On Opal Fruits, Starburst and Lambeth 2022

Lambeth resolutions and Lambeth Calls

When I was a child, I was fond of Opal Fruits, chewy, coloured, fruit flavoured sweets that were, as the advert for them said, ‘made to make your mouth water.’ However, except for brief revivals in 2008 and  2021, from 1998 onwards Opal Fruits were no more. Mars , who manufactured them, re-branded them with the global name Starburst and Starburst they have remained. Happily, however, although the name has changed the product has not. They are still same chewy, colourful, fruit flavoured pieces of confectionary I remember from my childhood. The name has changed, the thing signified by the name has remained the same.

Another example of the same phenomenon is the recent decision by the Turkish government to change the official name of their country from Turkey to Türkiye. According to news reports this change of name has been prompted by a desire to avoid people confusing the country called Turkey with the large bird traditionally consumed at Christmas and Thanksgiving. According to the Turkish state broadcaster TRT:

‘ ‘Turkey’ brings up a muddled set of images, articles, and dictionary definitions that conflate the country with Meleagris – otherwise known as the turkey, a large bird native to North America – which is famous for being served on Christmas menus or Thanksgiving dinners.’[1]

However, as in the case of Opal Fruits and Starburst, the thing signified by the name Türkiye will remain the same as the thing signified by the name Turkey. It will be the same country, but with a slightly different official name.

I was prompted to think about these two examples by the recent announcement that the Archbishop of Canterbury has decided that this year’s Lambeth Conference will not have ‘resolutions’ but will instead have ‘Lambeth Calls.’

In the short video made by the archbishop to explain what is meant by Lambeth Calls[2] the introduction explains that:

‘At the Lambeth Conference bishops will meet for prayer and conversation about the theme ‘God’s Church for God’s World.’ The outcomes of their discussions will be shared as ‘Lambeth calls.’ Lambeth Calls are short statements from the bishops, shared with churches around the world.’

In the remainder of the video the archbishop then goes on to say that the purpose of the Lambeth Conference is for ‘bishops to come together and discern what God is saying to the Church.’ However. the Conference is ‘not there to order people about.’

According to the archbishop one of the problems with the Lambeth Conference has been: 

‘….that so often in the past we have had things called resolutions. And in a sense we all know what a resolution is. But when the Lambeth Conference resolves something it doesn’t mean its going to happen and that is a bit confusing. It means that it just gets offered to the whole Anglican Communion who are called to consider what it means.‘

In order that the Communion will ‘be absolutely clear about that’, he says, and in order to make clear:

‘… that the Lambeth Conference is a beautiful, exciting moment of hearing God’s call to us the Lambeth Conference in 2022 is going to make decisions, but it is going to make them in the form of what are called ‘Calls.’ So they will do what they say they are. They will call on the Anglican Communion, the whole Communion to pray, and to think and reflect, and for each province to decide on its response.’

He further explains that in the two years after the Conference the bishops  ‘will go on….sharing using modern technology, about how we respond to what we have heard from God, when we physically came together’ and that each of the Calls will be

‘…. carefully structured, to talk about Scripture, about the tradition of the church, and what the bishops assembled feel to be the way that God is calling them. And therefore collectively they are sharing it with the church around the world.’

As the archbishop sees it, this move from resolutions to ‘Calls’ is: ‘A hugely exciting development in the life of the Communion. It says we offer this to you as what we think God is saying.’

The problem with what the archbishop says in this video is that what he describes enthusiastically as ‘A hugely exciting development’ is in fact nothing of the sort. It is merely a name change like Opal Fruits becoming Starburst or Turkey becoming Türkiye.

As the archbishop correctly says, a Lambeth Conference resolution has traditionally been something ‘that gets offered to the whole Anglican Communion who are called to consider what it means.’ From 1867 onwards the bishops of the Anglican Communion have regularly met to take counsel together, following the model of the Councils of the Patristic period. Their understanding of what God was saying, and the relation of this to Scripture and Tradition, has then been offered to the churches of the Communion for them to consider how to respond as a series of resolutions which have been made available in written form. [3]

The process for Lambeth 2022 as described by the archbishop will be exactly the same. The bishops will take counsel together and they will then offer their understanding of what God is saying, with an explanation of how this relates to Scripture and Tradition, to the churches for them to consider how to respond. This may be called a series of ‘Calls’ rather than a series of ‘resolutions’ and the Calls may be disseminated using electronic technology as well as in printed form, but nothing else will have changed.

