEC bishops de facto from Lambeth is a categorical exclusion of members of our worldwide communion, regardless of their personal views on marriage. This is not respect, it’s vindictive. And to insist on the inclusion of non-communion Bishops is a worse offense, especially given the selectivity of the request (I don’t see any GAFCON requirements that the Anglican Province of Christ the King be invited). It’s nepotistic and self-serving, and has no place in responsible exercise of communion policy and episcopal oversight.

    2. You write in this essay, “This new vision will require acknowledging that Anglicans now clearly no longer share once common convictions and judgments about key elements of Christian faith and practice. This means that some bishops cannot be trusted within the councils of the Communion to act as guardians of the Church’s unity and teaching.”

    These claims, common claims among those discussing these issues, strike me as inflated if not downright false. Where in the Gospel is it put that one’s vies on marriage are a condition of faith? Where in our Anglican tradition does it say that one’s views on marriage determine whether we have common convictions about key elements of Christian faith and practice? We have elevated a sacrament to a level it should never have. Marriage is important, absolutely, but common faith and practice involves the elements in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. When I share faith with someone, all I care about is whether they are fully committed to obedience to Christ, to serving in the Body of Christ, and building the Kingdom of Heaven as God calls them. If we are settled on this, then disagreements which subsequently appear can be adjudicated in unity on this basis, until we can find a path where we are of one mind. I simply don’t find myself not sharing convictions and faith with either TEC or GAFCON bishops and Christians. They are my sisters and brothers in Christ.

    What’s more frustrating is how disingenuous all of this is. The doctrinal principles that underwrite the evolution of views of marriage have been in place and use for decades, long before even 1998. No one broke communion over those convictions. But now that those convictions are leading to actual effects, communion is impaired? Either it was impaired generations ago, or it shouldn’t be impaired now. I think frankly most of GAFCON’s rhetorical and political bullying is a result of one crucial fact, and that fact is not their faithfulness to Christ’s lordship. It’s the fact that Africa boasts the largest numbers of Anglicans. Because of this, they can afford to make excruciating demands on their sisters and brothers. The power of the mob, not Christ, is what is driving the debate.

    I write all of this as someone who is uncertain about the terms of debate. I don’t have a strong conviction on the question of who the sacrament of marriage is open to. I’ve heard good arguments on both sides. But I simply don’t find any pressure in my walk with Christ to have to settle this issue before I can accept and live the Gospel. Does the fact that I lack conviction on this subject impair my communion with my Anglican sisters and brothers? It doesn’t for me, and hasn’t in my actual engagement with Anglican communities in the United States, Canada, and across Europe. We need to get back to caring about obedience to Christ, not obedience to views on marriage, as the deciding factor for communion. I’m aware that much of the rhetoric has suggested that obedience to traditional marriage views IS obedience to Christ, and that these are Gospel-issues. I think my life stands as a clear counter-example. It’s intellectual and moral honesty for me to say, “I don’t know,” on this question, and any other answer would be a lie. Does that make me disobedient to Christ if in every aspect of my life where I am convinced of Christ’s command I seek to serve obediently? Then why can’t it be the same with regards to marriage, where some see obedience to Christ in welcoming all people to baptism into Christ, and others see obedience to Christ in upholding a traditional vision of marriage. Cannot both be obedient with integrity in a world where the Church is fallible as to its judgment on these matters?


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