An ‘up-or-down’ choice for the The Episcopal Church - Prof Stephen Noll

Return to Lambeth 1.10?
An Up-or- Down Choice for The Episcopal Church.

One of the striking elements of the Communiqué from the February 2006 Primates’; Meeting in Dar Es Salaam (<)  is the call for The Episcopal Church (TEC) to agree with and conform to Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

In their “Key Recommendations,” the Primates “emphasise the need to affirm the Windsor Report (TWR) and the standard of teaching commanding respect across the Communion (most recently expressed in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.”  The placement of this statement as the first and foremost of the “Foundations”  gives it a prominence that simply cannot be avoided.

True, they name The Windsor Report first and Lambeth 1.10 second. Someone may say: “I can agree with TWR without agreeing to Lambeth 1.10.” Well, you may say so, but this is not what the Primates are saying. The Recommendation intentionally couples TWR as the practical outworking of the Lambeth Resolution. Lest there be any doubt about how they read TWR, they include this statement.

11. What has been quite clear throughout this period is that the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 is the standard of teaching which is presupposed in the Windsor Report and from which the primates have worked. This restates the traditional teaching of the Christian Church that “in view of the teaching of Scripture, [the Conference] upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”, and applies this to several areas which are discussed further below. The Primates have reaffirmed this teaching in all their recent meetings, and indicated how a change in the formal teaching of any one Province would indicate a departure from the standard upheld by the Communion as a whole.

This call to affirm and conform to biblical, historic, ecumenical and Communion teaching is, it seems to me, central to any response by TEC to the Primates.

The up-or-down question which TEC must answer is: “Do you affirm the moral teaching about homosexuality in Resolution 1.10, or do you deny it? Will you conform your practice to the traditional teaching of the Christian Church that the two moral alternatives for human sexuality are faithfulness in marriage and abstinence outside it? Or do you conform to another norm of “justice” for practicing gays,  lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons?

For those of us who have been involved in the various “dialogues” and political machinations of the past 15 years and who actually observe what is happening on the ground, the answer to this is up-or-down question has already been given in the negative:  the majority leadership of TEC denies Lambeth 1.10 in principle and in practice and has instituted its own alternative norm which will eventually become mandatory throughout the church.

Presiding Bishop Katherine Schori, reporting from the Primates’ Meeting, articulated – correctly I think – the majority position of TEC:

The majority of this church is willing to live with where we are in regard to human sexuality, or to continue to move ahead in recognizing the full and equal dignity of gay and lesbian Christians, and the appropriateness of their serving in all orders of ministry in this church.

She is saying that TEC has only two gears: neutral (“don’t ask, don’t tell the Communion”) or forward (“full inclusion of gays and lesbians). But her vehicle has no reverse gear. The teeth of that gear have been systematically stripped away over the past decade or two.

In one of the few honest exchanges since the Primates’ Meeting, Dr. Kendall Harmon argued that those who claim the Communiqué is asking for only a narrow response of not “authorizing”  same-sex rites are willfully misreading it.  Br. Tobias Haller, who favors the rites, nonetheless agrees that “Kendall Harmon is Right”.  Haller’s argument begins properly with Lambeth 1.10, about which he says:

This resolution is capable of little spin, as I see it.  It clearly states that same-sexuality is unacceptable and unbiblical. Because of this, the legitimization or blessing of same-sex relationships cannot be advised; nor can the ordination of any person involved in a same-gender union.  I have some question as to whether by “legitimising” the Bishops were referring to civil or ecclesiastical law; but apart from this it is clear they intend there to be no blessings of any kind, nor ordinations — and I point out that the order of ministry is not specified.

Haller observes, again rightly, that TWR and the Dromantine Communiqué muddle a bit (but only a bit) the focus of Lambeth 1.10 on the matter of biblical and doctrinal teaching. But he notes, “and this is where I agree with Dr Harmon,  the statement adopted at Dar es Salaam returns to the language of Lambeth.” Haller concludes with a version of what I call the up-or-down question:

I think it is important that we be very clear what we are being asked to do concerning same-sex blessings, and not try to weasel around the matter. If we do not choose to comply with the exact request, let us frame our rationale for not doing so, rather than pretending that we have complied.