The leaflet published alongside the archbishop’s video, History and Purpose – A Guide to the Lambeth Calls process at the 2022 Lambeth Conference, explains that:

‘The reason the Archbishop has made this change to move from resolution to Call is that the word resolution implies legal decision which is binding and that goes beyond the powers of the conference (as this paper notes). A ‘Call’ represents what the so-called ‘resolutions’ did up to the conference of 1998. A call is a decision of the conference  which comes as an appeal to each church of the Communion to consider carefully, and hopefully to follow it and respond to it in its own situation.’[4]

This explanation is problematic for two reasons. First, up to 1998 there were not ‘so called’ resolutions. There were resolutions. Secondly, there is no evidence that anyone thought that the term resolution meant a legally binding decision any more than there is evidence that people have been confusing Turkey the country with Turkey the bird.

The traditionally accepted view of the structure of authority in the Anglican Communion is well expressed in resolution 49 ( c ) of the Lambeth Conference of 1930. This declares that the churches of the Anglican Communion ‘…. are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.’[5] In this understanding of the matter the Lambeth Conference do not have ‘legislative and executive authority.’  Its decisions are not seen as legally binding. However, these decisions do have moral authority because a key part of what holds the Anglican Communion together is loyalty  to the decisions made at a particular point in time by the bishops of the Communion meeting together in council to discern the will of God. In line with Article XXI it has always been understood that these decisions should not be viewed as infallible (and are thus open to being changed in future), but they are seen as possessing a moral authority which the churches of the Communion have a moral obligation to respect.

The rejection of the authority of resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference by liberal bishops from 1998 onwards was a novel rejection of this traditional view of the structure of authority in the Anglican Communion. It replaced loyalty to a decision made by the bishops of the Communion meeting together with a radical assertion of provincial and diocesan autonomy. The ties of mutual loyalty were thus broken and the divisions across the Communion since have been the result. The hope expressed by the leaflet that the churches of the Communion will ‘follow’ the Calls and respond to them in their own situation is an implicit statement of hope that the churches will return to the traditional Anglican approach.

It has been suggested that the shift from resolutions to Calls is intended to retrospectively downplay the authority of resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. I do not know if that is what the change of name is intended to achieve. However, if it is, then neither the archbishop’s video nor the accompanying leaflet achieve this purpose effectively. This is because it has never been held by any well-informed Anglican that resolution 1.10 was legally binding in the sense of being automatically legally enforceable in terms of the Canon law of the individual provinces of the Anglican Communion. As noted above, no Lambeth Conference resolution has ever possessed this kind of authority.  In that sense it is correct to say that resolution 1.10 does not ‘order people about.’

However, this does not mean that the resolution does not possess authority. It does possess binding authority in two ways.

First, as an unrepealed and unreplaced Lambeth resolution, it possesses binding moral authority as a decision made by the bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting together in council as the senior leaders of their churches.

Secondly, it possesses binding theological authority because what it says is theologically correct and Anglicans, just like all other Christians, have an obligation to shape their thinking and their actions in the light of what is theologically correct.

The encyclical letter sent out by the bishops of the Lambeth Conference of 1920 declares, in words which have become famous among students of Anglicanism:

‘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.‘[6]

The reason Anglicans are not free to reject resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference is because Anglicans are not free ‘to deny the truth’ or ‘to ignore the fellowship’ (ignoring the fellowship involving among other things rejecting joint decisions properly arrived at by the bishops of the Communion). Nothing said in the archbishop’s video or in the accompanying leaflet changes that fact.  

If the hope of the Archbishop of Canterbury and others arranging the 2022 Lambeth Conference  is what they say it is, namely that that the decisions made at Lambeth 2022 and reflected in the Calls will be accepted and implemented, it is crucially important that the decisions that are made are good ones. Just as the assertion of unfettered provincial and diocesan autonomy since 1998 has been disastrous for the life of the Communion, so also would be the loyal implementation of fundamentally wrong decisions, or the implementation of decisions that did not fully address the issues currently facing the Communion.

This brings us to the $64,000 question, which is what would constitute good decisions by the bishops at Lambeth 2022 and it is this issue we shall go on to consider in the second half of this paper.

What would constitute good decisions at Lambeth 2022?

According to the Lambeth 2022 official website the topics on which decisions will be made will include:

  • Mission and Evangelism
  • Reconciliation,
  • Safe Church,
  • The Environment and Sustainable Development,
  • Christian Unity,
  • Inter-faith Relations,
  • Anglican Identity,
  • Human Dignity
  • Discipleship[7]

At first sight This list of topics is an entirely reasonable one. These nine topics are ones which the bishops of the Anglican Communion do need to address. However, on further consideration this list of topics raises two serious potential problems as the basis for episcopal decision making in the present Anglican context.

