Living in Love, Faith and Lambeth
The current outrage about the support of some Anglican bishops in Ghana for the proposed legislation imposing 5-year prison sentences for identifying as gay or trans, or 10 years for promoting anything other than heterosexuality, yesterday reached the stage where the Archbishop of Canterbury has made a statement and various other bishops are repeating it or making comments of their own. To my mind, the best response so far is that of the senior staff of Portsmouth, the diocese which is officially linked to Ghana. They rightly draw attention to the document signed by all Anglican primates in 2016, rejecting criminal sanctions against LGBTQI+ people. So how do the Ghanaian bishops get away with this?
The discussion has made me think again about the Lambeth Conference, the official once-a-decade international meeting of Anglican bishops. In the C of E, what is resolved at these conferences has moral authority, but not legal force. Successive Lambeth Conferences have changed their views; for example, on contraception, condemned as “hostile to moral welfare” in 1908, seen as “an invitation to vice” in 1920, but fine within marriage by 1958. In the context of the Ghana situation, a resolution from the 1998 conference, known as Lambeth Resolution 1.10, has been mentioned again. I hadn’t really read it properly at the time; I wasn’t in any church roles and had other things to do, but now I regret not having been aware of what it said and how it was put together. It supports “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union”, so, I ask, is marriage after divorce acceptable? probably not, so that would already put the C of E – and me! – in a difficult position. It recognises that – even in the Church – there exist “persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation”. That’s pretty mealy-mouthed, hinting that these persons may be misled by their feelings, or what the 1998 documents called their “false understandings” of themselves, and contrasts with Portsmouth Diocese‘s point that what Ghana proposes is imprisoning people “for being who they are”.
Lambeth 1.10 rejected all “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture”. In terms of our current discussions in the C of E, the resolution went on to state that the Lambeth Conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions” (why use “sex” and then “gender” here? I think I need this unpacked). The Resolution also condemned “irrational fear of homosexuals”; what, I wonder, would count as a “rational” fear?*
When you go further down the webpage giving Resolution 1.10, you will find that – rather like the C of E today in the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) book – the bishops “confess that we are not of one mind about homosexuality”, some of them thinking it’s a disorder but that “through the grace of Christ people can be changed, although not without pain and struggle”; presumably this means conversion therapy is fine, but that has been condemned since 1998, even though the current statement by the Anglican bishops in Ghana is still promoting what they call their “transformation services” – sounds like an interior decoration firm, but it most definitely is not. At the other end of the spectrum in 1998, there were already some bishops who thought that monogamous homosexual relationships should be supported and people in them should be able to be ordained.
In 2016 George Conger blogged about his experiences of the creation of 1.10. His intention was to show that some of the liberal attempts at that time to cite another clause of 1.10, on ministering to all regardless of sexual orientation, in order to support the involvement of C of E bishops in Pride parades, were not what those who voted for 1.10 had in mind. I can quite see that! Conger was at Lambeth as a gofer – the one who went out for late night takeaways, drove bishops to the station, served the canapés, put the conference directory together and, along with all this, typed up handwritten notes to create the final documents. Along with his fascinating comments on the lack of trust between the bishops, he gives an explanation for the origin of that “irrational fear of homosexuals” phrase; it was there to avoid saying “homophobia” because the Bishop of Dallas wanted to avoid giving the impression that opposing “the ‘gay’ agenda” counted as homophobia. Simon Sarmiento has also posted his experiences of Lambeth 1998, including the various stages which 1.10 went through in drafting, and Bishop Buchanan of Johannesburg’s critique of the idea that homosexuality is a “white man’s importation”, something I have also commented on here. Simon’s version of what the “irrational fear of homosexuals” is doing there instead credits a Kenyan bishop, Samson Muraluda. He also pointed out that, when considering this Resolution, “The unsolved mystery of yesterday is why 100 or so bishops attending the Conference apparently did not vote at all.”
I’m very glad that I wasn’t at Lambeth but, as regular readers of this blog know, I played a small part in LLF as a member of one of the thematic working groups, on history. Lambeth was mentioned all the time; the Terms of Reference under which we worked from October 2017 onwards stated that the document should be available for discussion before summer 2020, as it was both the end of the 2015-2020 Synod quinquennium and the occasion for the next Lambeth Conference. The LLF book was often described as “a gift to Lambeth”, calling up worrying images of bishops being given a presentation box, opening it expecting something lovely, and finding several hundred pages of reading matter. It reminds me of the random gifts received by royalty; a selection of which are here. But there wasn’t a Lambeth in 2020, and it still hasn’t happened. Were copies of LLF sent around the world anyway? I have no idea.
And if there is a Lambeth conference next year – the fifteenth one is now scheduled to happen at Canterbury from the end of July 2022 – how does it fit with the timeline for LLF? At the moment, that timeline involves the publications of two important items only in September 2022. These are the findings of ‘Listening to the Whole Church’ – the feedback from those who want to say how they found the LLF course – and yet another resource, ‘The Gift of the Church’, a late addition to the huge number of pages published as part of LLF, and something I’d never even heard about until this month. Only after those are published, a month or so after Lambeth has happened, can the ‘discernment’ process begin in the College of Bishops.
From the imperative to rush to publish in time for Lambeth 2020, it seems to me that there is a further pause being put on the LLF process now in order to ensure that no decisions are made until Lambeth 2022 has happened. Why? Because that way, the Archbishop of Canterbury keeps his hands clean and somehow holds the Anglican Communion together. “Yes, brother (and sister) bishops, we have published these resources, but no, we haven’t changed anything and of course we may not do so.” Are these delays, with the continued uncertainty for those who long for their relationships to be blessed by the church, a fair price to pay?
*Various amendments to 1.10 were proposed but were defeated or withdrawn. If you find 1.10 worrying as passed, I suggest a stiff drink before reading these.