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Cleaning Up the Playing Field: Six Resolutions for Lambeth

By Ephraim Radner

Andrew Goddard’s recent article on the challenges facing the next Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Communion bears careful repeated readings, especially by Communion leaders and those planning the conference. His concerns and warnings — particularly that the conference’s current ordering is likely to lead to further conflict and fragmentation — are sobering and convincing.

His suggestion of a solution is also persuasive. Goddard asks Anglicans both to accept the reality of our divided doctrinal and pastoral witness — that is, the variously broken character of our Communion — and to reorder our collegial gatherings on this basis more honestly and pragmatically. Hence, he commends the broad direction of several proposals already made by others: that there be a kind of twofold conference. First, a general and non-deliberative gathering in conference that includes all bishops across current lines of impaired communion; and then a subsequent deliberative and smaller gathering among those whose communion with each other remains more fully embodied.

I strongly agree with Goddard’s arguments and suggestions. Getting from A to B, however, is not an easy thing to do. Goddard’s radical rethink of our Communion’s common ordering may well require some time to effect. And in the meantime, there will be a Lambeth Conference in 2020 of one kind or another. In order, at least, to lay the foundation for moving in the direction Goddard and others propose, I think it behooves Lambeth 2020 at least to adopt some simple resolutions, including the following six:

1. This Conference reaffirms the 1998 Resolution I.10.

2. Those bishops and churches who contradict or contravene this affirmation (I.10), or who punish others on the basis of such an affirmation, stand outside the boundaries of Anglican teaching and witness as this Conference understands it.

3. We request that other Communion Instruments of Unity pursue their work on the basis of this teaching and witness.

4. We recognize the missionary and pastoral integrity of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and its related member churches; and we urge serious deliberation, locally and at the international level, over how these churches can be integrated fully into the life of the Communion.

5. We commit ourselves as bishops to the work of formulating and pursuing extended, coordinated, and coherent formation and catechesis in the Christian faith within our churches and across the Communion.

6. We commit ourselves to gathering again in 10 years, and in the interim to developing ways by which, despite the real differences that divide us, we can fruitfully and honestly engage one another and our service of Christ according to the levels of communion we actually share.

Some explication

Anglicans have prided themselves in ordering their lives synodically, that is, according to deliberative and representative synods or councils. We have done this on diocesan, provincial, and (to some extent) Communion-wide bases. But it turns out that Anglican synodical life has proven increasingly inept, even incapable, to the point that Anglican synodality has become a byword for confusion among some of our ecumenical partners.

Endless resolutions about everything under the sun, superficial deliberation, theologically underfunded debate, undisciplined reflection, the manipulations of party politics, and finally insouciance even to the veneer of constitutional order — while always a part of synodical life from the early Church on, these elements have come to characterize Anglican church counsel in egregiously prominent ways in the past few decades, with the result that conflicts have abounded, resolution has proved impossible, and bitterness, mistrust, and cynicism have spread through the ecclesial system. While the precipitous decline of Anglican churches in the West is no doubt due to a host of reasons, the widely publicized nature of Anglicanism’s synodal deficit has not helped.

As a result of this public reality, Anglican ecclesiology in the past few decades has majored in engaging this one issue: How do we talk to each other and reach faithful agreement? The topic, as we have discovered, is fraught with profound ingredients that go to the heart of the Christian life: how to discern the truth of God, the nature of authority, the nature of judgment, the practice of charity, the character of sacrifice, the form of Christ’s body. These topics do matter, and it is possible that Anglicanism’s peculiar challenges have served to bring into the open, as well as prod into scrutiny, the difficult elements involved in “common life in Christ” that are so important, not only to Anglicans, but to all Christians and even to the wider human society of nation and world. As Anglicans, we can take some measure of encouragement that we are at least struggling with real issues.

But we cannot simply wait until we sort this out. For now we have no other means except synods for making judgments and reaching decisions. We are stuck with this form of life, and we are living it poorly. In such a context, we need to move ahead clearly, but in as simple and limited a form as possible.

The Lambeth Conference cannot afford to decide nothing. By the same token, the Lambeth Conference, in its limited capacity, must decide as little as possible for the time being. And the conference’s few decisions must aim at cleaning up the playing field enough for more responsible discernment and decisions to occur in the future. Before such an imperative, honesty and definition, if not juridical outcome, is what we need.

