It’s time to get clear about this: The now entrenched Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, “On Human Sexuality” has misguided the Communion, providing an inadequate and abbreviated set of comments on sex and sexuality. It is time to drop any pretense that this represents the “mind” of the Anglican Communion.
I have thought this for some time but have put off bringing the matter up because the quirky and the weird out there in Anglican blog land will get in a bit of a snit about anything that suggests Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 is anything less than the mind of the Communion and to be honored, say, on the level of the Creeds.
But in the past several weeks, with the sudden interest the sexual lives of family members of a Vice Presidential nominee and a rumor that a bishop in the Church of Wales might be chosen who is gay, I found myself returning again to visit the wording of this less than helpful resolution.
I have written about the matter of sex and sexuality on this blog before, but it’s time to return to it once again. These are preliminary efforts, but I hope useful as a check against giving too great a place to Lambeth 1.10.
What Lambeth 1.10 had to say about Marriage and Abstinence.
The 1998 Lambeth Conference said in Resolution 1.10,
“in view of the teaching of Scripture, (the Lambeth Conference) 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.”
The Sudanese Bishops at Lambeth 2008, ten years later, issued a statement in which they said,
“We believe that human sexuality is God’s gift to human beings which is rightly ordered only when expressed within the life-long commitment of marriage between one man and one woman.”
The Sudanese bishops understood Lambeth 1.10 to be about sexual expression and that sexuality is God’s gift and only ‘rightly ordered’ when expressed in marriage.
Over time this phrase in the Lambeth Resolution has come to be a statement about what sort of thing sexuality is and about how Christians ought to view being sexual. That’s pretty much the way Lambeth is used these days. The Sudanese are not alone. It didn’t start that way.
So according to Lambeth 1.10, as later glossed, sexual expression in marriage is OK, sex outside marriage is NOT OK. Neither the daughter of Sarah Palin nor Dr. Jeffery John gay and celibate have any wiggle room: what the daughter did was wrong and what the good Doctor didn’t do, but what his partnership with another man could include, is wrong. What they are doing is not rightly ordered, at least as far as Lambeth 1.10 is concerned.
The Book of Common Prayer, English, 1662 on Marriage and such matters.
Lambeth 1.10 was put together by people who no doubt had the 1662 Prayer Book understanding of such matters in mind.
The BCP of the CofE puts its understanding of the relation between marriage, lust and abstinence this way:
Marriage is not to be taken “in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites…” and marriage “was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.”
So for heterosexuals who are not given to continency, marriage was ordained as a remedy against fornication while at the same time marriage is to be taken seriously as something not there to satisfy carnal lusts and appetites. There was to be no pleasures outside the marriage bed and no wanton, carnal or lusty behavior on the marriage bed. So much for romance.
In the exchange of rings, however, the 1662 BCP does admit that bodies are involved: “With my body I thee worship,” but we are not given to understand that this involves pleasure. That word – pleasure - does not appear. “Mutual joy” makes it into the 1979 Prayer Book as a reason for marriage. With that, pleasure, nicely refined, finally makes it in a Prayer Book the realignment crowd considers deficient.
The Resolution speaks of marriage, but had nothing to say about the sexual activities of anyone else, single, heterosexual or gay, except to say don’t do it and of course concerning pleasure or joy had nothing to say at all.
What Lambeth Resolution 1.10 had to say about sexuality:
Lambeth 1.10 did say something about sexuality:
It commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality.
It 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.
It 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.
The “subsection report on human sexuality” has never been heard from again. It was the report that was set aside in order to pass Resolution 1.10.
Lambeth 1.10 proposes to monitor work being done on the issues of human sexuality. That has transmogrified into the “Listening process.” It has never been about matters of human sexuality, but only about homosexuality.
For persons engaged in any other sort of activity that pretends to be sex, remembering that sex that is God given is only in marriage, they are not even in the conversation. Sexuality is a gift given to men and women as they relate to each other across gender, not to men and women as they might use that gift in any other way.
I believe the word “sex” and the phrase “sexual expression” concern a wide range of activities and we are quite wrong to think that Lambeth 1.10’s simplistic response is adequate.
Sex and Sexuality may need to be sorted out, but Lambeth 1.10 is no help.
Remembering that Lambeth 1.10 limits its opinion only to say that the Conference “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,” I want for a moment to distinguish three ways in which we might think of sex, and therefore of sexual expression. Only one of these finds mention in Lambeth 1.10. All three, and I am sure others, need to be considered in any “mind” of the Communion.
Sex of the First Sort (SFS)
The implications of Lambeth 1.10 is very much what the Sudanese bishops said, “human sexuality is God’s gift to human beings which is rightly ordered only when expressed within the life-long commitment of marriage between one man and one woman.” This becomes in a sense the wider Lambeth declaration.
If by sex we mean copulation - the physical putting of a body part of the party of the first part in to the body oraface of the party of the second part, one male and the other female and those body parts being the genital identity cards for their being classified as male and female, then sex is only possible between a male and female. Everything else is not sex rightly ordered, but something else. And even if admitted as sex it can only be bad sex. That seems to be the beginning point for those who wrote Lambeth 1.10. They were saying no sex outside marriage, and by sex they meant copulation.
