Sexuality Dispute Ends with Call to Truth and Unity

Hours before the discussion on same-sex marriage, Japan's first female bishop, the Rt. Rev. Maria Grace Tazu Sasamori, drops a hint about her views on the issue | Photo: Lambeth Conference, Tim Stubbings

By Mark Michael

After weeks of intense debate, the Lambeth Conference’s discussion of the Call on Human Dignity, with its disputed (and once amended) mention of Lambeth Resolution I.10, ended not so much with a bang as a whimper — and a standing ovation and silent prayer.

In a floor address that many bishops said they found moving, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that in the Call “there is no attempt being made to alter the historic teaching of the vast majority of churches of the Anglican Communion.” He urged his colleagues, “Let us not treat each other lightly or carelessly. We are deeply divided. That will not end soon. We are called by Christ himself both to truth and unity.” At the end of his address, Archbishop Welby received a standing ovation.

The gathered bishops then discussed the Call in table groups, but did not give verbal feedback. They shared a time of silent prayer before departing.

A few hours before their gathering to discuss it, the Archbishop of Canterbury released a letter affirming the validity of Lambeth Resolution I.10. The Global South Fellowship of Anglicans, meanwhile, issued an invitation to all bishops to reaffirm the resolution anonymously using a digital signing process.

“As we discuss this, we are all vulnerable,” Archbishop Welby said.

“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. For them, 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. 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. 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 ….

“Third, there is no attempt to change people’s minds in this Call. It 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. Therefore, it is the case that the whole of Lambeth I.10 1998 still exists. This Call does not in any way question the validity of that resolution.”

“I am very conscious,” he added, “that the Archbishop of Canterbury is to be a focus of unity and is an Instrument of Communion. That is a priority. Truth and unity must be held together, but Church history also says that this sometimes takes a very long time to reach a point where different teaching is rejected or received. I neither have, nor do I seek, the authority to discipline or exclude a church of the Anglican Communion. I will not do so. I may comment in public on occasions, but that is all. We are a Communion of churches, not a single church.

“I want to end by repeating this line from the Call on Human Dignity: ‘As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.’”

Bishops Respond

Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry | Screengrab from video

A few hours after the Call session, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry released a video message in which he described himself as hopeful: “I’ve been a bishop 22 years. I’ve 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 recognized that there is a plurality of views on marriage. And that these are perspectives that reflect deep theological and biblical work and reflection. That they reflect and respect the context in which we live and seek to address the pastoral needs of our people, of all the children of God — that’s why I say today is a hopeful day.

“This group of bishops today are finding a way to walk together as a church. And the words that have echoed in our ears over and over again have been the words of Jesus: ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.’ Not that you agree. But that you love one another. And so, we are still walking together. And in our church, we are making ‘plenty good room’ for all of God’s children,” Curry said.

“Emotions were running high, and Archbishop Justin was pastorally masterful today,” said the Rt. Rev. Jenny Andison, a former area bishop in the Diocese of Toronto. “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.”

“Archbishop Justin stood among us today as a leader and a teacher, speaking in a way that transcended the divisive issues in view and reminding us of the ethos and nature of the Anglicanism as a family of independent churches,” said Bishop Mark D.W. Edington of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. “Few leaders in the church today would be so clear about authority they neither have nor wish to have; but in doing so he reminded us of the difference between a communion and a magisterium.”

Some bishops, though, hoped to hear a clearer affirmation of traditional teaching from the archbishop. Bishop Joseph Wandera of the Anglican Church in Kenya’s Diocese of Mumias said, “My congregations back in Kenya are largely orthodox in terms of their understanding of marriage and sexuality. Any other teaching is one that would be difficult to convey or receive.

“The ordinary Christians looks up to bishops as — in a sense — the fathers of the faith. The expectation would be that the fathers of the faith would be a lot more clear around what the Anglican church teaches. Issues around human sexuality are extremely sensitive in my context. My diocese is one that has a very, very strong presence of Muslims, who are watching and are listening in to what is going on at Lambeth. Any lack of clarity makes it a lot more difficult for us to witness effectively among the Muslims.

“My hope is that, as we go along, there will be greater discussions, and hopefully more clarity around what is it that we have received, and what is it that we are conveying to ordinary Christians on the ground.”

Bishops were told that their written feedback on the Call would be considered by the chair of the Lambeth Calls Working Group. The Call’s specific requests — including the establishment of an Archbishop’s Commission for Redemptive Action, which would study historic links between Anglicanism and the transatlantic slave trade; “establish and publish holistic theologies of redemptive action and reparation”; and develop plans for “Communion-wide witness to redemptive action” — will be considered later during the conference.

Dueling Statements

South Sudan Archbishop Justin Badi | ACNS

Shortly after noon, Archbishop Welby had also released a letter that outlined several points that he later took up in his floor address. “I write therefore to affirm that the validity of the resolution passed at the Lambeth Conference 1998, I:10, is not in doubt and that whole resolution is still in existence,” he wrote.

That kind of affirmation seemingly fell short of what the bishops associated with the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) hoped to hear from the archbishop. Less than an hour after Welby’s statement, Archbishop Justin Badi, primate of South Sudan and the group’s leader, released the text of a resolution reaffirming Lambeth I.10 as “the official teaching of the Anglican Communion on marriage and sexuality.”

“Lambeth Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference is a test of faithfulness to this doctrinal standard, because it explicitly applies the clear and historic teaching of Scripture to matters of sexual morality. The resolution does not take its authority from the Lambeth Conference, but from Holy Scripture,” Badi said.

Bishops registered for the Lambeth Conference who wish to sign on to the resolution are asked to register their support electronically. The process would involve a verification of the bishops’ status as conference participants, and they are asked to indicate the province and the number of worshipers under their direct episcopal care. The GSFA promised an independent verification of the vote and total anonymity for those registering their support. They promised to release the results of the poll in due course.

Committing to Peace and Reconciliation

Earlier in the day, bishops from Mozambique and the Church of North India, as well as Sheran Harper of Guyana, worldwide president of the Mothers’ Union, spoke about the ministry of reconciliation in their contexts.

Harper recounted the story of Mothers’ Union members in Formosa, Brazil, who helped to bring peace to their broken community by going as a large group to the local police station to pray for the officers.

“The perspective of women and families is clear in these stories and important in fractured world. We are all called and equipped by God to work together, have the necessary dialogue, and promote a culture of peace and hope which is transformative,” she said.

“In dark moments they pray deeply, seeking the light, humility, and forgiveness, a gift that only Christ can give. They go to extremes, serving as advocates for conflict prevention, reconciliation, and peace-building, in order to protect the most vulnerable and those at risk.”

The associated Lambeth Call on Reconciliation has eight areas for further action. Some are large-scale commitments, like urging the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) to work with the Anglican Indigenous Network to make “progress with and plans for deconstructing the historic legacy of colonialism.” Others are smaller, like encouraging dioceses and parishes to use the Difference Course recently developed by Lambeth Palace to encourage dialogue across divisions.

One area focuses particularly on reconciliation within the Anglican Communion and calls on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion “to report on their new conversation with the provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda at the February 2023 ACC Meeting in Ghana.

The bishops were not asked to consider the eight items separately, as they had with Tuesday’s Anglican Identity Call. Bishops were told that their written comments would be received and incorporated into further planning in these areas.


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