A review of the Lambeth Calls Guidance and Study Document

The Lambeth Calls Guidance and Study Document, which has now been made public, sets out the topics that the bishops will be discussing at the forthcoming Lambeth Conference and what form this discussion will take.

These topics are referred to as ‘Lambeth Calls’ and there are eleven of them:

  • Mission and Evangelism
  • Safe Church
  • Anglican Identity
  • Reconciliation
  • Human Dignity
  • The Environment and Sustainable Development
  • Sustainable Development
  • Christian Unity
  • Inter faith  Relations
  • Discipleship
  • Science and Faith

In the Guidance and Study Document there is a section on each of these eleven Calls with each section having a common structure:

‘A link with the First Epistle of Peter – this may include a quote from the letter and indication how it relates to the topic or issue being discussed.

Declaration – A section which declares what the Church Catholic wider teaches on this matter.

Affirmation – A section which gives a summary of what Anglican churches have taught about it and sets out what the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered in Canterbury in 2022 want to say about this topic or issue now.

Specific Calls or Requests – A series of calls arising from the previous two sections which call upon bishops or Christians or the wider world to reflect or pray or take some action on this topic or issue.’ [1]

The section on each Call in the Guidance and Study Document will form the basis for the discussion of that Call by the bishops. According to the document the process for approving the Lambeth Calls will be as follows:

‘The Lambeth Call session will go through the Call section by section. At each section there will be a chance for each Bishop to indicate their view.

 For those in venue at the event, there will be an electronic device for each Bishop. They can use this to express their level of support for a call.

A similar process will be available for those online. In case of any electronic failure there will be cards to use instead.

For each decision there will be two choices for each bishop to make:

This Call speaks for me. I add my voice to it and commit myself to take the action I can to implement it.

This Call requires further discernment. I commit my voice to the ongoing process.

During the Calls session there will be time for discussion and clarification of the Call. The lead author and drafting groups will be present to answer questions if needed. The aim in each session will be to consider if the Call can be issued publicly or not.’ [2]

What is said in this section of the document raises the question of whether there will be the opportunity for the Calls to be amended by the bishops during the Conference. In the section of the document just quoted the bishops’ only choice would appear to be to indicate what ‘level of support’ they are willing to give each Call as it stands.  However, elsewhere the document talks about bishops sharing their views of each Call before a decision is made whether to ‘adopt or adapt’ it. This would seem to indicate that the Calls will be able to be amended and in order for the outcome of the Lambeth Conference to properly reflect their views the bishops will need to insist on having the opportunity to do this.

In addition, there is nothing said in the document about the possibility of the bishops being able to issue additional or alternative Calls. However, as before,  for the outcome of the Lambeth Conference to properly reflect the views of the bishops who are taking part they need to have the opportunity to do this, and they should therefore insist that this is the case.

Moving on to look at each of the Calls in turn, the Call on Mission and Evangelism is an unexceptionable statement on the need to proclaim the good news of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.

The only issue with this Call is the call to ‘pray that through their witness each one might see one person come to faith in one year.’[3]  Why only one person? 

It would also have been helpful if something had been said to indicate that Evangelistic work of the Church must present the Gospel as it is set out in the Scriptures. This is because there are versions of the Gospel present in Anglican churches that are not in line with Scripture but suggest, for instance that God affirms and accepts people as they are without the need for repentance and amendment of life, or that accepting the Christian message will automatically lead to health, wealth, and general temporal well-bring. Such distorted versions of the Gospel can do great damage and need to be corrected.

The Call on Safe Church rightly addresses the need for Anglicans to ensure ‘the safety of all persons – especially children, young people and vulnerable adults. ’ [4]

There is no problem with the wording of the Call as it stands, but there are two issues relating to keeping people safe that would ideally also have been addressed.

The first is the issue of sex education. The point that needs to be made is that forms of sex education that encourage children and young people to engage in sex outside marriage, same-sex sexual activity and gender transition are contrary to their temporal and spiritual well-being and so Anglicans need to work for safe forms of education in which these harmful forms of sex education do not exist.

The second is the issue of conversion therapy. In view of the increasing number of countries that are banning so called conversion therapy it would be good for the Lambeth Conference to declare that it is not a form of abuse to engage in non-coercive forms of pastoral care which are designed to help people who are struggling with same-sex sexual desires or who have difficulty accepting their biological sex.

The Call on Anglican Identity is problematic both in what it suggests and it what it fails to address.

It is problematic in what it suggests in that it does not give any reason why it would serve the well -being of the Anglican Communion  to spend resources on an Anglican Congress, or to engage in a review of the current instruments of Communion or the creation of a new one. Without a good reason for engaging in this activity why should the bishops support it?

It is problematic in what it does not address in that it fails to address the issues of Anglican identity that have arisen since Lambeth 1998.

