Today, on the 7th day of the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England, I believe that I have seen the Anglican Communion at its best. Originally begun in 1867 as a means of gathering Bishops from around the globe and learning about ministry and mission in the varieties of global contexts, the Lambeth Conference has suffered ups and downs and various successes and failures. In particular, for The Episcopal Church, the previous two Lambeth Conferences produced much anguish as the Anglican Communion became polarized over issues around human sexuality. I had feared this conference would be more of the same.
As I have discovered, while there are many fine speakers and presentations from people all over the world, the “meat” of it all happens in my small table group. We are bishops from South Sudan, England, Malaysia, Jerusalem and me — the only woman and from The Episcopal Church. We meet together daily for Bible Study and then sit at our table group in the main venue to discuss the Lambeth Calls. Our discussions originally were cautious and sometimes a bit “sparky” as we worked to find our place in the group, but as the days have gone by, we have become more trusting, more honest and more vulnerable in sharing about our contexts—the joys and challenges of our ministry.
Today, the long awaited, and also dreaded call about Human Dignity was on the agenda. Though most of our table discussion today focused on issues of colonialism and the forces that destroy human dignity all over the globe, the most contentious issue was the affirmation about sexual orientation and marriage:
Affirmation 2.3 from the "Call to Human Dignity": Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that “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). 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.
At my table, I was the only person clearly in the place of supporting marriage for all, and I also believe the only one fully allied with LGABTQ+ siblings. Yet, the discussion was carefully and beautifully prefaced by an address from the Archbishop of Canterbury who highlighted this one very important and central concept: “As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.” For those who know the history, we have not been able to do that in the Anglican Communion in the past 20+ years.
At my table, all voices were heard, and people were clear in speaking about how this plays out in their contexts and why they stand where they stand on this complex issue of our humanity. For my part, it was important that I explain the painful recent past in The Episcopal Church, and the importance of radical welcome and marriage for all as an expression of our baptismal covenant. I believe I was heard with respect and my context, honored.
Those of us present agreed that Archbishop Welby may have just had his finest hour and showed leadership based on stating facts, pointing to reality, clarifying his authority (and what authority he did not have — to either exclude or sanction any province), and urging us to remember our focus on Christ. Click here to read the full text of Archbishop Welby's speech. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry also shared a video message after bishops discussed the Lambeth Call on Human Dignity.
Today, I was proud of our work and humbled by this unexpected experience and the surprising movement of the Holy Spirit in this unwieldy, yet devoted, part of Christ’s Body.