The Lambeth Conference: Homophobic by Design

Next week the long delayed Lambeth Conference gets underway. The conference is the gathering of bishops from around the Anglican Communion which used to take place every 10 years.

The conference hasn’t taken place for 14 years and was delayed by Covid and also because relationships within the Anglican Communion were so difficult that it has taken years of careful diplomacy from the Archbishop of Canterbury to get to this point, where there seems to be a viable quorum of bishops who would actually attend.

Famously, the last two Lambeth Conferences have been dominated by questions about the legitimacy of same-sex couples.

And yes, of course this is ridiculous. And no, it being ridiculous doesn’t stop it from being true.

The touchstone of this argument is a resolution which was agreed by the bishops at the 1998 conference. The resolution is referred to as Lambeth 1.10. It says some platitudinous things about people who are described as having “homosexual orientation”  but also simutaneously condemns same-sex relationships as being incompatable with Scripture.

An enormous amount of work has been done to try to get the bishops of the Anglican Communion together again. One of the things which seemed to many bishops to have been promised by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who convenes and invites people to these affairs is that this conference was about people saying things which they were united about and some effort seems to have gone into suggesting that there would be no more voting on divisive resolutions.

One rather unpleasant fact of gathering the bishops is that the Archbishop decided to invite those bishops who happened to be in same-sex marriages but expressly disinvited their spouses. The Lambeth Conference exists in a pseudo-1950s age where spouses – usually wives, are invited too at great cost to the dioceses their other half leads. In the case of bishops from Scotland, it is costing £5000 per bishop to send them to the conference and a further £5000 for their spouse to go and I gather that 6 spouses are going to the tune of £30 000.

Thus, Scottish Episcopalians have been expected to fund a conference that was homophobic by design.

I must confess that I don’t understand why any of the spouses of bishops from Scotland are going, much as I think they are collectively fantastic people with great skills and wisdom.

The Archbishop, like Archbishops before him has staked his own reputation as someone who takes reconciliation seriously, on bringing people together for the conference.

It has come as a considerable surprise therefore that a list of proposed resolutions (renamed as Lambeth Calls in order to maintain the fiction that there will be no more resolutions) has been published in the last two days. Indeed, it has been published so much at the last minute that many bishops from around the world were either already travelling or packing their smalls.

And lo! Buried deep in the Lambeth Calls we find that the bishops are going to be invited to affirm a resolution which suggests that Lambeth 1.10 represents “the mind of the whole of the Anglican Communion” and which once again suggests that it isn’t legitimate for Anglicans to bless same-sex couples or marry same-sex couples.

Apart from anything else, it must be blatently obvious to everyone in the world that the Anglican Communion is not of one mind about this. It bewilders me that anyone could suggest that it is. For to state that it is is a bald, bare-faced lie.

Christians are not supposed to bear false witness or lie in public about things. (Lying is a sin that I presume we all do actually agree about).

In one sense, it is deja vu all over again. We seem to have been here before, with the legitimacy of gay lives being up for debate. Such a debate is homophobic and seems even more so when one discovers that the bishops can’t vote against it – they can only vote in favour or vote in a way that suggests that the resolution Call needs more work.

Up until now, I’ve believed that though there were problems with the conference itself, our bishops were right to be there. However, events of the last 48 hours have made me change my mind.

The resolution now before the bishops (for debate in secret, closed sessions) isn’t merely about the legitimacy of same-sex relationships. This time around it is expressly about the legitimacy of provinces of the Anglican Communion making it possible for same-sex couples to be blessed or indeed married.

The bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church have issued a statement today about all this. It isn’t easy to find on the SEC website but it can be found here:

My personal view is that this is a poor response to a bad situation. Although I have much sympathy with our bishops having little time to formulate a response, they don’t seem to understand that our church’s legitimacy in making decisions about marriage is being debated this week, as is their own legitimacy in administering the decisions which our synod has made.

This isn’t actually about same-sex couples any more. Actually it never was, it was always about power, but it has seemed to be about same-sex relationships to many up until now. It doesn’t help for our bishops in Scotland to maintain that narrative any longer.

Nothing good comes from engaging with processes that are homophobic by design. Nothing.

It is my view that our bishops and those of other countries who share our values and ethics should have nothing at all to do with such a vote and should instead make it very clear that they have been invited to this conference under false pretenses.

I don’t think the Conference would have been much of a starter if it had been known all along that a vote such as this was on the cards.

That’s why it seems particularly deceitful for this to have emerged right at the last minute.

The Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t look like much of a reconciler right now.

I respectfully disagree…

I respectfully disagree with the latest College of Bishops statement on Aberdeen and Orkney and I do so in two respects.

Firstly, there is no mention of a mediation process in Canon 53. If the College of Bishops wishes to use Canon 53 section 11 and subsequent sections, then they should follow the procedure laid down there and name the bishop who is hearing the dispute. The bishop in question should publish the terms under which they are going to determine the dispute and the date on which the hearing will take place. Canon 53 does not allow for the resolution of such disputes to be outsourced to other individuals or organisations. (Sections before section 11 do not apply to disputes within a diocese). The procedure outlined in Canon 53 Section 11 and the following sections is clearly a decision making process and not a process of mediation. (In any case, my personal view is that mediation processes are seldom appropriate in cases where bullying is alleged and where there are discrepancies of power between the parties involved).

Secondly, anyone making a claim of bullying against a serving bishop or any serving bishop wishing to make a claim that they have themselves been bullied by anyone subject to the Code of Canons, should be explicitly invited by the College to make a complaint under Canon 54.

Canon 54 can only be initiated by someone who is a member of the church. My view is that the College should make public appropriate arrangements for the bringing of a complaint by anyone who has subsequently left the church – specifically that the complaint would be passed to a (communicant) diocesan registrar or the clerk to the Episcopal Synod to be initiated formally.

Making vague references to the “Disciplinary Canonical process” of the church in a press release is unhelpful. Canon 54 is what the process is and the College of Bishops should long ago have insisted that people use it to bring allegations.

This is not the first statement by the College of Bishops with regard to these matters that has given me cause for concern. In a statement last December the College asserted that neither the Primus nor the College of Bishops had the power to suspend a bishop. The Code of Canons is very clear that bishops can be suspended and that only the Primus can do so and that this can only be upheld or not by the Episcopal Synod (which is the same body of people as the College of Bishops). The due processes governing how these things can come about are found in Canon 54 (Of Offences and Trials) and Canon 6 (Of Diocesan Bishops and their Jurisdiction and of Bishops’ Commissaries).

For the last few years I’ve been a member of a review group which has been carefully considering whether the disciplinary canonical processes of the church need to be updated. In time, I hope that they are. However, the canons that we currently have remain in force. Bishops require clergy to take oaths to uphold the Canons. Bishops themselves take oaths that they in turn will uphold the canons of the church.

I regard members of the College of Bishops as colleagues and friends and remain willing to discuss these matters with any of them or indeed with any member of the church. A number of the members of the College of Bishops have heard me say privately what I now assert here, that for the good of the whole church, the College of Bishops needs to return to the Canonical norms of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

I will not be discussing this matter with any journalists. The opinions expressed in this post are explicitly with regard to the College of Bishops and do not constitute a comment on anything that may or may not have happened in the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney, about which I have little knowledge.

The Code of Canons of the Scottish Episcopal Church can be found here: