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Bishops Set Terms for Post-Lambeth Sexuality Debate

By Mark Michael

Conservative bishops from the Global South and progressives — mostly from the Global North — began staking out the terms for continued wrangling over human sexuality in the Anglican Communion as the Lambeth Conference begins to wind down.

The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) issued an 18-page communiqué August 5, affirming its commitment to the Communion while criticizing the “watering down of the standard and discipline of the Communion as a collective.”

GSFA members interpret Archbishop Justin Welby’s August 2 address during the Human Dignity Call session as an invitation to the primates to discipline provinces whose practice is in violation of Lambeth I.10. They write that if no action is taken, they will declare themselves in “impaired communion” with dioceses and provinces that accept what they call revisionist teaching.

A group of progressive bishops, most of them present at the Lambeth Conference, previously released an open letter on August 2 affirming the holiness of love between LGBT people “wherever it is found in committed relationship.” The letter has been signed by 160 bishops, predominantly from the Episcopal Church but also representing 10 other provinces.

‘Return to Biblical Faithfulness’

Archbishop Justin Badi of South Sudan and Archbishop Tito Zavala of Chile, the chairman and vice chairman of the GSFA, introduced the communiqué at a press conference on August 5.

“We the GSFA represent the global faith of Anglicanism. This week, we have sounded a clarion call: ‘Return to biblical faithfulness at the historical home of our Communion, in Canterbury.’ And we have come to register our collective ownership and stewardship of a Communion that in God’s grace has outgrown the Western world,” Badi said.

“The Anglican Communion is drifting more and more into becoming an association of churches, confirmed by the way the Lambeth Conference is no longer expected to yield to the mind of bishops on matters of faith and order. The hard reality is that it cannot be a true Communion if some provinces insist on their own autonomy and disregard the necessity of being an interdependent body. What affects all should be decided by all. … The current situation warrants us to adopt suitable forms of visible differentiation, but we will seek not to be schismatic.”

Zavala added, “We have no intention of leaving the Anglican Communion. We seek in the grace of God to be a ‘holy remnant’ within the Communion. We will not only safeguard the deposit of truth; we will seek to propagate it with renewed vigor.”

The communiqué notes with gratitude the Lambeth Conference’s focus on issues like wealth inequality, climate change, and persecution that disproportionately affect the Global South, and acknowledges several times that all the people of God are called to repentance.

It also states that “Anglican identity is neither sociological nor historical. It is first and foremost doctrinal.” Thus, a true Communion cannot sustain a plurality of beliefs on primary matters. “There need to be limits to theological diversity, limits that are set by a plain and canonical reading of Scripture which is supported by church history,” it says.

The GSFA asks “that a resetting process commence without delay at the primates’ level for specific proposals to be discussed for the repair of the tear in the Anglican Communion.” It cites the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement on August 2 that “I neither have, nor do I seek, the authority to discipline or exclude a church of the Anglican Communion. I will not do so.”

“If it is the case that the Archbishop of Canterbury neither has nor seeks the authority to discipline a church of the Anglican Communion,” the communiqué states, “and that matters of discipline are the responsibility of the primates, the primates of GSFA will prayerfully consider this new position statement. We are grateful to him for stating clearly his position; we shall study the ramifications of what he has said and bring forward proposals for the way the Anglican Communion is governed and represented as the process of resetting the Communion is launched.”

They ask the primates to “discuss how to reach out” to bodies like the Anglican Church in North America “that have formed during these two decades of turmoil and division, but which are technically not registered as provinces of the Anglican Communion.”

The communiqué states, “Biblical faithfulness and relational integrity now require us as orthodox bishops to speak of ‘degrees of communion’ with other provinces, recognizing the extent to which those degrees may increase and intensify or decrease and face temporary or permanent impairment. Simply stated, we find that if there is no authentic repentance by the revisionist provinces, then we will sadly accept an ‘impaired communion’ with them.”

When asked about members of Communion Partners, who affirm traditional teaching and practice from within provinces that have largely rejected it, Badi said, “Those who share our faith and practice, who believe in the Bible, we are one.”

Badi noted that since August 2 the GSFA has been circulating a resolution reaffirming Lambeth I.10 as the Anglican Communion’s official teaching about marriage and sexuality, and inviting all bishops attending Lambeth to indicate their support through signing it electronically. They plan to release the results at the end of the conference, perhaps on the evening of August 8.

The GSFA is a fellowship of 25 Anglican provinces based in the Global South, sharing a commitment to historic orthodoxy. It claims to represent 75 percent of the Anglican Communion’s membership. Most GSFA provinces participate actively in the Instruments of Communion, but it also includes the three African provinces that have boycotted most gatherings in the last 15 years (Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda), as well as the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Church in Brazil, neither of which is recognized by Canterbury as part of the Anglican Communion.

While there is considerable overlap with the UK-based GAFCON organization, the Singapore-based GSFA has generally been seen as a more moderate body, with a greater focus on reforming the Anglican Communion from within. It released a covenantal structure in 2019, in which members “voluntarily [bound] themselves together on the basis of common doctrine to be accountable to one another in faith, order, and morals, and to express their ‘koinonia’ through relational networks of discipleship, evangelism, mission, economic empowerment, and community services.”

‘All Are Equally Loved’

The August 2 “Inclusive Bishops’ Statement” states: “We believe that LGBT+ people are a precious part of God’s creation — for each of us is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14), and all are equally loved.”

“We recognize that many LGBT+ people have historically been wounded by the Church and particularly hurt by the events of the last few weeks. We wish to affirm the holiness of their love wherever it is found in committed relationships.” The signing bishops also commit to work against discrimination and prejudice against sexual minorities.

The statement is signed by the primates of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church of Brazil, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church in Wales, and the primate of the Māori Tikanga of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. As of August 5, 160 bishops and bishops-elect from 11 provinces had signed it, including 105 from the Episcopal Church and two from the Church of England. Additional signatories were from the provinces in Australia, Ireland, Mexico, and Southern Africa.

While not directly addressing same-sex marriage, the statement has been described by some as a counter to the reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 being circulated by the GSFA. Unlike the GSFA statement, its signatories are not restricted to bishops in active ministry who are attending the Lambeth Conference. It includes several signatories who chose not to attend the conference in protest that the spouses of gay and lesbian bishops were not invited. It does not attempt to account for the relative size of the dioceses served by the signatory bishops, compared to the Anglican Communion’s total membership.


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