There has appeared a document on Discipline of Clergy in the Church of England, written by Dr. James Behrens, Chancellor of the Diocese of Leicester and Bristol, which contends that homosexual activity among clergy of the C of E can lead to church discipline because, among other things, “It is contrary to Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998, which is the official teaching of the Anglican Communion on the subject….”
A friend asked that this be challenged by “someone in authority.”
I have no authority beyond my words and their value, but such authority is sufficient, I suppose to remind us all that resolutions of the Lambeth Conference are not proposed as “the official teaching of the Anglican Communion.” At their best they represent the mind of the conference on particular issues. Most are carefully crafted NOT to presuppose such authority.
Dr. Behrens’ argument that Resolution 1.10 is the “official teaching of the Anglican Communion” will not stand up in the face of the overwhelming evidence of the way in which Lambeth Conference resolutions are generally treated, and in particular against the text itself.
I have listed the action verbs of each subsection of the resolution. At the end of this paper I provide the full text of the resolution.--- This Conference: Commends, upholds and believes, recognizes, rejecting, calls on, cannot advise, requests, Notes ---
Nowhere in the text of the resolution is there any statement that what is written there is the “official teaching of the Anglican Communion.” Further, the language is clearly about “This Conference” and its findings.
The only action verb that comes close to being a “door closing” authoritive statement is the phrase in 1.10.d, “while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex” and even there it is a prelude to a positive action.
It is the Lambeth Conference, and specifically the 1998 Lambeth Conference, that rejected homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture. There is no legislative or even moral basis on which to say that ANY resolution of ANY Lambeth Conference is “official teaching.” At best all resolutions express the “mind of the house.”
That does not mean that these resolutions can be taken lightly. Indeed I would hope that they are taken quite seriously, and would hope that the mostly forgotten report “Called to Full Humanity” that was the study document that was produced for the section of the Conference dealing with, among other things, homosexuality, would still find its place in the thoughtful writings contributing to Anglican Communion self-understanding. It was unfortunately swallowed whole and digested incompletely.
No doubt the resolutions of Lambeth Conferences carry weight in arguments that chancellors find themselves addressing, and perhaps Dr. Behrens can find some other way of making use of Resolution 1.10 in his argument. But it is fallacious to claim that Resolution 1.10, or any resolution carries weight as “the official teaching of the Anglican Communion.”
What is most disturbing is that when chancellors and others begin talking about the evidence of a teaching, and finding it in Lambeth Conference resolutions they are giving to the Conference a legal status as a legislative body, which it clearly does not have. But if they can talk that way long enough and if there is little enough objection, such opinions become more solidly ensconced and seemingly “self-evident.”
It may be that in some future Anglican configuration, with “instruments of unity” that do carry legislative weight, it will be possible to say of a meeting of Bishops that they determined the official teaching of the Anglican Communion. But “bishops only” is less and less viable as a way of doing the teaching of the church.
Given the proposition that all Primates be made members of the Anglican Consultative Council we will be making that body more and more episcopal in makeup, and it too might become a way of determining “official teaching,” if by official teaching we mean the teaching of bishops.
But now is now, and then is then. Now there is no such “official teaching,” and then I doubt many of us will be part of that Anglican configuration anyway.
The inadequacy of the proposition that Resolution 1.10 is the official teaching of the Anglican Communion is shown by refusing to teach it. What will be done then? On what basis could ecclesiastical charges be brought?
None of this would matter except to note that folk like those in Anglican Mainstream have been quick to publish Dr. Behrens’ statement as a way to affirm their notion that there is an official teaching on the matter of homosexual relationships.
No question that there are many who don’t believe that homosexual practice is compatible with Scripture. But an official teaching of the Anglican Communion, it is not.
For your interest, here is the actual text of Lambeth Resolution 1.10
The full text is as follows:
commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality;
in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;
requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;
notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.