Lambeth 2008 – A Retrospect

How will Anglican History view the 2008 Lambeth Conference? Too early to tell, but Rowan Williams stamped his personality and will clearly on every aspect of it.

He gave five addresses at the opening retreat. He gave a welcoming address, three presidential addresses, closing the conference with one in which he articulated an agenda for the future. He chaired all the public plenary addresses by visiting guests and their question sessions. He preached at the closing service. He has been criticized for not taking a clear lead in the past – was this a response?

He did not wish the conference to engage in plenary debates with resolutions and votes. In their place were ‘indabas’, extended discussions among groups of 40 bishops, which produced over 40 pages and 137 paragraphs of reflections. Indabas are apparently scheduled for the Primates’ Meeting in Feb. 2009.

In issuing the invitations to the conference in July 2007, before the TEC had formally responded to the Dar-es-Salaam communiqué or the primates had had a chance to review the TEC response, Rowan Williams has been acting alone, without the primates’ meeting. The direct result was that 230 bishops did not attend, explaining: “How can we explain to our church members that while we and they are formally out of communion with the Episcopal Church, we at the same time live with them at the Lambeth Conference as though nothing had happened? This would be hypocrisy.”

The Lambeth 230

As an early press conference established, the responsibility for their non-attendance was entirely his. Archbishop Williams was asked why he had invited the consecrators of Gene Robinson, whose inclusion in the invitation list was the stated reason for 230 bishops (29% of the total number of bishops) representing over half the communion not attending. He answered that many US bishops had retired since then and new ones had joined the house. Further, the TEC House of Bishops had “asked for forgiveness for offense caused last year.” Archbishop Williams said he had circulated a letter to all Anglican provinces on whether this response was satisfactory. Half the provinces said that it probably was all right. “Therefore we did not want to go down the list (and exclude) the consecrators.” Who was the “we”? – The Archbishop himself. The invitation was his alone, the judgment that the response was adequate was his alone, so the responsibility for the absence of the 230 bishops was also his.

The absence of the 230 bishops was mentioned frequently. It was referred to by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his welcome address, by Bishop de Chickera in the opening sermon and Archbishop Aspinall from Australia who chaired the press conferences. This is because the liberal vision is to have all views expressed at a meeting. However, this will always be in the controlling framework of being on a journey and never being able to settle on an answer.

This expresses the paramountcy of the liberal world view: they want all views present, but those with orthodox views are asked to sit with those who preach heresy. This is like asking for a consultation about a patient afflicted with a devastating illness to include both those who come from the long experience of medical science, and practitioners of alternative medicine in all its forms.

The absent Lambeth 230 questioned the ability of the liberal establishment to hold the ring for all the views that can be expressed – but only within the one framework which was clearly liberal: the chairman of the Bible Study Committee, Gerald West said he had no view of Lambeth 1.10 and is the author of a “Gay Primer” for the Church of Southern Africa. In that case the most effective counterargument to the imperialism of ideas is simply not to turn up.

And that is exactly what Archbishop Orombi said in an article in the London Times on August 1st. “We believe that our absence at this Lambeth Conference is the only way that our voice will be heard. For more than ten years we have been speaking and have not been heard. So maybe our absence will speak louder than our words.”

Some degree of distance was expressed by the orthodox in the conference itself. Some primates and bishops did not take communion. Worship was held at two “separate altars” each day during the conference. Some bishops did not attend all their indaba sessions. One at least found the proposal for them to share sermon notes on a passage of scripture a subtle way of criticizing African preaching traditions, and refused to play the game. And two primates left early.

The Lambeth press officers were asked who was making the decisions at the conference, since even a decision about releasing any list of names of those present was a long time in not coming. Eventually only a list of numbers by province was released after the conference. This reduced the number of bishops attending from the original claim of 650 to 617, since the original published number had included bishops of churches in ecumenical relationships.

The press officers answered that three groups were meeting: the Lambeth Design Group, the Anglican Consultative Council officers, and the Lambeth Staff. The Archbishop of Canterbury attended all the meetings.

Bishops spoke much of their respect, loyalty and affection for Archbishop Williams. To speak like that of a primate in Africa is regarded as fawning on an autocratic tribal chief. The Lambeth Conference Network in the Anglican Communion seems to have been overtaken by celebrity culture and very firmly managed towards a pre-determined outcome.

Part of that outcome was to affirm the commitment of the Anglican Communion to the Millennium Development Goals. We must examine this carefully. The purpose of the Walk in London was admitted to be to deflect attention away from the news reports on the debates on sexuality in the Anglican Communion, and give concrete expression to the argument that there are more important matters. But we need to consider the following. The dominant culture of the west is secular hedonism. Therefore the Christian witness to faithful marriage between a man and a woman is on the cutting edge of the witness of God’s will and best in that culture. To attempt to deflect attention from that witness, as being secondary to Millennium Development Goals, is to accept the approach of Western Culture that it can be absolved from its other supposed shortcomings because it is kind and generous to poor black and brown people. However, the focus of the MDG’s is on western governments, agencies and churches giving money to poor black and brown people: not on those people being empowered economically, seeking enterprise solutions to poverty or addressing the issue of identity through the good news of a new identity and transforming power through Jesus Christ, which is a major key to addressing the culture of poverty.

