Andrew Goddard writes: On Tuesday at the Lambeth Conference there were a number of significant developments in relation to the questions of sexuality and ecclesiology. The Global South, headed by Archbishop Justin Badi of South Sudan, issued a resolution in relation to Lambeth I.10 with a covering explanatory letter. Archbishop Justin Welby also issued a letter to the bishops and then spoke, providing more details, at the beginning of the session on the controversial Call on Human Dignity. His speech clearly had a major impact on the gathering which gave him a standing ovation. From within the Church of England Bishop Jill Duff wrote that “As he spoke, it felt like there was a heaviness of the presence of the Spirit of God in the room” and Bishop Sophie Jelley tweeted,
Outstanding tone setting & leadership from @JustinWelby in the conversation on Call for Human Dignity including human sexuality this afternoon. God powerfully present in the room. Grateful! #LambethConference pic.twitter.com/3vS6h5rGhn
— Sophie Jelley (@revsophiejelley) August 2, 2022
From Canada, Bishop Jenny Andison, a conservative bishop, was reported as saying, “He shared the pain and the agony on both sides of the issue, all across the Communion. He helped us see each other. People experienced being felt and heard by our chief pastor of the Anglican Communion, and I think that was a gift.”
There is, however, a degree of confusion about what exactly has been said, what it means, and what its implications are for the Communion and then for the Living in Love and Faith process in the Church of England. A significant number of people read it as marking a major shift in the Communion’s previous position into a more “inclusive” stance effectively authorising a range of views. Presiding Bishop of the American church, Bishop Michael Curry, gave voice to this in a video where he highlighted the Call they were discussing and summarised its content in these words:
We in the Anglican Communion live with a plurality of views on marriage, that there is what might be called the traditional view of marriage between a man and a woman…but that there is another view equally to be respected, a view that includes and embraces same-sex couples who seek the blessing of God on their loving relationships, their commitments, and their families. My friends, I’ve been a bishop 22 years, been a priest over 40 years, and I have to tell you that, as far as I know, that is the first time a document in the Anglican Communion has recognised that there is a plurality of view on marriage…That’s why I say today is a hopeful day.
From New Zealand, Bishop Peter Carrell wrote
Somewhat tentatively, it is possible that today marks a moment in Anglican Communion history in which we have formally recognised that we are a Communion with plural understandings on marriage and human sexuality.
Both of these bishops welcomed this claimed development but others agreed with their interpretation but lamented it:
All of today’s relentless spin by the Lambeth team, cannot disguise the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury, unilaterally declared human sexuality to be adiaphora – ‘a thing indifferent’. Plural truth now reigns, there is no prospect of a resolution of the issue in the future and there will be no attempt to do so.
In what follows I will try to explore what the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote and consider whether this is the best—perhaps only—possible understanding. In a subsequent article I will consider what all this might mean for the Communion and for the Church of England.
What was said? Sexuality and life in communion
The letter sought to “clarify two matters” which could be broadly categorised as relating to sexuality and to life in communion (as in my earlier discussions, here and here, arguing for the need to relate both teaching on sexuality and ecclesiology). In relation to these the speech sought to state “some important principles”, setting out five. Much of both contributions related to expounding the wording of para 2.3 in the Call on Human Dignity. This new wording was introduced after protests about the first draft of the paragraph and its statement that the call was “a reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10”.
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.
I discussed this wording and what I saw as the significance of the changes in this earlier article.
In relation to each of these two areas, the following points in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s new statements are particularly worth noting.
Sexuality and the status of Lambeth I.10
The language of reaffirmation of I.10 which appeared in the original version of the Call was removed and was never used by the Archbishop. It is now only found in the Global South’s proposed resolution which they have invited bishops at the Conference to sign. In contrast, the Archbishop is now saying that
the validity of the resolution passed at the Lambeth Conference 1998, 1:10 is not in doubt and that whole resolution is still in existence (Letter, similar wording in speech).
The meaning of this is far from clear. The language of “validity” is regularly used in canon law and theology in relation to whether actions produce the intended effects, particularly in relation to sacramental actions in Catholic understanding. This one can speak of a marriage or baptism or ordination as valid or invalid. It is not clear what “validity” means here in relation to I.10. It, and the strange language of “existence”, appears to be a reassurance that the proposed Call does not (as some hoped and others feared) rescind, replace, or invalidate the earlier resolution. This is what the Archbishop of South Africa stated it meant at a Press Conference. As such it represents an important clarification answering one of the concerns of many conservatives.
This understanding is presumably why it is now thought that reaffirmation of it is not necessary: it continues to have the status it has always had (whatever that was which is a crucial question not really addressed). It is also importantly stressed that this applies to the “whole resolution” and it is claimed that the selective quotation in the Call should make this clear (although viewing only those parts being quoted as still being valid was another possible interpretation of the Call’s wording).
