From the Rt. Reverend Douglas J. Fisher
To: All the faithful
Re: Lambeth Conference
Date: July 28, 2022
First, Betsy and I are not present in-person at the Lambeth Conference. The wedding of our youngest daughter, Grace, is scheduled shortly after we would be returning from Lambeth. We could not risk getting COVID-19 while living in close quarters for over two weeks with over a thousand people from around the world. This was a difficult decision but one that is best for our family. We have been participating on-line. I offer my reflection on the controversy that has taken up the first days of the Lambeth Conference.
Before I give you a quick summary of what unfolded, I’m going to begin with what is of utmost importance in this pastoral letter. Our diocese and The Episcopal Church strive to be inclusive. We celebrate the presence of our LGBTQ+ siblings among us as beloved children of God. Sacramental marriage, for all who desire to make that covenant commitment, is now, and forever, the liturgical practice of our Church.
It is also very important to note that nothing decided in Lambeth is binding in the individual Provinces of the Anglican Communion. It has no legal weight. The Anglican Communion is held together by “bonds of affection.” We care about each other. It is not held together by polity.
For many months leading to this international gathering of bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, stressed that the meeting would be about prayer, scripture study, strengthening relationships, and celebrating common ground. Archbishop Welby emphasized that we would be looking at how the Provinces of the Anglican Communion (of which The Episcopal Church is one) could address the global issues of climate and poverty.
A week before the conference was to begin, a document was sent from the Lambeth Conference office to all participating bishops. The document contained various “Calls” (not resolutions) on which bishops would vote. Each bishop would have two choices for an electronic vote. “I hear this call and will work for it.” Or, “This call needs further discernment and I will enter that process.” Voting on anything was not part of the agenda. And the options given left no room for dissent. But the big stumbling block was the call on “Human Dignity” which included this statement:
“It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing 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).”
Bishops from our Episcopal Church, and from other provinces, were outraged by this. Bishop John Taylor of the Diocese of Los Angeles said, “It’s the opposite of the Christian values of healing and reconciliation. It divides, hurts, scapegoats, and denies.” And in the Church of Wales, the bishops said the call “undermines and subverts the dignity of an integral part of our community, rather than affirming them.”
Archbishop Welby heard us. He and the committee that worked on these documents made radical changes to that call. All the language in the Call that I quoted above has been taken out. Paragraph 2.3 now reads:
“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 “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 (I.10, 1998). Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.”
I’m in contact with many of our Episcopal bishops at Lambeth and they all see a spirit of collegiality there. Bishop Rob Hirschfeld of New Hampshire just wrote: “Despite media reports, I do not see widespread and deep discord among the bishops. I see prayer, fellowship, and a desire to be friends in Christ, even among those who disagree.”
I pray that the Lambeth Conference produces ways forward together. I pray that our churches might truly be what our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, calls us to be: “The Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.” In his statement before the Lambeth Conference began, Michael Curry said there is no going back on our commitment to full inclusivity. “We are all The Episcopal Church, and we will not compromise who we are, our connections, or our love.”
And I’m grateful for our LGBTQ+ siblings – lay and ordained, single and married – who are such a big part of the Jesus Movement in Western Massachusetts.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Rt. Reverend Douglas J. Fisher