The first problem lies with the topic of reconciliation. Anyone who has followed the development of Anglicanism in recent years will be aware that the practice of reconciliation is something which the Archbishop of Canterbury sees as an absolutely crucial part of the vocation of Anglicanism today. Thus, in his foreword to the 2014 book Living Reconciliation the archbishop writes:

‘Reconciliation is God’s mission to the world in Christ; therefore it is our mission. It is one of the three priorities for my tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury, alongside the renewal of prayer and religious life, and evangelism.  Reconciliation is at the heart of our calling to serve God in prayer and in witness. When we call on God out of the division and conflict of our world, God (as Karl Barth reminds us) ‘calls us on his side as heralds of reconciliation.’ This book shows us how we may live at God’s side in that exacting work, as reconciled reconcilers – in an era when it has probably never been harder or more needful.

I believe that living reconciliation can transform our world. Indeed, I dream that it may become the hallmark of Anglicans. Given the cultural diversity of the 165 countries in which the Anglican Communion across 38 provinces exists, I believe that Anglican Christians bear remarkable testimony to the unifying power of the Holy Spirit of God in his Church. It is through our own reconciliation that the Holy Spirit equips us for the ministry of reconciliation and healing to others. Reconciliation is good news in a world of fear and alienation.’ [8]

From a traditional  Anglican perspective there is no problem at all with emphasising the importance of reconciliation. It is indeed absolutely vital that Anglican Christians accept, proclaim, and live in accordance with, the truth that through Christ God ‘reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:18).

The problem lies with the understanding of the meaning of reconciliation that is prevalent in official Anglican circles at the moment and therefore seems likely to be pushed hard at the Lambeth Conference.

We can see this if we look at what is said about reconciliation in the book Living Reconciliation mentioned above. If you press on the tab marked ‘reconciliation’ on the Anglican Communion website, you find that it is this book that is recommended for those who want to know more about the Anglican view of the nature of reconciliation.[9] At the moment this book is as close as we get to an official Anglican Communion articulation of what reconciliation means.

Living Reconciliation focusses its account of reconciliation on reconciliation between groups and individuals in the Church and in the wider world who are for some reason in conflict with each other. The model it offers for reconciliation is children fighting in a school playground:

‘Imagine a school playground fight. When the playground erupts to the shout of ‘Fight! Fight!’ the teachers’ primary goal is to break up the spat, disperse the crowd and find out who started it. They assert their authority to separate the children and then seek to gain a common account of the dispute. They then issue punishments to those who were the ring leaders. They may also use rewards to ensure the children behave well in the future. Power is deferred to the adult in authority and the immediate problem is solved. However, if the teacher does not address the reason for the fight, lingering tensions and divisions remain. Reconciliation occurs when the children say sorry and forgive one another and the whole group of children return to playing with one another. The immediate conflict might be resolved by punishment, but it is not an end in itself. Reconciliation here is marked by the children laughing together, not by the cold administration of justice. Conflict transformation happens when the teacher acts as a facilitator of reconciliation rather than an arbiter of justice.

The pattern of fight, forced reconciliation, judgement and reconciliation is played out in every community across the world. Talking of children fighting in the playground might sound very simplistic in the light of the conflicts blighting our world today, but it highlights the issues at the heart of conflict resolution and transformation.’[10]

Building on this picture of children who have been engaged in fighting and who need to be reconciled with each other and not just kept apart, Living Reconciliation goes on to say that reconciliation occurs when we remove the barriers that separate us from one another:

‘In the world in which we live, societies construct barriers that separate us from one another. We live behind walls of language, culture, economics, personality, age and gender. The destruction of these barriers enables us to form friendships and to live as a community of diversity while retaining our distinct identities in the body of Christ. This means reconciliation does not end: it is a journey of exploration and learning, and requires listening and speaking, it requires us to trust one another and God.

But we keep on erecting barriers. We sometimes do so for the best of motives. Just like the teacher separating children on a playground, barriers are erected to contain people and ensure they do not fight one another. Peace-keeping can be the act of erecting barriers, so that a vulnerable group feels safe. Mediation may be the way to negotiate across these barriers. Reconciliation happens when the barriers are removed and people can speak to one another, encounter difference and live with conflict. It requires repentance and forgiveness on a lifelong journey in community.’[11]

The problem with this understanding of reconciliation is that when translated into practice the idea of the Church as ‘a community of diversity’ in which Christians ‘live with conflict’ means in effect a Christian community in which everything that divides Christians is to be regarded as what theologians have traditionally called ‘adiaphora,’ that is to say, matters on which Christians can disagree without dividing the Church or disobeying God.

