[The Episcopal News] The Lambeth Conference of 2022, themed “God’s Church for God’s World,” concluded on Aug. 7 with more unity than seemed possible considering the contention of its first few days.
Bishops from around the church have reported that they emerged hopeful from the two-week meeting; despite disagreements, especially over human sexuality, they found the meeting of bishops from around the Anglican Communion useful in developing relationships, increasing their understanding of the challenges with which provinces in 160 countries must contend, and emphasizing the unity of their faith in Jesus Christ in all its expressions.
There were moments of palpable unity in prayer, said Bishop John Harvey Taylor of Los Angeles, who reported daily from the conference on his Facebook page and blog. “This afternoon, the Holy Spirit’s warm breath came fully among us and swept almost 650 bishops to our feet to pray together, to be the body of Christ in unity,” he wrote on Aug. 2. “It happened right after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, had stated yet again that we are of two minds on marriage equity, pro and con, with each perspective rooted in sincerely held beliefs about doctrine and Holy Scripture.”
Speaking Aug. 7 in his final keynote address at the University of Kent before the conference’s closing service in Canterbury Cathedral, Welby asked, “How should we act? Above all in relationship. That is the first and greatest call… because it is the scriptural call.”
Describing the Anglican Communion, Welby asked, “Is it argumentative? Oh yes. It is diverse? Immensely. Is it God’s holy people? Certainly. Let us go out together in obedience – sent out, as God’s church for God’s world.” (Read more of the archbishop’s address here.)
“I leave convinced that this conference was well worth the effort,” Taylor wrote a few days later as the conference began to wrap up, though he also noted the near-absence of lay leaders’, deacons’ and priests’ public voices in the bishops’ councils, though many served in volunteer supporting roles. Even the bishops’ spouses who were invited – same-sex spouses were barred from attending most events – were seldom invited to address the bishops.
The conference staff included three clergy of the Diocese of Los Angeles. The Rev. Hsin-Fen (Fennie) Chang, vicar of St. Thomas’ Church, Hacienda Heights, and the Rev. Katherine Feng, currently serving as a supply priest, as Mandarin-language interpreters for Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang and Hannah Chang of the Diocese of Taiwan. The Rev. Ryan Macias, curate at All Saints Church, Riverside, volunteered in various roles.
The Lambeth Conference has met about once per decade since 1867. The most recent conference was held in 2008; the 2022 meeting was postponed from 2018, first by disagreements over policy and later by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The daily schedule included prayer, bible exposition, bible study (focusing on 1 Peter), seminars, and receptions hosted by the gathering’s host, Archbishop Justin Welby and his wife, Caroline Welby. Major blocks of time were devoted to the Lambeth Calls, a series of statements on the topics of Safe Church, Anglican Identity, Reconciliation, Human Dignity, The Environment and Sustainable Development, Christian Unity, Interfaith Relations, Discipleship, and Science and Faith.
Lambeth Calls spark controversy over marriage equality
Despite Welby’s assertion that the conference would be a time of coming together across difference, rooted in prayer and bible study, the question of human sexuality dominated the discussion in the week before and extending into the first few days of the Lambeth Conference.
On July 19, conference organizers released “Lambeth Calls,” a 58-page document that included text of the proposed Lambeth Calls. In the first iteration of the document, bishops were advised that they would be voting on these “Lambeth Calls,” and that for each they would have two choices:
“This Call speaks for me.”
“This Call requires further discernment.”
Controversy erupted when bishops found out for the first time in this document that the Call for Human Dignity – which deals largely with problems of inequality, colonialism, poverty, and the subjugation of women and girls – also included reaffirmation of a divisive resolution passed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. The Call asserted that “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.’”
Bishop Taylor, alerted by neighbor Bishop Susan Brown Snook of San Diego, was one of the first to raise an alarm about this language, noting that there was no way to vote “no” on any of the Calls. “The word is spreading quickly that the Kumbaya Lambeth is actually a bait-and-switch Lambeth,” he wrote on July 20, “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. …
“Lambeth doesn’t legislate or set policy,” Taylor continued. “But that won’t matter to a global audience that is likely to read that a majority of Anglican bishops refused to affirm the dignity of every human being. It’s exactly the wrong message to a world in agony. It’s the opposite of the Christian values of healing and reconciliation. It divides, hurts, scapegoats, and denies. It tempts younger people to flee faith and serves no one but the gods of secularization, who are lying in wait for the whole world.”
