The Lambeth Conference which is set to take place from 26 July to 6 August, last met with all Anglican bishops in attendance in 1998 – 24 years ago.
The 1998 conference was due to receive the report of the Decade of Evangelism from its secretary, Cyril Okorocha of Nigeria. This was shelved and Canon Okorocha was stood down in favour of pressure from some bishops to discuss the issue of homosexual unions. The outcome of the 1998 conference was a resolution, Lambeth 1.10, which ‘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’.
A senior Nigerian bishop recently told me that Nigerians are still concerned that no apology had yet been received for their treatment at the conference by some other bishops due to their advocacy of Lambeth 1.10 which was attributed to their being the beneficiaries of ‘chicken dinners’.
Some Anglicans in the USA ignored Lambeth 1.10 and consecrated a man in a same-sex partnership as a bishop. So 2,000 orthodox Anglicans met at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in June 2008 which re-prioritised mission based on the Biblical gospel, and identified the core problem facing the church not as homosexuality per se, but the capitulation of some Western church leaders to secular ideologies. Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda did not attend Lambeth 2008.
In 2013, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, declined to call the next ten-yearly conference in 2018 until he had visited all the provinces of the Communion and, according to one primate, until ‘he could be reasonably certain that a vast majority of bishops would attend’. The four provinces who did not attend Lambeth 2008 represent up to half of the usually claimed membership of the Communion, 70 million. A date was fixed for 2020 but then delayed till 2022 because of Covid.
The primates of Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda have again indicated that their bishops cannot attend in 2022 because provinces (which include USA, Wales, Scotland, and New Zealand) which affirm same-sex unions and bishops in same-sex partnerships with their spouses will be present. Disunity in the Communion is caused by these provinces’ refusal to observe the mind of the Communion. The Africans’ boycott is the consequence not the cause of disunity.
The chairman of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GFSA), Archbishop Justin Badi of South Sudan, has explained that its members and provinces have the freedom to decide about their attendance but that those who are going stand as one with those who are not going because ‘the Church’s teaching and practice of sexuality … are of primary importance to the faith entrusted to the Church’.
It has been reported that a resolution will be put to the Conference that matters of sexuality are a matter for continued ongoing discussion in the Communion. If passed as the only resolution on the topic it could make sexuality a matter of ‘indifference’ and put Lambeth 1.10 on hold. Any further process of differentiation such as GAFCON expresses would become difficult. It would be interpreted that the official line was that, since these matters are still under discussion, differentiation is not needed.
Archbishop Badi has expressed the desire of GFSA that Lambeth 2022 affirms Lambeth 1.10 as the official teaching and practice of the Communion. If also passed, any resolution about continuing discussion would then clearly be in the spirit of Lambeth 1.10 which both affirms the Biblical teaching and calls for a pastoral and sensitive approach.
Will the ‘Western’ Anglican provinces, who live in cultures which prioritise the freedom and right of the individual to express and experience what they believe is their ‘natural’ sexual orientation, understand and respect the concern of the Africans and others who come from a community culture where sexual relations are the basis for the continuity of the community through the procreation of children to be brought up in families? And will all agree to respect and obey agreed Anglican teaching founded on the Scripture?