Church of England Newspaper 18 August 2020

Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden

Early August saw two events in England in which countries in the British Commonwealth took part.

At one, people with considerable expertise in their chosen field accepted a common global standard, or ‘catholic universal standards’, for the activity in which they strived to excel. They drew on their own resources as well as international expertise. They were committed to excellence and the highest standards. Smaller nations were all supported in their advance preparation. No one suggested that taking part in these activities, which all originated from and were brought to them by western nations, was an expression of colonialism. None of the former international leaders in their fields patronized newcomers.

The other event was the Lambeth Conference.

The Commonwealth Games took place in Birmingham at the same time as the Lambeth Conference and were broadcast across the world. India won 22 gold medals in boxing, badminton, table tennis and wrestling. They were all coached by non-Indians, the badminton team by a Chinese. Was this a compromise? International resources were being shared. No one kept their expertise to themselves. All served a higher purpose.

The English women’s 4×400 relay team slightly infringed the rules as one member briefly ran outside her lane. They were disqualified and deprived of their gold medal.

The Games had a common story about their sport, accepted common rules and standards. They competed with each other, enabled all to flourish and did not leave as ‘opponents’ or disagree about the results.

The Lambeth Conference was also broadcast globally. The official narrative was that this was a messy family like any other with rows, disagreements and occasional walkouts. The independence of each member was stressed. The convenor said he could not exercise any discipline for infringements of agreements.

The Commonwealth Games demonstrated what commitment to a common standard and rules and a common mission to excel and transform their sport through performance can achieve. This was glaringly lacking at the Lambeth Conference.

What Communion at what cost?

Archbishop Welby is reported to have been relieved that at the end the Anglican Communion was still in one piece. But the question is ‘what Anglican Communion and at what cost?’ One observer noted that what was a church has become a club; what was a communion has become a confederation.

Archbishop Welby insisted publicly that as an instrument of unity his role was not to discipline. Lawyers are assumed to have written his script. But provinces have declared themselves in communion, partial communion or not in communion on many occasions: the Old Catholics, the Churches of South India, North India and the Church of Pakistan were not in full communion till all their presbyters had been episcopally ordained.  The Anglican Communion has declared with whom it is in communion eg Old Catholics, the Philippines Independent Church and the Mar Thoma Church. The Windsor Report said that non-compliant Provinces should ‘walk apart’. The Primates, on several occasions, decided that The Episcopal Church of the USA (TEC)  should be excluded from certain bodies of the Anglican Communion, as did Archbishop Justin’s own Primates Meeting of 2016!

The challenge is to lay out what ‘partial communion’ or ‘not in communion’ with others means in practice. Does it only involve eucharistic boycott? Does it also mean not recognising  your ministry or your identity as Anglican, even as Christian?

It would certainly mean no table fellowship (1Cor5), no licensing of apostate clergy (Rom16:17, 2Tim3:5f, 2John10), and no ordaining of those who do not hold the faith (1Tim5:22). Orders may be valid but a person may still be excommunicate (Article  33). This is in order to restore fellowship following due repentance.

Global South Anglicans

The Global Fellowship of Southern Anglicans (GFSA)made a stout defence to keep the Lambeth 1.10 statement on marriage and sexuality mainstream in the communion. Archbishop Welby only allowed it to be viewed as the position of the majority.

While Lambeth 1998 set out the mind of the communion on some sex issues with Resolution 1.10, this Lambeth legitimised positions and actions that go against 1.10,  suggesting that conflicting positions are legitimate.

Anglican churches in North America struggle to survive but had a significant presence and obviously exerted major influence. Flourishing churches of the Communion like Nigeria and Uganda were absent. For Canterbury the centre of gravity of the Anglican Communion continues to be in the west.

Archbishop Welby was saying to the revisionists: “My belief is different from yours and I accept your belief is legitimate.” Instead he should have said: “ According to the accepted belief of the Church, your belief is wrong. I cannot accept and legitimate it.” While he may not wish to discipline the revisionists, he need not have legitimised them. In this sense they got what they wanted.

The Presiding Bishop of TEC was very pleased to have their recognition of same-sex partnerships recognised as a minority position ( for the moment). This reduces the Bible’s teaching and 2000 years of universal tradition on marriage to ‘adiaphora’.

English Evangelical Bishops by and large kept below the radar on the matter, probably waiting till their own provinces discuss Living in Love and Faith in February 2023.  The GFSA is composed largely of smaller provinces, currently led by and funded from Singapore which is a determinedly secular society where religion is marginal.

In Africa religion is central and determinative. The Nigerians, still waiting for an apology for the way some of them were insulted after Lambeth 1.10 was passed in 1998, the Ugandans and Rwandans with the other African dioceses are the true centre of Anglicanism today.

The bishops have had their chance to maintain orthodoxy in the Communion. Lambeth 1.10 has not been overturned, but its subject has been rendered ‘adiaphora’.

It is now down to African Anglicans and their partnerships with orthodox congregations and dioceses in other parts of the world, especially including those identifying with GAFCON, to take the lead in bringing orthodox Christian faith and practice rooted in the Bible through Anglican churches to the rest of the world.

Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden have served as consultants and journalists in Lambeth Conferences since 1988