By Mark Michael

A common faith, charity, and “hope for ourselves and the world” should define the work of next summer’s Lambeth Conference, according to an open letter released today by a group of influential and diverse Anglican bishops. “We aim to express what a traditional, irenic center might look like,” said Bishop George Sumner of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, one of the authors. “I think the ground the letter is trying to articulate comprises a significant amount of the [Anglican] Communion.”

Sumner and two of the letter’s other authors and signatories, Joel Waweru of Nairobi and Emma Ineson of Penrith in the Church of England, are members of the Lambeth Design Group, which has been working on plans for the event since 2017. Two Anglican primates, Martin Nyaboho of Burundi and Daniel Sarfo of West Africa, are also signatories. Sumner is a member of the Living Church Foundation.

Five other bishops were involved in developing the message:

  • Lloyd Allen, Bishop of Honduras;
  • Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt;
  • Manuel Ernesto, Bishop of Nampula in Mozambique;
  • Lydia Mamakwa, Bishop of Mishamikoweesh, Canada; and
  • Michael Smith, Assistant Bishop, Diocese of Dallas.

The letter was issued in six languages (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Kiswahili, and Arabic), and was simultaneously released on the diocesan websites of the authors and signatories on June 21.

The letter is framed by appeals to deeper unity and cooperation. “While all are free to offer their views,” the authors state in their opening paragraph, “harsh disagreement ought not to be the dominant note the world hears from us.” They place their message in the context of a century of calls to closer communion, growing out of Lambeth 1920’s “Appeal to all Christian People” (Resolution 9). And they invoke the watchword of the 1963 Anglican Congress in Toronto, “mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ.” They close by saying “our truly global Communion is not primarily a problem but rather a remarkable, though fragile, gift – a sign of the Church catholic.”

While expressing such warm hopes, the authors do not hesitate to speak clearly about some of the enduring threats to the unity of what they call “our fractious family.” Their statement of common faith includes a ringing affirmation of core creedal doctrines.

It also endorses Resolution I.10 of Lambeth Conference 1998, on human sexuality, as “the received, traditional teaching concerning the nature of marriage, which is in accord with Scripture.” While expressing a willingness to “listen to colleagues who hold dissenting views,” the authors believe Lambeth I.10 is a settled matter. “Received in most of the Communion,” they believe it should not be debated again next summer. “We hope for a Lambeth Conference where we take this common inheritance of truth seriously and seek to build upon it for the sake of witness and teaching.”

The authors speak with more leniency about the GAFCON movement, the 11-year-old network of Anglican traditionalists led by the Anglican Church in North America’s Archbishop Foley Beach, which is seen by some of its members as an alternative to the Anglican Communion. The bishops categorize GAFCON with the Oxford Movement and East African Revival as “movements of mission and renewal in our Anglican tradition.” They celebrate GAFCON’s role in “strengthening the mission of Christ” in the provinces of the Global South, and acknowledge the frustrations some have felt with the seeming ineffectiveness of the Anglican Instruments of Communion to “balance autonomy and mutual accountability” in the last two decades.

At the same time, the authors earnestly uphold the centrality of these instruments against their detractors. They acclaim the See of Canterbury as “a symbol of our apostolic roots and common life,” a claim contested by many within GAFCON. They also defer to the Primates’ authority in exercising communion-wide discipline. The authors “commend the Primates’ view that only Churches aligned with Communion teaching should represent it in doctrine and polity.” This view led to the removal of Episcopal Church delegates from the Communion’s Faith and Order commissions in 2016, a “consequence” that may well be extended to other provinces that contest Lambeth I.10 in the future.

While their own convictions are clear, the bishops say they “are also willing to listen to our colleagues who hold in conscience dissenting views. More generally, we all need in our hearts to lay aside old recriminations, as each of us hears these Gospel injunctions: bear one another’s burdens, speak the truth in love, and do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”

Though the conference is still more than 13 months away, Sumner said that he and his fellow authors were concerned that publicity about the event has been dominated by “the TEC side of things and GAFCON.” He said, “It seemed like a good time to have this other voice added to the conversation,” and added that he hopes, “as many bishops as possible will attend so they can be part of the conversation and the fellowship.” The letter’s vision of a hopeful but honest time for engagement could prove persuasive to some who are still undecided.

Sumner said that there are no immediate plans to open up the letter as a statement of common goals for a wider group of bishops, though the group could be open to this development. “If it were to generate people who were to say, ‘yes, me too,’ that’s great. But it stands alone as a statement from this group of people.”

Read it all here.

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