On 14 October the Archbishop of Canterbury posted an update of the plans for next year’s Lambeth Conference on the Conference website.
Part of this update includes a section entitled ‘God’s Church for God’s World – Our life together as the Anglican Communion.’  What the Archbishop writes in this section is extremely important because it sets out his vision for what he thinks the Anglican Communion is and should be, and what he thinks is currently endangering this vision.
In this article I shall offer a commentary on this section, explaining where I think what the Archbishop says is correct and where I think it is mistaken.
The Archbishop begins the section by writing:
The conference will also explore internal matters in the life of the Anglican Communion. We will seek to find a way forward on the issues that have divided us for so long over marriage, sexuality and relationships. It is unlikely that we will have a single common understanding. We are a global communion with more than 2000 languages and such deeply embedded and possibly different views of what is right and wrong, both culturally and in our understanding of the Bible. But this is what marks the Church out as different. We are called to find ways of continuing together, knowing that we belong to one another and obeying the commands of Jesus to love one another, and where we disagree, disagreeing well.
In this paragraph the Archbishop correctly notes that, as things presently stand, it is unlikely that those who attend the Lambeth Conference will have ‘a single common understanding’ on ‘marriage, sexuality and relationships’ and he also correctly notes that those who belong to the Anglican Communion speak more than 2000 languages and have ‘deeply embedded and possibly different views of what is right and wrong, both culturally and in our understanding of the Bible.’ However, the moral he draws from this is problematic.
The Archbishop says, as we have seen, that the members of the Anglican Communion, as members of the Christian Church, are called by God: ‘ to find ways of continuing together, knowing that we belong to one another and obeying the commands of Jesus to love one another, and where we disagree, disagreeing well.’ The problem is with the implicit connection that the Archbishop makes between loving one another, disagreeing well, and continuing together.
The Archbishop does not spell out what he means by ‘disagreeing well’ but in context it appears to mean continuing in fellowship with those with whom we disagree about what is right and what is wrong and how to interpret the Bible. The problem with this approach is set out in paragraph 89 of the 2004 Windsor Report. This paragraph makes the point that not all differences that exist within the Church can be bundled together as being ‘adiaphora’ – matters on which we can simply agree to disagree. It declares that it is not the case that:
‘…. either for Paul or in Anglican theology all things over which Christians in fact disagree are automatically to be placed into the category of ‘adiaphora’. It has never been enough to say that we must celebrate or at least respect ‘difference’ without further ado. Not all ‘differences’ can be tolerated. (We know this well enough in the cases of, say, racism or child abuse; we would not say “some of us are racists, some of us are not, so let’s celebrate our diversity”). This question is frequently begged in current discussions, as for instance when people suggest without further argument, in relation to a particular controversial issue, that it should not be allowed to impair the Church’s unity, in other words that the matter in question is not as serious as some suppose. In the letters already quoted, Paul is quite clear that there are several matters – obvious examples being incest (1 Corinthians 5) and lawsuits between Christians before non-Christian courts (1 Corinthians 6) – in which there is no question of saying “some Christians think this, other Christians think that, and you must learn to live with the difference”. On the contrary: Paul insists that some types of behaviour are incompatible with inheriting God’s coming kingdom, and must not therefore be tolerated within the Church. ‘
When things that should not be tolerated are tolerated this is not love, but rather indifference resulting from a failure to love. This is because loving someone means seeking the best for them as someone whom God has created and redeemed. Allowing them to engage in behaviour which God has declared to be intolerable without any attempt to encourage them to change their ways, is not loving because it means leaving them at odds with God and potentially facing being cut off from him for all eternity.
The matters currently under dispute in the Anglican Communion are about matters that are intolerable.
The big dispute that is currently dividing the Anglican Communion, along with many other churches, concerns two issues. Is it right for someone to have a sexual relationship with someone of their own sex (and for this to be called marriage), and is it right for someone who is are biologically male or female to identify as members of the opposite sex, or as having an alternative, non-binary, gender identity such as agender, bi-gender, genderfluid, or polygender and for the Church to recognise these new identities? To say ‘yes’ in answer to either or both of these questions is to tolerate that which is intolerable.