However, as the Anglican Communion’s Windsor Report of 2004 emphasises, the Anglican Communion simply cannot go down the road of placing everything on which Christians disagree into the category of adiaphora. As the Windsor Report puts it:

‘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. ‘Difference’ has become a concept within current postmodern discourse which can easily mislead the contemporary western church into forgetting the principles, enshrined in scripture and often re-articulated within Anglicanism, for distinguishing one type of difference from another.’[12]

The Windsor Report focusses on the issue of differences about behaviour because the report is concerned with the behaviour of provinces in the Anglican Communion, but the point it makes about certain forms of behaviour being intolerable within the Church also applies by extension to certain forms of belief. Thus, anyone who reads the letters of Paul will find that he not only rules out erroneous forms of behaviour, but also erroneous forms of belief. In 1 Corinthians, for example, he not only rules out incest and lawsuits between Christians before non-Christian courts, but also the belief that ‘there is no resurrection of the dead’ (1 Corinthians 15:12).

What this means is that Anglicans, and especially Anglican bishops as the chief shepherds of their churches,  have an unavoidable responsibility to distinguish which are acceptable types of belief and behaviour and which are not. Furthermore, they have an agreed basis on which to base this distinction.

As the official Anglican Communion document, The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion explains, there is an agreed source of doctrine in the Anglican Communion. Principle 49 in the document states that the ‘sources of doctrine’ are as follows:  

‘1. The faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ is taught in the Holy Scriptures, summed up in the Creeds, and affirmed by the ancient Fathers and undisputed General Councils.

 2. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary to salvation and are the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

3. The Apostles’ Creed represents the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed is recognised as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

4. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal 1662 are grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures.

5. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal 1662 represent the historic sources of lawful doctrine for a church.’[13]

The document goes on to say in Principle 50 that:

‘A church must maintain the Faith, Doctrine, Sacraments and Discipline of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and its own doctrinal formularies shall be compatible with the faith revealed in Holy Scripture, summed up in the Creeds, and received, practised and held by the church universal in the light of tradition and reason.’ [14]

These two principles mean that for members of the Anglican Communion any forms of belief or behaviour that are contrary to what is taught in the sources of doctrine specified in them cannot be regarded as adiaphora but must be viewed as falling outside the boundaries of legitimate Anglican diversity.

A further point about claiming that things are adiaphora, is that just because something can be rightly viewed as adiaphora does not mean that it is right to do it. This is a point that is again made by The Windsor Report.  Referring back to Paul’s teaching in Romans 14:1-15:13 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, the report declares:

‘ Even when the notion of ‘adiaphora’ applies, it does not mean that Christians are left free to pursue their own personal choices without restriction. Paul insists that those who take what he calls the “strong” position, claiming the right to eat and drink what others regard as off limits, must take care of the “weak”, those who still have scruples of conscience about the matters in question – since those who are lured into acting against conscience are thereby drawn into sin. Paul does not envisage this as a static situation. He clearly hopes that his own teaching, and mutual acceptance within the Christian family, will bring people to one mind. But he knows from pastoral experience that people do not change their minds overnight on matters deep within their culture and experience.

Whenever, therefore, a claim is made that a particular theological or ethical stance is something ‘indifferent’, and that people should be free to follow it without the Church being thereby split, there are two questions to be asked. First, is this in fact the kind of matter which can count as ‘inessential’, or does it touch on something vital? Second, if it is indeed ‘adiaphora’, is it something that, nevertheless, a sufficient number of other Christians will find scandalous and offensive, either in the sense that they will be led into acting against their own consciences or that they will be forced, for conscience’s sake, to break fellowship with those who go ahead? If the answer to the latter question is ‘yes’, the biblical guidelines insist that those who have no scruples about the proposed action should nevertheless refrain from going ahead.’[15]

There is thus a double question to be asked about matters on which Christians disagree. Is the matter truly adiaphora, and, if it is, are people acting with due regard to the consciences of their fellow believers?

In the light of what has been said in the previous paragraphs, and given the continuing disagreements across the Anglican Communion, the bishops at the 2022 Lambeth Conference need to resume the discussion which was initiated by Archbishop Rowan Williams and which bore fruit in the Anglican Communion Covenant project about how to handle Anglican diversity and disagreement in a theologically responsible fashion.  Under the present Archbishop of Canterbury this discussion has been effectively shelved, but it needs to be resumed. The bishops at the Lambeth Conference need to discuss, and then make decisions about, the limits of Anglican diversity, how these limits should be policed and what should happen if a province exceeds these limits and refuses to accept correction and amend its teaching or behaviour, drawing on the material in the Anglican Communion Covenant[16] and the work of GAFCON[17] and the Global South Anglicans[18] in this area.