In Sex of the First Sort (SFS) sex and sexual expression as related to copulation and only right in the confines of marriage.
There is of course the question about multiple marriage partners. If marriage can be viewed as a lifelong union with more than one person, there is no absolute reason to deny multiple partners. Perhaps Lambeth 1.10 got it wrong. Perhaps they meant “marriage exclusively between one man and one woman in a lifelong union…” I know, “a” can mean “only one,” except of course it sometimes doesn’t.
In reality SFS often takes place before and outside marriage and mostly allowed with minimal punishment. SFS with intent to harm or overpower is much more strongly prohibited. Governor Palin’s daughter has sex outside marriage and many notables in the church and society have past or present SFS and many of these facts on the ground are acknowledged with some pain, but finally put aside. So Lambeth says SFS, only in marriage.
Abstinence is another matter. As the BCP indicates, abstinence is the only morally approved alternative to sex within marriage. But aside from the preaching of abstinence no one gives it must more than lip service. It is a hollow theme.
Sex of the First Sort is too narrow a way to think of sex because in life experience, sex and sexual experience involve a wide variety of activities and attitudes that relate to pleasure and delight for humans mostly involving attention to the body. Copulation is part of that, but not the whole of the matter. Because it is so narrow, abstinence is give too wide a venue.
SFS is profoundly anti-body, even though it is the one way of looking at what morally proper sex that is precisely about the function and use of genitals. It is anti-body because the whole matter is couched as a remedy for those who cannot practice abstinence. SFS is ignorant of any wider sense of sexual pleasure believing that such matters are the activities of dumb brutes.
Jesus widens the understanding of what counts as sex to involve feelings, not the least of which is lust. Jesus suggests that lusting in our hearts counts as adultery. Adultery was viewed as being in most circumstances about Sex of the First Sort – about man/ woman/ genital sex. But now then limitation of thinking of sex as SFS was challenged by the possibility that feelings and thoughts were part of the sexual experience.
We know from personal experience and otherwise that all sorts of body part contact, eye contact and verbal mutterings and so on count as sexual engagement even if there is no SFS. With the introduction of the feeling of lust, the possibilities of, and restrictions on, sexual expression become larger than the physical engagement of body parts involving the genitals of a man and a woman.
Sex of the Second Sort (SSS) and Romantic Love.
The limitations on lust may be in the immediate instance linked to adultery, but it extends to fornication and a wider sense of lust of the heart. And what about other thoughts, lest lustful but still sexual in a wider sense?
God takes no pleasure in any man’s legs, but some men and some women do. We lust. We also at the other end of this spectrum of sexual feelings involve ourselves in loving kindness that sometimes grows all the greater as the body over time gives way. We can sexually respond not only with in lust but in loving kindness.
Sex of the Second Sort (SSS) involves the feelings we have for others and the sexual expression given to those feelings. SSS is not about copulation alone and can involve body contact of many sorts and even abstinence from some or all sorts of body contact. SSS is both about body and person and can be everything from punitive to respectful to worshipful in expression. Here sexual expression crosses over into romantic love.
Now with Sex of the Second Sort the restrictions in Lambeth 1.10 are completely irrelevant. We can be sure the writers of Lambeth 1.10 were against the adultery of the heart as well and we might suppose that Lambeth 1.10 is against men and women lusting after one another in whatever configuration as well as actually making pelvic connection.
Lambeth talked first about marriage and abstinence. Abstinence at least can be said to be equally available for gay and lesbian people as it is for heterosexual people. Abstinence can concern lust not acted on by gay and lesbian as well as heterosexual persons.
The great disparity however is that while marriage – which deals with the problem the BCP of the Church of England believes is one of the reasons for marriage – is available for heterosexuals, no such possibilities exist for Gay and Lesbian people.
So for heterosexuals the move beyond lust is marriage, where both the evils of lust and of fornication are avoided for those who do not have the gift of abstaining from SFS all together.
But what about gay and lesbian persons? The trap, even if inadvertent, is set. Abstinence is OK for Gay and Lesbian persons, Marriage is not. If a person does not have this gift (as the BCP/CofE calls it) too bad.
But of course the writers of Lambeth 1.10 didn’t actually mean that homosexual persons who were abstinent were OK. Dr. Jeffries John, as rumor has it, was being considered as a possible bishop in Wales and the fact that he claims he is celibate in his relation to his partner makes no difference. Being celibate doesn’t get him off the hook with some because he is, after all, GAY, which means that the lusts of his heart are wrongly directed in some way differently than, say, the lusts in the heart of Archbishop Akinola. We’ve all got lusts in our hearts but some lust it appears is worse than other.
Lambeth 1.10 not only provides no way out for Gay and Lesbian people – they are stuck with abstinence as their only option – but it provides no way for even abstinence to be rightly sighted. Homosexuals may have strong feelings – everything from lust to loving kindness – for persons of the same sex as themselves, but such feelings are in themselves wrong. So much for the possibilities of honoring loving kindness shown by one gay person to another.
