Andrew Goddard writes: In January I raised a number of concerns about the invitation policy for the 2020 Lambeth Conference. The issue hit the headlines again in February following further developments – the election of a same-sex married priest to be Bishop of Maine and the February 15th message from the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion which contains much encouraging and positive news about Lambeth 2020 but also confirmation that all serving bishops are being invited and the revelation that same-sex spouses are not being invited to the Conference:
I need to clarify a misunderstanding that has arisen. Invitations have been sent to every active bishop. That is how it should be – we are recognising that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend. But the invitation process has also needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a series of private conversations by phone or by exchanges of letter with the few individuals to whom this applies.
The non-invitation has led to much outrage and controversy not just online (for example, Peter Leonard’s application of the Pastoral Advisory Group’s recently released Pastoral Principles) but at the Executive Council of TEC (remarks by the House of Deputies President Gay Jennings and a resolution).
Election of the new Bishop of Maine
On February 9th, the diocese of Maine within the Episcopal Church elected the Reverend Thomas James Brown as its tenth bishop. Thomas Brown “is married to the Rev. Thomas Mousin, who is currently the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlestown, a neighborhood of Boston”. He is the fourth same-sex partnered priest to be elected as a bishop within the Anglican Communion. The first two – Gene Robinson (2003, now retired) and Mary Glasspool (2009/10, now in New York) – were also within TEC and led to major conflict in the Communion. The third – Kevin Robertson in Toronto (2016) – caused some tensions and difficulties within the diocese but received comparatively little comment across the Communion and none from any of the Instruments of Communion.
It would be possible to argue that the election of Thomas Brown is of little consequence: his province has already changed its doctrine of marriage and is now simply following through the logic of that decision in its criteria for the acceptability of bishops. There are, however, other important factors which make the election significant –
- it is the first ever election of a priest in a same-sex marriage to serve as bishop,
- it is the first election in TEC of a same-sex partnered priest since 2009/10 and so the first under Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and
- it follows the statement of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in January 2016 (their first meeting since Dublin in 2011) that reaffirmed, following the decision of TEC to change its marriage canons, the traditional doctrine of marriage, the problem of “unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity” and the consequence that such actions “further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us” resulting in “places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships”.
I explore the consequences of this—particularly its relationship to Anglican and ecumenica understandings of episcopacy—more fully in the longer document which is attached at the end of this piece
Inviting all bishops to the Lambeth Conference
The statement from the Secretary General confirms the decision to invite all bishops and offers the first public explanation and justification of this: “That is how it should be – we are recognising that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend”. In the furore over spouses this has received little or no comment and most supporters of same-sex unions have failed to acknowledge or welcome its significance.
The difficulty is that this statement offers no rationale for why this is “how it should be”. Nor does it recognise that, as I set out in detail in my earlier piece, this is not “how it used to be” as it is a reversal of Archbishop Rowan’s clear approach. Nor does it acknowledge that it is not how the Lambeth Commission, on which the Secretary General served, unanimously understood the role of the Archbishop in relation to invitations to the Lambeth Conference in the Windsor Report (para 110):
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.
There therefore urgently needs to be clarification as to what change has taken place and why. There would appear to be a number of options, the main ones being:
Option A – Archbishop Justin has rejected Windsor’s judgment and believes that he as Archbishop of Canterbury has no discretion in invitations.
Option B – Archbishop Justin accepts he has discretion but he has decided not to use it for this Conference.
Option C – Archbishop Justin accepts he has discretion and has used it and, after careful consideration, he believes that it “is appropriate, in order to safeguard, and take counsel for, the well-being of the Anglican Communion” to change the approach of his predecessor and invite “all those consecrated into the office of bishop”.
If A or B is the rationale then it would mean that each province determines on its own basis who is a bishop in good standing and the Archbishop invites them, whatever the consequences for “the well-being of the Anglican Communion”. This would appear to increase the role of provincial autonomy and remove one of the few existing means by which the Instruments might act to order their common life. It raises the question as to whether this applies no matter what a bishop has said and done. Gene Robinson was not the only serving bishop not invited in 2008. Then, and possibly now, other bishops – for example those who are a cause of scandal because clearly involved in serious political or financial corruption – maybe should not be invited even if they have not been removed or disciplined by their province. If this franchising out of the invitation decision to each province is the rationale then it would even be possible for a bishop to be uninvited because they insisted on upholding Communion teaching and discipline in their diocese and were removed from office as a result.
It may be that option B has been followed because the Communion is now so conflicted and there are so many possible grounds for non-invitation (intervention in other provinces, support for criminalisation of homosexuality, corruption etc) that the Archbishop feels unable to pass judgment.