Hence, I propose just these few resolutions, unencumbered by the kind of theological and strategic debate for which we have thus far, frankly, proven ourselves unready.

1. This Conference reaffirms the 1998 Resolution I.10.

There is no need at this conference to revisit the rationales and counter-arguments about this resolution. It has been reaffirmed several times in other Communion contexts, and in the past 20 years there have been no significant new pieces of information — scriptural, dogmatic, sociological, or medical — that have altered the shape of the theological and pastoral realities surrounding this debate. And the debate has raged unabated, so that it requires no renewed engagement. Let the conference decide.

2. Those bishops and churches who contradict or contravene this affirmation (I.10), or who punish others on the basis of this affirmation, stand outside the boundaries of Anglican teaching and witness as this Conference understands it.

This resolution is aimed solely at definition, for the sake of Anglicans and for the sake of others — Christians and non-Christians — who seek clarity about what the conference means with regard to its identity by making its affirmation regarding I.10. No penalties are proposed; no systems of adjudication are offered.

3. We request that other Communion Instruments of Unity pursue their work on the basis of this teaching and witness.

This resolution marks a simple request for Communion coherence on the matters taken up in I.10. The conference cannot impose its corporate views on other functioning councils or leaders of the Communion (though many will have participated in the conference). But by making it clear that the “understanding of this conference” is one ordered to the unity of Anglican teaching and witness, it lays out some of the parameters according to which any future rethinking of the Communion’s deliberative structures can be measured.

4. We recognize the missionary and pastoral integrity of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and its related member churches; and we urge serious deliberation, locally and at the international level, over how these churches can be integrated fully into the life of the Communion.

This rather practical, though somewhat open-ended, resolution furthers the conference’s vision of unity and, again, its boundaries for future rethinking. The separated organization and ministry of ACNA, bound up with vying sectors of the Communion, was born out of, and further contributed to, the conflicts that remain embedded in the Communion’s life, especially but not only in North America. And it has grown further in the last 10 years, to some extent moving past the issues of its initial formation. (An article will appear on Covenant later this week about this topic.)

Cleaning up the playing field for the Communion means moving to resolve this painful and variously construed schism. Whatever shared responsibility leaders in ACNA may have in furthering the synodical deficit of the Communion — and they bear some of it, especially in relation to their traditionalist colleagues within the Communion’s North American churches — there are some simple truths that need to be confronted and embraced by the Communion in this regard: ACNA is filled with faithful, devout, missionally zealous, Anglican-saturated, and good Christians. Period. We need each other, and it is a scandal that this separation has been allowed to fester.

Of course, no one can resolve the separation except its participants. The conference can only encourage. But it must do at least this; and indeed, it can do this quite concretely and effectively.

5. We commit ourselves as bishops to the work of formulating and pursuing extended, coordinated, and coherent formation and catechesis in the Christian faith within our churches and across the Communion.

This resolution may seem extraneous to the rather limited concerns of the first four. But if there is a synodical deficit within the Communion — and there is — a large part of it is due to the scattered, incoherent, inconsistent, teaching of the Christian faith that marks our dispersed churches. The very task and work involved in fulfilling this resolution would do much to clarify the lines of association and commitment that any future rejigging of Communion synodality will demand. It may even be converting.

6. We commit ourselves to gathering again in 10 years, and in the interim to developing ways by which, despite the real differences that divide us, we can fruitfully and honestly engage one another and our service of Christ according to the levels of communion we actually share.

This resolution is self-explanatory: it opens up, in an explicit way, the Conference and the Communion to the kind of work that Anglicanism’s future, if it is God’s will, must happily grasp. Whether that future lies in the direction of Goddard’s intimations or something else need not be determined at this stage. There is a Holy Spirit.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Oh dear. Ephraim, I find your framing spot on. The suggestions not as much. On a practical level, The Episcopal Church in the USA is not going to agree, not after the last Triennial Convention and how those results have played out. ACNA is too problematic on so many levels, theologically and in terms of polity. Second, what you intend by the ‘outside’ language of 2 suggests that your resolution 5 would happen in an echo chamber. Those outside the principals of the 1998 Lambeth resolution (Scripture teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman; homosexual attraction, or at least acts, are sinful and disordered–no, and no) will by the exclusion language not be part of the conversation. How would such resolutions be enforced?

