The Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt
Winchester, August 11th 2008
The Lambeth Conference 2008 – and the future of the Anglican Communion
A Report to the Diocese of Winchester
On May 17th I devoted half of my Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod to the Lambeth Conference, then still two months away. I begin this review of the Conference with what I said that day, because it describes the hopes, fears and convictions with which I went to Canterbury; so I hope that it will help those who read what follows to the end to evaluate my particular experience of the Conference.
I want to say a little about this summer’s Lambeth Conference in which Trevor and Paul and I, with our wives, will participate; and to do so – both to speak now and to participate in July – in the spirit of those verses from Ephesians read just now, in which St. Paul addresses a situation that sounds so contemporary –“tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine” - with “but speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…..” (4.14, 15).
“speaking the truth in love”: I’ve often heard that phrase used as if it means no more than “call a spade a spade, sock it to them - but lovingly!”; but I’m sure that the words require more informed care than that. “The Truth”, which is to be maintained, lived, spoken, has specific meaning both in this Letter and more widely in the New Testament. “…the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation…”, “fasten the belt of truth around your waist” in chapters 1 and 6 of Ephesians; “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”, “for this I was born…..to testify to the truth” in John. To speak, to live, the “Truth” must be to seek to live and to speak ever more accurately within and out of the Risen Life of Jesus, and of the beliefs and the way of life that we have received in and through Him. And by the same token, Jesus, and scripture more widely, must be the illustration, the arbiter of the meaning here of “in love”: so this “love” is not fluffy, still less flabby; but love in the character of Jesus, marked by his warm reforming compassion, his welcome and his challenge, his mercy and his justice; and like the Lord it may cause division – “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (the same word in Gal. 4.6).
I pray that the hopes for this Lambeth Conference of Archbishop Rowan and of the Design Group will be blessed;
- that we shall return from the Conference “better bishops” for our Churches and for the Church’s witness, encouraged and refreshed, through seeking the Holy Spirit together, through reading St John together, and through the relationships which we will make or re-make with colleagues from every part of the world, for the ministry that we are called and commissioned to offer;
- that we shall discover a new level of trust in common service to God, and come more deeply to appreciate the calling and opportunities of the Anglican Communion in today’s world;
- and that in the context of all this we shall be able to address the conflict within the Communion, and do useful work on the Anglican Communion Covenant as a chief means of clarifying our vision and uniting the Churches of the Anglican Communion.
I regret more than I can say the absence from the Conference, and from our Pre-Lambeth programme in the Diocese, of our Partner-bishops and their wives from Rwanda and Uganda; they will be very greatly missed from the Conference, and their wives from the Spouses Conference; and I want you to know that both for them and for me their absence has no adverse implication for our Diocesan Partnerships which they are as eager to continue and to develop as I am, and as I trust that you are too.
But what if the Lambeth Conference becomes engulfed in, taken over by, the profound disagreements that exist among us around the legitimacy for Christians of same-sex sexual behaviour – disagreements to which the Conference will of course have to devote some time? This is, I fear, the story that sections of the media have written already; and there are those, bishops among them, who want the Conference to re-open the questions determined by Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Conference.
I pray that this will not happen. But if it does, then especially will be the time to “speak the truth in love” in the richly orthodox senses to which I drew your attention a few minutes ago. As many of you know, I continue to judge that the Church of England’s House of Bishops was right in 1991, in Issues in Human Sexuality, to teach that although people who judge it appropriate as Christians to live in same-sex relationships should be made welcome in our parishes, the Church should not affirm their life-style, still less consider them for ordination into its sacramental and teaching ministries. In the same way, while we know that there are people in many of our churches who are living together but are not married, we do not accept such people as candidates for Reader ministry or for training for ordination. Issues… had, I believe, both ways of living in view in its paragraph 5.13: “the world will assume that all ways of living which an ordained person is allowed to adopt are in Christian eyes equally valid”.
I see no future for the Anglican Communion as we know it, or for the Church of England as we know it, if either deserts this teaching.