I think Haller and Harmon are right: the Primates at Dar es Salaam are looking for a full response, not cleverly worded equivocations. For those in Global South provinces, they are looking for a change of heart and mind, for repentance.

One question remains: does the view of the Primates also reflect the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury? To this question, the answer is, it seems to me, “Yes but…” Rowan Williams is a signatory to the Primates’ Communiqué. This part of the answer is Yes, and in his post-Meeting interview he sounds much like the Primates as a whole:

We’re still as a communion in a place where our doctrinal position is that of Lambeth 1.10 and where that position has been reiterated in a number of Primates’ Meetings, ACC meetings and a number of other fora. That hasn’t changed.

This affirmation, however, is followed by a “but”: “However there are two factors which we needed to take seriously and engage with.”

The first is this: the response of The Episcopal Church, while not wholly clear, represented a willingness to engage with the Communion and awareness of the cost of difficulty that decisions have generated, so our first questions is ‘how do we best engage with that willingness?’ How do we work with the stream of desire to remain with the Communion?

The second factor is the very substantial group of bishops and others within The Episcopal Church perhaps amounting to nearly one quarter of the Bishops who have spelt out not only their willingness to abide by the Windsor report in all its aspects, but to provide carefully worked-through system of pastoral oversight for those in The Episcopal Church who are not content with the decisions of General Convention.

Frankly,  I find the first “but” something of a non sequitur. He seems to equate a desire to stay within the Communion with an openness to change one’s belief and practice. But it is quite possible, and indeed it is the case with TEC, that one can want to keep one’s standing in a group whose official position you do not accept but which you hope in time to overturn. Call it the subversive strategy. The gay rights movement lived precisely this way within the Episcopal Church for twenty-five years before getting official endorsement of ifs agenda.

Rowan Williams’s sympathy probably goes beyond mere sentiment. He has stated on numerous occasions that his personal view and that of the Communion are not the same, i.e., he does not embrace Lambeth 1.10 ex animo (note his distancing himself by saying that Lambeth 1.10 is “still” the Communion norm). He thinks that a new synthesis will emerge if somehow, without rejecting the traditional teaching, the Church can listen to the gay experience. For this reason, he wants to keep TEC at the table. In my view, even if one holds his position, the only honest way to work this process is for TEC to admit that it trespassed the boundaries of Christian and Anglican orthodoxy and reverse the policies and practices of the last ten or fifteen years. Then a proper listening process could begin, with the Archbishop and those who hold his private view seeking to convince the whole Church to revise the normative statements of Lambeth 1.10.

So the first “but” strikes me as disingenuous in the sense that the Archbishop surely knows TEC is not going to conform to Lambeth 1.10, but also as revealing his hope that a new consensus might in time emerge. This view, however, is not the view expressed in the Primates’ Communiqué itself.

The second “but” is more in keeping with the Communiqué. He notes that there is a minority group of Episcopal bishops who do adhere to Lambeth 1.10 (the so-called “Camp Allen bishops,” which includes the Anglican Communion Network bishops and others). The Primatial Vicar idea is an attempt to cater for this group. In addition, as signatory he has acknowledged those groups who have in conscience sought alternative oversight in other Provinces. What he does not say is how to resolve this splintering while keeping one Anglican jurisdiction in the United States.

Are the two “Instruments of Unity,” the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury,  in agreement with the mind of the Lambeth Conference in Resolution 1.10? The Primates in their unanimous Communiqué are giving an unqualified Yes to Lambeth 1.10 and calling for an up-or-down response from TEC by September 30. The Archbishop of Canterbury in his role also stands behind Lambeth 1.10, although he would probably want to extend the process indefinitely into the future.


It has been nine long years since the Lambeth Resolution was passed. Its meaning and significance as doctrine have been obscured a bit in recent years by the more process-oriented statements like The Windsor Report. But Lambeth 1.10, and the view of biblical authority undergirding it, remains central to any final resolution of the crisis of the Anglican Communion and Anglican identity. Thus it seems to me relevant to revisit the Lambeth Resolution. The analysis below first appeared in Mixed Blessings: Why Same-Sex Blessings Will Divide the Church, published by the American Anglican Council in July 2000. Reprinted with permission. It has been slightly edited and updated. SN LAMBETH SPEAKS PLAINLY Preface

The Anglican Communion, in the providence of God, has been thrust into an identity crisis. At its inception, the Church of England was guided by the Bible, doctrine (Articles of Religion), discipline (Book of Common Prayer), and church order (Establishment). The planting and growth to independence of daughter churches throughout the world stretched but did not break this identity, as the Lambeth Quadrilateral, use of locally adapted Prayer Books, and decennial Lambeth Conferences built on the original foundation.