Taylor’s comments were echoed by many bishops in The Episcopal Church and other provinces that have embraced same-sex unions and marriage. Tensions rose further when Bishop Kevin Robertson of Toronto, in the Anglican Church of Canada, a member of the committee that drafted the Human Dignity Call, issued a statement disavowing the marriage language.
“At no point in our meetings did we discuss the reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 at the Conference, and it never appeared in any of the early drafts of our work together,” Robertson – a married gay man – said in his statement, posted to Facebook. “I can confidently say that the Human Dignity Call in its current form does not represent the mind of the drafting group.”
It is not clear who inserted the contested language in the Call before the document was released.
Episcopal News Service (ENS) interviewed Taylor for a July 25 report on the controversy.
“I think on this question, views are largely fixed, and when views are largely fixed, the helpful thing to do is move to common ground,” Taylor said. “And there’s so much common ground in Lambeth Calls.” He cited references in the drafts to supporting Christians facing persecution, working to slow climate change and improving ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.
Conference planners quickly moved to change both the language and the process. The revised passage reads: “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.”
Taylor called the amendment “an ecclesial Shanghai Communique, acknowledging irreconcilable differences of outlook as well as a commitment to remain in communion across difference, with neither view imposed on the other:
Planners also added a “no” response (“This Call does not speak for me”) to the voting options.
By July 31, the planners had dropped the electronic voting process entirely and started a new process of verbal yes or no votes – also altered after another day or so – changes that confused and irritated many of the bishops. “United States experts on consistency and predictability in electoral matters had better not waste their time studying process at Lambeth 2022,” Taylor wryly noted.
The issue, if not solved, was soothed somewhat by changes in the Call’s language and by Welby’s address on Aug. 2.
Taylor, who was much encouraged by Welby’s compromise, reported: “Weighing each careful word, putting the full weight of his authority and palpable faith in Jesus Christ into play, Welby laid out a buffet with something for everyone. To reassure Global South bishops, he repeated that there was no question that resolution I.10 from Lambeth 1998, condemning homosexual behavior, was still on the books. Supporters of marriage equity can avert their eyes from I.10’s hurtful words (which a majority of bishops would probably still support) and behold section 2.3 in the call document, recognizing the diligence and sincerity of provinces that respect marriage equity (the first such Anglican Communion document ever, says Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry).
‘And Welby also said this: ‘I neither have nor do I seek the authority to discipline or exclude a church of the Anglican Communion. I will not do so.’ Here ends, one assumes, The Episcopal Church’s and other progressive provinces’ near-generation in the wilderness as punishment for the apostasy of full inclusion for LGBTQ+ people. Taken all together, it was enough to send Human Dignity forward.
“No one thinks the communion’s debates about orientation and identification are over,” Taylor continued. “Global South bishops are seeking signatures on a statement reaffirming resolution I.10. Many bishops, including me, signed a statement today in which we vow to support and defend LGBTQ+ people.
“But the Anglican world has shifted on its axis tonight. Welby’s profound empathy, his resolve to see and hear everyone, were indispensable factors. He has a vision of our global church as chaplain to a world in agony, and he knows it can’t happen if we’re fighting with one another. He knew we could do it, and we did.”
More about the response from conservative bishops – including a stated refusal to take Communion with LGBTQ+ bishops – is here.
Lambeth Calls: Mission and Evangelism, Safe Church
The Call for Mission and Evangelism reiterates the responsibilities of Christians “to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom” of Christ and to draw people to faith, listing some specific tasks such as education for ministry, church planting, and standing against persecution of Christians. Safe Church was a plan for preventing all kinds of abuse in Anglican Communion churches.
Due to the initial confusion over the voting clickers, only two-thirds of the bishops present voted in favor of what Taylor called “a perfectly satisfactory call to mission and evangelism. The other third voted ‘more discernment needed,’ not because we didn’t like the language, I’m sure, but because we weren’t given the choice of voting ‘two more drafts needed to get it just right.’ Yet as Welby said tonight, it appeared to the media that a third of bishops were dead set against mission and evangelism.”