“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine…….. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, even Christ…..”(Ephesians 4.14,15)
And I went to Canterbury, too, deeply engaged with the relationships that my wife Lou and I had the great privilege and delight of re-making with our Burmese, Congolese and Burundian Partner-bishops and their wives, and in the event with one Rwandan bishop, through the pre-Lambeth hospitality programme in the Diocese. I thank very warmly the large number of people, across the mainland diocese and in the Islands, who offered a lot of generous hospitality and care to Bishops and their wives; and to Lou, and Mervyn Jones, and all those who worked with them over many months to make (and re-make more than once!) a web of complex arrangements that in the event worked wonderfully and were much appreciated by our friends.
A modern “Lambeth Conference” is actually two conferences: the Lambeth Conference of the bishops of the Communion into which the Archbishop of the day also invites a substantial number of ecumenical participants; and a Spouses’ Conference. The two Conferences participate together in the round of daily Worship, over meals, and in a small number of Plenaries; but for the most part they have separate programmes, crucially including separate groups for daily Bible Study – though again this year both Conferences used the same Bible Study material on the “I am” sayings of Our Lord in St John’s Gospel.
So much about “Lambeth 2008” was wonderfully encouraging, moving and often humbling:
- living for 18 days in a kaleidoscopic Christian community made up from almost every country in the world, especially expressed when we said the Lord’s Prayer together in our mother-tongues, in the dazzling colours of the clothes of so many Bishops’ wives, and in the opportunity to talk with so many over meals.
- deepening friendships with our own Partner-Bishops and their wives (though this only underlined for me the absence of the Ugandans and Rwandans) – and I regret the times when I found myself addressing Burmese in the poor French with which I’d been trying to talk with Congolese!
- worshipping in this wonderfully mixed community, both in the Cathedral at the beginning and end of the Conference, and daily in the “Big Top”
- the strikingly generous welcome to the Conference given by Canterbury Cathedral, who devoted that tremendous building and the whole Precinct to the Conference for two days; and both the fact, and the content, of the Retreat given by Archbishop Rowan before the Conference opened on the first Sunday
- the presence and ministry throughout the Conference of the Chaplaincy Team, made up of Religious Sisters and Brothers from the Pacific, Australasia, North America and the UK
- the day the Conference spent in London: the walk from Whitehall to Lambeth Palace witnessing to the critical importance of the Millennium Development Goals; Gordon Brown’s remarkable and passionate speech before the façade of Lambeth Palace, and the wonderfully appropriate appreciation of him by the Ugandan Helen Wangusa who represents the Anglican Communion at the United Nations: “If I had it in my power to do so, I would ordain you now…..”!; lunch there, and the Garden Party at Buckingham Palace – and all on Lou’s and my 43rd wedding anniversary (“how very thoughtful of the Archbishop and of the Queen to arrange parties for you!”).
- Some of the evening Plenaries, especially those given by Cardinal Dias and by the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks
- Archbishop Rowan’s three Presidential Addresses, for me especially the last of them on the final afternoon of the Conference.
- The daily “home-group” of eight bishops – for me, three South Indians, two from the USA, one from South Africa, and another English bishop, with the addition on two mornings of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor – reflecting together on the “I am” sayings in St John’s Gospel
- The wonderful weather almost throughout the Conference (even though it made some venues, and some sessions that even without the heat would have been demanding, oppressively hot); the beauty of the Campus of the University of Kent, its views of the Cathedral, and its wildlife (especially the ubiquitous rabbits!)
The long days had other ingredients some of which, for me at any rate, worked less happily. After the daily Eucharist at 7.15, breakfast, the Bible Study groups at 9.15 and a drink at 10.30, we went on to the much discussed “indaba groups”, each made up of forty Bishops (five Bible Study groups). These were given a different topic each day; each had a Bishop designated as “leader”, and a “reporter” (generally a student or ordinand) tasked to produce for “the management” of the Conference the gist of what had been said day by day. I was by no means the only Bishop who found this process unsatisfactory – over-managed, under-prepared, often frustrating; and the “indabas” a context which though quite often good for mutual relationships and understanding did not encourage much real learning together, let alone the development by the Bishops of any substantial “teaching”.