Anglicanism has had mixed success in coping with the modernist critique of Christianity. Some have questioned the “integrity of Anglicanism,” especially in the Western Provinces (U.K.  and North America). At the same time, vigorous evangelical Anglican provinces have emerged in the Provinces of “the Global South,”  which now greatly outnumber the original churches in active members. The differences between West and South came to a head at the Lambeth Conference of 1998. While the Conference retained much of the civility of the first Lambeth tea party, the issue of homosexuality ignited a kind of Boston Tea Party, with bishops from the South demanding the right to express their understanding of Biblical teaching on the subject.

The resulting Resolution (1.10) is striking for its theological clarity and pastoral charity, or so I argue below. Nevertheless the Resolution has evoked great hostility and non-compliance in the West. The end result of the conflict over this Resolution will be a two-headed church, with Lambeth-abiding dioceses and Lambeth-rejecting dioceses.

I wrote the following piece shortly after Lambeth 1998 to expound its “plain sense.” I hope this exposition will help clarify the reasons that the identity crisis facing the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion cannot be avoided. What the Anglican Bishops Said About Sex Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, with Introduction and Commentary Introduction: The Significance of the Vote on Human Sexuality

Everyone knew it. The media knew it. The bishops, liberal and conservative, from the West and from the Third World,  knew it. The vote on homosexuality was to be the defining moment of the international Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. When the time for the debate on the “human sexuality” resolutions came, a sense of solemnity descended on the full assembly of 700 bishops on the afternoon of August 6, 1998.

Shortly before he raised his hand in favor of Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality, Archbishop George Carey said he hoped Lambeth 1998 would not be remembered only for sex. Perhaps his wish will be partially fulfilled: the Conference did indeed pass a number of significant resolutions – on mission, on euthanasia, on international debt. But only partially, because homosexuality was the presenting symptom of an identity crisis that had to be dealt with in order for the Anglican Communion to speak with credibility on these other issues and prepare itself to present the Gospel in the next century.

The deeper question facing the Communion was whether Anglicans hold certain truths to be fundamental. To do so is not fundamentalism but the Anglican “middle way” (via media):  “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” The norm of sex only in marriage is one of those essential truths. An earlier Lambeth Conference, addressing the sexual revolution of Sigmund Freud, had not flinched from stating an unequivocal position:

Recognizing that to live a pure and chaste life before and after marriage is, for both sexes, the unchangeable Christian standard, attainable and attained through the help of the Holy Spirit by men and women of every age, the Conference desires to proclaim the universal obligation of this standard, and its vital importance as an essential condition of human happiness. (Lambeth 1920, Resolution 66)

If Lambeth 1920 was correct that marriage is the exclusive and unchangeable Christian standard, then those who repudiate this standard do not stand in the middle way but are outside the bounds of historic Christian (and Anglican) teaching. The question facing the bishops in 1998 was whether the historic standard was changeable. And if this teaching were changeable, what other unchangeable doctrines could be revised by some region or church of the Communion?

The sexuality issue forced the bishops to ask an even deeper question: by what authority does the Church determine what is essential truth and what is not? The answer given in the past has been clear: the Bible is our primary authority in matters of faith and morals. The Anglican Communion can condone or endorse a sexual practice that is forbidden in both Old and New Testaments only by changing its historic foundation.

On August 6, the bishops at Lambeth answered the question by passing a strong, clear statement on human sexuality by a majority of 526 to 70, with 45 abstaining. By this act, they restated the historic teaching of the Christian Church and reaffirmed the foundation of that teaching in the revealed will of God in Holy Scripture.