    • Dear Grant, Thanks for the comment. The problem of “no one agreeing” is one that our own Congress faces (apparently, over and over). But there you are: someone better figure this one out. Anybody who thinks the Communion is happily chugging along at the moment is probably not seeing things clearly. The majority of the Communion — although who really knows until people are allowed to say so — still adheres to I.10, and finds TEC and Canada and so on, yes, “outside the teaching” of the Communion as it has been articulated. What will they do? “Impaired commuion” is widespread; disaffection with Communion life and structures likewise. We are seeing drift apart at the moment, and in a way that’s worse than clear splits (of which there are several, to e sure), because it represents the embedding of patterns. If leaving things the way they are is acceptable to our churches’ leadership, that is their choice and judgment.

      The purpose of the imagined resolutions here is not to confect something on their own terms. They are imagined very particularly in terms of Goddard’s proposal, as a way to move towards his (and others’) “twofold” (“honest”) conference idea. There is nothing to “enforce” here, only the articulation of “where we stand” in an open manner, and the setting up of some trajectories of discussion.

  2. Re 1998 resolution 1.10:
    An alternative reading…

    This conference: recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a heterosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of heterosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God …

    So how would we heterosexuals feel if the shoe were on the other foot?

    I don’t “experience myself” as “having” a heterosexual “orientation.” I am heterosexual. The same thing applies to homosexuals. They are who they are… just like me, they don’t “experience themselves.” No one chooses their orientation.

    Let’s also read the phrasing “there are among us persons” from the perspective of ‘the other foot’: As a heterosexual I know I am seen as one of those persons who live “among us” and, I am as well “a member of the church.” So even heterosexuals are part of the body of Christ! Well, by gollies, thanks for letting me in.

    But I don’t need yours or anyone’s assurance that I am loved by God. I know that without being “assured” of it by any human being: homosexual or heterosexual.

    ***

    Sometimes it is a good idea to read things from the point of view of the “Other” and see how we feel about being in their place.

  3. Ephraim, I’m not sure about the pivot of these resolutions on Lambeth 1998 1.10. Giving this lone resolution such pride of place suggests that the entirety of our Christian identity hinges on where one stands in the sexuality debates. Frankly, I think there are far more important Lambeth resolutions from earlier conferences that we need to affirm first as a way of contextualizing debates about sexuality. In other words, to talk effectively about Christian views on sexuality, we need to stop talking about it and go deeper into our roots about the Communion and the Gospel, to rediscover our common ground THERE, before returning to Resolution 1.10.

    • Thanks, Michael. No doubt there are important, perhaps even much more important, matters to engage from the past than I.10! God willing, we will be led back to a common engagement with the substance of the Gospel. But in this case, I was only pointing to the reality of our Communion’s dissolving texture, the main node of dissatisfaction and division behind which remains the question of marriage and its sexual framework, and the continued failure we have had in being honest with one another about these matters. The imaginary proposal I offered, furthermore, is explicitly in response to Andrew Goddard’s careful analysis of the challenges facing the upcoming Lambeth conference and how it happens (and whether it happens for some). Goddard’s piece is about whether and how we come together at all as bishops and churches. My little proposal itself is not meant to throw people out of the Communion, to engage in theological debate and resolve differences. Rather, it is aimed at allowing for honesty about differences; clarity of articulation about where bishops of the Communion stand on these divisive issues; and thereby opening up a space for our churches to begin a work of evangelical exploration and formation that, in the murky machinations of the present, still eludes us. It could be that this is not what bishops want; it could be that the lines of commitment have significantly shifted over the past 20 years, and that our differences are ordered in new ways compared to the past. But unless there is a willingness to “be clear” — yes, yes; no, no — then hopes for deeper engagement with one another will continue to be stymied.

    • Since the vast majority of Bishops in the Anglican Communion consider themselves in communion with anglican bodies like ACNA, should they be a part of this “going deeper into roots about Communion and Gospel” and if not, why not. You seem to want to define anglicanism as if one can do this without reference to the most obviously dividing reality across the length and breadth of the Communion. I agree with Radner this ignores the very matter creating difficulties in gathering bishops and synodality as such. If you can find a way to gather these bishops via a renaming exercise, called “going deeper into roots,” fine. The real question is whether they will come, and whether those they are in communion with as well.