The reason why both same sex-sex relationships and gender transition are theologically intolerable is because they go against the basic truth that God has created all human beings in his image and likeness.
A central part of what it means to be created by God in his image and likeness is to be male or female. In the words of Genesis 1:27: ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’ This teaching is reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 19:4: ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female.’
There is a very small percentage of people, some 0.018% of live births (approximately 1:500), who are genuinely ‘intersex’ in the sense that they combine both male and female elements in their physiology. However, the existence of such people still points to the fundamentally dimorphic, male or female, nature of human sexuality. Where they are able to reproduce, and that is often not the case, they do so either as male or female. Their condition is a developmental disorder rather than the existence of a third type of human being and is the exception that proves the rule.
Because this is the case, except in these highly exceptional and biologically distinct cases, believing rightly in ‘God the Father who hath made me and all the world’ in the words of the Prayer Book Catechism, means accepting with gratitude that I am the particular male or female human being that God has created me to be and living accordingly.
As Oliver O’Donovan writes in his book Begotten or Made? :
‘When God made mankind male and female, to exist alongside each other and for each other, he gave a form that human sexuality should take and a good to which it should aspire. None of us can, or should, regard our difficulties with that form, or with achieving that good, as the norm of what our sexuality is to be. None of us should see our sexuality as mere self-expression, and forget that we can express ourselves sexually only because we participate in this generic form and aspire to this generic good. We do not have to make a sexual form, or posit a sexual good. We have to exist as well as we can within that sexual form, and in relation to that sexual good, which has been given to us because it has been given to humankind.’ 
This means that it is not legitimate either to deny the God-given form by rejecting the division of humanity into male and female, or to deny the particular version of that form that God has given to us by making us either male or female, something that is determined not by our feelings (as many today would claim), but by our biology. This is because the embodied nature of human beings means that we cannot separate ourselves from our bodies. ‘My body is me’ and this means that ‘my biology is me.’
However difficult the forms that God has given us may be for us to accept, to deny it would be sinful because it would involve refusing to say to God ‘thy will be done’ by refusing to love the self who God has made us to be.
Refusing in this way to say to God ‘thy will be done,’ in either our thinking or our behaviour, is not something that can be regarded as adiaphora and therefore tolerated within the Church. This is because it brings with it the inescapable risk of eternal separation from God. As C S Lewis writes in his book The Great Divorce, there is an inescapable binary choice facing all human beings. ‘There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’’
Lewis’ point is that God has given human beings freedom to shape their own destinies. We can choose to say to God ‘thy will be done’ and be happy with God for ever in the world to come, or we can choose to turn our back on God. If we do this God will respect our decision, but the inevitable consequence will be that in the world to come we will be cut off from God and all good for ever. The fundamental problem with both gender transition and same-sex relationships is that they do involve a rejection, in both theory and practice, of the sexual identity which we have been given by God and thus a failure to say to God ‘thy will be done.’
As Martin Luther explains in his Small Catechism of the answer to the question of what it means to confess ‘I believe in God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth’ is ‘I believe that God has created me and all that exists; that he has given me and still sustains my body and soul, all my limbs and senses, my reason and all the faculties of my mind’. In other words, the Christian belief in God the creator is not just a vague deistic belief that God is the ultimate source of all that is, but also the very specific belief testified to in Psalm 139 that God made me as the particular combination of body and soul that I am. Both same-sex relationships and gender transition involve in different ways a rejection of this basic truth. They thus involve, ultimately, a failure to say to God ‘thy will be done’ and to glorify God in the body by living according to this truth, and this, as previously noted, carries the risk of eternal damnation. That is why Paul warns the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:10 that those who persist in same-sex sexual activity ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God.’
Because this is the case, any church which supports same-sex relationships or gender transition is a church which is in serious error in its teaching and practice. It is giving support to forms of behaviour which involve serious moral error because they involve people departing from the way God created them to live. To put it simply, it is a church which does not love people enough to seek to prevent them from living in ways that are contrary to way God made them to live.
Love does not mean simply affirming whatever choices people wish to make. It means seeking their ultimate good by helping them to understand what the right choices are and then choose them. A church which gives support to same-sex relationships or gender transition is failing to do this and its action is therefore intolerable.