The Times of London called the resolution a “surprisingly trenchant verdict.” The resolution is unusually free of the jargon found in many official church statements that can be “spun” in various directions. Resolution 1.10 has been universally understood as a reaffirmation of the Church’s traditional teaching. Only those who refuse to read it as a whole can find it “paradoxical,” as Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has characterized it. It invites the kind of conversation that begins with a moral compass: that God created human nature with the aim that the two sexes should become one flesh in exclusive and lifelong marriage.

The Lambeth Conference had its defining moment when it passed Resolution 1.10, spelling out the biblical, historic, and normative teaching of the Church. In the turmoils following the Lambeth Conference, The Episcopal Church faces a defining moment, whether to embrace this teaching or to spurn it.

Resolution 1.10: Human Sexuality This Conference commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality;

Resolution 1.10 was accompanied by a report from a group (“subsection”) of bishops who met during the first two weeks of the Conference. The subsection on human sexuality was the most volatile and publicized group at Lambeth, reflecting the deep divisions on homosexuality that exist between some Western bishops and the Third World bishops (Bishop Spong, for instance, was in this subsection). Hence the subsection report, unlike the Resolution 1.10,  reads at times like an opinion poll. Nevertheless, when all was said and done,  the subsection presented the Conference with the resolution that was finally passed (with clarifying amendments). Significantly, the subsection did not issue a minority report.

The subsection reaffirmed Lambeth 1920’s “unchangeable Christian standard” of sexual morality by rejecting a preliminary proposal to see some non-marital relationships,  including homosexual partnerships and polygamous marriages, as faithful to God’s will. The subsection report commends only two ways of sexual faithfulness: marriage and chastity. (Because a few bishops sought to define “chastity” as allowing homosexual relationships, the Conference made its meaning absolutely clear by changing “chastity” to “abstinence” in the final resolution.)

in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;

Here the bishops state their key moral premise that homosexuality is to be judged on the basis of God’s design for marriage. By speaking of a “call” to marriage, the resolution raises holy matrimony above its biological and civic purposes to signify the “mystery of Christ and his Church.” At the same time, the resolution holds both marriage and abstinence to be genuine ways of following Jesus. Because marriage is so honored by God, abstinence gains equal honor as self-denial for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. The call to abstinence may or may not be lifelong, but in a special way it too serves as a sign – of single-minded devotion to the Master.

The moral premise is made in view of the teaching of Scripture. The Conference intends to make clear that moral norms are based on biblical authority. Scripture comes first. In a separate Resolution (III.1) the Conference “reaffirms the primary authority of the Scriptures, according to their testimony and supported by our own historic formularies.” Two of these historic formularies are relevant here: Article XX of the Thirty-Nine Articles declares that “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written.” The Lambeth Quadrilateral, adopted by the Lambeth Conference in 1888 as the basis of Christian unity, holds that the Bible is “the rule and standard of faith.”

The resolution is not treating the Bible merely as a rule book. The Bible tells the Great Story of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. But a story without rules is like a house without foundation and beams. God our Father teaches his children, saying “this way and not that way.” He does this for our good. With Lambeth 1920, the bishops are saying that the reason we must accept the marital standard is “its vital importance as an essential condition of human happiness.”

recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised,  believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.

This phrase carefully defines homosexuality as a matter of self-image. It asserts neither that all homosexuals have chosen to be that way nor that they are born that way. By so defining “orientation,” the Resolution acknowledges the psychological and social dynamics of homosexuality without thereby accepting them as right or inevitable and unchangeable. Clearly some think of themselves as homosexuals and have built their lives around this understanding. The Church’s pastoral ministry must take this reality seriously.

The resolution makes clear that homosexual inclinations or orientation are not incompatible with membership in the Church. All Christians without distinction are offspring of God by creation and sons of God by adoption and grace (Acts 17:28; Galatians 4:4-8). The resolution goes on to suggest that “homosexual persons” may be led to the Church out of their experience, as are all others who know their need for God. But because Christians are to not come to the Church “for solace only, and not for strength;  for pardon only and not for renewal,” the resolution couples the Church’s welcome to all with the challenge of spiritual transformation (Romans 12:1-2).  A pastoral vision for “homosexual persons” might include reorientation to a heterosexual self-image or the building of chaste friendships with people of the same or opposite sex.

