By Mark Michael
The official report of the 2022 Lambeth Conference was released on July 26, the one-year anniversary of both the conference’s beginning and of a revision to language about same-sex marriage in its Call on Human Dignity. The revision launched a controversy that nearly overwhelmed the gathering’s opening days and has led to continued division across the Communion.
The report, titled “God’s Church for God’s World,” includes final versions of the 10 Lambeth Calls, including a small moderating revision of the deeply controversial description of the Anglican Communion’s “mind” on same-sex marriage and Lambeth I.10. The final version of the Lambeth Calls “incorporate updates that were made by the drafting groups following feedback by the bishops at the Lambeth Conference,” according to the document’s introduction.
The Call on Human Dignity’s final version says provinces that continue to affirm Lambeth I.10’s prohibition on same-sex unions and marriages do so “after careful theological reflection and a process of discernment.” The same phrase is used to describe the process by which other provinces “have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage.”
Like the call’s first revision — the text revised on July 26 and discussed by the bishops on August 2 — the final version only uses the phrase “the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole” to describe Lambeth I.10’s statement that “all baptized, believing, and faithful persons regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ,” and should be welcomed and treated with respect.
The original version of the call had used the phrase “the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole” to describe instead the 1998 resolution’s prohibition on same-sex marriage. The Global South Fellowship of Anglicans, whose bishops entered the conference demanding an opportunity to reaffirm Lambeth I.10, were deeply troubled by the July 26 revision.
“After extensive requests to the Archbishop of Canterbury for a stand-alone resolution and [after] the inserted reference to Lambeth I.10 was withdrawn on from the ‘Human Dignity’ Call,” GSFA chair Archbishop Justin Badi Arama announced on July 29 that the group would pursue a strategy of “visual differentiation,” which included abstaining from the Eucharist at the conference’s two worship services in Canterbury Cathedral.
The Call on Anglican Identity was revised substantially, expanding commitments to review the Instruments of Communion that were raised and affirmed at the February Anglican Consultative Council Meeting in Accra, Ghana, after the Church of England’s Communion-dividing decision to proceed with blessing same-sex unions. The GSFA responded to the Church of England’s decision by declaring that the Archbishop of Canterbury had forfeited his role as the Communion’s leader, while the ACC blessed ongoing work by the Communion’s doctrinal commission on “good differentiation” between provinces.
The original Call on Anglican Identity urged a review of the Instruments of Communion “with special intention to Anglican polity and deepening a sense of synodality for the whole people of God,” i.e., exploring ways of making the Communion interdependent and capable of making mutually binding decisions. This language is dropped, and new sections call for more inclusion of the laity in the Instruments of Communion and express skepticism of centralized authority, stating:
“Aware that shared traditions can narrow our vision of the world, that the gift of institutions can feed institutionalisms, that the gift of authority can be sullied by abuses of power, and that grace found in discernment amidst disagreement can be squandered by sectionalism — we desire a fresh vision of Communion.”
The call also requests the establishment of “an independent research group to study the various ways in which Communion (koinonia) is understood and embodied across provinces and ecclesial traditions.” The group is tasked with providing “resources that reimagine, inspire, and renew theologies of Communion and ways of being in Communion,” beginning in 2025.
The 10 calls were also reordered “to tie them in more closely with the seasons of the Christian year and with major international events,” and they have a more uniform structure, with most including specific requests for action from Anglican bishops and the people of their dioceses, as well as the Instruments of Communion and world leaders.
Revisions to some calls deepen their theological grounding. Sections added to the Call on The Environment and Sustainable Development explain that Christ died on the cross to “bring reconciliation to the whole of creation,” including the natural world and roots of global economic inequality in human sin, a failure “to love God, love our neighbor, and care for creation.”
The Mission and Evangelism call’s explanation of the Christian mandate to share the good news has a deepened emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. The call on interfaith relations includes a new section on Judaism, and urges Anglicans “to reject and overcome anti-Judaism in its theology, liturgy, and preaching.”
Other call revisions introduce more specific recommendations, such as the Reconciliation Call’s endorsement of liturgies used across the Communion to “invite us to reconciliation and renewal and which give expression to God’s gift of reconciliation.” The revised Discipleship Call invites provinces and dioceses to evaluate the kinds of small-group formation that work best in their context and what local opportunities exist for church planting. The “Anglican Congress,” a proposed major event in the Global South, has been renamed “an International and Intercultural Gathering.”
In a video message accompanying the report’s release, the Archbishop of Canterbury invited Anglicans to “add your voice to the calls,” as part of the Lambeth Conference’s Third Stage.
“The Lambeth Calls were discussed by the bishops at the Lambeth Conference, and they relate to important themes of our time,” Archbishop Justin Welby said. “They aren’t a set of policies or rules to be offered, and then obey. They’re given to us as gifts to inspire us in sharing good news around the world of God’s powerful and transforming love in Jesus Christ. Our hope is that churches will take them forwards in a way that is most relevant in their own settings.”
Resources accompanying the final drafts of the calls note that Anglican bishops and others plan to engage them sequentially in the new order of publication in coming years. The summer of 2023 is devoted to considering the Call on Discipleship, and the Call on the Environment and Sustainable Development will be a new focus from September, with others to follow.
The official Lambeth report was edited by the Rev. Canon Stephen Spencer, the Anglican Communion’s director of theological education. It also includes transcripts of all addresses delivered during the conference and reports from various task groups and committees that were shared with the gathered bishops last summer.