Such a discussion will be very difficult, because the past two decades have shown that there are a number of Anglican provinces that will fiercely resist any idea of a restriction of provincial autonomy and because it will have to address the thorny issue of what happens if the Church of England, the Mother Church of the Communion, transgresses the limits of legitimate Anglican diversity at the end of the Living in Love and Faith process. How would the Anglican Communion work, for instance, if the Church of England, and hence the Archbishop of Canterbury, was under Communion discipline?

However, the fact that the discussion will be very difficult does not mean that it can be avoided. In his video about Lambeth Calls the Archbishop of Canterbury sates that the aim of the discussion of ‘contentious subjects’ at the Lambeth Conference will be both ‘to bring us into deeper love for one another’ and ‘understanding how God is calling us.’  Part of the latter aim has to be to understand what are the God given limits to Anglican diversity and how to reflect these in the way in which the Anglican Communion operates.

As anyone acquainted with the recent history of Anglicanism knows, chief among the ‘contentious subjects’ which the bishops will need to address at the Lambeth Conference are the subjects of human sexual identity and behaviour (including the Christian understanding of marriage).

This brings us to the second problem with list of items for Lambeth Calls.

 In a recent press release calling for prayer about the Lambeth conference, the General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion notes that ‘The conference programme has been tightly designed to prevent formal discussion on marriage and sexuality, or gender identity’[19] and this is reflected in the fact that these issues are not on the Lambeth Calls list. The attempt to prevent formal discussion of these issues is a major mistake by the organisers of the Conference which needs to be challenged and overturned. In his video the archbishop declares that the Conference will address ‘the biggest issues facing the world today’ and for Christians among these issues are the issues of human sexual identity and behaviour. This is because there is a prevalent ideology, originating in the West but now sweeping across the world as a whole, that upholds an un-Christian anthropology and as a result an un-Christian view of sexual identity and behaviour.

The origins of this  ideology are explained in the important study  The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self written by the church historian  Carl Trueman. In this study Trueman addresses the questionof why it is that in contemporary Western society it has come to be regarded as meaningful to say ‘I am a woman trapped in a man’s body’ (and unacceptable to question this statement) when previous generations would have dismissed this statement as completely absurd.

Trueman’s answer is that the reason the statement is now regarded as meaningful is because a number of interrelated developments that have taken place across the Western world since the second half of the eighteenth century have together led to a radical shift in what Trueman calls the ‘social imaginary’—that is, the way most people understand the world and how to behave within it.[20]

These  developments have been as follows:

First, the secularisation of Western society and the consequent loss of the sense of the world as God’s creation means that there has been a shift in people’s views of the world from mimesis (from the Greek for ‘imitation’) to poesis (meaning ‘creating). As Trueman explains:

‘A mimetic view regards the world as having a given order and a given meaning and thus sees human beings as required to discover that meaning and conform themselves to it. Poiesis, by way of contrast, sees the world as so much raw material out of which meaning and purpose can be created by the individual.’[21]

Secondly, there has been the related loss of the idea of ‘sacred order’. In Western culture today most people no longer believe that there is fixed moral order which has been established by God and which all human beings therefore need to respect.

Thirdly, as a result, Western culture lacks an agreed basis for ethics. So, as Alasdair MacIntyre has argued, the basis of ethical decision-making has, by default, become mere emotivism—that is, ethics based on personal feeling and preference.[22]

Fourthly, there has also been a change in the way in which most people view the purpose of human existence—the good to which human beings should aspire. What has emerged is what Charles Taylor calls a ‘culture of authenticity’. This is an understanding of life that says  

‘… that each of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own way—as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or by the previous generation, or religious or political authority.’[23]

Fifthly, there has been the development of what Philip Rieff calls the ‘therapeutic society’—a society in which social institutions are viewed as being set up to foster the individual’s sense of psychological well-being as they live out their unique authentic existence.[24]

Sixthly, since the work of Sigmund Freud, it has come to be widely believed that ‘humans, from infancy onward, are at core sexual beings. It is our sexual desires that are ultimately decisive for who we are.’[25] The acceptance of Freud’s ideas has been facilitated by the huge growth in pornography but also the many developments in modern medicine which make the results of sexual activity less serious by separating sex from childbirth and by providing more effective treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases.

Finally, the work of Neo-Marxist scholars such as Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse has led to the idea that the traditional view of the family (consisting of a married couple and their children), together with the traditional sexual morality linked to this, are inherently oppressive and need to be overthrown.

As Trueman argues, the result of these seven developments has been to create a ‘social imaginary’ that is based on poiesis rather than mimesis: we live in a world of our creating. In such a world the idea of being a woman trapped in a man’s body begins to make sense. On the one hand, there is no fixed order of things, and no fixed pattern for human existence or behaviour; thus there is no yardstick against which one can measure whether the idea is wrong. On the other, it becomes perfectly natural for an individual to say something such as:

‘The purpose of my existence is to live as authentically as possible in accordance with what I perceive to be my true self. If this then involves seeing myself as a woman, even though I have a man’s body, then that is what I should do.