In light of the biblical moral norms, this clause challenges the Church to help those who think of themselves as homosexual to frame their self-understanding in terms set by the Gospel. The call to listen to the experience of homosexual persons was added by amendment and accepted by the majority of bishops in the context of the whole resolution. They recognize that homosexual orientation is psychologically complex and socially constructed in such a way that the Church must consider carefully how to bring the health of the Gospel to people so oriented. While pastors are urged to listen patiently to those who think of themselves as homosexual, their call is to bring such persons to understand themselves simply as disciples of Jesus, committed to him and to his standards of holiness. This clause cannot be considered the theological linchpin of the Resolution but rather a pastoral outworking of the principle of sexual faithfulness in marriage or abstinence outside it.

while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;

This clause, like the whole resolution, balances moral principle and pastoral exhortation. Third World bishops insisted on including the words rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture in order to make clear that pastoral sensitivity must include the call to repentance and discipline. Their amendment, which carried by a vote of 390 to 180,  encapsulates the conviction of many bishops that the authority of Scripture undergirds Anglican teaching and identity. These words declare the norm to be absolute and unchangeable and close the door on any “discontinuous”  alternatives, such as “same-sex unions.”

The bishops are speaking the truth in love in the current context of the “sexual revolution” in the West. They are calling on the Church to be leaven in the midst of a culture that has replaced love of God with various substitutes. It is therefore appropriate that they mention other manifestations of disorder in society such as bigotry, violence, and pornography. Third World bishops proposed and passed an amendment of the original resolution, changing the word “homophobia” to the “irrational fear of homosexuality.” Thus the resolution states clearly that hatred and prejudice against homosexuals is not godly, but it rejects the political use of “homophobia” to depict opponents of the gay-rights movement as driven by dark inner fears and hatred.

cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.

This clause is a pointed challenge from the Anglican Communion to the Episcopal Church to adhere to the biblical and historic teaching on sexuality. The word “advise” acknowledges the fact that the Lambeth Conference cannot force member churches to conform, but the resolution was clearly intended to be heeded and responded to. The regional resolution from Central and East Africa was quite blunt at this point: “Those persons who practise homosexuality and live in promiscuity, as well as those Bishops who knowingly ordain them or encourage these practices, act contrary to the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church.  We call upon them to repent.”

requests the Primates and the ACC [Anglican Consultative Council] to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us.

The bishops of the Communion are highly critical of the unilateral actions of Episcopal bishops in permitting the ordination of practicing homosexuals and performance of same-sex “blessings.” They believe these actions, by rejecting historic Christian teaching, have threatened the unity of the Communion as well as ecumenical relationships with the worldwide Christian fellowship. They intend to give their Western colleagues time to rethink their position, but they expect the leaders of the Episcopal Church to answer to the formulation of Anglican teaching in this resolution. Ultimately,  they are calling for conformity. Hence call for a monitoring process by the Primates (i.e., the archbishops) and the Anglican Consultative Council, which are the oversight bodies between Lambeth Conferences.

notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26,  V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.

There were five substantive resolutions on the floor at Lambeth in addition to Resolution 1.10,  all of them from the Third World churches and all of them reaffirming the historic teaching of the Church, including the commendation of the 1997 Statement at Kuala Lumpur. Some bishops wanted to pass them all, but by way of compromise they accepted this clause as making clear the harmony among the resolutions. Conversely, there is no minority resolution that differs from the normative teaching found in all these resolutions. Thus while individual bishops voted against the resolution, the official position of the Anglican Communion is a clear and unequivocal reaffirmation of the biblical teaching.

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The Rev. Dr. Stephen F. Noll is Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University in Mukono,  Uganda. Prior that that, Dr. Noll was Academic Dean and Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He served on the Board of the American Anglican Council from 1996-2000 and was present as an observer at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. He is author of Two Sexes, One Flesh: Why the Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Marriage (1997) and The Handwriting on the Wall: A Plea to the Anglican Communion (1998). Communion (1998).

1 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    As usual, an excellent exposition from Dr. Noll.  Thank you. May the Primates receive clear direction as to the next step. (Not that it matters what I think, but TEC is dead in its sins. It is time to remove the corpse and spray a form of spiritual Lysol throughout the Communion.)