What is not explicitly stated is what is entailed by the resolution’s continued validity, what effects should follow from it being valid in its entirety. The revised Call, however, quotes part of I.10 as “the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole” and so this presumably also remains the case for the whole of I.10.
Resolution I.10 is, however, in part, a statement which claims its authority derives not simply from being made by bishops gathered together from across the Communion in common counsel but from the teaching of Scripture:
in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage
rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture
In the words of the Global South statement supporting their reaffirmation resolution: “The Resolution does not take its authority from the Lambeth Conference, but from Holy Scripture” (Declaration, 2.2). Does this not mean that it is still true that any church which uses its autonomy to act against these two statements are rejecting “the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole” concerning “the teaching of Scripture”? Does that not mean “the Anglican Communion as a whole” must then assess its relationship with those churches in the light of that assessment of their actions?
In other words, what prevents the logic of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter leading to this conclusion and thus bringing his position close to that of the Global South? If this logic is followed is he not at least led to the position of Rowan Williams in the statement he made on his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury twenty years ago:
The Lambeth resolution of 1998 declares clearly what is the mind of the overwhelming majority in the Communion, and what the Communion will and will not approve or authorise. I accept that any individual diocese or even province that officially overturns or repudiates this resolution poses a substantial problem for the sacramental unity of the Communion.
In his contributions on Tuesday, however, the Archbishop clearly reaffirmed only the first of these three points. He did not draw the conclusions about Communion approval or authorisation. He did not refer to actions which create problems for the Communion’s sacramental unity. This points to a fundamental gap and weakness in these otherwise welcome statements about I.10: the lack of reflection on their ecclesiological implications which depends on how we understand “church” and “communion of churches”.
The contributions did however say quite a lot about the actual current situation in the Communion.
The reality of the Communion
The most striking aspect of the Archbishop’s letter and speech for many was his mapping of the “reality of life in the Communion today” (Letter). Here he helpfully expanded on the “Many Provinces…Other Provinces…” in the wording of the Call by writing in relation to “many” that “I think we need to acknowledge it’s the majority” (Letter). He then went further and stated that “For the large majority of the Anglican Communion the traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, accepted and without question, not only by Bishops but their entire Church, and the societies in which they live” and that the Call “states as a fact that the vast majority of Anglicans in the large majority of Provinces and Dioceses do not believe that a change in teaching is right” (though the Call itself does not explicitly state it is “the vast majority”). The reality of course is that only 5 of the 42 provinces have in some way officially disregarded I.10 (US, Brazil, Wales, Scotland, and New Zealand) with 2 others unclear or allowing diocesan local options (Canada and Australia) and, given how comparatively small these provinces are, probably 90% to 95% of Anglicans worship in churches which uphold traditional teaching – this is not a 52:48 situation!
His description of the minority viewpoint was that “They have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature”. This assessment, expanding the Call’s wording, has been questioned by those unhappy with these developments. It is certainly clear—as the Global South are emphasising—that differences over the authority of Scripture and what amounts to being “careless about Scripture” are an area of fundamental disagreement. For example, many would welcome the honesty but lament the conclusions of the Church in Wales bishops who justified introducing same-sex blessings by explaining (italics added) they were departing from what is found in the Bible:
In the view of the bench, the Scriptures condemn “porneia”, unbridled lust, in which sexual activity is divorced from faithful and mutual commitment. It is true that in Scripture such faithful commitment is always portrayed as between a man and woman in covenanted union (marriage), and all other sexual activity, including references to same-sex activity, is portrayed as an expression of porneia. However, with new social, scientific and psychological understandings of sexuality in the last one and a half centuries, we believe that same-sex relationships can be understood in a radically different way, and that the teaching of Scripture should therefore be re-interrogated.
The Archbishop also sought in his speech to set out the similarities between the two opposing approaches:
For the large majority….to question this teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries would make the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For many churches to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.
For a minority we can say almost the same… For them, to question this different teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries is making the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For these churches not to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.
These descriptions have the ring of truth of about them but raise a number of crucial questions. Firstly, the forms of “derision, contempt and even attack” that Anglicans face are very different in the Global South compared to the Global North as he himself made clear back in 2014. Secondly, the minority churches in contexts where traditional teaching may lead to derision and contempt are shrinking but those in most of the majority churches are growing. In America it is those Anglicans who left TEC to form ACNA (upholding counter-cultural Communion teaching) which are growing and there is evidence of a similar pattern within the Church of England including, despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, even in relation to children and young people (report here, especially pp. 28-29). Thirdly, it needs to be asked how important it should be in the church’s discernment whether or not their surrounding culture views their judgment as worthy of “derision, contempt and even attack”? It is difficult, in the light of both Old and New Testaments, not least 1 Peter (e.g. 1:1, 2:11; 3:14ff; 4:3-4) which the Conference is studying, to give great theological weight to this as a criterion of truthfulness and faithfulness. Finally, is there not something seriously wrong with any church that (given the overwhelming weight of both Christian tradition and the church today and the novelty of their minority position) finds that “to question this different teaching is unthinkable” and believes that “not to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence”? Is it surprising that many find it difficult to recognise as part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church a church that not only questions and rejects traditional teaching but now finds its very existence is challenged by that teaching and, in what might be described as revisionist fundamentalism, views it as unthinkable to question their own novel understanding?
