“The greatest Call is the call to relationship.” Archbishop Justin Welby
As with most absolutizing statements, the above statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his closing keynote address this morning, may overstate the reality, but it is largely true. The Lambeth Conference brought together, invited by the Archbishop, some 650 bishops and most of their spouses from across the Communion, a global body present in 165 countries.
There were three provinces and quite a few more dioceses that chose not to attend, mainly in protest of the presence of provinces like ours, that affirm same-gender marriage. There were also spouses of gay and lesbian bishops who were excluded, so absent not by their own choice.
All of the absences are losses for the whole. In the case of those dioceses and provinces who stayed away deliberately, I think it was a massive miscalculation. Simply relating to one another in our small Bible-study groups is transformative: we moved from assumptions about one another that masked the marvelous diversity of our personalities and cultures and into something that could be friendship. Friendship across differences is not good for those who have the goal of erecting and maintaining unscalable walls between people of differing opinions, opinions that cannot possibly sum up one’s whole self.
For instance, in my Bible study group of seven there was a bishop from Pakistan and one from South Sudan. The bishop from Pakistan was silent on Lambeth 1.10 (the resolution from the Lambeth Conference 1998 that declared same-gender marriage untenable in the Anglican Communion). The bishop from South Sudan was, however, quietly insistent on the inclusion and affirmation of Lambeth 1.1o in the Call on Human Dignity.
When we studied the portion of I Peter, though, in which the epistle says that wives should be subject to husbands, both the Pakistani and the South Sudanese bishop stated emphatically that they disagreed with the scripture (!). The South Sudanese bishops said that the author was writing from within his time and culture, and that in South Sudan decisions are made within families in a somewhat conciliar way – whoever has the best idea is followed, even if that idea comes from the youngest child! This willingness to approach the holy scriptures with a flexible mind is a deeply hopeful thing. I say this without, I hope, any sense of cultural superiority, but I do believe that as the Mind of Christ is more and more unveiled by the Holy Spirit, those who take what they might call a literalist view of scripture will come to see that recognizing the full lives of LGBTQ+ people completely accords with divine love. As the South Sudanese bishop differentiates his views on gender relationships from those expressed in 1 Peter, so I believe he will come to see human sexuality in a new inclusive and expansive way.
The relationships we seek in the Christian Church are mutual and strive for equality. As such, I know I will be converted and transformed by these intra-Communion relationships too, in ways I cannot yet guess. Being transformed by relationship is an adventure, though not without, I expect, pain and struggle for me too.
The number of spouses of LGBTQ bishops is minute, relatively speaking. But who can begin to measure these spouses’ importance? The negative impact of excluding them from the conference is not only on those individuals and couples, it is on the whole conference. I had my reasons for attending (climate change activism being a major one; also speaking up in solidarity for the very people being excluded), but the work of self examination, the purification of motives, is necessary spiritual work.
Speaking of climate change, the Lambeth Conference was a tremendous step forward for both the Episcopal Church and the Communion for our engagement with the health of the planet. The Archbishop of Canterbury could not have emphasized the urgency of our collective and local work on climate and environmental health more. Not only did he speak forcefully about the pressing need for climate action, the Archbishop devoted the London Day of the conference to climate and environment.
The official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London is London Palace. All the bishops and spouses were welcomed into the palace gardens, land that has been known to have been gardened or farmed for over 1,000 years. In this precious space, where the grass was brown and sere due to the heat and drought here, the Communion Forest initiative was launched. The Communion Forest was planned by a small team from the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and the Anglican Alliance. I feel deeply blessed that I was part of that team, and have been working on the Communion Forest for the past three years.
Not only was the Communion Forest initiative well received by bishops and spouses, I also was able to witness that everywhere across the Communion bishops and spouses recognize the climate emergency as one of their central concerns. At last, I believe, the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church are poised to step up our climate activism and advocacy. For the Episcopal Church, while the actions on climate will be highly diverse, I believe we will continue to emphasize eco-justice, the ways that environmental degradation and climate change disproportionately weigh on already vulnerable populations.
Lambeth 2022 started out rocky, with the unexpected Lambeth Calls. Through unswerving solidarity and also through courage and flexibility on the part of Archbishop Justin, Lambeth 2022 ended in a much better place than many of us expected. The whole experience for me is one that reminds me to hope, pray and put my trust in the Holy Spirit.
I also want to thank our great diocesan communications working group. Working group head Stephanie Martin Taylor obtained a press pass and did some great reporting on the conference while she was here, and also helped line up media opportunities for Sheila and me, allowing us to amplify valuable messages on policy areas we care about.
Working from the United States, Adia Milien kept the communications moving smoothly in a remarkable way. Great thanks to you both!
We look forward to being back in California at the end of this month, and assure you of our continued prayers for the diocese.
Thank you for modeling what Jesus brought to earth, namely unity in relationships, because we are Jesus’s hands here.
Joan Wagner, Church of the Epiphany, San Carlos.
Bishop Marc, thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking reflections. I particularly appreciate how you avoided absolutes that suggest that our way is the only way. Rather, you give honor to the possibilities of growth as one encounters, listens and honors the integrity of people with differing understandings and interpretations from our own.
I was part of a task force called by Bishop Swing(I volunteered) to study Scripture (and ultimately included secular scholarship) in response to Lambeth 1.1. We worked together for @a yr. We met in both large and small groups and ultimately produced a document, “HOLY RELATIONSHIPS.” Rev Dr Bonnie Ring headed up our group, which included Rev Dr Bill Countryman, a large group of other PhD’s , and a lowly deacon (ultimately called to be a healer and peacemaker.)We had many gifted, Spirit-filled lay persons who did their order proud. We found the verses in Acts where Peter dreams about unclean food, “Take and eat “ as well as him being told to go with the Gentiles who would soon come knocking, extremely relevant. These both point to our belief that revelation is an ongoing process, still guided by the Holy Spirit, a revelation that I hold close to my heart. Thanks for your patience in reading to the end . 1