Andrew Goddard writes: in my previous article, I explored the place of Lambeth I.10 in the Communion, mapped how different people and provinces had responded, and explored this as the background to the present controversy about the Lambeth Calls at this conference. I now turn to look at the Call on Human Dignity in detail, the changes that were made, and the impact this might have on the Communion’s future.
Lambeth Calls: Take One
On July 18th, a study document was released containing the text of 11 calls. Within this, in the call on Human Dignity, reference was made to Lambeth I.10. The introduction stated that, amongst other things, it was a call for “a reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 that upholds marriage as between a man and a woman and requires deeper work to uphold the dignity and witness of LGBTQ Anglicans” (p 31). The key section (2.3, p 32) reads:
Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. It is the mind of the Communion to uphold “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” (I.10, 1998). It is also the mind of the Communion that “all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998).
This raised a number of questions, particularly for those committed to Lambeth I.10 and seeking for it to be reaffirmed:
- Why is the reference to “same gender marriage” rather than “same sex marriage”?
- What is meant by “the Anglican Communion as a whole” and “not permissible” given some parts of the Anglican Communion have clearly rejected this but the calls nowhere address the consequences of such actions despite the statement and decisions of the Primates in 2016 and there being a call on Anglican Identity (pp. 21-24)?
- Is there a difference between saying that “Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states” something and saying that something from Lambeth I.10 “is the mind of the Communion”?
- Why is only the part of the relevant clause from I.10 that refers to “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” quoted? Why not the opening that makes clear that this position is taken “in view of the teaching of Scripture” or the words that follow immediately after what is quoted – “and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”?
- Why is the clause that states “while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex” not referred to anywhere?
- Why is this all discussed under “Human Dignity” rather than, say, in the call referring to discipleship?
Before these could be explored, however, those opposed to Lambeth I.10 (now dominated by “federal liberals” committed to “autonomous inclusivism”) began a major campaign, particularly through social media, to oppose any reaffirmation of it at all. Triggered it seems by a Facebook post from the Bishop of Los Angeles on July 21st, statements expressing pain and horror at the proposed call flooded in from LGBT Anglicans, pressure groups and their leaders, bishops from provinces who have rejected I.10, and a small number of Church of England bishops. Then, on July 24th, Bishop Kevin Robertson, who is a suffragan bishop in the diocese of Toronto and one of a number of bishops attending the Conference who is in a same-sex marriage, posted on Facebook that
as a member of the Human Dignity Call drafting group, I never agreed to this Call in its current form. At no point in our meetings did we discuss the reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 at the Conference, and it never appeared in any of the early drafts of our work together. I can confidently say that the Human Dignity Call in its current form does not represent the mind of the drafting group, and I distance myself from the reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 in the strongest possible ways. I also unequivocally reject the phrase within the Call, “It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible.” This statement is simply not true.
This raised concerns to a new level and led to a statement from the Chair of the Lambeth Calls Subgroup on July 25th which, while offering no explanation as to the process that had produced the call, accepted bishops could reject a call (an option not originally given and now enabling a full set of traffic lights in their voting – red as well as amber or green) and stated that, having “listened carefully to the responses of bishops to Lambeth Calls: Guidance and Study Documents”, “The drafting group for the Call on Human Dignity will be making some revisions to the Call”. The following day, July 26th, a new statement and new version of the calls was released where although changes were also reported in 3 other calls the focus was inevitably on Call 2.3 in the Call on Human Dignity.
Lambeth Calls: Take Two
The new wording is significantly different from the original:
Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998). Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.
To summarise the changes:
- “It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible” has been removed.
- This sentence has effectively been replaced with “Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception”. Although this uses the common language of “reception” it does so in an illegitimate way because, as The Windsor Report noted, “We should note, however, that the doctrine of reception only makes sense if the proposals concern matters on which the Church has not so far made up its mind. It cannot be applied in the case of actions which are explicitly against the current teaching of the Anglican Communion as a whole, and/or of individual provinces. No province, diocese or parish has the right to introduce a novelty which goes against such teaching and excuse it on the grounds that it has simply been put forward for reception” (para 69).
- “It is the mind of the Communion to uphold “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” (I.10, 1998) has been removed.
- “It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998)” has been retained and moved higher up the call.