Furthermore, society should support me in so doing because only then will I achieve psychological well-being. Thinking otherwise is immoral because it involves damaging my psychological well-being through a refusal to give recognition to who I believe myself to be.’

The same factors create a social imaginary in which the acceptance of same-sex relationships and the claim to a gay or lesbian identity also makes sense. Again, there is no fixed order of things and no fixed pattern for human behaviour, and thus no yardstick against which one can say same-sex relationships are wrong. And so, the individual may often justify an action as follows:

‘The purpose of my existence is to live as authentically as possible in accordance with what I perceive to be my true self. If this involves having sex with someone of my own sex, then that is what I should do. In addition, because, as Freud has taught us, sexual desire is at the core of human identity, my desire for sex with someone of my own sex defines who I am. I am gay or lesbian.’

As Trueman goes on to say, within this worldview:

‘…mere tolerance of homosexuality is bound to become unacceptable. The issue is not one of simply decriminalizing behaviour; that would certainly mean that homosexual acts were tolerated by society, but the acts are only part of the overall problem. The real issue is one of recognition, of recognizing the legitimacy of who the person thinks he actually is. This requires more than mere tolerance, it requires equality before the law and recognition by the law and in society. And that means that those who refuse to grant such recognition will be the ones who find themselves on the wrong side of both the law and emerging social attitudes.

The person who objects to homosexual practice is, in contemporary society, actually objecting to homosexual identity. And the refusal by any individual to recognize an identity that society at large recognizes as legitimate is a moral offense, not simply a matter of indifference.’[26]

This is why LGBTQI+ campaigners react so strongly against the idea that those Christians who object to same-sex sexual relationships can speak of ‘hating the sin but loving the sinner’. Within a post-Freudian worldview sexual identity and sexual behaviour cannot be separated. Hence to hate the sin is also to hate the sinner.

An additional but related aspect of modern Western culture is the central place given to personal experience. If there is no fixed moral order, how should individuals decide how they should live? The answer increasingly  is that they should simply ‘try it and see’. In other words, as they proceed through life they should decide, on the basis of their personal experience, what pattern of life, and what pattern of sexual identity and activity, gives them that sense of psychological well-being which is the proper goal of life.

What all this means is that Western society has now reached a place where human beings are playing the role of their own creator, constructing identities for themselves, and testing everything at the solitary bar of their own subjective experience. I am who I think I am on the basis of my unique experience and everybody else must accept this fact.

The influence of the ideology that has just been described has resulted in two challenges to the Christian Church, one external and one internal.

The external challenge has two elements to it. The first element is that for very many in the Western world the incompatibility between traditional Christian theology and sexual ethics and the modern belief in self-creation and sexual freedom means that Christians are now the ‘bad guys.’ 

To quote the Australian writer Stephen McAlpine:

‘Only a few generations ago, Christianity was the good guy, the solution to what was bad. Rather than being on the wrong side of the law, we were the law. Christian morality was assumed and passed mainly unchallenged. The cultural, legal and political power structures affirmed Christians. Then something changed. Over the course of the twentieth century, we became just one of the guys: one option among many -a voice to be considered but not to be followed unquestioningly. If Christianity worked for you, find; if it didn’t work for me, also fine.

Most of us think we still live in that world. Most Christian books, sermons and podcasts assume that we do. In many ways, we’ve only just worked out how to live well as one of the guys.

But the problem is that that’s not where we are now. The tide has shifted further. Christianity is no longer an option; it’s a problem. The cultural, political and legal guns that Christianity once held are now trained on us -and it’s happened quickly. The number of those professing faith has fallen dramatically. The number of those who reject the faith they held until their late teens has risen dramatically. The seat at the cultural table that we assumed was ours  for keeps is increasingly being given to others. We’re on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of so many issues and conversations. If this were a Western, we would be the guys wearing the black hats whose appearance is accompanied by the foreboding soundtrack. It’s come as a surprise, we’re not sure how it happened, we don’t like it and we don’t feel we deserve it  – but we are the bad guys now.’ [27]

Because Christians are now the bad guys, and because people need protection from the bad guys, the second element of the external challenge is that Christians are now increasingly facing not only widespread social disapproval, but the threat of legal sanctions against what have hitherto been viewed as perfectly normal forms of religious activity.