In the afternoons there were a host of “self-select groups” which bishops could choose to attend, and which together made up quite a rich and varied programme; but what with the heat and the long working-hours, I’m afraid that many were only sparsely attended. I valued those given by Cardinals Murphy-O’Connor and Kasper; and (very different) the one which I was asked to chair, with a Burundian and a Sudanese bishop speaking from their own experience about climate change, and how their Churches was seeking to react to it.
Into this already full programme was inserted at a late stage the work of the Windsor Continuation Group, three preliminary reports each followed by a “hearing” in what turned out to be intense and humid heat! The task of the Group, set up by Archbishop Rowan as recently as January 2008, is to review the Communion’s progress with the Windsor Report in the light of the communiqué from the meeting of the Primates in Dar-es-Salaam in February 2007. Chaired by the recently retired Archbishop Clive Handford, they produced what seemed to me to be refreshingly honest and challenging diagnoses of the crisis facing the Communion, if rather less challenging proposals for its resolution. The “hearings” enabled those who attended (and who had the stamina!) to broach the divisive issues, and to listen to each other speaking about them, a good deal earlier in the Conference than the indaba-programme had originally intended.
At the end of the first full week of the Conference, there was a significant ground-swell of opinion that the programme should be freed up, the “indabas” left with more freedom to manage their own agenda, and the critical questions of the use of Scripture, same-sex relationships and the Anglican Communion Covenant explicitly brought into the “indabas” before the last three working days of the Conference. Understandably, but I judged and still judge regrettably, the “management” decided to stick with their programme.
This placed significant pressure on us all as we began to tire, and as the end of the Conference loomed. I doubt whether many “indabas” did justice to these subjects upon which so many were looking to the Bishops to do careful work together and to offer some pointers, even some guidance, to the Communion. This made still more difficult and contentious the process which many of us rapidly realised had been poorly designed to produce, in the last days of the Conference, the 43 page report eventually entitled “Lambeth Indaba: capturing conversations and reflections from the Lambeth Conference 2008” - “conversations and reflections”, and only from the “indabas”; not the guidance, even the teaching, that most Bishops from the developing world, and many others, thought that it was the business of the Conference to offer at this critical moment in the Communion’s life! I make no criticism of those tasked with managing this process who worked long and hard and skilfully to achieve a result against the odds; and they joined many others in regretting that this process excluded, from having any part in shaping this report, Bishops with a less than confident command of English.
By the second full week of the Conference I and many other bishops had come to the view that the programme as a whole was designed to ensure that the Conference should not seek to offer any clear guidance or teaching on any issue, because of the potentially divisive effects of our starting upon the plenary debates, and the voting, which alone would enable the Conference to articulate a particular view comparable to that of “Lambeth 1998”. To me and to many others this had the effect of legitimising, in the life of the Conference and by implication in the Communion, the whole range of convictions about same-sex relationships and about the use of Scripture. There was little if any sense that the Conference was bound by Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference; and over and over again participants were encouraged to think especially of their “context” – with the tacit but clear impression that “context” could indeed, as some insist, powerfully influence Christian teaching; and that a world-wide family of Churches could continue with radically different teaching on the content of the Holy Life in different parts of the world, even when all are in communication in seconds through the Web.
For many of us, and perhaps especially for many Bishops from the developing world, these impressions were exacerbated by the extent to which the physical environment of the Conference was strongly coloured by the well-organised and well–funded activities of groups and individuals lobbying against the Communion’s teaching expressed in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and for that publicly advocated by The Episcopal Church and those who think like it. Around a third of the stalls in the “Market-place” were taken by those lobbying for change in the Communion’s teaching; Bishop Gene Robinson was quite often around the campus and extensively “hyped” by the British media; and news-stands at strategic points around the site offered copies of a near-daily news-sheet, The Lambeth Witness, sponsored by InclusiveChurch and providing its “take” on events and people, while looking as if it might be an official organ of the Conference!
On the other hand, early in the Conference 19 Primates from the developing world sponsored a meeting which gave an opportunity for Bishops broadly in sympathy with the “Global South” in its emphasis on orthodox teaching on the use of scripture, on the person of Christ and on same-sex relationships, to hear from some of their leaders in the Conference and to offer each other mutual encouragement. Well over 150 bishops attended, from Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the USA and England as well as from the developing world. Many of the latter had persisted in coming to Canterbury in the face of persuasion to join Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya in staying away (but five Kenyan Bishops and the wives of four of them braved the criticism of their colleagues to come to the Conference). That afternoon and throughout the Conference we greatly missed what would have been the strong participation of those who stayed away.