- “As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues” has been added.
This proposed new wording, replacing statements of the mind of the Communion on matters of doctrine rooted in Scripture with descriptions of a plurality of practice across Communion provinces, stands in stark contrast not only to the whole approach derived from “communion Catholicism” and the Windsor process’ rationale. It tears up and replaces the understanding reached when the Primates met for the first time under Archbishop Justin as expressed in their 2016 statement. Their account is opposed in a number of crucial ways to that found in the call:
- Rather than simply offering a description of the situation by stating “Many provinces..other provinces” they said, “Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage”.
- They were clear, echoing the language of I.10 now removed from the first draft of the call, that “The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching”.
- Rather than claiming there has been “careful theological reflection and a process of reception” they stated that “In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion”.
- Instead of simply stating “we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues” they stated a “unanimous desire to walk together” but noted that “All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion” and “Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships”.
- As a result, rather than doing nothing in relation to the life of the Instruments of Communion, they decided that “given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance” by “requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity”.
In what might provide significant background to some of the changes in the new draft call, the leading canon lawyer, Mark Hill, published a critique of the language of “the mind of the Communion” in the first draft of the call just before the new wording was released. In it he “seeks to expose the legal and ecclesiological illiteracy of the Call in general” by describing a significant change in the new edition of The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion to be launched at the Conference next week. What he writes of this document’s treatment of marriage, which has as far as I know has not been made public until now, is worth quoting in full and reading alongside the wording of the new call:
Significantly, the only matter on which it was unable to find a common principle concerned the nature and definition of marriage. Accordingly, the preamble to Part VI includes the following:
“The working groups operating under the auspices of the Ecclesiastical Law Society, as part of the revision process worldwide for this second iteration of the Principles, reported significant changes in some church laws with regard to whether two persons of the same sex may marry. As a result, there are now differences between the laws of the churches of the Communion on this point. Some churches provide only for marriage between one man and one woman. Some churches also provide for marriage between people of the same sex. Mindful of this difference, and of the principle of autonomy, it has not been possible to discern a common principle of canon law on who may marry whom.”
This is further expressed in the text of Principle 70 which declares that it was impossible to discern a common principle of canon law in this regard.
He then concludes that…
Since no common principle of canon law is discernible within the laws of each component Church in the Anglican Communion, no bishop, properly advised, can in conscience support a Call which purports to state that it is ‘the mind of the Anglican Communion’ that same-gender marriage is not permissible.
It is not possible to offer a full critique of this position here but two brief, initial comments can be made. Firstly, it is interesting that the revised Call is still willing to use the language of “it is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole” with reference to one part of Lambeth I.10. This is either inconsistent with Hill’s argument (as this is not a common principle of canon law and Hill’s claim that “The bishops who attend this year’s Lambeth Conference cannot possibly make statements declaratory of the mind of the Anglican Communion. At best they can declare the majority mind of the 2022 Lambeth Conference but nothing more” presumably applied also to the bishops attending in 1998) or it means that Lambeth Conferences can state the “mind of the Anglican Communion” but their statements cease to be accurate as soon as any province acts against that mind and exercises its autonomy to revise its canons, as has been done in recent years on marriage. This latter is clearly the total opposite of the ecclesiology underpinning the whole Windsor process and the logic of the actions and rationale of the Primates in 2016.
Secondly, the argument ignores the fact that the bishops in 1998, and possibly now in 2022, do not simply speak to the Communion on the basis of common principles discerned by canon lawyers. As I.10 makes clear explicitly in two places (neither of them cited in either version of the call) they were exercising their teaching authority as bishops in relation to the witness of Scripture. In the words of Rowan Williams, in his 2007 Advent letter, part of the role of bishops gathered at Lambeth is to recognise that the Conference is intended “not [as] a canonical tribunal, but neither is it merely a general consultation. It is a meeting of the chief pastors and teachers of the Communion, seeking an authoritative common voice”. The bishops collectively at Lambeth Conferences have, in part, always exercised what the original common principles of canon law described in these words: “The bishop must teach, uphold and safeguard the faith and doctrine of the church” (Principle 37.4). In the words of the proposed Covenant, the Conference “expresses episcopal collegiality worldwide, and brings together the bishops for common worship, counsel, consultation and encouragement in their ministry of guarding the faith and unity of the Communion and equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4.12) and mission” (3.1.4, italics added). While lacking legal authority in provinces, such teaching by the bishops gathered at Lambeth has been recognised to have significant moral authority in Anglican ecclesiology. Certainly in relation to the nature of marriage which is not simply a technical legal matter but “a matter of doctrine” it arguably has at least as much right to be viewed as representing “the mind of the Anglican Communion” (one might, learning from the 2003 Emergency Primates Statement more accurately say “as a body” rather than “as a whole”) as any judgments reached by a comparative study of provinces’ canons.
