Andrew Goddard helpfully explains the goings-on at the 2022 Lambeth Conference (26 July-8 August) and their implications in a series of articles published on Ian Paul’s blog, Psephizo, and on the blog of the Living Church, Covenant. The posts are lengthy and well worth reading in full, but not everyone will have the time! What follows is a brief summary.
The 1998 Lambeth Conference passed the now infamous ‘Resolution I.10’, affirming a traditional view of marriage as being between a man and a woman. What has happened since?
Lambeth in Retrospect: Part One (21 July)
Developments about same-sex relationships in Canada and the USA in 2003 posed a great threat to the Anglican Communion.
Archbishop Rowan Williams tried his best to hold things together. The Windsor Report of 2004 summarised ‘the already well-established Anglican ecclesiological vision of life in communion developed since 1867 and shaped by the Patristic and Orthodox models and ecumenical agreements’ and proposed the development of a ‘Covenant’ as a means of preserving this. It also called for ‘moratoria on blessings, consecrations of bishops in same-sex unions, and cross-border interventions’. This all fell flat, because the American and Canadian churches ignored the moratoria, and because commitment to the Covenant was not forthcoming (for example, from within the Church of England itself).
Lambeth in Retrospect: Part Two (22 July)
Archbishop Justin Welby’s commitment to reconciliation led him to visit ‘every Primate of the Communion in their own province’, and to gather the Primates together in 2016. The Primates expressed a commitment to ‘walk together’, but there were ‘consequences’ for those provinces that had made changes to do with same-sex relationships.
However, Archbishop Justin ‘has rarely, if ever, set out the historic vision of living as a worldwide family of interdependent churches in communion with autonomy and accountability as expressed in Windsor and the Covenant’. Unlike in 2008, bishops in same-sex marriages have been invited to Lambeth 2022. The apparent decision ‘to maintain … the present membership of the Communion without any significant accountability or differentiation … means, implicitly if not explicitly, diluting, perhaps even abandoning, the historic vision of interdependent life in communion articulated in Windsor and the Covenant’.
Different approaches can be discerned between Anglicans, in terms of (1) their commitment to Lambeth I.10 (‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’), and (2) their commitment to the historic vision of communion as expressed in the Windsor Report (‘communion [Catholicism]’, emphasising interdependence, or ‘federal’, preferring looser bonds of fellowship).
- ‘Communion liberals’ would be those who want a change in the doctrine of marriage, but who don’t want to take unilateral action contrary to the mind of the Communion. There are very few such people now.
- ‘Federal liberals’ are committed to ‘autonomous inclusivism’, which leaves space for unilateral action, but involves maintaining ‘bonds of communion even where there are significant disagreements on matters of theology, ethics or practice’.
- ‘Communion conservatives’ are keen to maintain Lambeth I.10, but within the context of the Communion with its structures.
- ‘Federal conservatives’ would include Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda, who have ‘ceased to be “communion conservatives” in practice in relation to the Instruments’ (of the Anglican Communion), preferring the ‘more purely confessional vision’ of Anglicanism, as seen in GAFCON and its Jerusalem Declaration. (This is labelled as ‘Connectional Confessionalism’ in a later post.)
The Lambeth 2022 ‘Call’ on Human Dignity, when it was released in draft form, somewhat mysteriously included a call for the reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10. This was revised, with the new version acknowledging ‘deep disagreement on these issues’. This disagreement is simply stated as a fact, with no acknowledgement of the problems caused in relation to the Communion. Instead, difference and diversity are to be ‘celebrated’. This points to a shift from ‘communion Catholicism’ to ‘autonomous inclusivism’.
In addition to our differences on sexuality, we now ‘have no shared understanding of what it means to be the Anglican Communion’.
There is the real risk that the tear in the fabric of the Communion which the Primates in 2003 rightly warned would happen, may now become even greater and finally rip the Communion into two separate, distinct ecclesial communions.
Paying attention to power in Lambeth ‘Calls’ (1 August)
The evolution of the Lambeth Calls is examined in great detail, and is summarised as ‘Oops! Something went wrong!’ The Calls ‘have arisen wholly outside the Conference which has, despite initial statements, been given no opportunity to shape them’.
There is a real danger that the bishops … will find that their ability genuinely to discuss, discern and decide together as bishops of the Communion has been taken from them. If that happens, the first of the corporate Instruments of the Communion, now over 150 years old, may well be dealt yet another serious blow, one from which it may never recover.
On Tuesday (2 August), Archbishop Justin Welby wrote a letter and made a speech in relation to the Call on Human Dignity. He affirmed the ‘validity’ of Lambeth I.10, presumably as ‘a reassurance that the proposed Call does not … rescind, replace, or invalidate the earlier resolution’. However, no attempt was made to explain the implications of this ongoing ‘validity’. ‘The language of mutuality, accountability, and interdependence’ was ‘totally missing’ from his letter and speech. The letter acknowledges that ‘we have a plurality of views’. What should we make of this?
Is it a problem that ‘we have a plurality of views’ on sexuality?
And are we witnessing ‘end of the Communion as we have known it’?
[A]lthough all wish for unity and communion there are currently two main competing visions of the end of communion in terms of its goal or purpose:
- the traditional vision of Communion Catholicity which is an ecumenically shared vision;
- and a vision of Autonomous Inclusivism where provincial autonomy is central.
The account of the Communion offered to the Conference by the Archbishop does not articulate that of Communion Catholicity and appears perilously close to that of Autonomous Inclusivism. If this is now the end (in sense of destiny and goal) it would entail the end (in sense of destruction) of the Communion as it has developed and understood itself because it embraces provincially driven pluralism while sidelining or abandoning the quest to be of one mind which I argue is part of the biblical calling of the church.
The Archbishop takes us ‘perilously close’ to Autonomous Inclusivism, but doesn’t quite go the whole way, in that he does speak of the importance of truth, and (by speaking of ‘walking together to the maximum possible degree’) acknowledges that ‘the importance of truth limits the extent of our “walking together”’. But ‘the Communion as we have known it appears to be coming to an end because too many within it have made this prioritising of provincial autonomy the “end of communion”, the destiny or goal which they are seeking in our global Anglican life’.
The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), however – representing the ‘overwhelming majority’ of Anglicans – are clearly ‘committed to both Lambeth I.10 and the vision of life in communion set out in Windsor and The Covenant’. They assert that ‘There need to be limits to theological diversity, limits that are set by a plain and canonical reading of Scripture and which is supported by church history’. They also believe that ‘we cannot be a true Communion if some Provinces insist on their own autonomy and disregard the necessity of being an interdependent, ecclesial body’. They speak of there now being ‘degrees of communion’ between Provinces, and say that they will ‘continue to connect with the Communion Instruments as best we can’, while adopting ‘visible differentiation’ where necessary.
Some form of ‘visible differentiation’ seems likely to emerge in the Anglican Communion in the coming years, marking ‘the end (termination) of the Communion’.
But, if that is indeed the case, then, thanks be to God, the gospel is one of resurrection hope.