Dear Companions in Christ in ECCT:
Next Tuesday, July 26, Anglican bishops from around the world will gather at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England for the Lambeth Conference of Bishops. Bishop Laura, who is currently in Scotland visiting our partner diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney, and I will be in attendance. In addition, I am pleased to say that Bishop-elect Jeffrey Mello, upon receiving a majority of consents to his election by the Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction of the dioceses in The Episcopal Church, has recently been invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, to attend the conference as well. I am excited that your two bishops and your bishop-elect will be in Canterbury to share Christian community with sibling Anglican bishops from around the world. The decennial meeting (generally speaking) of Lambeth Conference is an important manifestation of the Church catholic and, at its best, builds up the Body of Christ for more faithful participation in the mission of God, locally and globally.
I have consulted with both Bishop Laura and Bishop-elect Jeffrey, and the three of us are in agreement on the following comments on the nature of the Lambeth Conference and the challenges posed by recent developments in the planning for the upcoming conference.
The 2022 Lambeth Conference was originally billed as an opportunity for “a gathering of bishops from across the Anglican Communion for prayer and reflection, fellowship and dialogue on church and world affairs.” We were led to believe that, following the design of the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the conference would be characterized by prayerful encounter, bible study, mutual discernment, and collaboration; and that there would be no voting on resolutions. With that understanding, a majority of active bishops in The Episcopal Church, including your bishops, signed up to attend.
Last Monday, with tickets in hand and many bishops enroute to the conference, bishops registered for Lambeth received a study document containing “Lambeth Calls.” Ten topics were identified for our discussion, discernment, and prayer at Lambeth. These topics were wide-ranging and important to our Christian faith and action including: Mission and Evangelism, Safe Church, Anglican Identity, Reconciliation, Human Dignity, Environment and Sustainable Development, Christian Unity, Interfaith Relations, Discipleship, and Science and Faith. Each study topic includes an introduction, a declaration, an affirmation, and a “call” to action. The Calls were drafted by a diverse group of individuals from around the Anglican Communion. Robin Hammeal-Urban, our ECCT Pastoral Response and Discipline Resource Officer, was closely involved in the development of the Call on Safe Church and will present on the same at the conference. I helped to draft the Call on Reconciliation. There is much fine theological reflection and invitation to action in the ten Calls. As study documents, I find them to be very helpful invitations to our participation in God’s mission.
Unfortunately, the good contained in the Calls is lost in what I find to be a problematic process for considering the Calls, along with untrue content in the Call to Human Dignity. During the drafting of the Call on Reconciliation, I was never led to believe that the bishops gathering at Lambeth would have to vote on the substance of the Calls. I was both surprised and disappointed to read in the study document released last Monday that each bishop in attendance will be asked to approve the Lambeth Calls using an “electronic device” to register one of two following choices: “1) This Call speaks for me. I add my voice to it and commit myself to take the action I can to implement it. Or: 2) This Call requires further discernment. I commit my voice to the ongoing process.” I find the use of voting devises with only two choices of response, both of which are committing me to support the substance of the Call, to be manipulative and divisive. When important and profound theological and missiological matters are reduced to voting it creates, by definition, winners and losers. Such either/or thinking does not build up the Body of Christ, nor does it help to unify the Anglican Communion for collaborative action in God’s mission.
In addition, in the Call on Human Dignity, there is the highly problematic mention of the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1:10 on human sexuality. Referring to Lambeth 1:10, the Call specifically states in paragraph 2:3 that: ”It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible.” That statement is simply not true. The Episcopal Church fully includes LGBTQ+ siblings in the life and sacraments of the Church and supports marriage equality. Other churches in the Anglican Communion are equally supportive of LGBTQ+ people. To say that “It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible” denies the faith and doctrine of our church and is highly injurious to married LGBTQ+ couples in our church. The fact that our Bishop-elect Jeff is happily married to his husband Paul, and that there are many blessed married LGBTQ+ couples in ECCT cannot be denied. I am sorry for the ongoing pain and suffering that this restatement of Lambeth 1:10 is causing to LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ; and I cannot be party to such oppressive and hurtful actions.
So, what are we to do given the recently developed problems with both the process and content of the Lambeth Calls? First, as my mentor the Canon Edward Rodman would pray: “Let us not be agents of our own or other people’s oppression.” As a bishop of The Episcopal Church, I cannot and will not vote to uphold any statement aligned with Lambeth 1:10 that continues to exclude and marginalize LGBTQ+ people. Second, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called for a meeting of the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church in Canterbury on Wednesday, July 28, to discern together how we might best respond to the issue of voting on the Calls and the untrue and hurtful reference to Lambeth 1:10 in the Call on Human Dignity. At our recent General Convention in Baltimore, the House of Bishops embodied a community of deep listening and faithful discernment with a generosity of Spirit. I give thanks to God for the way God is bringing about unity in difference in our House. I believe and trust that the way the Spirit of God is moving in our House can help us to discern together how best to respond to the challenging circumstances presented by both the question of voting on the Lambeth Calls, and the inclusion of Lambeth 1:10 in the Call on Human Dignity. I believe that our witness of unity in diversity as the House of Bishops has much to offer the Lambeth Conference as a whole.
I ask that you pray for your bishops, your bishop-elect, and all bishops of The Episcopal Church and the churches of the Anglican Communion that will gather in Canterbury next week for the Lambeth Conference of Bishops. Pray that a spirit of unity will prevail and that coming together, in the manifold and God-given differences that we embody as bishops of the world-wide Anglican Communion, we will commit anew to God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit for a world so much in need of this Good News.
The Rt. Rev Ian T. Douglas, Ph.D.
O God, by your grace and Spirit you have raised up witnesses and servants in many lands and cultures: Pour out your blessing upon the churches and provinces of the Anglican Communion, and upon their leaders as they gather for fellowship in the Lambeth Conference, that their diversity may enrich their common witness and service to the honor and glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.