Bishops Divided on Revised Lambeth Calls

Listening attentively at the opening session of the 2022 Lambeth Conference | Lambeth Conference photo

By Mark Michael

Revisions to the Lambeth Call on Human Dignity have set the stage for potentially sharp disagreements over same-sex marriage among the bishops gathered at the Lambeth Conference. The revised text, which appears at the bottom of this post, is scheduled for discussion on August 2, and bishops from the Global South plan a news conference July 29 to outline their objections to the changes.

The Call was revised after progressive bishops objected to a statement that same-sex marriage is opposed by “the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole.” Instead of affirming Lambeth 1998’s Resolution I.10, the new text distinguishes between “many provinces” that “continue to affirm that same gender-marriage is not permissible” and “other provinces” that “have blessed and welcomed same-sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception.” It now concludes: “As bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.”

The Rt. Rev. Tim Thornton, former Bishop at Lambeth and chairman of the Lambeth Calls Subgroup, said in a July 25 announcement, “Over recent days we have listened carefully to the responses of bishops to Lambeth Calls: Guidance and Study Documents that was released last week — and especially in relation to the draft Call on Human Dignity.”

Thornton also said that when the 10 Lambeth Calls are discussed, bishops will have the option of clearly stating their opposition by choosing “This Call does not speak for me. I do not add my voice to this Call.” Revised Lambeth Calls, which also include some minor modifications of other texts, were circulated to bishops who are participating in the conference the following day.

The Call on Human Dignity is one of 10 texts proposed for discussion and action by bishops during the Lambeth Conference, which continues through August 8 in Canterbury, England. It remains unclear if, having been once amended, Calls are open to further amendment, or if the bishops will be able to vote separately on different parts of a Call.

Bishops Respond

Progressive bishops were generally pleased with the revision. Bishop Susan Brown Snook of San Diego told TLC, “The revised Call represents a good step forward from the previous draft, as it recognizes that faithful Anglicans are not of one mind on issues of marriage, and commits to walking together despite our differences.”

Bishop Betsey Monnot of Iowa said on Facebook that she was “delighted to report that the new text is one that tells the truth about where the Anglican Communion currently stands on the question of LGBTQ+ inclusion.”

“I believe that this paragraph now expresses some of what is best about the Anglican Communion. We have no overarching legislative body that can declare an absolute position on any point of doctrine or polity,” she added. “Instead, we are bound together because we choose to remain in relationship even in the face of our deep disagreements.”

Other bishops, however, expressed concerns with the new text. Bishop John Bauerschmidt of Tennessee, a Communion Partners bishop, told TLC: “I think that the revised statement on Human Dignity suggests a greater degree of agreement within our province than actually exists, creating an impression that a new teaching has been articulated and a process of reception concluded by our province when that is not the case. We are not all in agreement about this new teaching.

“Lambeth 1930 described the Anglican Communion as sustained by the common counsel of the bishops gathered in conference. As I understand it, a process of reception is best done as a Communion, seeking a common mind. It’s not clear to me that this revised statement does anything to help that process.”

The revised text is also troubling to many bishops from the Global South. In late June, Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, chairman of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA), issued a call to “all orthodox bishops attending the Conference to be united for the Gospel truth, speak with one voice and to call on all Provinces to reaffirm resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and align their faith and practice accordingly.”

In announcing the July 29 news conference, the GSFA media team said, “Given the [withdrawal] of the opportunity to reaffirm Lambeth 1.10 as part of the Human Dignity Call, we feel sure the media will be keen to hear how the GSFA will now fulfill its priority for the conference.”

Privately, some bishops also expressed skepticism about the new text’s distinction between “many” provinces committed to traditional marriage and “others” who allow same-sex marriage. The five provinces that officially permit the blessing of same-sex relationships (the Episcopal Church, Brazil, Scotland, Wales, and Aotearoa-New Zealand) have a combined 2.4 million members, about 2.8 percent of the Anglican Communion’s total membership.

However, given the decision of two of the Anglican Communion’s three largest provinces (Nigeria and Uganda) to boycott the Lambeth Conference, and the failure of other African bishops to secure visas, the share of bishops from the five progressive provinces is disproportionally large. More than 100 bishops of the Episcopal Church are attending the conference (about 15% of participants). Just over 40 are present from the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Communion’s fourth-largest church, whose overall membership is about three times the size of the Episcopal Church’s.

Lambeth I.10 and ‘Legislative Competence’

Lambeth Resolution I.10, which “rejects homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” and says that the Communion “cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same-gender unions,” was approved by a wide majority of bishops present at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the last conference to include bishops from each Anglican province.

It was explicitly reaffirmed as the Communion’s “standard of teaching” about human sexuality by the Anglican Consultative Council in 2005 and by Primates’ Meetings in 2007 and 2009. The 2016 Primates’ Meeting, while not citing Lambeth I.10 directly, imposed “relational consequences” on the Episcopal Church because its authorization of same-sex marriage represented “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our provinces on the doctrine of marriage.”

Snook said, “I remain concerned about citing Lambeth 1.10 at all, since any Lambeth resolution simply represents the mind of the gathered bishops at that time, and not any legislative authority, then or at any time.”

She said she was also concerned that expanding the scope for advocacy work by the Anglican Communion Office to matters of sexuality, mentioned later in the Call text, could undermine provincial autonomy.

Snook’s analysis of the Lambeth Conference’s role in establishing official Anglican teaching is also reflected in a second edition of The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion, which will be launched at the conference on August 5.

The research team that prepared the document, spearheaded by the Ecclesiastical Law Society and the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University, 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.”

Mark Hill, Q.C., one of Britain’s senior ecclesiastical lawyers, responded to the Lambeth Calls controversy in a July 26 post on Law & Religion U.K. Hill said the research team’s findings underlined the impossibility of any binding statement of the Anglican Communion’s common mind.

“The Lambeth Conference has no legislative competence. Its resolutions are expressive of the opinions of those present and voting, but have no binding force in any component Church unless and until expressly adopted by the competent law-making authority within that Church,” Hill wrote.

“Each church of the Anglican Communion is autonomous, bound by its own canons, constitutions, and other governing instruments. The Anglican Communion has no common mind, nor any institution with the legal competence to declare it.”

The Lambeth Call on Anglican Identity, scheduled for discussion on August 1, includes the establishment of “an independent review group on the Instruments of Communion with special attention to Anglican polity and deepening a sense of synodality for the whole people of God in the Anglican Communion.”

Clarifying the mutually binding status of Lambeth Conference resolutions, which are clearly not evenly received by the Communion’s provinces, could be among the work of the review group.

Lambeth Calls July 2022 Human Dignity by Kirk Petersen on Scribd


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