Updated on August 22.
A highly anticipated statement from the Lambeth Conference on same-sex marriage acknowledged that the Anglican Communion remains divided on the issue, and did not come out in support of one side or another.
The fifteenth Lambeth Conference, which saw about 650 bishops from across the Anglican Communion gather for meetings in Canterbury, U.K. hosted by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, was held this summer from July 26 to Aug. 8. The conference’s statement or “call” on human dignity, which included affirmations on human sexuality, was one of 10 Lambeth calls on different topics that structured conversations at the conference, and which bishops are expected to take back to their home provinces for further discussion.
Among its affirmations, the call on human dignity cites a resolution on marriage from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which refers to marriage as a lifelong union of a man and a woman—while acknowledging some parts of the communion have embraced same-sex marriage.
“Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not possible,” the call states. “Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the ‘legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions’ cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.”
In opening remarks August 2, the day the bishops discussed the call on human dignity as well as the call on reconciliation, Welby acknowledged differences of opinion on human sexuality across the communion and asked bishops not to “treat each other lightly or carelessly.
“We are deeply divided,” he said. “That will not end soon.” He noted that the call on human dignity did not include any attempt to change people’s minds, but only stated the reality of life in the communion today.
Earlier, in his July 29 opening address, Welby had told the assembled bishops he did not expect them to resolve their disagreements on sexuality, and encouraged them to look instead to the challenges facing the world as a whole.
“Too often the Anglican Communion has been known best—when it is known at all as a communion—for looking inwards and struggling with its own disagreements,” Welby told the assembled bishops.
“Those questions, especially on the Christian and Anglican approach to human identity and sexuality, will not be solved at this conference. However, my prayer is that while we are aware of them because they really matter, we turn as a communion outwards to the entirety of the world that God loves so much that God sent his Son to die for the world’s salvation … because… we meet in a time of world crisis.”
He called attendees to focus on issues such as climate change, rapid technological advancement and the inequality they promote between the rich and the increasingly disenfranchised poor. Welby also told the assembled bishops of his recent visit to Canada and the tour he took to meet with survivors of and apologize for the residential schools run by the Church of England on behalf of the Canadian government.
The Lambeth calls were the work of committees of bishops that had met in the eight months leading up to the gathering. Organizers adopted the calls process, as opposed to voting on resolutions, in recognition of the fact that neither the Lambeth Conference nor Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has any authority over the 42 autonomous provinces that make up the global Anglican Communion.
The other nine calls are mission and evangelism, safe church, Anglican identity, reconciliation, environment and sustainable development, Christian unity, inter faith relations, discipleship, and science and faith. Many of them are wide-ranging; the call on human dignity, for example, addresses not only sexuality but also the legacy of the slave trade, poverty and various other forms of injustice.
The call on reconciliation discusses the individual’s reconciliation with God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well as the legacy of colonialism and renewed discussions with the provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda—three of the largest Anglican provinces in Africa—whose bishops skipped the conference in protest at the invitation of bishops in same-sex unions. It also urges “a Communion-wide focus” on the renewal of ministry of reconciliation, and calls on the creation of an “Anglican Congress” which would meet outside the United States or United Kingdom and include clergy and lay members “focusing on God’s mission of reconciliation.”
Controversy over sexuality had overshadowed the conference long before this summer’s gathering, as moves in some provinces, including the Anglican Church of Canada, in recent years toward permitting same-sex marriage had met with the strong disapproval of many of the communion’s bishops.
Meanwhile, some bishops, including many in the Anglican Church of Canada, protested after it became known, in 2019, that the spouses of bishops in same-sex unions—unlike those in heterosexual unions—would not be invited to attend. Among the communion’s bishops in same-sex unions is Kevin Robertson, regional bishop of York-Scarborough in the diocese of Toronto. In an interview with the Journal days before the conference, Robertson said his husband, Mohan Sharma, was accompanying him anyway.
A previous version of the call on human dignity published on July 22 included an explicit reaffirmation of Resolution I.10, until multiple bishops, including several in the Anglican Church of Canada, released statements and posted on social media to register their displeasure.
In a Facebook post, Robertson, who was also a member of the committee that drew up the call, wrote he found it “disturbing” that as a member of that group, he “never agreed to this Call in its current form” and that he distanced himself from re-affirming the 1998 resolution “in the strongest possible ways.”
The Journal has approached Archbishop Howard Gregory, primate of the West Indies, who led the drafting group on the call for human dignity, but was unable to reach him for comment by the time this issue went to press.
Disagreement and division over sexuality continued to surface at the conference itself. On Aug. 2, bishops of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, an orthodox group claiming to stand for 75 per cent of the world’s Anglicans, issued their own call, this one explicitly re-affirming the 1998 resolution. The group also encouraged conservative bishops at the conference not to take Communion at the gathering’s two Eucharist services. On the same day, another group of bishops, including Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, released a statement affirming their support for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church.