All this being so, for the Anglican Communion to actually be a communion of churches which do truly love, and which treat disagreements in a godly manner, it cannot be a communion which allows churches which give support to such things to remain part of it. Just as individuals who are behaving in a seriously ungodly manner need to be excommunicated in order to make this point clear to them so that they have the opportunity to repent and be saved (1 Corinthians 5:1-5), so also there needs to be a break in communion with churches that behave in a seriously ungodly manner by tolerating the intolerable. This is what Paul’s command ‘not to associate with immoral men’ (1 Corinthians 5:9) means when translated into ecclesiological terms.
The Archbishop then goes on to say:
‘We also need to be clear about what it should mean to be part of the Anglican Communion as part of God’s Church. The Anglican Communion is an extraordinary, wonderful, and powerful collaboration of rich and poor, of powerful and weak. A genuine expression of the vision of the Church that we find in the New Testament.
Yet too often it has slipped into being a tool of power, the absolute opposite of discipleship in the service of Jesus Christ. Some groups are intent on changing the way in which the Anglican Communion works, so that those outside of a province may interfere with its actions and tell people what to do. There is a danger of becoming a communion that finds itself with a load of small groups that claim extraterritorial jurisdiction.
This goes against the understanding of the Church from the New Testament onwards, set out clearly in the great councils of the Church. It reverses the understanding of what it is to be Anglican which was established from the first Lambeth Conference. It tries to narrow us from being a global church with open doors and a welcoming heart of love for the needy to one that – rather than depending on Christ and the Holy Spirit to draw in those who are not yet members – sets its own tests based on its own way of doing things.’
Here again there is a measure of truth in what the Archbishop writes. When it is working properly the Anglican Communion is indeed ‘an extraordinary, wonderful, and powerful collaboration of rich and poor, of powerful and weak’ and, as such, ‘A genuine expression of the vision of the Church that we find in the New Testament.’
However, he departs from the truth when he describes recent events in the life of the Communion. For him the big problem is that groups within the communion (and it is clear that what he means is GAFCON) have illegitimately claimed ‘extraterritorial jurisdiction’ within other Anglican churches as a means of exerting power. This is a deeply misleading depiction of what has taken place.
What has taken place is that in places such as Canada, the United States, Brazil, and New Zealand the existing Anglican churches have come to tolerate the intolerable in the ways described above. When this has happened other Anglican churches and their bishops have warned that this is not a godly thing to do, and when this warning has been ignored, they have then offered fellowship and oversight to those in such churches who have remained orthodox in their belief and behaviour and who as a result have separated themselves from those churches.
This has not been about the exercise of power. It has been about love, love shown in warning people against pursuing an ungodly course of action, and love shown in seeking to give practical support to those who want to continue to live in a godly fashion.
Furthermore, this action has not been an attempt to unduly narrow down what it means to be Anglican or to reject dependence on ‘Christ and the Holy Spirit to draw in those who are not yet members.’
Those whom the Archbishop is criticising have not departed from the breadth of traditional Anglicanism. On the contrary, they have remained steadfastly loyal to traditional Anglican teaching and practice and are committed to the Anglican Communion being a ‘global church’ (the G for ‘global’ in GAFCON is a big give away here).
In addition, there is no evidence at all that they have rejected the need to be dependent on Christ and the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith and it is wrong of the Archbishop to claim that this is the case.
There is no contradiction between taking a clear and strenuous view of the requirements of Christian discipleship and holding that Christian faith is the gift of God the Father bestowed by Christ through the Spirit. A reading of the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Ephesians, for example shows that it is perfectly possible for both ideas to be held together.
The Archbishop finishes the section by writing:
Anglicanism is both Catholic and Reformed. Both our Catholicity and the traditions of the Reformation need renewing so that each person answers to God for their own decisions, and churches are autonomous but interdependent in love.
The problem with this paragraph is not that it claims that ‘Anglicanism is both Catholic and Reformed.’ This is true. What is problematic is the way that the Archbishop goes on to depict the renewal of Anglicanism in terms of individuals and churches being simply free to go their own way.