For example, as George Hobson writes:

‘Critics of homosexual practice and the gay lifestyle, even when they are welcoming of gays ad eager to help those who wish to change their lifestyle, are labelled ‘homophobic’ and are subject to the severest condemnation by those who see themselves as morally enlightened. On account of the politicization of this issue through pressure from the powerful Gay Lobby and its political supporters, it will soon become a criminal offence to offer such criticism, and Christian organizations such as churches or Christian schools that cleave to traditional  biblically based ethical doctrine and practice will come under attack in the courts and even find their leaders being dragged off to jail.’ [28]

Although Hobson is writing specifically about the response to criticism of homosexual practice, the same sort of response is also now made to those who are critical of the practice of gender transition. They too now face severe moral condemnation as transphobic and the threat of legal sanctions.

This two-part external challenge creates two problems for the Church. First, the perception of Christians as the ‘bad guys’ makes it more difficult for the Christian message to get a hearing. After all, who wants to listen to what the bad guys have to say? If Christians are ‘homophobes’ and ‘transphobes’ then the rest of what they have to say can simply be dismissed. Secondly, the perception that Christians are ‘bad guys’ and the threat of legal action against those who espouse traditional Christian doctrine and practice will inhibit the Church’s work in that it will lead people to refuse to publish Christian material, lead to Christians having restricted access to the media, and mean that organisations will refuse to let Christians use their venues for meetings. In addition, it will potentially mean Christians having to choose between disobeying God or suffering punishment for breaking the law, neither of which are desirable.  

The internal challenge to the Church lies in the fact that an increasing number of Christians and churches, including Anglican churches, are accepting the basic tenets of the ideology and then giving them a Christian veneer. An ever growing number of churches are now accepting that it is right for people to be in same-sexual relationships and to enter into same-sex marriages and that it is right for them to adopt transgender identities that are at variance with their biological sex. The veneer that is given to this is that if people perceive this is right for them this is because that is the way God made them to be.

Thus, Rosie Harper argues on the liberal Anglican website ViaMedia.News that the Church of England is wrong to maintain the disciplines that those who are ordained should not be in sexually active same-sex relationships and that the church should not conduct same-sex marriages because this involves ‘excluding people simply for being the people God made them to be.’ [29]

The problem with this veneer is that it ignores the fact that we live in a fallen world. In this world what we perceive to be best for us may not correspond to the way God made us to live. As Paul argues in Romans 1:21 the result of human fallenness is that human beings see things wrongly. What is required in this situation is a renewed mind (Romans 12:3) which allows people to see things as God made them to be.

When we view human sexual identity and behaviour with a renewed mind on the basis of God’s revelation of his purposes for humanity through the natural order, and through Scripture and the witness to Scripture borne by the orthodox Christian tradition what we find is that God created human beings as creatures who are either male or female depending on their biology (Genesis 1:26-27), that human bodies are created to have sex with members of the opposite sex and thereby fulfil God’s command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28), and that God has instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the proper context for sexual intercourse and the begetting of children (Genesis 2:18-25).

Honouring God as our good creator in line with the first article of the Creeds means accepting these truths and learning to live in accordance with them. In the words of Oliver O’Donovan 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.’[30]

This means that, however much we may desire to do so, we cannot rightly deny the sexual identity given to us in our biology or go against the order of creation by having sex with, or marrying, someone of the same sex. This also means that churches have no right to say that we can.

The external and internal challenges that we have noted are particularly strong in the Western world, but, as church leaders in the Global South are all too aware. they are also having a growing influence in other parts of the world as the impact of Western secular ideology spreads round the globe through the influence of governments, international organisations, NGOs and social media.  They have also had a strongly detrimental effect on the life of the Anglican Communion as they have been the cause of the divisions within the Communion mentioned earlier in this paper.

This means that the 2022 Lambeth Conference cannot ignore Western secular ideology and its impact on the Church anymore that the great ecumenical Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries could ignore the heresies prevalent in their day.

Even at this very late stage in the planning for the Conference time dedicated needs to be given to discuss this topic and to make decisions about it. This means giving bishops time to explore why churches should not simply put a Christian veneer on the Western secular ideology, why churches that have done have place themselves outside the limits of acceptable Anglican diversity, what such churches should now be asked to do to being themselves back within those limits, and what disciplinary action might be appropriate if they do not, and to make decisions on this basis of this exploration.

In addition time needs to be given to explore the impact of Western secular ideology on other items to be discussed at Lambeth.

For example, on mission and evangelism, how should Anglicans undertake mission and evangelism in the light of the fact that Christians are now the ‘bad guys’?

For a second example, on Church unity, how should Anglicans relate to non-Anglican churches who have capitulated to Western secular ideology and how should they support churches who continue to resist it?

For a third example, on discipleship, how should churches teach people to resist societal pressure to conform to Western secular ideology and (equally importantly)  how should they equip people to offer understanding, compassion and support to people who struggle with their sexual identity and same-sex sexual desires?

