Lambeth Conference gets going under a cloud

The Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops has held every ten years or so since 1867 but has not been held since 2008. The expected meeting in 2018 was delayed, partly due to fears that many bishops would boycott it because of differences over human sexuality. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, announced in 2016 that he intended to go a on a “listen tour,” to meet with all of the communions Primates before planning for another gathering. It was eventually decided that the conference would be held in 2020, but that was postponed, due to COVID, to 2022.

Right now, bishops from all over the world are gathering Canterbury, in the southeast of England, for their long delayed, and long anticipated meeting. However, last week, Canterbury sent out a document outlining a number of “Lambeth Calls” the bishops would be discussing (and voting on).

In previous meetings, there had been “resolutions” passed, but as the Lambeth conference holds no formal authority within the structure of the Anglican communion, these resolutions served mostly to just antagonize and divide. One particular resolution, passed in 1998, has been the source of a great deal of division and acrimony, Resolution 1.10 which stated that that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture.”

The ”calls” of this conference were meant to sound less authoritative than the previous “resolutions.” The official statement on them says that “Lambeth Calls” is the name being given to describe declarations, affirmations and common calls to the church shared by bishops that are taking part in the Lambeth Conference in 2022.” Bishops were to be given the option to respond them in two ways: “This Call speaks for me. I add my voice to it and commit myself to take the action I can to implement it,” or “This Call requires further discernment. I commit my voice to the ongoing process.”

However, one of the calls, in the section titled human dignity seemed designed to bring division and acrimony to the forefront by re-affirming 1998’s Resolution 1.10, calling for “a reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 that upholds marriage as between a man and a woman and requires deeper work to uphold the dignity and witness of LGBTQ Anglicans.”

Canterbury received a great deal of pushback on this, mostly for the content, but also because of the last-minute, seemingly underhanded way the call document was promulgated. One of the first voices of opposition came from close by to Canterbury, the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church, who wrote;

“The wording of that call does not represent the position of the Scottish Episcopal Church as reflected in the Church’s Canons, which recognises that there are differing understandings of marriage in the SEC. The Conference calls are not binding on provinces and are yet to be discussed. The members of the College of Bishops will seek to amend the draft call on Human Dignity urging a more inclusive approach and will work in respectful dialogue both with those colleagues across the Communion who would share the position adopted by the Scottish Episcopal Church, and with those who may differ.”


Bishop Taylor of Los Angeles, wasn’t nearly as polite as the Scottish bishops, writing in his blog;

“It would be, we were told, a time of gracious reconciliation and relationship-building. Only this week does word come that we’ll be issued electronic voting devices and asked, among other things, to vote on (they call it “affirm,” so I guess they’re electronic affirmation devices) Lambeth’s notorious, communion-rivening statement in 1998, known as Lambeth I.10, that biblical marriage can only be between a man and a woman. If we don’t vote yes, we can vote that a question needs more discernment. As of now, we won’t be able to stand up decisively for people’s God-given human rights and vote no. My colleague and friend Bishop Susan Brown Snook of The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego was among the first, if not the first, to spot it. The word is spreading quickly that the Kumbaya Lambeth is actually a bait-and-switch Lambeth, with moderate and progressive Anglicans and Episcopalians about to arrive in Canterbury as credulous props for what is likely to be a majority vote against marriage equity.”


The Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has asked TEC’s bishops to gather today in Lambeth to discern their response, offering in a statement;

“While this situation is rapidly changing, I want to assure all Episcopalians that the House of Bishops will be meeting Wednesday in Canterbury to discern its way forward before the Lambeth Conference begins. For now, I offer this message of love to all my LGBTQ+ siblings: We have worked hard to become a church where, as the old African slaves used to sing, “There is plenty good room, plenty good room,” for all of God’s children. We are all The Episcopal Church, and we will not compromise who we are, our connections, or our love. We head to this conference with you in our hearts and Jesus’ Way of Love as our guide.”


In response, the organizers have altered the call document; Bishop Tim Thornton, Chair of the Lambeth Conference’s Lambeth Calls Subgroup, said:

“We have listened carefully and prayerfully to what bishops and many others have said in response to the draft Calls, especially that on Human Dignity. Archbishop Justin has invited the bishops of the Anglican Communion to come together as a family to listen, pray and discern – sometimes across deeply-held differences.


 The original call said:

It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. It is the mind of the Communion to uphold “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union”

It has now been amended to say;

Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.

Additionally, a third voting option has been added; “This Call does not speak for me. I do not add my voice to this Call.”

The Lambeth conference continues until August 8th.


Image: Bishops in Canterbury Cathedral during the 2008 Lambeth Conference
Photo Credit: ACNS / Tumilty

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