What about Sex of Any Sort by men and men, or women and women? Well, Lambeth 1.10 covers this in a separate sentence and states that it rejects “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.. (and it) cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”
Lambeth 1.10 believes that SFS is wrong for homosexuals because (i) SFS is for men and women married to one another and homosexuals are by definition not men and women so married, (ii) even if SFS were possible for homosexuals it is certainly not marriage and not abstinence (the only two offerings), and (iii) in by the read of the writers of the Resolution, Holy Scripture had nothing good to say about homosexual practice anyway.
But Lambeth 1.10 says nothing about lust, the ever popular motivating force behind lots of sexual doings, or any other feelings, and feelings are a particularly important element in Sex of the Second Sort. Lambeth 1.10 says nothing about romantic love.
SSS is the place where the character of homosexual relationships could become part of an intelligent conversation about the problems of sexual expression. In the range of feelings, lust at one end of the spectrum and loving kindness at the other, we are at least talking about emotions that everyone involved sexually with another can have. Sex of the Second Sort, SSS, is at least an environment where Lambeth might have had something useful to say, and it didn’t.
What it did say was this, “Many of these (persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation) 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 baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.”
Lambeth 1.10 recognized that persons having “a homosexual orientation” were real people concerned with pastoral care, moral direction, transformation, and the ordering of relationships. But it turns out it has nothing to say to Gay and Lesbian people because it’s concerns for marriage do not address them at all and the resolution’s other comments address SSS only indirectly vis a vis the BCP / Cof E definition of marriage.
Lambeth claims the interest in pastoral care, moral direction, etc, but does not in fact say anything to homosexuals except that they should practice abstinence. The reality is that absence is not enough to cover the matter of romantic love. The only thing the Resolution can suggest is to be abstinate or to cease being homosexual.
Sex of the Third Sort: Sex and Spiritual love.
Here we get into an area into which almost no one wants to go and Lambeth 1.10 did not in any way address, save to say that it “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.”
The “subject of human sexuality” turns out to be much more than the subject of Sex of the First or Second Sort. Human sexuality in some ways is mistakenly understood to be about sex of the first sort, about the pelvic affiliation of persons of the opposite sex, practiced in the light of sex of the second sort, that is involving the feelings that accompany the same.
Sexuality is primarily seen in Lambeth eyes as a reaction to what the BCP / CofE called the actions of “brute beasts that have no understanding.” The Church and marriage are there as inoculations against the brute animal nature of our lusts.
But it would appear that sex is about all sorts of engagements with the world where pleasure derived from body parts being physically brought into contact – a hand held, lips touching forehead, temple, ear, lips, nipples, thigh, foot, genitals, a pulse felt, a breath exhaled, a groan, a laugh, a sigh washing over the other, and the variety of ways in which primary sexual pleasure is experienced. It would also appear that sex is about the thought of those delighted by such contact, and even more generalized, about the engagement with the feelings about such matters understood in some visionary way.
The possibilities of sexual engagement being about a physical attraction to and physical engagement with the World (by which I mean other persons, objects, ideas, ideals, etc) is the stuff of poetry, vision, metaphysics, mysticism, occultism, and is generally suspect, not only by religious but also secular authorities. The church and state look dimly on such possibilities. At the very least they are not considered in accord with the ordered life.
Suffice to say that Lambeth 1998, Resolution 1.10 has nothing to say about sexual expression that has become in any way about something other than genital and romantic relations between human beings.
But we should not fault the Resolution for not addressing this. No one easily addresses the mystic whose craving for the presence of God is like that of someone sex-sick for a lover. We are not easily able to move into a place where we can talk about ecstasy as being both sexual and spiritual.
All we can do is acknowledge that there is Sex of the Third Sort. STS is a reality in the lives of many Christian mystics and poets, and the church would just as soon hide that as something that does not inform or is not pertinent to the matters of SFS or SSS. But of course it is.
The apparent abstinence from sexual engagement by some Christians may not be a matter of abstinence at all, but about the focus of their sexual energies and engagement. For some, the turn from sexual expression from copulation to merging with the other is not about quitting sexual expression at all, but about the completion of sexual engagement in bliss.
Lambeth 1.10 dumbs down the whole discussion of moral behavior in relation to sexual experience and makes it a matter of moral and legal judgments concerning the license to engage in copulation.
I know perfectly well that these remarks are limited in value and are themselves not as well formed as they might be. But the point is, at least to me, clear.
Lambeth 1.10 speaks to only a small part of what constitutes sexual expression but has become viewed by its supporters as “the mind of the Communion.”
If this is the mind of the Communion it is a narrow mind, unworthy of the best in spiritual or moral enquiry, unhelpful to the pastoral needs of real people, and unfaithful to a community of faith that believes in incarnation.
Love made real is about body, mind and spirit, and if the couple married is to be compared to the union that is between Christ and the Church, both I might add viewed as bodies, then such love involves all the body has to offer.
It is time to put Lambeth 1.10 behind us. We all deserve better than that.