Unfortunately, in explaining what has led to this distinction between majority and minority views, the Archbishop in both his letter and speech quoted, seemingly with approval, the Call’s language that this has been due to “a process of reception”. As I explored previously, with reference to The Windsor Report, this is a misuse of the language of reception. It gives an unwarranted veneer of ecclesial respectability to the actions. A particular church cannot unilaterally reject the consensus fidelium and claim that doing so constitutes a process of reception that the rest of the church must therefore respect (and, it now seems, also enter into itself). The true ecclesial character of such actions was much better described by the Primates in 2016 when they described the move to same-sex marriage as among “unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity” which “are 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”.
In a case of “the dog that didn’t bark in the night” perhaps the most significant aspect of Tuesday’s letter and speech was the continued total lack of any reference to the decisions and actions of the Primates in 2016 or to the underlying ecclesiology of their actions as articulated in The Windsor Report and the Anglican Communion Covenant. The language of mutuality, accountability, and interdependence is totally missing.
These two documents are now outdated and tragically overtaken by events in terms of their recommendations or viability as a covenant agreed by provinces (as I described here and here). There is, however, still no clarity as to whether their underlying ecclesiology (which has been developed among Anglicans over decades and, more recently, ecumenically) has been discarded and what, if anything, has replaced it. The message from Cardinal Koch, read on Thursday at the Conference, demonstrates, for those with ears to hear, how questions about ecumenical relations and the unity we seek are inextricably connected with questions about our understanding of the reality of Communion life and our mission to the world.
The Archbishop also told the bishops that “As is said in the letter, and I re-emphasise, there is no mention of sanctions, or exclusion, in 1.10 1998” and that “I neither have, nor do I seek, the authority to discipline or exclude a church of the Anglican Communion. I will not do so”. The first statement is obviously correct as the Conference did not envisage such a clear statement of biblical teaching would be simply ignored. It again fails, however, to acknowledge that when I.10 was disregarded the Communion clearly did explore possible sanctions of various forms including “as an absolute last resort, withdrawal from membership” (para 157 of The Windsor Report). The second statement also fails to recognise that there are powers which, while not amounting to discipline or exclusion of a church, are significant. The Archbishop of Canterbury has authority not to invite bishops to the Lambeth Conference which Archbishop Rowan did but Archbishop Justin declined to do. In addition, the Constitution of the ACC (7.2) gives the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (on which the Archbishop of Canterbury sits as President of the ACC) authority, subject to a veto from the Primates, to alter the schedule of the member churches of the ACC. The actions of the Primates in 2016 also shows that the corporate Instruments have what could be described as a certain “authority to discipline” in relation to the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and representation of the Communion in ecumenical dialogues.
Division and Plurality
Overall, the Archbishop has said much of importance about the current state of the Communion. He has acknowledged that “We are deeply divided. That will not end soon” (Speech) and “that Lambeth 1.10 itself continues to be a source of pain, anxiety and contention among us” (Letter). But, as in relation to the significance of I.10, questions of ecclesiology and how we understand “church” and “communion of churches” have been left largely hanging. His speech concludes by reminding the bishops, “We are a Communion of Churches, not a single church”. However, both his letter and speech say little or nothing about the fact that we claim to be such a communion within “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” and that we have developed teaching as to the nature of that one church of Christ and what it means to be a communion of churches within it.
One conclusion that has, understandably, been drawn from this omission is that the description offered here of the reality of the Communion is what we need to come to terms with in the sense of accepting this reality and working with it. As a friend summed it up to me: “He simply surveys the landscape and declares. This is us. All will have a prize”. On this understanding, the Archbishop is saying that the diversity of responses to I.10 is something to which we have to reconcile ourselves. There is, on this understanding, nothing wrong with a Communion in which, in the words of the Call, there is “a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality” as, in effect this is all adiaphora. We simply have to accept, even welcome, this plurality and “experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue”. The statement “we have a plurality of views” (Letter) should, on this understanding, not be seen as stating a problem, a sign of failure, a consequence of sin and disobedience. Another conclusion, however, would be that while we do indeed need to come to terms with this reality we need to do so guided by a normative vision, shaped by Scripture and tradition, of what the church and a communion of churches should look like. I will explore these different interpretations further in the following article.
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.