At the beginning of the second week I e-mailed letters to our own Partners, the Archbishops of Rwanda and Uganda, expressing my sadness at their and their Bishops’ absence, strong though my sympathy was for the convictions which had led them to judge that they should stay away. I received a warm note, before the end of the Conference, from Archbishop Henry Orombi, affirming the contribution over the years of Winchester to the Church of Uganda, and his own and his bishops’ continuing commitment to our range of Partnerships. Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini had made the same clear commitment to me – and I to him – when we talked for 2 hours, at his invitation, in Sussex in mid-May.
Though the Conference was not, as I expressed my fears to the Diocesan Synod, “engulfed in, taken over by, the profound disagreements that exist among us around the legitimacy for Christians of same-sex sexual behaviour”, I found that these were never far below the surface, indeed that they were explicit, in every Bible Study and every meeting of the “indaba” of which I was a member – even while these settings enabled Bishops to express their disagreements courteously and respectfully to each other. There was no escaping, in my experience of the Conference, the demanding reality that not only in parts of the world distant from each other, but often within the same Province, Bishops hold radically – I should say, incompatibly – different convictions on the use of Scripture, on same-sex sexual relationships and on whether people in such relationships may be ordained.
Bishops who argue for the “revisionist” position see themselves and their churches as prophetic, and obedient to fresh disclosures of the Holy Spirit; and they see as both unreasonable and impossible, and profoundly detrimental to the credibility of their Christian witness in their context, the demands of the Primates in recent years that they should draw back from what is now a generation or more of thinking and behaving in these ways in their Dioceses – and the “tickets” on which they themselves were elected to their Sees.
To many other Bishops, especially but by no means only in the developing world, and by no means only to Evangelicals, this teaching and practice does not only disobey the clear teaching of Scripture and the unvaried practice of the Church until this generation; it threatens the reputation and credibility of their Churches, and exposes their Christians to mockery if not actually to violence. In the UK, too, today the “orthodox” often face mockery, and charges of “bigotry”, for their convictions (as I know well)!
It was not surprising that these opposing views largely proved to govern Bishops support for, or their doubts about, the Anglican Communion Covenant. “Revisionists” oppose proposals that are designed to enable the Anglican Communion to declare its boundaries and hold member-Provinces accountable to their colleagues; “orthodox” on the other hand see such “discipline” (though the present draft text of the Covenant does not use the word!) as self-evidently necessary if the Anglican Communion is to remain together.
To much of the rest of the Christian world, and especially to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, while of course they recognise that the same questions are “alive” in their own churches too, the extent and depth of this divide renders the Anglican Communion doctrinally incoherent, and a profoundly unreliable dialogue-partner and colleague in Mission – as especially Cardinal Kasper, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, again made clear to the Conference.
Right up until the final afternoon of the Conference and Archbishop Rowan’s third Presidential Address, everything seemed to be “managed” to ensure that these opposing and (in my judgement and experience) mutually incompatible views should be held in tension; and that this “both-and”, not Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998, should effectively be the teaching of the Conference and the means of holding the Anglican Communion together.
I described this apparently likely outcome as “living down” to the concerns about “Lambeth 2008” that motivated the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in July, and that led more than 200 bishops to refuse the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to the Conference. I expressed my concern that if this were to be the outcome of the Conference, more Provinces might well be drawn away from the See of Canterbury to the new structures that GAFCON had committed itself to bringing into being; and I suggested that the wisest future for the Communion could be some kind of negotiated “orderly separation” that would free both “sides” from more years of necessarily inconclusive debate and from the damage that each perceived itself receiving from the other.
