So the internet (read: the Anglican corner of the internet, and specifically the inclusive part of the Anglican corner of the internet) has blown up as just days ahead of this year’s Lambeth Conference, a series of ‘Calls’ have been published - including a Call concerning ‘Human Dignity’ which resurrects the Lambeth 1998 resolution 1.10. This resolution, just in case you haven’t been keeping up, is the one that makes same sex marriage a big no-no for Anglicans, and states quite boldly that marriage is hetero or nothing.
It’s a resolution that has been used for a quarter of a century to browbeat us LGBTQ+ people, and the very idea that it gets such a prominent resurrection now feels like betrayal. What’s the point of discussion, what’s the point of LLF, what’s the point of anything if the people who get to set agendas just throw this at us - and with one line condemn us to another quarter century of being told we’re not faithful, we’re not Anglican, we’re not Christian, we’re not godly, we’re not enough?
As I read this document I find two conflicting things in my mind and my heart.
- The devil may be in the detail, but so too is the Spirit, sometimes.
- The problem with being open to the Spirit here, of course, is that while I can (and I’m going to) make a case for giving a bit more trust to the process, those who organise the process make this very hard. There are no LGBTQ+ people involved in setting out this process. The conference has an environment where LGBTQ+ people are made to feel unwelcome (LGBTQ+ spouses being excluded). In England, the much-vaunted LLF process has included amazingly few LGBTQ+ people in its organisation at any point, and pretty much none at all now in its leadership or decision-making. As far as Anglicanism internationally goes, those provinces which have made the decision to become inclusive have found themselves excluded or treated with suspicion. So - trusting that the people who have written these materials might actually be trying to do the right thing does not come easy and might well be foolhardy.
But what’s the alternative?
The alternative is that this is written by people being political and behaving badly, seeking by any means to connive and exclude some of God’s people. If so, the one option that is surely not open to those of us disadvantaged by such behaviour is to mirror such behaviour and to behave in like manner back.
We find where God might yet be in all this, and we go with grace and kindness and - if trampled over all over again - we’ve somehow pushed the door open for God to move simply by refusing to be destroyed by bad actors. And - if it turns out there were good actors all along, then grace and kindness will surprisingly flourish.
First: the detail of the Human Dignity Call.
There are three parts to this - Declaration, Affirmation, and Call.
The declaration section has nothing inherently anti-gay in it at all. Indeed, it keeps repeating the kind of language I fought to be included in the LLF big book (chapter 10), and which is singularly vital for all of us as LGBTQ+ people to latch on to and proclaim as loudly as we can. This stuff should be our mantra, written on our souls, shouted out at anyone who comes at us trying to make us less. It’s pure godliness, it’s essential Christian doctrine:
‘All human beings (have) a dignity that cannot be taken away. “Whenever we face another, we see a reflection of God’s infinite love and glory”.
‘As God’s image-bearers, human beings are called to love God and to love each other.’
‘The wonderful diversity of God’s creation is echoed in the diversity of human beings. Every human being is “a unique and deep mystery of inestimable value and dignity”. This diversity among human beings and in all creation is good and beautiful.’
‘Therefore the church catholic declares that life is sacred and all persons are worthy of respect and worthy of conditions that make for life in all its fulness. From such holy standards there can be no faithful dissent.’
The affirmation section moves on from general statements to begin to apply these to specifics.
So we have:
‘We are fellow workers with God called to protect the gift of human life and the dignity of all human beings’, and ‘acts and attitudes against the dignity of God’s children are sin’. There then follows a list of such acts and attitudes, which includes ‘oppression of LGBTQ persons’.
This list concludes with the statement that:
‘Hospitality to all and faithfulness to each are key marks of a godly community.’
This is where the document gets difficult. (To say the least.) But again - detail matters. I’ve read lots of ‘end of the world’ stuff on the net about this, and I am not sure they’ve all grasped everything that’s here.
The full paragraph in the affirmation section is deeply self-contradictory. Here it is in full:
‘Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998) states that “the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. It is the mind of the Communion to uphold “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” (1.10, 1998). It is also the mind of the Communion that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (1.10, 1998).
The paragraph therefore starts and ends with inclusive statements. Human dignity trumps all prejudice; baptism & faith are our levelling ground - and through the grace of Christ we are all equal and full invited members of His family. In between it’s a bit messy. It reminds us that Anglicanism isn’t Rome: the Provinces are autonomous and therefore make different decisions. It also puts the restrictive bits of Lambeth 1.10 from a quarter of a century up there as ‘the mind of the Communion’. That's the truly awful bit. The clobber text. The stuff we'll get hammered with.
But - time to step back.
At the front of every chapter in this booklet is a section with a big red heading that says:
How to use these study guides in preparing for the Lambeth Conference.
It does matter that everyone reads this section. It’s there for every chapter. It kind of matters.
Do you recognise what is being said, especially what is being proposed in the Affirmation section?
Could you support it at the Lambeth Conference?
Can you see ways in which the Specific Requests (the Calls) can be put into practice…if so, how? If not, why not?
There will be opportunities during the conference to share your answers to these questions before the conference decides on whether to adopt or adapt the Call.
The Call section, in referring to human sexuality, says this:
We call upon the ACC (informed…by Lambeth 1998 resolution 1.10) to examine whether its work on Gender Justice should be expanded to promote provincial and inter provincial vision and practices toward human dignity with attention not only to gender but also sexuality.
The preamble talks of ‘a reaffirmation of Lambeth 1.10’ but that language is not in the Call itself. The Spirit is in the detail. The idea that the ACC should promote greater human dignity with regard to human sexuality is a remarkable one. There are places the ACC can reach where this is sorely needed. And if something of this will always get lost as long as that dignity is limited and the equality offered is limited, the fact that the Anglican Communion is stopping being embarrassed by us and is starting to actually help LGBTQ+ people in difficult places live better lives - well, goodness me.
By the rules of the game set out, by the grace of God, by the kindness of the Spirit, the bishops have an opportunity to put forward in discussion an adaptation of Lambeth 1.10 here. Even simply stressing the ‘full members in Christ’ side of 1.10, rather than the hetero marriage side would be something.
What if they went further? What if this was the day that wiped away the damage of 25 years ago rather than inked it in again?
As a document, there is much more about the value of all people here than about exclusion. And as a document, this says (time and time again) that everything is up for discussion and being adapted.
This is not the end of the world for LGBTQ+ people in the Anglican Church. This is time for us to pray.
I get the anger. I’m angry. But what is the point of letting anger win when Jesus is Lord? If even these people are now writing so much about our equality (and they are) and the value of human diversity (and they are) then the day when our full humanity is not just words on pages but also lives lived out in equal love is not far off. The days of their shame and our servitude will end. Jesus is Lord.
My declaration, my affirmation, my call is this -
Let us not give up hope today.