In due time, I may publish some fuller reflections on the developments of General Synod in relation to the following topics: justification, sexuality, “synodality,” prayer at General Synod, and the role of the Church of England vis-à-vis the English nation. But for now, I simply wanted to highlight a few issues.
Other Lambeth Conference resolutions on sexuality
First of all, during the questions yesterday, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt. Rev. Graham James, responded to a Synod member who wanted to hear a reaffirmation of Lambeth resolution I.10. Of course, the English House of Bishops has drawn that resolution into its own teaching documents at various times; it is “part of our history,” as Bishop James stated. However, he also noted that he has been at multiple Lambeth Conferences, and he is always surprised how people forget other sexuality resolutions from 1978 and 1988.
What are those resolutions?
I assume he’s referring to Resolution 10 from Lambeth 1978 and Resolutions 26, 29, 34, and 64 from 1988. These resolutions addressed a range of issues, from the AIDS crisis to polygamy to broader statements on marriage and the family. Two of them explicitly addressed the Communion’s burgeoning awareness of the need for “dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research” (Lambeth 1978.10, reaffirmed in 1988.64).
Such study was meant to take place amid reaffirming monogamy and heterosexual relationships “as the scriptural norm,” a concern echoed again and again in the resolutions on the AIDS crisis, marriage and the family, and polygamy, even as the Church reached out in pastoral concern.
The case of polygamy offers an interesting situation in Lambeth 1988.26. The resolution commends accepting the polygamist, so long as (1) he promises not “to marry again as long as any of his wives at the time of his conversion are alive,” (2) it does not represent a scandal to the local community, (3) that he shall not divorce any of his wives, for fear of their “social deprivation,” and (4) local churches share their wisdom about “the most appropriate way of disciplining and pastoring” polygamists.
How might the wisdom of such an approach be reapplied to current concerns? Or are they too different? A fuller study of the other resolutions would be desirable, as would the literature produced by the International Anglican Family Network. Another post to follow up on later perhaps, unless another Covenant author might one to address them (or has done so in the past). But it should be clear to us that many African nations regard the Church’s treatment of polygamy as the crucible through which contemporary concerns should be measured: they had to give up local practices in favor of a universal norm of monogamy; why should the West differ?
OneBodyOneFaith’s alternative proposal
You may have missed that Changing Attitude and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement merged, while changing their name to OneBodyOneFaith. They are urging that Synod members refused to “take note” of the House of Bishops’ report. They have also issued an “alternative” proposal to that report. Given its potential importance, I will simply quote a chunk of it here, since I will not assume everyone is visiting the site.
OneBodyOneFaith is clear about what we are seeking. What we are asking for to begin to escape the dead end that GS 2055 represents is this:
- For an explicit acceptance of the integrity of theological diversity over matters of sexuality — that it is possible to be Biblically faithful and hold different positions — and the creation of systems to assure that this is honoured. The establishment of a Sexuality and Relationships Working Group which will be responsible for ‘holding’ the theological diversity of the Church of England. Pilling has already described the different positions – the reference group needs to be tasked with exploring how they live with each other, and how the church develops theologically, and how pastoral oversight is given in the context of the range of views present in the Church of England.