Before the next Call was considered, Welby announced he was making a change. “Welby first told us he was scrapping the voting devices in favor of a box at each table with ten settings,” Taylor wrote, “the highest promising we would dedicate our lives to the principle and the lowest that we would kill anyone who disagreed with us. As nervous giggles gave way to belly laughs, it was unmistakably clear that the archbishop of Canterbury was having fun, which is also encouraging in a leader. The real plan is that, instead of having us vote electronically, he will listen to such debate as there is on the remaining calls, tell us if he thinks we think they’re on the right track or not, and invite folks who disagree to shout ‘no!’”
With this change to assent by vocal acclamation, the Mission and Evangelism Call passed unanimously on a second vote, and the Call for Safe Church Calls passed by acclamation.
Lambeth Call: Anglican Identity
The Calls for evangelism and safe churches met with little opposition. A more challenging issue was expressed in the Call for Anglican Identity.
The Call began with this summary: “The Anglican Communion is a gift from God. Governed by Scripture, affirming the ancient creeds, sacramentally centered, and episcopally led – Anglicans seek to be faithful to God in their agreement and in their disagreements. Grounded locally, but with global reach, we turn outward in witness to the risen Christ. In the joy of the Lord, we call for: (i) an Anglican Congress meeting in the Global South before the next Lambeth Conference; (ii) a revitalization of the Marks of Mission with special attention to the diversities of context, ecumenical commitments, and inter-faith co-operation; (iii) a review of the Instruments of Communion; and (iv) the development of a new Instrument of Communion centering the voices of indigenous leaders, the laity, women, and young people.”
According to ENS, “There is nothing overtly controversial in the Anglican Identity Call’s affirmation portion, which delineates the key tenets of Anglicanism, from Scripture, creeds and sacraments to the four Instruments of Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting.
“The bishops offered a mixed response, however, to the calls’ “specific requests,” or action items. One of the items suggested studying and possibly organizing an Anglican Congress, which could bring together Anglicans from across the world but also would require a significant financial commitment. That idea was generally endorsed, with bishops expressing “clear energy and support for the idea,” Archbishop Philip Richardson, who chaired then Anglican Identity Call’s drafting group, said at an evening news conference.
“The call also suggests revitalizing the Marks of Mission, which the communion has turned to in the past as a framework for Anglican engagement with the world. That item generated less interest, as did another item suggesting a study of the Instruments of Communion, said Richardson, who heads the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
“A proposal to consider expanding the Instruments of Communion “received a pretty strong negative response,” Richardson said, and it likely will be dropped from the call. He said his drafting group will take all of this feedback into account as it further revises Anglican Identity Call for eventual release to bishops.”
At this point in the conference, votes were not recorded. Instead, bishops registered their thoughts on the Calls, which will be considered by post-Lambeth discussion groups that will be held in some form over the next two years.
Lambeth Call: Reconciliation
“Anglican bishops took up the Lambeth Call on Reconciliation on Aug. 2, uniting in a message of justice and healing for those who have been oppressed,” wrote Egan Millard of ENS in a story posted Aug. 2. “Coming just before their session on the more controversial Call on Human Dignity, the Call on Reconciliation focused on the church’s broader work on rectifying unjust social systems and less on addressing the factions within the Anglican Communion.
“The call encourages provinces to address, in their own ways, the wounds caused by racism, sexism and other abuses of power. It specifically cites The Episcopal Church’s antiracism work as an example for other provinces to follow.
“The bishops did not vote during the session, but there was a general sense of agreement on the message of the call, said Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, who was on the drafting group for the call. Instead, they shared stories of what reconciliation has looked like in their dioceses and countries.
“’We’re actually sharing our lives in a meaningful way, as bishops, one with another, rather than some kind of exercise in political platitudes or disembodied votes,’ Douglas told Episcopal News Service. “What we were trying to do was actually model in our process what we were talking about in our content. Because if we’re talking about reconciliation, the last thing we want to do is construct winners and losers.’”
In an Aug. 2 post Taylor wrote about a new friend, Bishop Joseph Ara of Liwolo in South Sudan, who has ministered so effectively in the midst of a civil war that, Taylor wrote, “the local government has invited him to work on reconciliation on a regional and international level.”