    • Thanks for responding, Lorna. Your comment about putting the “shoe on the other foot”, as it were, is well taken. The Golden Rule is an essential part of moral disernment, as Jesus points out. It’s not the only one, though: Jesus also uses the Law and the Prophets, the Decalogue, the way of the Cross. We do need to do the moral discernment work, one way or the other. But my imaginary proposal is actually NOT about doing that work, nor in defining who is “in” or “out” of the Communion (let along “the Church”) but in trying to clarify matters and relationships among us so that such work in discernment can be done in the first place. Lambeth I.10 may be wrong; but since its content remains such a flashpoint of division, we need to know whether it is still embraced by our bishops at large (my guess is that it is, but we don’t really know because we haven’t permitted this kind of public clarity) and go from there. Goddard’s piece is very helpul in suggesting were we “are”, and why it is important to be clear about where we are, so that we can in fact go somewhere else in a responsible manner.

      • Hi again Ephraim,

        While I agree with you that Jesus uses the Law and Prophets, the Decalogue, the Way of the Cross etc., it seems to me, if I am reading scripture correctly, that He subsumes all that to the two Great Commandments, the first of which concerns love of God and the second love of neighbour (aka the Golden rule). And as Jesus points out time and again, we are called to love, not judge, even neighbours who don’t seem to fall into what we would feel comfortable with categorizing as a neighbour.

        I agree with Bp Pierre’s words below: “That is where Lambeth 2020 should start, not with preconceived notions of righteousness held by any bishop, but rejoicing that we all believe that we are justified by faith, consider the same Scriptures to be the Word of God and contain all things necessary to salvation, share the same sacraments as our Lord commanded in the same liturgical tradition, subscribe to the same creeds, and share in bearing the heavy weight of the same succession of bishops from ancient times. And then we can consider in the light of Scripture and nature the questions that divide us still.”

        In other words, we can do what Bp Fred Hiltz has implored us to do which is to acknowledge our divisions but deal with them in “loving disagreement.”

        I am not sure asking who is in and who is out re 1998 1.10 is the way to do it.

  4. Thank you, Ephraim, for this concise reflection, which reflects also concerns raised by Andrew Goddard. I wonder why no reference is ever made to the document produced by the Lambeth Conference 2008 (https://www.anglicancommunion.org/media/72554/reflections_document_-final-.pdf), which contains I believe a number of very pertinent reflections to what you and Andrew are saying about Lambeth 2020. At the same time, people’s reference to Lambeth 1998 I.10 almost always reduces to quoting one line, “d. while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture”, without even quoting the rest of that section: “calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.”

    If this resolution is indeed an authoritative statement of the Communion’s teaching, then isn’t there “no distinction, for all have sinned and fallen short” (Rom.3:22b-23)?

    That is where Lambeth 2020 should start, not with preconceived notions of righteousness held by any bishop, but rejoicing that we all believe that we are justified by faith, consider the same Scriptures to be the Word of God and contain all things necessary to salvation, share the same sacraments as our Lord commanded in the same liturgical tradition, subscribe to the same creeds, and share in bearing the heavy weight of the same succession of bishops from ancient times. And then we can consider in the light of Scripture and nature the questions that divide us still.

    • Dear Bp. Pierre. Thanks! Reading the whole resolution of I.10, and not just a part of it makes all kinds of sense. Among other things, it demonstrates that I.10 itself stands pretty much within, not outside, the main “catholic” tradition of the Church as it now stands — a significant point, especially when starting a discussion about the fallout of our Communion strugles.

    • Lambeth 1.10 certainly should not be selectively quoted. You underscore nicely the part you believe is important, and bring to bear an important scriptural witness. And by the same logic, the opening, remainder of Lambeth 1.10 has its scriptural warrants and needs to be heard. Let the entire resolution resonate with the scriptures that give rise to it. The gathered Bishops can certainly do the work of clarifying the scriptural logic, given their training as theologians.

  5. I don’t understand how you can say that there is no new knowledge about human sexuality in scripture, sociology, “dogma” or medicine. Really?!! There is so much more known and understood now that it is actually ILLEGAL to discriminate against homosexuals or transgender people or anyone based on gender identity or sexual orientation. You may feel uncomfortable with these terms, but just like slaves and even women, our current reading of the Bible does NOT makes these people sinners. It is certainly time the 1998 Resolution 1.10 be rewritten to inspire inclusion of our diverse human beings seeking the Good news of Jesus Christ.

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