July 26, 2022
Dear Friends in Christ,
Bishops from throughout the Anglican Communion are gathering this week in England for the Lambeth Conference of Bishops. This gathering has historically been held every ten years; however, it was postponed in 2018 for various reasons and then delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was last held in 2008 and I attended as the Bishop of Vermont. Only bishops in active ministry are invited, so when I retired, I knew that I would not be invited again. That changed when you called me to be Bishop Provisional for North Dakota. However, when I received your call, Ann and I had already made significant travel/vacation plans to be in Kenya during the Lambeth dates. I informed the Standing Committee that if called to serve in North Dakota I would not be able to attend the Lambeth Conference. Many of you know this, but I thought it was important to share it with all of you.
While I am not attending in person, I have been receiving, and continue to receive, all the communications about the Lambeth Conference, including the recent 31-page publication Lambeth Calls, which contains the study and guidance documents that will be used in plenary and smaller group conversations throughout the conference. Click here to read that document.
The fact that these study documents around these themes were being prepared was not a secret. Small working/drafting groups have been working on them for some time. What did surprise many of us when this document was sent to us last week is that each “Call” is asking for a response, in essence, a vote with only two options: “This Call speaks for me,” or “This Call requires further discernment.” In addition, and the source of much dismay for many of us, the “Call” on the subject of human dignity brought back into the discussion the Lambeth 1998 controversial resolution I.10 on human sexuality, which among other things opposed same-sex marriage. This “Call” is now asserting that it is “the mind of the Communion” to reaffirm a belief in the “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” while advising against “legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions.” This is of course most concerning, demeaning, and offensive to many of us, but especially lesbian and gay bishops whose lives and marriages are being unfairly scrutinized and attacked by this exclusionary and divisive clause. All this in a document that purports to be focused on human dignity. My heart and prayers go out especially to those colleagues and their spouses.
Most of you know that I am a strong supporter of marriage equality and have worked for many years toward the full inclusion within the Episcopal Church of persons who identify as LGBTQ+. I was part of the Task Force that developed the expanded marriage liturgies that are now in trial use in the Episcopal Church. While I will not be at the Lambeth Conference, I am deeply concerned about this particular “Call” and the forced voting that is planned. I am pleased that our Presiding Bishop is responding to this matter and has called for a meeting of the House of Bishops on July 27, for those bishops gathered at the conference. I will be praying for my colleagues as they gather.
There is much being written in the church press, on social media, and in letters from various voices around the world about all of this and things are changing every hour. For instance, we learned on Sunday that Toronto Bishop Kevin Robertson of the Anglican Church of Canada, one of the bishops who was on the drafting team for the Human Dignity Call, posted a Facebook message disavowing the language in the Human Dignity Call, saying among other things, “At no point in our meetings did we discuss the reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10 at the Conference, and it never appeared in any of the early drafts of our work together. I can confidently say that the Human Dignity Call in its current form does not represent the mind of the drafting group.” Yesterday, the Lambeth Conference issued a statement acknowledging to concerns raised by the Human Dignity Call and said the drafting group “will be making some revisions,” and that a third voting option will be added: “This Call does not speak for me. I do not add my voice to this Call.” Click here to view that statement. And today, just as I was preparing to send this letter out, word came that the language in the Human Dignity Call has been amended. The reaffirmation of Lambeth 1.10 is no longer on the table. The link above in paragraph 2 to the Lambeth Calls document is the revised version. While those are positive developments in the wake of the controversy created by this “Call” in particular, there is still much concern about using a voting procedure at all. Why can we not be content with honest and robust conversation about these various topics and let bishops express their responses through their own publications?
There is much good material in these ten documents, and I imagine the conversations can and will be very rich. I am reading them all and invite you to do the same. My hope is that the controversy caused by the reintroduction of Lambeth I:10 from 1998 will not become the focus of this Lambeth Conference and that the good that can come from bishops being in honest, open conversation with one another will be the fruit of this gathering.
I encourage you to read these reports from the Episcopal News Network and to keep an eye out for their further reporting in the days ahead as this matter continues to unfold:
Trying to live the Way of Love, I remain,
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Thomas C. Ely