During the plenary session on reconciliation, Taylor wrote, “As a trust exercise, one of our speakers invited us to give our pectoral cross to a friend and accept theirs in return for the duration of the morning’s program. It was a blessing to see a true Christian peacemaker wearing my cross. Joseph didn’t have his with him, so he gave me his name badge.
“Fittingly, his was the greater risk. I don’t need my cross to get into heaven. He needed his badge back to get into lunch.”
Lambeth Calls: Environment and Sustainable Development
On Aug. 3, the bishops and their spouses traveled to London and Lambeth Palace, historic residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for some 800 years. There they considered the Calls for Environment and Sustainable Development on a day Taylor said was “both festive and substantive.”
Climate change “is an absolutely enormous emergency for literally billions of the world’s population,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said during an Aug. 3 press conference held in the Lambeth Palace Library, as reported by Lynette Wilson of ENS.
“If we stand united, we can, as the global Anglican Communion, make a transformative difference around the world,” he said. “There is a real sense of unity on this, and today is a sign of great hope for the poorest who represent the vast majority of Anglicans in the world.”
The bishops and spouses heard testimony about the effects of climate change from a young Kenyan activist, Elizabeth Wathuti. They prayed at five environment-themed places in the palace gardens and helped plant trees to launch the Communion Forest, a global planting and preservation movement. They also received a letter from Queen Elizabeth II, who is head of the Church of England, that encouraged them in all their work, especially in the environmental causes that were, she said, a special interest of her late husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, now continued by her eldest son, Prince Charles of Wales, and her grandson Prince William.
“What we didn’t do,” said Taylor, “was discuss or act on today’s Lambeth Call, on environment and sustainable development, even though it was printed in our program. Owing to the excellent speeches we heard, we probably ran out of time. Not a word of it is objectionable. It too will go in the kitbag for our commission back home and also no doubt be a focal point of post-Lambeth discussions in our small groups.” (Taylor later reported that the bishops did discuss the environment-related Calls on Thursday. Like the other calls, they will be referred to post-conference committees for additional study.)
Lambeth Call: Christian Unity and Interfaith Relations
Throughout the conference, representatives of non-Anglican churches, Christian organizations and ecumenical and interfaith partners have attended as guests and observers. The Call for Christian Unity gave some of them an opportunity to address the assembly, primarily on how churches can work together to alleviate suffering in the world.
David Paulsen of ENS wrote: “’The disunity of the Church is a continuing and damaging wound in the body of Christ,’ the Lambeth Call on Christian Unity says, referencing a century of history of ecumenical work since ‘An Appeal to all Christian People’ was issued by the 1920 Lambeth Conference. The Christian Unity Call, however, says progress has slowed in recent years, limiting Christian churches’ ability to more closely share in ministries and sacraments, including Communion. Also at stake is shared Christian witness for reconciliation “at a time when in many parts of the world, government regulation, persecution and even terrorism make Christians vulnerable in their life and witness.”
Paulsen notes in his article that ACNA (Anglican Churches of North America), an organization of churches, clergy and laity who broke away from The Episcopal Church over issues of sexuality and biblical authority, were not included in the discussions. The ACNA was invited to attend as an observer, but “Archbishop Foley Beach responded by refusing to participate, ‘as long as the Archbishop of Canterbury is inviting bishops to Lambeth who are living in immorality and continuing to tear the fabric of the Communion.’”
“The afternoon plenary on interfaith relations was titled ‘Hospitality and Generosity,” wrote Paulsen. “The keynote speaker, Chelmsford Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani of the Church of England, shared her childhood experience as a Christian refugee. Her family fled Iran when she was 14 in response to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Her father was the Anglican bishop of the diocese in Iran, and her brother was killed there, presumably because of his connection to the church.
“And yet, Francis-Dehqani said, she felt called by her Christian faith to unravel the paradox of Christian engagement with other faiths “when elements within those faiths wish us harm.” She came to believe that “the evils which have befallen the church are not a reflection of the whole Islamic faith,” she said, just as the violence of the medieval Crusades and today’s Christian nationalist movements are not a reflection of the whole Christian faith.”