If C is the rationale then it is clear that a judgment for the good of the Communion has been made and so, as Rowan Williams did, it would be wise to explain that judgment. This is particularly important since it is diametrically opposed to his decision even though we are now dealing with the doctrine of marriage, there is no doubt as to the determination of most bishops in TEC to have no regard for the Communion’s teaching and call for restraint, and a significant number of provinces (notably through GAFCON) have called on him not to invite certain bishops. It may, for example, be that he believes it important, for the well-being of the Communion, to have everyone present across the divisions in order to seek a resolution to them, in which case it is important to clarify this and set out how that is to be attempted.
Related to this is whether it has been judged that there has been a fundamental change in the character and nature of the Lambeth Conference and, inextricably linked to this, of the Anglican Communion. This is quite possible given all the recent turmoil. But it has never been clearly articulated. Given the determination of a number of bishops not to act collegially in relation to Communion teaching on sex and marriage and the fact that a small number of bishops themselves now embody this through being in a same-sex marriage it is hard to see how – if the Lambeth Conference is to fulfil its historic role in relation to collegiality, conciliarity, and communion – it is obviously the case that it is “how it should be…that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend”. If, however, the conference is being conceived in a new way then inviting all could make more sense.
The sense of a diminution of the ecclesial and episcopal significance of the Conference has also been seen by some as evident in the much more integrated role of spouses in a “joint conference”. This change has also increased concerns about the second element in the Secretary General’s statement.
Not inviting all legal spouses to the Conference
The policy for inviting spouses has now been stated – “it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference” – and has already led to significant protest and the wife of the Bishop of Liverpool deciding not to attend.
In one sense there is a logic here: the spouses invited are those who are spouses according to Communion teaching. Same-sex spouses are therefore not invited (as presumably civil partners would not be). There are, however, a number of significant paradoxes or contradictions.
Firstly, the Archbishop of Canterbury is refusing to be selective and exercise his judgment in relation to the more important participants in terms of ecclesiology – bishops of the church – and where there is precedent for non-invitation. He is, however, being selective and exercising his judgment in relation to the less important participants in terms of ecclesiology – spouses – where there is not an obvious precedent for non-invitation.
Secondly, the reason that is offered for this different policy for spouses is given as “the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference” but this is not applied to those bishops (who are of course legally same-sex spouses) but only to their spouses. The logic of this is that were Thomas Brown’s same-sex clergy spouse to be elected a bishop in TEC before Lambeth 2020 he would thereby become eligible to attend the Conference as a bishop.
Thirdly, appealing to the doctrine of marriage to justify non-invitation of spouses makes clear that the Archbishop is willing to invite bishops whom he accepts are, in his eyes and according to Communion teaching, living in a non-marital union. He is thereby welcoming as a bishop of the Communion, to sit in its counsels, someone who, by his decision in relation to spouses, he has declared to be living a life that bears false witness about the nature of marriage.
Fourthly, the appeal to Lambeth I.10 as the ground for this pays no regard to that resolution as a whole or the way in which it has been received and implemented by the Communion as a whole for the last 15 years through the Windsor process.
Fifthly, there are questions as to why spouses are invited (or not invited). It is hard to believe that the ministry of same-sex spouses is significantly different from that of opposite-sex spouses or that their role is less vital in the ministry of the bishop. As a result, there is an understandable sense of injustice and grievance that they should be excluded when the ministry of their same-sex spouse who is a bishop is being treated as no different from that of the other bishops.
Sixthly, the apparent inconsistency and incoherence arises because the Communion’s doctrine of marriage is being seen as only of relevance in relation to identifying spouses and to have no bearing on the invitations to bishops. It is unclear what the logic for this difference is but it would appear that either (a) provincial autonomy and difference is respected and inviolable in relation to election of, and so invitations to, bishops but not in relation to definitions of marriage and so recognition of spouses, where Communion teaching is determinative and/or (b) it is held that the Communion’s doctrine of marriage has no relevance in determining which bishops should be invited.
It might, of course, be that the decision was simply a pragmatic and political one rather than one based on principle. There is evidence of this in the reported comments of Archbishop Justin to Kevin Robertson a few days before the election in Maine –
“He said to me there are only two of you in the communion in this situation, you and Mary, and he said if I invite your spouses to the Lambeth Conference, there won’t be a Lambeth Conference,” Robertson said.
It is, however, more likely that inviting same-sex married bishops but not their spouses will be rejected by people across the spectrum of views within the Communion. There has been a very strong negative reaction from supporters of same-sex unions while many who support Communion teaching have also been very critical with GAFCON’s Stephen Noll writing of the hypocrisy of the policy. As I noted in considering this option in January, this policy “would also need to be justified and risks producing the worst of all possible worlds” and there is now a real danger of it further weakening the standing of the Archbishop and the Conference as Instruments of Communion.