MDGs are the successor to the Jubilee Campaign for dropping the debt, which are all about Western Society’s need to do something rather than enabling people in the Global South. Draping Lambeth Palace with banners to Keep the Promise was an example of gesture politics, and in the views of some, demeaning. Will we have banners on Buckingham Palace next? The aim to draw attention away from the debate on sexuality was entirely of a piece with western society’s aim to draw attention away from its own disobedience and decadence by focusing on the poverty and injustice elsewhere and calling for greater moral effort on its part.

Resisting TEC?

Why was this monarchical approach adopted? It may have been to neutralize the clear campaign by the TEC to control and even change the agenda. The TEC delegation was the largest; all had been issued with mobile phones to secure communication. It was virtually impossible to find bishops on the campus since there were no room lists, and no effective postal system around the residences. The TEC bishops were issued with a briefing memo to put forward three ideas: “a church celebrates both unity and diversity; the Anglican Communion is a community of faith in Jesus Christ, bound together through baptism in Jesus Christ; the reconciling work of Christ is at the heart of our common life”. The TEC ran its own press conferences with three of their bishops at 3.30 most afternoons outside the Press Building.

It was strongly suggested that there might be an attempt through the Indaba groups to press that Gene Robinson, who was giving seminars around the campus, should be a seated member of the conference. This was dropped after the press statement on the second day of the conference from the Archbishop of Sudan called for Gene Robinson to resign, and for TEC to confess to the conference. The most blatant example of TEC’s attempt to influence the conference occurred in the Lambeth Witness, published by Integrity USA, which as the only daily publication on campus, was often mistaken to be the official Lambeth Daily, which had no paper edition in 2008. In the Lambeth Witness, Bishop Catherine Roskam from TEC suggested that statistically at least some of the bishops at the conference were wifebeaters, and that there were incidences of wife-beating in some African nations. This was widely seen as an attempt to undermine the Sudanese and other Africans who had been outspoken on issues of sexuality.

Any agenda?

What agenda did emerge? When the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked this question at the closing press conference, he immediately referred to the statement of the Windsor Continuation Group that came at the beginning of the conference.

This called for a complete ces­sa­tion of:

(a) the celebration of blessings for same-sex unions,
(b) consecrations of those living in openly gay relationships and
(c) all cross-border interventions and inter-provincial claims of jurisdiction

The group writes that “cessation of activity” applies to practices that may have already been authorized as well as proposed for authorization in the future. The agenda also included the Pastoral Forum, for which bishops from overseas jurisdictions in the United States had not asked.

Had this agenda been discussed with the Primates, or endorsed by the conference? The closing presidential address had enumerated these and received a standing ovation, but not from the Presiding Bishop of TEC who stood with arms folded.

Minority reports

Some bishops probably saw from afar this attempt to produce an agenda out of what were only styled as reflections. The Moderators from the Churches of North and South India, Pakistan and Bangladesh issued their own statement as the conference ended. As other bishops had claimed to represent over half the church-going Anglicans, they claimed to “represent nearly a quarter of the human race practicing and living all the major faiths of the world.” In other words, they knew what they were talking about in inter-faith matters. They applauded the walk of witness on world poverty but concluded that this “will mean an equitable sharing of resources within the Communion.” They were saddened and disturbed by the ‘fractured nature of the Anglican Communion’ which “seems primarily to have been caused by the issue of human sexuality. . . . We acknowledge the biblical norms on human sexuality and urge that within the Anglican Communion this may be upheld for the effective witness of the Gospel.” They ask that “our differences, self-justifications and arrogant attitudes may be crucified and that we all experience the power of the resurrection for the transformation of our life together in the Communion.” Primates from the Global South, the Council of Anglican Province of Africa Bishops and the Bishops of Egypt also made public statements as the conference ended. Did this flurry of ‘minority reports’ represent a frustration at not having any opportunity to express a common mind, and a protest against the Conference leadership?

Missing most glaringly from the Reflections are the presence of sin and disobedience in the leadership of the communion, clear disobedience to revealed truth in Scripture and a total avoidance of the issues of power in any relationships local or global. Mere repetition of being gracious and not rushing to judgment is the ploy that unethical power uses to mask its strategies of continuing hegemony.

Culture of Inclusion

The Culture of Lambeth was of the Inclusive Church. The opening service was on the theme of diversity in unity. Most self-select sessions were from the liberal perspective. The marketplace was dominated by gay organizations.

The Archbishop said in his second presidential address: ”And the answer, I hope, is that we speak from the centre. We should try to speak from the heart of our identity as Anglicans; and ultimately from that deepest centre which is our awareness of living in and as the Body of Christ.”

What is the centre which is the heart of our identity as Angli­cans? Is it defined by the faith, or is it defined by inclusion?

