It has been an enormous privilege for us both to be part of the Lambeth Conference which gathered some 650 Anglican Bishops and 450 spouses from across the world at Canterbury for a time of prayer, worship, biblical study, and reflection. Throughout the conference which ended last Monday, the question before us was how we are to be ‘God’s Church for God’s World’.
Peter’s First Letter permeated the conference and resonated in new and deeper ways, not least as it was written to ‘exiles’. We were gathered from over 140 nations and many different cultures yet continually reminded that beyond nationality we shared a primary identity in Jesus Christ. In this identity, we reflected on how, for many of those present from places of great suffering and adversity, we are called to be people of hope ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ in order that we might ‘proclaim the mighty acts of God who has called us out of darkness into marvellous light’. (1 Peter 2: 9).
It was in the light of this call that we took counsel together on the needs of the world that as God’s Church we are called to serve, and from this we issued our ‘Conference Calls’. As we wrote before, these calls are not legislative (the Lambeth Conference has no power to compel) and we did not vote, but rather they are a spur to action and further work across the Anglican Communion on some key matters. These included our ‘Anglican Identity’, the need for a ‘safe Church’ in which children, women and men are protected from harm and abuse; our care for the environment and commitment to sustainable development; our work with ecumenical partners; and working for the common good with those of other world faiths. We affirmed our commitment to mission and evangelism and to our shared discipleship. You can read more of these calls here.
Our most challenging call as a conference was that of ‘Human Dignity’ which although named human sexuality also addressed poverty, inequality, racism, colonialism, slavery and conflict. The vast majority of what we said was held clearly by us all, including a clear statement that’ the church catholic declares that life is sacred, and all persons are worthy of respect and worthy of conditions that make for life in all its fullness. From such holy standards, there can be no faithful dissent. (Lambeth Call on Human Dignity 1.5)
In this light we could as a conference say quite clearly ‘Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity’ (2.3) before recognising that there is disagreement across the Communion on the question of same-sex union/marriage. Archbishop Justin addressed this question directly in a letter to the bishops and in his remarks to the conference which you can read here and here. These need to be held together and contain significant words from our Archbishop which recognise that ‘many Provinces continue to affirm that same-gender marriage is not permissible… Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same-sex union/marriage, after careful theological reflection and a process of reception.’ The Archbishop went on to say ‘So 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’.
For those concerned from different perspectives about Resolution Lambeth 1.10, we want to underline that the conference did not reaffirm, and was not asked to reaffirm, Resolution Lambeth 1.10, which still stands as a resolution of Lambeth 1998. Furthermore, that resolution does not say that gay sex is a sin, and at no point in the presentations was that said.
Archbishop Justin made clear that the call simply ‘states the reality of life in the Communion today. As is said in the letter, and I re-emphasise, there is no mention of sanctions, or exclusion, in 1.10 1998. There is much mention of pastoral care. As Lambeth 1.10 also states: “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998).
Within the Church of England (but a small part of the Anglican Communion) this is of course vitally important as we continue to live the process of ‘Living in Love and Faith’, to which we are both committed, reflecting together on what God might be saying to us in our context of our understanding and our practice. For this reason, as with most CofE E bishops, we were not willing to sign any statements as this process of listening and discernment continues. In the meantime, as your Bishops in this Diocese, we want again to affirm and celebrate the gift of LGBTI+ people in and for the Church knowing that God’s love embraces all, and we once again reiterate our condemnation of all forms of homophobia.
We come away from the conference exhausted (it was a very full programme!) but immensely encouraged and hopeful. In nearly all we discussed we were, as a Communion, of one mind committed to justice, inclusion, mission and evangelism, and to living courageously as disciples of Jesus Christ. Where we did not agree we were nonetheless committed to walking together seeking trust, valuing each other and all we serve.
The Anglican Communion is, we believe, in good heart, lively robust, challenging, open and seeking to be faithful in being ‘God Church for God’s World’. We will no doubt share more of what we have experienced in these coming weeks and months but for now, we rejoice once again as we proclaim in the words of 1 Peter 1: 3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy, he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…