The New Call and Mapping The Communion
Alongside these changes to this Call it is also important, in locating where it seems we now are as a Communion in relation to the mapping set out earlier, to note aspects of two other calls.
Firstly, there is the shift in emphasis within the Anglican Identity call. The Covenant expressed our Anglican ecclesiology by speaking clearly (3.1.2) of “living ‘in communion with autonomy and accountability’” and being “enabled to be conformed together to the mind of Christ” as churches “bound together ‘not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference” and of the other instruments of Communion”. This was understood to entail a commitment on the part of each member church of the Communion “to have regard for the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its authority” (3.2.1) and “to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission” (3.2.5). Little or nothing of this is clearly spelt out in the Call on Anglican Identity which only says “Each Province of the Anglican Communion is autonomous and called to live interdependently. Four Instruments of Communion exist and express Anglican interdependence”. It offers no discussion of recent difficulties or of the ecclesiology which shaped Windsor and the Covenant, simply claiming that the Anglican tradition “seeks faithfulness to God in richly diverse cultures, distinct human experiences, and deep disagreements”. This shift is perhaps why the new draft simply approves a plurality of contradictory beliefs and practices between provinces arising from disregard for the Communion’s common good and may also be an underlying factor in the whole move from resolutions to calls (as I discussed when this innovation was announced).
Secondly, the change between the first and second draft of the call on Human Dignity appears to reflect the Archbishop’s particular understanding of, and approach to, reconciliation which shapes the call on this subject. Detailed analysis and critique is not possible (Martin Davie has recently critically reviewed Archbishop Justin’s book and offers some comments in his evaluation of the initial draft of the calls) but two aspects are, I think, important. Firstly, the opening declaration (2.1) here begins with the astonishing statement that “We believe in God who is both three and one, who holds difference and unity in the heart of God’s being, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and then connects this to ecclesiology by claiming “Our differences embodied in the Anglican Communion both challenge and deepen our experience of God in the other. As we join in God’s mission of reconciliation through Jesus and in the power of the Spirit, our differences are celebrated and redeemed, as we are made whole in the body of Christ. In that diverse whole, we more fully reflect the image of God”. The theological statement represents a serious, arguably heretical, error in relation to the doctrine of God while the ecclesiological application of this seems to make difference and diversity central without drawing any distinction between types of difference, particularly the difference between truth and error. This may help explain the new “Many…Other…” and “walking together…despite our deep disagreement” wordings in the Human Dignity call in relation to sexuality. Secondly, there is a call here for “the Archbishop of Canterbury and/or the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion to begin a new conversation with the Churches of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda seeking a full life together as an Anglican family of churches”. There is the question as to why these provinces are seen as the cause of the problem with no reference to those whose behaviour has meant they were in 2016 judged unable to participate in “a full life together” in the Communion. There can also be little doubt that the changes in relation to Lambeth I.10 and the lack of clarity as to what it means to have “a full life together as an Anglican family of churches” will simply confirm these churches in their analysis of the Communion’s failings and strengthen their resolve not to participate in the Instruments. The changes could well push many other provinces within GAFCON and the Global South to take a similar stance rather than continuing to be involved in the Instruments despite their deep concerns about the Communion’s direction.
