Dear Diocese,

Tonight I write to you to thank you for your prayers for today’s session at the Conference on Human Dignity. However we interpret the outcome, we had a session in which there was respect, care, and no form of voting.

Below is a link to the official Lambeth Conference report about the session, including the text of a speech Archbishop Welby gave, and a link to a letter he sent to all bishops at the conference.

It may be helpful to have a sense of how the day played out in order to make sense of the speech, the letter and the lack of a vote.

Although the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) indicated they would have a physical copy of the resolution reaffirming the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 available for bishops to sign, from 2pm today, I never actually saw a physical copy of the GSFA resolution. Whether through the online version or paper version, I think they will get a decent number of signatures and those signatures will underline the importance of Resolution 1.10 (1998) for many Anglicans in most provinces of the Communion. (For clarity, I have not and will not be signing their resolution, nor will I be signing any other resolution or letter which is external to the organisation of the Conference itself.)

Conversationally (here at the conference), the importance of that Resolution is that it offers support for parishes/dioceses that want to know they belong to a Communion in which it is taught that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that sexual activity outside of such marriage is a sin. And for some such Anglican churches this is doubly important if they are not to be derided by Muslim opponents.

But also, conversationally (for me, mostly seen in social media comments), for many Anglicans, especially in Scotland, Wales, Canada, TEC, ACANZP, and the Church of England, Resolution 1.10’s existence is unwanted and any sense that it is re-affirmed is excruciatingly painful. Churches in such countries are experiencing a different form of derision for being out of step with changes in social mores and civic laws.

So, we had an intervention by Archbishop Welby—two actually. First, he sent a letter to all of us early afternoon, and then, in the session on Human Dignity, he spoke at length—in a brilliant speech in which he attempted to steer the Communion-as-represented-by-the-bishops between the two approaches to 1.10 outlined above.

See here for the speech and for a link to the letter.

Most of the conferees gave ++Justin a standing ovation at the end of the speech. I was one of those who stood.

We then (in our small groups) discussed the Human Dignity paper, with opportunity for notes made to be fed back to the conference organisers. Obviously, what is said in such a group stays in the group, but the group I was in had an extraordinarily respectful discussion despite our differences in views.

We did not vote on the Human Dignity “Call” paper. We did not voice anything, not even (as per other Calls), selected groups giving two minutes of feedback. Instead we stood in silence and offered our discussions to God in prayer.

What has been decided? I would say—that is, I am giving my interpretation of today, in which no formal vote was held by the conference— that the following are the effective decisions or outcomes or situations out of today: – the Archbishop’s letter and speech, response to the speech, discussion of the Human Dignity paper:

  • Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998) remains in existence as the most recent formal decision of an Instrument of Communion concerning marriage and human sexuality; and it remains a decision that any Anglican province can choose to point to as its standard for teaching and for behaviour, as, in fact, most Anglican provinces do.
  • No province not conforming to 1.10 will be disciplined by the ABC (imagining, which he himself does not, that he had such power of discipline).
  • Recognition has been given explicitly by Archbishop Welby as an Instrument of Communion (and tacitly by the Lambeth Conference as another Instrument) that social context is very important to provinces when deciding about marriage and human sexuality, not least because derision for a church can arise in a social context if a church is mismatched with that context. Although ++Justin Welby did not mention this passage, Titus 2:5b (Then the gospel will not be brought into disrepute) springs to my mind.

Is this the end of the matter? Almost certainly not. I would expect a response from the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans soon (but am not prepared to predict what that response will be).

Somewhat tentatively, it is possible that today marks a moment in Anglican Communion history in which we have formally recognised that we are a Communion with plural understandings on marriage and human sexuality.

How does all this relate to the Diocese of Christchurch? Briefly, I see nothing in today’s events and outcomes which changes our situation. We are a Diocese in which there is a range of views on marriage and human sexuality. That range of views mirrors the range of views present among the bishops gathered here, and across the provinces of the Anglican Communion.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), the Lambeth Conference actually goes by bus to Lambeth Palace in London. There are over 1000 bishops and spouses so there will be quite a few buses!