This has not been the accepted Anglican view of the matter. It is true that when the Anglican Communion came into being there was a deliberate rejection of the sort of centralised command and control found in the Roman Catholic Church. However, this did not mean that Anglicans were seen as being completely free to do what they wanted.
Drawing on their reading of the practice of the Early Church those who developed the Anglican Communion held that bishops and their churches should be independent of each other, but also held that their exercise of this independence should be constrained by two factors. First, adhesion to Apostolic truth as taught in Scripture and reflected in the writings of the Fathers and in the historic Anglican formularies. Secondly, loyalty to the fellowship of the Anglican Communion, manifested in adhesion to the decisions collectively arrived at by the Bishops of the Communion gathered together at the Lambeth Conference.
As the Encyclical Letter from the Bishops of the 1920 Lambeth Conference put it:
‘For half a century the Lambeth Conference has more and more served to focus the experience and counsels of our Communion. But it does not claim to exercise any powers of control or command. It stands for the far more spiritual and more Christian principle of loyalty to the fellowship. The Churches represented in it are indeed independent, but independent with the Christian freedom which recognizes the restraints of truth and of love. They are not free to deny the truth. They are not free to ignore the fellowship. And the objects of our Conferences are to attain an ever deeper apprehension of the truth, and to guard the fellowship with ever increasing appreciation of its value’
The resolutions of the Lambeth Conferences did not have legal authority, but they were seen as having binding moral authority because they were, in the words of Owen Chadwick, resolutions ‘taken after due debate and after prayer by the ministers who represented the apostles to their churches.’
This view of what membership of the Anglican Communion involved held sway until it was breached by the Canadian and American churches in the years after the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Resolution 1.10 of that Conference laid down quite clearly that same-sex relationships and the ordination of those in same-sex relationships were unacceptable and yet the Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada authorised the celebration of same-sex relationships and the Episcopal Church in the United States consecrated Gene Robinson, a man in same-sex relationship as Bishop of New Hampshire and they and other liberal churches have made similar decisions in the years that have followed. It is the liberal revisionists in the Anglican communion who discarded the principles of the Anglican Communion by rejecting the ‘restrains of truth and love.’ Orthodox Anglicans have simply responded to the pastoral emergencies that their actions have created.
If what the Archbishop writes about the way forward for the Anglican Communion is thus unsatisfactory, is there a better alternative? The answer is ‘yes, there is a better way forward.’ This would have four elements.
- The Archbishop of Canterbury would exercise his authority as the convenor of the Lambeth Conference by not inviting to the 2022 Conference any bishop from a province of the Anglican Communion that has breached Resolution 1.10, but would invite the bishops from the new orthodox jurisdictions in their place.
- The Conference would pass a new resolution upholding the basic principles of Lambeth 1.10. but extending it to include opposition to gender transition. The American Nashville Statement of 2017 would serve as a good model. The Conference would also spend time considering how to provide appropriate pastoral care, consistent with Christian ethics, to LGBT+ people.
- Anglican churches would rescind ecumenical relationships with all non-Anglican churches whose theology and practice was incompatible this new resolution.
- Anglican churches would begin to work ecumenically with other churches to uphold traditional Christian theology and practice with regard human sexual identity and practice and to resist the efforts of revisionist bodies to change or undermine these or to make them illegal.
This is the way forward for a godly and truly loving Anglican Communion.
 The Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘God’s Church for God’s World – Our life together as the Anglican Communion’ at ‘https://www.lambethconfrence.org/the-lambeth-confrence-the-journey-is-under-way.
 The Lambeth Commission on Communion, The Windsor Report, 2004, para 88. p.39.
 Oliver O’Donovan, Begotten or Made? (Oxford: OUP, 1984), pp. 29-30.
 C S Lewis, The Great Divorce (Glasgow: Fontana, 1972), pp. 66-67.
 Martin Luther, Small Catechism, Section I , in Mark Knoll (ed), Confessions and Catechisms of the
Reformation (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2004), p. 68.
 The Six Lambeth Conferences 1867-1920 (London: SPCK 1920), pp.13-14.
 Owen Chadwick, in Roger Coleman (ed.), Resolutions of the Lambeth Conferences 1867-1988 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1992), p.xvii.