Lambeth Call: Discipleship
“When Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry finally hit the stage to introduce a keynote speaker (he was part of the team working on the all-important issue of intentional discipleship), you could feel the energy mount,” Taylor wrote in a post on Aug. 5. “He had about three minutes, but he preached the gospel, like he always does, in word and deed. Which is, as a matter of fact, is intentional discipleship.”
Curry and Archbishop Ng Moon Hing, former primate of South East Asia, co-chaired the plenary on discipleship. The corresponding Call emphasized continuing education and discipline, exhorting Anglicans “to learn and to learn again to love and serve in the way of Christ ‘with the strength that God supplies.’” It commends two previous initiatives: the Season of Intentional Discipleship and Disciple-Making (SIDD), launched at the ACC meeting in Lusaka in 2016; and the Five Marks of Mission, identified at the ACC meeting of 1984.
Paulsen of ENS wrote: “’The term disciple can be used in an all-encompassing sense to refer to everyone in church who has been baptized,’ West Indies Archbishop Howard Gregory said in his presentation during the day’s plenary. But, he continued, the church is increasingly aware of the need and desire for Christians to progress beyond a passive stage of spiritual development to becoming ‘disciples of Christ in every sphere of life.’”
“The Lambeth Call on Discipleship anchors itself in passages from 1 Peter, whose author called on the early Christians to ‘be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. … Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.’”
Lambeth Call: Science and Faith
The Call for Science and Faith is a response to what Lambeth planners see as perception of an increasing gap between the two disciplines. “This is a call to every Church of the Anglican Communion to recognize within science God-given resources for the life of faith and to offer the wisdom of faith to the work of science. It is a call for churches, seminaries and programs to support and equip church leaders in this, and to support scientists for such courageous and confident leadership,” the drafting committee wrote. They pointed out the essential role played by science in overcoming such world problems as climate change and biodiversity loss, poverty, disease, war and famine, as well as “the careless use of new technologies.”
The Call includes the official launch of the Anglican Communion Science Commission, “which brings together scientists, theologians, and church leaders from around the world for consultation, especially on moral issues posed by scientific and technological developments,” according to an article in The Living Church.
The article continues: “’Science and technology raise enormous questions about what it means to be human, what it means to be a person, and the Christian faith has huge resources to bring,’ said its co-chairman, Bishop Steven Croft of Oxford.
“’We believe as Christians that almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, creator of all things, became a human person, and that one truth changes all of our perspectives on what it means to be human. So, as we encounter questions of climate change, of human enhancement, and human dignity — in all of those things, the Church has a very powerful message and a contribution to make.
“’But in order to make it, we have to be confident in the sciences that we’re engaging with. Otherwise, nobody can hear what we’re saying.’
“The Call invites Anglican churches ‘to recognize within science God-given resources for the life of faith and to offer the wisdom of faith to the work of science.’ It notes with concern the increasing perception of a gap between faith and science, and urges increased partnership between scientists and church leaders as a remedy.
“It calls on each province to designate a lead bishop for science and asks seminaries and theological colleges to prioritize training in this area. It also says an Anglican Communion Science Project will be established at two or three major universities to coordinate further research under the commission’s direction.”
Statements of support
Following a longtime tradition, bishops issued “statements of support” for areas of the Anglican Communion facing specific difficulties. The statements, sponsored by one or more bishops, are not action items, but are intended to raise awareness of challenging matters and promise prayers.
Of these presentations, Taylor wrote, “God’s people are so vulnerable around the world. The conference sometimes felt like the world writ small. As chaotic as U.S. politics seem, as fragile as our democracy may be, we TEC bishops were largely onlookers this morning as Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby moderated an hour of testimony about unrest, injustice, or persecution of Christians. Stories from Congo, Nigeria, Israel and Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Iran, El Salvador, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Brazil, Kenya, and the Philippines. Refugees and migrants everywhere.
“The United States was not silent. Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry submitted an eloquent statement about U.S. gun violence (lifting up Bishops/Episcopalians United Against Gun Violence). But in our quiet, uncontentious hour of prayer, we felt present with tens of millions at risk through the witness of bishops who walk with them daily. If Welby wanted to keep the conference from breaking down over marriage equity, it was because he believes in the unity of the Anglican Communion not for unity’s sake but so our global church can be chaplain to a world in agony.”
The Bishop’s Blog by John Harvey Taylor
Lambeth Conference website, with daily video reports