The changes in the call relating to Lambeth I.10, placed alongside these other indicators, clearly shows that there is now, in effect, a wholesale abandonment of the historic understanding of the Anglican Communion and the framework this provided to Windsor and the Covenant for how to interpret and respond to the Communion’s difficulties in relation to sexuality. The relative silence in recent years (noted at in the previous article) in relation to both sexuality and ecclesiology was unlikely to survive the Lambeth Conference. The first draft of the calls, though weak and not without significant problems, was broadly pro-Lambeth I.10 and at least consonant with communion ecclesiology even if less consistently thought through and applied than by the Primates in 2016. In terms of the quadrants it was broadly communion conservative (though in a weaker form) while spacious enough for any remaining communion liberals. The backlash from federal liberals has, however, now led to a position which only really makes sense as a capitulation – by default if not by explicit intention or advocacy – to their position of “autonomous inclusivism”. The refusal to make any attempt to reaffirm Lambeth I.10 or to follow through on the logic of Windsor, the covenant and the 2016 statement means that if accepted the call effectively embeds within the Instruments the conviction that each province determines its own actions within its own jurisdiction in accordance with its own canons and constitution. It upholds the view that the Anglican vision of diversity, comprehensiveness and inclusion is such that other Anglican provinces should honour and respect those decisions and continue to include one another and maintain bonds of communion even where there are significant disagreements on matters of theology, ethics or practice between them.
From ‘communion Catholicism’ to ‘autonomous inclusivism’?
In 2016, the Primates, presided over by Archbishop Justin, effectively said, “there is Communion teaching and those who depart from it face consequences”. This call, if accepted by the Lambeth Conference presided over by Archbishop Justin six years later, effectively says “those who depart from Communion teaching will face no consequences”. In fact, it goes further and effectively states “the consequence of their ‘unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity’ is that they render the Communion as a whole lacking a teaching and they require all churches in the Communion to recognise a plurality of views which everyone has to accept within Communion life”. It is, I think impossible to see this as anything other than a shift from “communion Catholicism” to “autonomous inclusivism”.
The one defence of the new draft call that has some weight is that it is at least speaking honestly about our realities. The problem is that it does so in a paradigm diametrically opposed to that which the Communion has developed and worked with until now. One of the questions is whether Archbishop Justin and those who welcome this paradigm shift are willing to be honest that this is what they are in fact doing. Will they also articulate their own accounts of sexuality and ecclesiology and their relationship to each other more explicitly, and have they seriously considered the implications of all this for those – notably the Global South – who remain committed to communion Catholicism and the teaching of I.10?
The one sign of hope that this may yet be retrievable is the addition in the new draft which talks about “listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues”. The danger is that this is understood to entail acceptance of the revised call and its underlying “federal liberal” vision of autonomous inclusivism. If that is the case then the most likely outcome will sadly not be “the maximum possible degree” of communion. Those who remain committed to I.10 and communion Catholicism will give expression to that in what will, effectively, be parallel (and potentially even alternative) instruments such as those being developed already by the Global South. This will be portrayed by some in terms of “schism”. This would be grossly unfair. The Conference in effect, by embracing plurality, would have deprived them of the high degree of communion they had previously found through the Communion and the historic pattern of faith and order Anglicans have until now seen as what God wants for His church and necessary for visible unity. To seek to retrieve and restore and revitalise that is simply a matter of Christian obedience. As noted above, the danger is that investment in these new instruments will then lead more provinces to follow the path of those not at Lambeth and increasingly detach themselves from the Communion’s Instruments which, whatever good they may now do, no longer work for the life of communion they were created to nurture and deepen.
The better way of developing these words added to the new draft would be to recognise that we already accept in our ecumenical conversations that we should be “listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree” with fellow Christians. This is evidenced by the latest ARCIC report of 2018 being entitled “Walking Together On The Way: Learning to be the Church – Local, Regional, Universal”. What if we drew on this ecumenical perspective (some of which I sketched in 2017 pre-ARCIC) and, at this Lambeth Conference and after it, developed the 2016 acknowledgment that our walking together now takes place with “significant distance between us” not just ecumenically but as Anglicans? Is it not the case that, if we are to be honest and have integrity, we must now “formally acknowledge” this in our structures rather than simply fighting to determine whether those structures do or do not reaffirm I.10, do or do not abandon the understanding of what it means to be an Anglican Communion which we have developed?
