By Mark Michael
Bishops who attend this summer’s Lambeth Conference will issue “Lambeth Calls” instead of resolutions, short statements meant to “discern what God is saying to the Church.” The shift, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in a June 9 video, should make it clear that the conference is “not there to order people about.”
Welby said, “One of the problems is, that so often in the past we have had things called resolutions. And in a sense, we all know what a resolution is. But when the Lambeth Conference resolves something, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, and that is a bit confusing. It means it just gets offered to the whole Anglican Communion, who are called to consider what it means.”
“So to be absolutely clear about that, and to emphasize that the Lambeth Conference is a beautiful, exciting moment of hearing God’s call to us, the Lambeth Conference in 2022 is going to make decisions, but it’s going to make them in the form of what are called ‘calls.’ So, they will do what they say they are. They will call on the Anglican Communion — the whole Anglican Communion — to pray, and to think and reflect, and for each province to decide on its response.”
Welby said that the conference would issue, at most, a dozen calls, and “each one will be carefully structured to talk about scripture, about the tradition of the Church, and what the bishops assembled feel to be the way that God is calling them.”
“If the bishops think something is right, it doesn’t mean it’s Anglican thinking, that it’s automatically right. It means that it is something to be tested, and thought about, and received by the whole Communion,” Welby added.
“It’s humble. It says, ‘we offer this to you as what we think God is calling us to do.’ It respects different cultures. It says, although each province is autonomous, and therefore needs to make up its own mind, they’re also interdependent.”
An accompanying guide laid out a series of what Welby called “the biggest issues that are facing the world today,” which will be discussed by the bishops, and could become the subject of Lambeth Calls. These include mission and evangelism, reconciliation, safe church issue, the environment and sustainable development, Christian unity, inter-faith relations, Anglican identity, human dignity, and discipleship.
The Lambeth Conference “will also deal with some of the contentious subjects,” Welby notes, “but actually not with the aim of a dramatic change in the Church’s teaching, but bringing us into to deeper love of one another.”
The Lambeth Calls, he said, would become the subject of follow up conversations, akin to the “Bishop’s Conversations” focused on 1 Peter that have been convened over the last 18 months. “We will go on sharing, using modern technology, about how we respond to what we have heard from God,” he said. Articles on several of the Bishops’ Conversations can be found on TLC‘s Lambeth Conference homepage.
Most Lambeth Conferences, including the first one in 1867, have issued resolutions, but their authority to constrain the actions of the Communion’s member provinces has long been controversial. The bishops worded their common actions as “recommendations” at the 1878 Lambeth Conference, partly as a concession to secure the full support of the English bishops, many of whom had boycotted the first gathering.
Past Lambeth Conferences have sometimes issued statements in a more exhortatory voice, most notably the 1920 Lambeth Conference, whose “Appeal to All Christian People” set the generous terms for subsequent Anglican ecumenical work and served as a major encouragement to the Faith and Order and Life and Work Movements that would bring churches together in many ways in the following decades.
The last Lambeth Conference to issue traditional resolutions was in 1998. Its Resolution 1.10, which sets out a traditional understanding of human sexuality and marriage as Anglicanism’s official teaching, has become the most obvious demonstration of Welby’s observation that “when the Lambeth Conference resolves something, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
The 2008 conference eschewed parliamentary-style debate, gathering the bishops instead in small groups for “indaba,” personal sharing and conversation that was meant to discern a common mind. Instead of numbered resolutions, the Conference produced a 37-page document entitled “Lambeth Indaba,” which aimed to summarize the conversations.
The “Lambeth Indaba” text, in a move criticized by some Episcopal bishops, noted widespread support for the Windsor moratoria on the ordination of partnered LGBT people, the blessing of same-sex unions, and cross-border incursions by bishops. “The moratoria will be difficult to enforce, so there are some fears about whether it will hold. But there is a desire to make it do so,” it concluded.
Urging African Primates to Reconsider Boycott
On June 6, Anglican Communion News Service released a joint letter by Archbishop Welby and Archbishop Joshua Idowu-Fearon, the Anglican Communion’s Secretary General, to the primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda. Welby and Idowu-Fearon encourage them to reconsider their decision not to attend the conference, as described in an open letter they jointly issued on May 6 explaining their decision.
“Boycotts do not proclaim Christ,” Welby and Idowu-Fearon said. “Those who stay away cannot be heard, they will lose influence and the chance of shaping the future. All of us will be the poorer spiritually as a result of your absence.”
They criticized the African primates’ judgment that the Lambeth Conference’s agenda was focused on “peripheral issues,” stating, “We are distressed to read that you consider matters of the environment, poverty and economic disadvantage to be ‘peripheral.’ These are matters of life and death for large parts of the Communion. They are the result of human sin of despoiling and ruining God’s creation, and it is anticipated that the world will see devastating wars and the displacement of up to one billion people as a direct result of climate change.
“Not to care for God’s creation and for the poor and destitute is in direct contravention of the teaching of scripture and the words of Jesus Christ.”
The letter also denied the African primates’ charges that the Church of England had changed its traditional teaching about marriage and asserted that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 “remains the latest expression of Anglican Communion teaching on the subject. It has not been rescinded. This resolution holds in balance the traditional understanding of marriage which is held by the Anglican Communion and the necessity to resist any form of homophobia and discrimination against homosexual people. It is important to note, always, the two sides of this resolution.”