Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3
I’m writing to you from the Lambeth Conference, where, to my regret, I tested positive on August 3 for Covid (with mild cold symptoms) and will be in isolation for the rest of the conference, joining the live stream as I can. While I would much rather be in person at the conference, or in isolation in my own home, I am grateful that the conference organizers are delivering food to the door of my little dorm room. I’m also grateful for other bishop friends who are helping to make sure I have what I need. I’m not the only Covid-positive TEC bishop, so everyone is checking with us to make sure we’re all right.
Isolation gives me a bit more time to write and tell you about Lambeth. The schedule is grueling, but there are great opportunities to make new friends. The photo shows me with my small Bible study group (before I tested positive), which included bishops from England, Ireland, the US, Bangladesh, Antigua, and Swaziland. What an amazing chance to hear about life in other parts of the world and gain new insights from their perspectives!
As part of the program, the bishops have been considering a series of “Calls” on various subjects. They cover vital subjects: Mission and Evangelism; Safe Church; Anglican Identity; Reconciliation; Human Dignity; Environment and Sustainable Development; Christian Unity; Interfaith Relations; Discipleship; and Science and Faith. Unbeknownst to most, small groups of people have been working hard on each call, which has four sections: an Introduction; a Declaration (i.e., theological reflection); an Affirmation (how we should respond); and the Calls (specific requests). For each Call, we hear a presentation on the scripture we’re studying (1 Peter), do a small-group Bible study, then spend time at tables in plenary with our small group, discussing the Call to give input about it.
As I wrote before I left for the conference, I had grave concerns about the whole Call process, since the bishops only received the Calls a week before the conference began, and were startled to learn that we would be voting on them. I was deeply concerned in particular about the Call on Human Dignity (p. 14 of the document linked above), because the original version of it “reaffirmed” 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which “reject[ed] homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.” Even the original drafters of the Human Dignity Call were surprised by that “reaffirmation;” Bishop Kevin Robertson of Toronto, an openly LGBT bishop who was part of the drafting group, said the group had never considered adding this “reaffirmation,” and its addition was a surprise to the authors. It was also a surprise to all of us that we were supposed to vote “yes” or “this needs more work” on each Call, and as originally designed, there was no option to vote “no.”
The outcry was intense, and changes happened immediately. The Call on Human Dignity was modified so it didn’t “reaffirm” Lambeth 1.10, but rather stated truthfully that the majority of the Anglican Communion agreed with it, but some provinces, after careful theological reflection, have decided to affirm same-sex marriage or blessings. (Those provinces include our Episcopal Church, and also churches in Scotland, Wales, Canada, New Zealand, and Brazil. Other provinces, such as Australia and the Church of England itself, are divided on the subject.) The Call now states that despite those differences, we commit to walking forward together.
Along with many other inclusive bishops, I was very happy with this result. When the day came to discuss the call on Human Dignity, it was announced that we would not be voting at all, but rather discussing the Call in our small groups and giving written feedback. What had been feared as a showdown between opposing factions turned into a caring and prayerful process, after Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby addressed the gathering with a plea for unity and mutual respect, saying that he neither has nor seeks power to discipline or exclude any province of the Anglican Communion. His address was greeted with a standing ovation, and infused the discussion that followed with a spirit of prayerful openness. In my small group, we were divided 3/3 on the subject of same-sex marriage, yet we listened to each other’s perspectives carefully and respectfully.
For members of the LGBT+ community who are part of EDSD, I imagine that this whole Anglican Communion dispute, lasting for years, has been painful and difficult. I apologize to you for the ways the church has focused on you and caused you pain. I assure you that whatever Lambeth decided, it would not have caused The Episcopal Church to change our stance – neither Lambeth nor the Anglican Communion have legislative authority over our church. You are valued and beloved members of our flock. I was glad to join with over 170 of my colleague bishops in signing this statement in support of our LGBT+ siblings.
It is possible that the Call on Human Dignity may yet change, since there will be a mysterious “Phase III” of the Call process when unidentified people will take the feedback they have received and modify the Calls. Global South Primates have already issued a statement of protest because the reaffirmation Lambeth 1.10 that many conservative bishops hoped for did not occur. They have declared that they may be in a state of impaired communion with us (and some actually refused to receive communion at the Lambeth Eucharists). They intend to appeal to the Primates (i.e., the heads of all the national churches) of the Anglican Communion to overrule the Lambeth Conference (though there is no legislative mechanism to allow this to happen). As it stands, however, the Human Dignity Call is a great step forward, in my opinion, allowing us to enter a new era where Anglicans worldwide agree to commit to each other despite our disagreements. We finally have the opportunity to put the years-long focus on human sexuality behind us, and find ways to follow Jesus together.
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