This will mean addressing the questions around sexuality but not in isolation from addressing the different ecclesiological questions and visions which are inextricably interwoven with them. Attempting to address, let alone accept, diversity on sexuality as in the current draft without also addressing the diversity on ecclesiology, which means we have no shared understanding of what it means to be the Anglican Communion, will only worsen, not resolve, the problems.
In terms of the mapping of the Communion over the last two decades it does appear that most churches are falling into two of the four quadrants as convictions around sexuality and around the nature of communion have, for whatever reasons, coalesced. As noted, there are very few now who would be “communion liberals” who would wish to order the church in a manner contrary to Lambeth I.10 but refrain from doing so because they are committed to communion catholicity. Although there are a good number who might appear to be more “federal conservatives”, it does appear that those elements in GAFCON which have conscientiously stayed away from meetings of the Instruments would be willing (as would ACNA) to be part of a global fellowship shaped by the traditional Anglican vision of communion as is being developed by the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches. Most of the current Communion would therefore now be either “communion conservative” or “federal liberal” but the problem is that by opposing each other on both sexuality and ecclesiology it is impossible to find a form of global fellowship which could satisfy both of these. The danger now is that they will simply fight to the death to capture the current Communion structures with the loser either walking away or being expelled by the winner.
Why not instead consider how each of these squabbling siblings of historic Anglicanism might make some degree of peace and seek to keep as high a degree of communion as possible between two, visibly differentiated, global groupings? This could happen in a number of ways. As proposed in 2016, the current Communion could continue as the main body committed to I.10 and traditional communion ecclesiology with “federal liberals” having a different status within it. Alternatively, there can be one set of structures which is broader and looser but maintains some degree of communion among its member churches on the basis of a federation shaped by autonomous inclusivism and another set of structures which is smaller but deeper in relation to its communion and shared faith and mutual accountability and submission. In this latter situation one obvious question would be the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury and, related to that, the direction of the Church of England post-Living in Love and Faith. At the moment, it would appear the trajectory of this Lambeth Conference may be moving towards this second approach with Canterbury seeking to lead the first, looser and broader group and in so doing effectively ceding leadership of the other to the Global South and making all these questions particularly pressing within the CofE. This is not, however, the only option, let alone an inevitable outcome. There are alternatives as Ephraim Radner (here, with a response from Stephen Noll, and here) and I (here and here) sought to explore when the Conference was expected to meet in 2020.
My first real engagement with the Anglican Communion began 20 years ago this month when Wycliffe Hall, where I was a relatively new tutor in ethics, held a conference on the Future of Anglicanism. Following a call there from the then Primate of the West Indies, Drexel Gomez, I subsequently co-authored with Peter Walker, and the assistance of many readers, a contribution which we entitled True Union in the Body?. It sought to explore questions about sexuality (defending Lambeth I.10) and how to handle our differences over this (proposing as Windsor later did a moratorium and warning, sadly accurately, of the dangers if this was not implemented).
That title was purposefully a play on the language of “the body”. To an extent I had not then fully realised, it was the start of a conviction that these two question of the nature of true union in our created physical bodies (sexuality) and the nature of true union in the body of Christ (ecclesiology) are, in the travails of the Anglican Communion, themselves united to each other. When they gathered in 2008, the bishops of the Communion had a framework to help them seek to find a way forward but the details of that failed to be accepted. In 2016, the Primates of the Communion charted an alternative way forward, consistent with that framework. Now, in 2022, the bishops gathering at Lambeth have not been asked to work with that framework and the current calls appear to direct the Communion in totally the opposite direction.
There is the real risk that the tear in the fabric of the Communion which the Primates in 2003 rightly warned would happen, may now become even greater and finally rip the Communion into two separate, distinct ecclesial communions. We can only hope and pray that, as the bishops gather and pray and study Scripture and discuss, mindful that over 200 of their fellow bishops of the Communion (whose convictions on these matters are well known and so can be factored into the Lambeth deliberations) are already significantly separated, they will address honestly and theologically their differences over both sexuality and ecclesiology and be willing to be led by the Spirit rather than to continue to grieve the Spirit.
Revd Dr Andrew Goddard is Assistant Minister, St James the Less, Pimlico, Tutor in Christian Ethics, Westminster Theological Centre (WTC) and Tutor in Ethics at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. He is a member of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) and was a member of the Co-Ordinating Group of LLF.