The Lambeth Calls for Whom?
“I voted against human dignity.”
I had never foreseen an instance when I would say those words, but I’m afraid they are going to come out of my mouth sometime in the next two weeks. What I will mean by them is not that I do not support human dignity, but rather that I cannot support a document that proclaims God’s love and support for the dignity of some humans, but not others.
To be clear: I am in favor of dignity for all humans. I oppose dignity for only some humans.
Bishops across the Anglican Communion were invited to the 2020 Lambeth Conference to participate in a process of deep conversation and listening. It started with some significant obstacles—the deliberate dis-invitation of the spouses of LGBTQ bishops, and then the delay of 2 years due to the pandemic—but the past year had left me hopeful: the delay of the Conference due to COVID had allowed for online conversations that had offered a hint of just the sort of faithful dialogue across difference that I was eager to participate in.
We studied scripture together; we spoke of the challenges and hopes of following Jesus in our contexts; we prayed for one another. And we did this safely and respectfully even though we were not of one mind on substantial issues like same-sex marriage and women’s ordination. I was in a (zoom) room with bishops who did not see my leadership as legitimate, and yet we were able to be together and listen. That felt like the Holy Spirit.
And then, a mere week before the Lambeth Conference was to begin, we bishops all received a 60-page document (!) titled the “Lambeth Calls” (available here) and were told to read each section as we would be given an electronic voting device at the conference to either “affirm” the call, or indicate that “This call is not yet clear and needs more conversation.” There is no option to vote a clear “no.”
The very idea of voting on anything is explicitly different from what we had been led to expect from this conference. No longer are we focused on developing relationships across differences; now we are focused on establishing what sort of differences are allowed—and what sort are not.
Because contained within the calls (reportedly developed by a group of lay and ordained, male and female scholars, but which lists only 10 male bishops as authors) lies a deliberate poison pill: a statement that affirms that it is the mind of the Anglican Communion that Christian marriage is only that between one man and one woman, and that same-sex marriage is not a faithful Anglican practice, and using a much-pilloried resolution passed by the Lambeth Conference in 1998 in support.
It is simply not true that there is a single mind in the Anglican Communion about same-sex marriage. A number of bishops who are attending will be doing so while their same-sex spouses gather in Canterbury, excluded from the conference as a whole. A number of provinces—not just the Episcopal Church—offer marriage equality, or are on the way to doing so.
Receiving this document so late means that many of us are already in Europe; many of us have not had the time to truly read and study the Lambeth Calls; and there is no opportunity for reflection—or much organizing—before the Conference begins.
It is hard not to assume that this is intentional. And it has left a poor taste in my mouth as I prepare for Lambeth. There ought to be no deceit in following Christ.
The topics of the Lambeth Calls are all worthy of time, reflection, and conversation. And much of what has been written is—to my mind—good and substantive and faithful. I want to spend time with my sibling bishops reflecting on discipleship, evangelism, repenting of our colonial past, working to make our churches safer, and what being an Anglican follower of Jesus looks like in a world broken by war and climate change. It is also worthy—and desirable—that we discuss openly our differences in our understanding of the sacrament of marriage, human sexuality, and gender. But not to put it to a majority vote.
I pray that there will be a way forward in which we can leave the electronic voting devices at the door and have deep and substantive conversations on each of the topics identified in the Lambeth Calls document. Those conversations would be valuable opportunities for learning and sharing.
But it is not an equal conversation when you vote at the end of it. And I mourn the loss of goodwill and my own optimism that has gone with it.
Most particularly I mourn the suffering caused to my own people in Arizona by these Lambeth Calls, whose effect, even if not affirmed by the Conference, are to continue to be a slap in the face to Episcopalians who have come to clarity in our own canons that we do not discriminate in access to the sacraments — specifically ordination and marriage—based upon gender or sexuality. I will be doing whatever I can—whether through voting or through disciplined non-participation—to support you and the canons I have vowed to uphold.