Conclusion: Exploring and Explaining the Inevitability of Visible Differentiation
Unless the current policy is reversed and all legal spouses invited, the Lambeth Conference will involve visible differentiation of some form. At present this only applies to same-sex spouses and the rationale for it remains unclear and with little support across the spectrum of views on sexuality. It would appear, though, that some further visible differentiation is likely given the “consequences” agreed by the Primates in 2016. It has recently been confirmed that there will be a Primates’ Meeting in January 2020 and that the Archbishop of Canterbury wants
the Primates to discuss the 2020 Lambeth Conference; and also the work of the Archbishop’s Task Group, which was established following the 2016 Primates’ Meeting to explore ways to restore relationships, rebuild mutual trust and responsibility, heal the legacy of hurt and explore deeper relationships within the Anglican Communion.
The consequences, applied also to SEC in October 2017, included “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”. It is therefore clear that at least some bishops invited to Lambeth will be excluded from some decision-making and it is hard to see how, especially if the recent election in Maine is confirmed, TEC bishops will be able to be fully included in decision-making.
In other words, having apparently included all bishops in the Conference but then excluded same-sex spouses, it is possible that the Archbishop of Canterbury is at some point going to have to exclude bishops from provinces supporting same-sex marriage from certain parts of the Conference where there is “decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity”. There would appear to be two possible ways to avoid doing this.
First, as in 2008, there may be a Conference which does not formally make any decisions. Although this has not been clearly and publicly ruled out it seems unlikely. It is reported that one argument being used by the Archbishop to persuade people to attend is that unless they do attend they will not be able to influence decisions – “If you don’t turn up to the crease you can’t score any runs”. This variant on “les absents ont toujours tort” or Woody Allen’s “eighty percent of success is showing up” only makes sense if there are decisions going to be made, runs to be scored.
Second, there may be proposals to the January 2020 Primates not to renew such consequences for TEC and perhaps even bring them to a premature close for SEC. This would enable all bishops to participate fully in all aspects of the Conference, including any decision-making. This would mark a major reversal of the earlier decisions and likely alienate many in the Communion leading to visible differentiation being embodied in widespread non-attendance.
Unless one of these paths is followed, there is going to need to be some visible differentiation made among the bishops invited in relation to their actual involvement in the proceedings and decision-making of the Conference. In my January article I argued that this represents the best way forward and that it is consistent with the theology of communion that has been developed and articulated over recent decades and has wider ecumenical support. I explored what this might look like in an article for Covenant back in October 2017 and a deeper theological rationale for it has been articulated in The way of Anglican communion: Walking together before God.
Such an approach, however, needs to be carefully thought through and the sooner this happens and is presented publicly the better. Further delay in making this clear runs the risk of the Communion being stuck in the worst of all possible worlds. On the one hand, it may be seen as “too little, too late” by those currently unhappy with how invitations have been handled and considering non-attendance. On the other hand, it will cause even more outrage from those who are already upset at what they see as the rejection of “radical Christian inclusion” through “discrimination” being applied to spouses.
Given the tensions and divisions within the Communion and the importance of the Conference within the Communion’s life, it is important to understand the thinking of the Archbishop of Canterbury as he gives shape to the conference and responds to developments in the Communion.
Whether one agreed with him or not, Rowan Williams frequently articulated his vision. This vision, supported by Anglican and ecumenical theology concerning episcopacy, communion, common counsel, the relation of autonomy and interdependence etc, shaped his decisions. All of these areas are now once again in play and under question and so serious theological work is needed. It seems clear from his decisions that Archbishop Justin is no longer following his predecessor’s vision. It is, though, as yet unclear why that is, what the alternative vision is, or what is its underlying theological and ecclesiological rationale.
There have been two other main visions for Anglicanism on offer in recent years as alternatives to the communion ecclesiology found in past Lambeth resolutions, The Virginia Report, The Windsor Report, The Anglican Covenant, and ecumenical agreements: a GAFCON-style confessionalism and a TEC-style stress on acceptance of provincial autonomy and consequently looser bonds of inter-provincial communion and weaker commitments to interdependence. Archbishop Justin appears to be moving towards the latter, although not explicitly or consistently. Unless and until his intentions and rationale become clearer there are real risks that his decisions, the lack of justification offered for them, and the range of responses seeking to understand and react to them will mean that “there won’t be a Lambeth Conference” as an Instrument of Communion in recognisable continuity with the past. Such a tragic outcome in turn increases the risk that “there won’t be an Anglican Communion” functioning in recognisable continuity with the past in terms of both its historic ties to Canterbury and a vision of what it means to be Anglicans as part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
(A fuller version of this piece is available as a PDF: lambeth2020revisitedfulltext)
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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