But on the final afternoon Archbishop Rowan decisively tipped the balance for the first time in the Conference. Affirming the uniqueness of Christ as the Way, the Truth and the life, he re-affirmed Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as the teaching of the Anglican Communion on sexual behaviour, and the Primates’ 2007 call for moratoria on blessings of same-sex relationships, on the consecration of any more priests in same-sex sexual relationships like Gene Robison, and on incursions by bishops into the dioceses of others; and he again backed work on the Anglican Communion Covenant as the most fruitful way for the Communion to manage its life together. “The onus of proof”, he said, “is on those who seek a new understanding.” And later: “The vision of a global Church of interdependent communities is not the vision of an ecclesiastical world empire - or even a colonial relic… The global horizon of the Church matters because churches without this are always in danger of slowly surrendering to the culture around them and losing sight of their calling to challenge that culture.” And then he went on to speak memorably of the Church’s “truthful Christian witness in situations of profound social corruption and disorder”, instancing Zimbabwe; and by implication of the imperative upon Christians to pray for and to stand with those everywhere who are the concern of the Millennium Development Goals.
So that night and the following morning, after a fine Eucharist in the Cathedral and a memorable party/supper offered by the Cathedral and brilliantly relocated at the last minute in deference to a rain-storm, the Bishops of the Anglican Communion and their spouses left Canterbury with nothing resolved; but with this clear call from Archbishop Rowan – and with the future of the Communion depending yet again on how especially (but not solely) North Americans would respond to the Archbishops final Address, and how much further the patience, with The Episcopal Church in particular, of the churches of the developing world would stretch.
So what are my own provisional conclusions, as I complete this Report to the Diocese of Winchester nearly a week after the close of the Lambeth Conference of 2008?
Notwithstanding Archbishop Rowan’s magnificent final Address, I continue to see a negotiated “orderly separation” as the best and most fruitful way forward for the Anglican Communion. The experience of this Lambeth Conference, underlined by that final Address, has again convinced me that the Anglican Communion cannot hold in tension convictions and practices that are incompatible, and so not patent of “reconciliation”, without continuing seriously to damage the life and witness of Anglican Churches as much in “the Global South” as in North America and in other provinces that have followed the lead of TEC. The experience of this Conference cannot have encouraged any participant to imagine that the latter are about to turn their backs on a generation or more of development in directions foreign to the life and convictions of the vast majority of Anglicans, let alone of other Christians, across the world. I cannot see that the members of an “international family of Churches” can thrive and grow and offer a clear witness to Jesus Christ as Lord while offering contradictory teaching, on a matter as central as the character of the Holy Life, in different parts of a world knit together by instantaneous e-communications.
I am not imagining that such an “orderly separation” could prove either straightforward or painless. Archbishop Rowan said two years ago that if partings came, they would be as unmanageable, and as unpredictable in their effects, as the splintering of panes of glass; and I realise that there could be especially difficult implications for the Church of England, as there continue to be for the Churches of North America. But I recognise as quite fair the summary of my and others’ views offered by the Guardian newspaper’s Editorial on August 4th: they “feel that the avoidance of confrontation this past fortnight has merely set up a worse confrontation in the future”.
If this may be the future under God of the Anglican Communion - a large “orthodox” majority continuing to look to its historic roots (I pray and hope) in the See of Canterbury yet maintaining some defined relationship with a “separated” and more “liberal” Communion of Churches centred on TEC – much now depends on the GAFCON Primates and the rest of the “Global South” quickly mending the relationships between them that have been put at risk, and on all of them together reacting positively to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s stated intention to call a meeting of the Primates of the Communion early in 2009.
By then they, and the rest of us, may have a clear sense of how TEC and others are going to respond to Archbishop Rowan’s calls in his final Address on August 3rd; and the Archbishop may himself be in a position to judge whether there is a will for the Anglican Communion to go forward together in Our Lord’s service – or whether he faces the terrifyingly difficult decision between initiating negotiations that may make for “an orderly separation”, or watching a still more destructive separation take place around him.
I trust that you join me in holding Archbishop Rowan and his wife Jane, the churches of the Anglican Communion and especially those in Myanmar, Burundi, Congo, Rwanda and Uganda that are our Partners, the Church of England and this Diocese of Winchester daily in your prayers.
The Addresses, Sermons, Papers etc given in the course of Lambeth 2008 can be found on www.lambethconference.org