What all this means is that making good decisions at Lambeth 2022 will involve three things.

  1. Making decisions on topics already specified for discussion that are in conformity with the proper sources of Anglican theological authority as specified in The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion.  
  2. Making decisions on this basis about the proper limits of Anglican diversity, how these should be policed and what should happen if Anglican provinces persist in contravening these limits.
  3. Making decisions that properly address the impact of Western secular ideology on the life and mission of the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

As indicated at the beginning of this paper, whether such decisions are conveyed to the churches as Calls rather than resolutions is unimportant. An Opal Fruit is still an Opal Fruit even if it called a Starburst. What matters is what the Calls contain.


[1] ‘Turkey officially changes name at UN to Türkiye,’ The Guardian , 3 June 2022.

[2] This video can be found at https://www.lambethconference.org/lcalls/.

[3] The resolutions can be found in book form in Roger Coleman (ed), Resolutions of the Lambeth Conferences 1867-1988 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1992) and The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998 (Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 1999) and online at: https://www.anglicancommunion.org/structures/instruments-of-communion/lambeth-conference.aspx.

[4] History and Purpose- A Guide to the Lambeth Calls process at the 2022 Lambeth Conference, p.6 at:

https://www.lambethconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/History-and-Purpose-of-the-Lambeth-Conference-and-the-2022-Lambeth-Calls-process-FINAL-1.pdf.

[5] Lambeth Conference 1930, Resolution 49 (c ) in Coleman (ed), p.84.  

[6] The Six Lambeth Conferences 1867-1920 (London: SPCK 1920) , pp.13-14 (the 1920 conference has its ow numbering within this volume).

[7] This list can be found at in Lambeth Calls section of the website at: https://www.lambethconference.org/calls/.

[8] Phil Groves and Angharad Parry Jones, Living Reconciliation ((London: SPCK, 2014), p.ix. 

[9] See https://www.anglicancommunion.org/mission/reconciliation.aspx.

[10] Groves and Parry Jones, pp.7-8.

[11] Groves and parry Jones, pp.10-11

[12] The Lambeth Commission on Communion, The Windsor Report (London: Anglican Communion Office, 2004), p.52.

[13] The Anglican Communion, The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion (London: The Anglican Communion Office:2008), pp.57-58.

[14] The Principles of Canon Law, p.58.

[15] The Windsor Report, p.51.

[16] The Anglican Communion Covenant at

https://www.anglicancommunion.org/media/99905/The_Anglican_Covenant.pdf.

[17] See  GAFCON, The Complete Jerusalem Statement 2008 at

https://www.gafcon.org/resources/the-complete-jerusalem-statement-2008.

[18] See Global South Anglicans, A Covenantal Structure for the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches at https://www.thegsfa.org/_files/ugd/6e992c_49081e3f1d214530871259ddbbbb191f.pdf.

[19] ‘Call to Prayer issued to UK evangelicals ahead of 2022 Lambeth Conference’ at https: //anglicanmainstream.org/call-to-prayer-issued-to-uk-evangelicals-ahead-of 2022-lambethconference/

[20] Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020),  pp.36-37.

[21] Trueman p.39.

[22] Alistair MacIntyre, After Virtue (London: Duckworth, 1983).

[23] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age ( Cambridge Ma and London: Belknapp Press, 2007), p.475.

[24] See Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1966).

[25] Trueman, p.27.

[26] Trueman, pp.68-69.

[27] Stephen  McAlpine, Being the Bay Guys – How to live for Jesus in a world that says you shouldn’t (Epsom: The Good Book Company 2021), kindle edition, pp.2-3

[28] George Hobson, The Episcopal Church, Homosexuality and the Context of Technology (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2013), kindle edition, Loc.3114-3124.

[29] Rosie Harper, ‘Bishops Speaking Out: So Very Right and So Very Wrong’ at ViaMedia.News 17 June, 2022 at https://viamedia.news/.

[30] Oliver O’Donovan, Begotten or Made? (Oxford: OUP, 1984), pp. 28-29.

2 thoughts on “On Opal Fruits, Starburst and Lambeth 2022

  1. Agreed. Surely evangelicals (CEEC in particular) should seize the opportunity presented by the upcoming fracas re LLF to openly challenge and rebuke (a la Paul in Galatians) the Anglican Ministers who do not preach both the wrath to come and other terrible warnings alongside the wonderful invitations and promises – ‘The Thing that Matters Most’, it’s eternity stupid. There will never be a better moment to do this.

  2. And I suggest that the challenge and rebuke should take place openly at the various levels of Synod, especially the final General Synod. CEEC could co-ordinate that.

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