- In addition to the Sexuality and Relationships Working Group there needs to be a significant level of LGBTI+ representation on each of its boards, councils and divisions for which the Archbishops’ council has oversight – the representatives should be chosen by members of all houses of Synod, not by the Archbishops’ Council or bishops alone
- For the Church of England to appoint a National Lead for LGBTI+ matters based at Church House – LGBTI+ themselves, who works to the Sexuality and Relationships Working Group and liaises with boards, councils, divisions and dioceses, holds to the need for the kind of change that we propose, but also understands and accepts the need to support all sides
- For the publication and recommendation of an official liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples after a Civil Partnership or Civil Marriage — this does not need to be complicated. The Service of Prayer and Thanksgiving after a civil marriage could be adjusted very simply
- To effect paragraph 13 (a) of Annex 1: Sexuality Issues: what is and is not possible under the relevant legal positions, so that being married to a person of the same sex is not of itself a breach of Canon C26.2
Some will ask, What about the Communion? I know that for some people this programme is not what they want to see. But even the Bishops’ Report, muddled and cautious and compromising as it is, leaves the conservative voices in the Communion dissatisfied and suspicious. To put it bluntly, there is no pleasing Archbishop Okoh. We would have to return to a punitive, closeted, change therapy-seeking church to satisfy that source of opinion. There is no point in trying to appease those who take that position. Discovering what Good Disagreement looks like should probably be the task of the Anglican Communion. It is not the right thing to sacrifice the lives and relationships of the LGBTI+ faithful of the Church of England on the altar of a pretended unity within the Communion. Do the right thing and then work out how to embody that unity in diversity which is the reality of every church in every time. Anglicanism, almost above any other global expression of Christianity, has acknowledged for a very long time the importance of local inculturation of the faith. And the right thing to do in England is the right thing for the Church of which the bishops are its leaders and the Synod is its parliament. (“A time to build,” emphasis added)
Readers will perhaps see why I raised the point of polygamy. A few observations follow.
First, note the explicit reference to “local inculturation” in OneBodyOneFaith’s proposal, along with the statement that “theological diversity” about sexuality has “integrity,” with affirming positions regarding homosexuality (among other things) being deemed “Biblically faithful.”
Second, note the characterization of the Anglican Communion and the ghost of GAFCON. As I noted on Sunday, it seems no Church of England controversy is complete without mentioning the Primate of All Nigeria. (This is surely a sign of some C of E members internalizing the overblown media influence of Archbishop Okoh.) Unity on sexuality in the Communion is “pretended,” rather than widely shared, in this statement. And working out “Good Disagreement” is a problem punted to the Communion. England should go its own way, doing “the right thing in England”; the Communion can work out the problems England causes. This emphasis fits in with the often national focus of the General Synod, as I noted on Sunday: Reform and Renewal’s proposed “culture change” regarding lay ministry is focused solely on transforming England, with no global focus. Moreover, the Communion was significantly absent from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s presidential address on Monday: again, only a focus on seeking to contribute to England’s “reimagining,” so it can take its place in global affairs.
Third, perhaps more significantly: Is OneBodyOneFaith’s proposal even possible in the Church of England without significant change to its canons? Is it possible to hold theological diversity on marriage? According to the canons, the doctrine of the Church of England is “grounded in the Holy Scriptures” and in the statements of the Church Fathers that are congruent with Scripture. It is especially found in the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and the Thirty-Nine Articles, which are declared to be “harmonious with Scripture.” To some extent, the Homily on Marriage plays into this as well. It is to this doctrine that all clergy declare their allegiance.
Marriage as the permanent, faithful union of one man and one woman is a position clearly outlined in the Book of Common Prayer. The limitation of permissible sexual expression to such marriage is a clear position in the tradition identified with the Church Fathers and quite clearly grounded in Scripture. To declare differing opinions on sexuality as “licit” would be for the Church of England to state formally that Scripture does not present a harmonious whole — such that, while its own position is congruent with Scripture, other readings are permissible.
It is hard to see how such a position does not run afoul of the requirement against “repugnance” in Article 20 (“The Authority of the Church”):
The church has authority to decree forms of worship and ceremonies and to decide in controversies concerning the faith. However, it is not lawful for the church to order anything contrary to God’s written Word. Nor may it expound one passage of Scripture so that it contradicts another passage. So, although the church is a witness and guardian to holy Scripture, it must not decree anything contrary to Scripture, nor is it to enforce belief in anything additional to Scripture as essential to salvation.
In other words, the Church of England would have to wholly abandon its explicit doctrinal positions in order to admit this sort of theological diversity. It would have to rewrite its doctrinal canons, fundamentally adjusting its accounts of its identity.
In my estimation, such a move would require a significant level of political will on the part of the General Synod (not to mention the will of the Queen).
And that is a will Synod probably lacks.