Traditional Anglican liberalism was founded on core Christian truths and commitments. Secular liberalism denies that truth is possible and urges the equality of every person and their views. Therefore all views can contribute and must be at the table.

Secular liberalism places the value of inclusion over against faithfulness and faith. The claim to speak from the centre must face the challenge of whether the faith that defines the centre is the centre of faith, or the centre of the secular vision of inclusion?

Impact analysis

What has been or will be the impact of the Conference? It was the conference of what can best be described as the Lambeth Network in the Communion. At the end, the press were told that the Secretary General of the ACC would be writing to all the absentee bishops to ask for their views on the matters under consideration. Over a month later the letters had not been sent out. But a Primates Meeting of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans Network had already had time to make a response:

“We are grateful that there is an acknowledgement that Lambeth 1.10 of 1998 remains an authentic expression of the mind of the Communion. We also note the renewed call for moratoria on the consecration of bishops who are homosexually partnered and the blessing of same-sex unions as well so-called ‘border-crossing’. Likewise there is mention of the creation of a ‘Pastoral Forum’ to look after disaffected parishes or dioceses and continued work on an Anglican Covenant.”

They said their “immediate difficulty is that the voice of Lambeth 2008 is seriously weakened because it merely repeated what has been said by the Primates’ Meeting (in Gramado early 2003, Lambeth October 2003, Dromantine, February 2005 and Dar es Salaam, February 2007) and which has proved to change nothing. Indeed the Windsor Continuation Group itself made the same point, ‘The three moratoria have been requested several times: Windsor (2004); Dromantine (2005); Dar es Salaam (2007) and the requests have been less than wholeheartedly embraced on all sides. . . . The failure to respond presents us with a situation where if the three moratoria are not observed the Communion is likely to fracture.’

“We are therefore continually offered the same strategies which mean further delay and unlikely results. Indeed, delay itself seems to be a strategy employed by some in order to resolve the issue through weariness. The Anglican Covenant will take a long time to be widely accepted and may have no particular force when it does. The idea of ‘moratoria’ has never dealt with the underlying problem as is shown by the equivalence of cross-border care and protection with the sexual sins which have caused the problems.

In any case, some North American Bishops appear to have indicated already that they will not keep to them. It appears that people living in homosexual unions continue to be ordained in some dioceses in contravention to Lambeth 1.10. In principle, this is no different from consecrating a bishop who adopts the same pattern of life, or indeed, of blessing same-sex unions. The idea of the Pastoral Forum has only now emerged but has never been discussed with those actually affected by the innovations which have created the problems with which we are trying to deal. If the Panel of Reference did not work, it is unclear how the Pastoral Forum will succeed.”

There exists some considerable overlap between the two Networks. A number of those who were present at Jerusalem attended Lambeth , and many of those at Lambeth held orthodox convictions as expressed in the minority statements of CAPA, the Global South and the South Asian Bishops.

The FoCA primates were sensitive to this in noting that “Given that some esteemed colleagues from the Global South have strongly commended the Windsor Process to us, we are reluctant to say that it cannot work. But there is nothing new here such as to make us hesitate from the course we are taking, given the urgency of the situations with which we are dealing and the realities al­ready on the ground. As they them­selves remark, ‘the Anglican Communion as a communion of ordered churches is at the probable brink of collapse.’ We warmly appreciate the good words which they have written about GAFCON and look forward to co-operation with them in the future as we ourselves try to avoid that collapse and renew the Communion.”

It is probable that Global South will work as a geographical net­work, including more liberal pro­vin­ces such as Korea and South­ern Africa, while the FoCA Angli­cans will focus on Anglican iden­ti­ty through faith, as ex­pres­sed in the Jerusalem Declaration, as a fellow­ship of orthodox Angli­cans globally.

The Fellowship of Confessing Angli­cans Primates were justified in their assessment of the weak­ness of the outcome of Lambeth when news broke that Jeffrey John was being con­sidered for nomination to the see of Ban­gor in Wales in an election set for October 10.  As one senior figure commented: Lam­beth was only a time-out as in a football game.

All that said, the Conference had an unforgettable conclusion. As the final service ended in Can­ter­bury Cathedral, the names of nine members of an Anglican Mission Order in Melanesia martyred in 2003 were placed in the chapel of Martyrs of our Time. Their col­leagues processed with their names, from the nave up the many steps to the quire screen, singing the most haunt­ing refrain. They passed from sight through the quire screen. But they continued singing. The refrain echoed round the cath­edral. It was as though we had seen the martyrs themselves pass into the nearer presence of God, yet their beautiful singing could still he heard. Strong men and women wept.


Chris Sugden

Canon Dr. Chris Sugden is executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream and has attended the last three Lambeth Conferences, in 1988 as press to write a book (Lambeth - a view from the Two-Thirds World, by Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden SPCK 1989), in 1998 as consultant to the Mission Section, and in 2008 as press for Anglican Mainstream and Evangelicals Now.


'Lambeth 2008 – A Retrospect' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

(c) 2019 North American Anglican