It fails to note that in traditional Anglican ecclesiology the autonomy of each province is constrained by the need to recognise what the Lambeth Conference of 1920 called  ‘the restraints of truth and of love.’[5] What this means is that provinces are not free to act in way which is contrary to Scripture and the orthodox Christian tradition, and they are not free to disregard the rest of the Communion by ignoring decisions arrived at jointly by the bishops of the Communion meeting together at the Lambeth Conference.  

It also fails to note that since 1998 an increasing number of provinces have acted in a way which is contrary to Scripture, the orthodox Christian tradition, and the position agreed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference,  by agreeing to the ordination of those in same-sex relationships, the blessing of same-sex relationships, and the introduction of same-sex marriages.

The bishops at Lambeth 2022 need to have the opportunity to declare that what these provinces have done is unacceptable, and to exercise discipline in response to it. What would be appropriate would be for the bishops to amend the Call to collectively declare that because these provinces have deliberately acted in a way that is incompatible with membership of the Anglican Communion they should be suspended from membership of the Communion until they repent and amend their ways.[6] In addition, it would be appropriate for the bishops to invite the new orthodox Anglican jurisdictions such as ACNA which have emerged in recent years to become part of the Communion.

The Call on Reconciliation is right to highlight the need for Anglicans to engage in reconciliation in situations of conflict. However, the suggestion for using the Archbishop of Canterbury’s work as a basis for Anglican thinking about reconciliation is problematic because at the heart of the Archbishop’s work is the misleading idea that the goal of reconciliation is learning to ‘disagree well’ whereas arguably the goal should instead be to learn to agree well. God does not want people to live in a state of permanent disagreement. He wants them to agree with him and therefore with each other. Such universal agreement will only be perfected in the world to come, but it is the goal for which we must strive even in this world.

In addition, the call to undertake work ‘on deconstructing the historic legacy of colonialism (ACC18) and continued complicity in British and American empire’[7] is problematic because it is not clear what is being called for and why?. What exactly is being called for here and why is it felt to be needed?  Why is the legacy of colonialism seen as entirely negative?[8] What is this ‘British and American empire’ with which people continue to be complicit? Why is colonialism and not other aspects of history such as, for example, historic tribal conflict, singled out for attention?

Finally, the call for ‘the Archbishop of Canterbury and/or the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion to begin a new conversation with the provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda seeking a more full life together as an Anglican family of churches’ [9] would be better phrased in terms of a call to the Archbishop/Standing Committee to listen to and act upon the concerns that these provinces have about the failure of discipline with the Communion.

The Call on Human Dignity is right to declare that ‘acts and attitudes against the dignity of God’s children are sin.’ [10]  However, the Call is also problematic both in what it says and in what it does not say.

It is problematic in what it says because, as before, it takes an entirely negative view of the colonial legacy, failing to acknowledge that there are positive as well as negative aspects to it. It calls for the establishment of a Commission for Redemptive Action to shape the response of the Church Commissioners and the Communion as a whole to the historic issues of colonialism and slavery, but it does not give any explanation of why such a commission is necessary or what it is meant to achieve.

What precisely is ‘redemptive action’?  We are not told. If it means that the Church Commissioners should pay reparations (to whom and on what basis?) then it should say so.  It calls for Anglicans to lobby for ‘social protection measures’[11] but does not explain what these are. It suggests that the work of the ACC on promoting human dignity in relation to gender should be extended to cover sexuality, but it doesn’t say what this would mean in practice and the danger is that this could be used as a cover for encouraging the acceptance of same-sex relationships.

It is problematic in what it does not say in that although it acknowledges Lambeth 1.10 as ‘the mind of the Communion as a whole’[12] it fails to  say that therefore provinces should act in accordance with it, or that where they have failed to act in accordance with it, they need to repent and seek to rectify the situation. It is also problematic in that it fails to say that the dignity of the human person exists from the moment of conception and that therefore abortion should never be viewed as a legitimate form of birth control, and in that fails to note that God’s creation of human beings as male and female means that gender transition is an act of rebellion against God that the Church should not support or give liturgical recognition to, even while offering love and support to the persons concerned.

The Call on Environment and Sustainable Development rightly emphasises that we should care for the planet, but it uncritically endorses the idea that there is a climate change crisis that will mean that over the next decade ‘increasing areas of the Communion will be uninhabitable, because of drought, rising sea levels and other impacts as we reach tipping points in climate change.’ [13] There are plenty of well qualified experts who would regard such a view as unduly alarmist and the bishops will need to consider whether they want to endorse one particular position on the matter.

The Call also fails to address the fact that not only is the science of climate change disputed, but that responding by attempting to move fast to abolish the use of fossil fuels in favour of renewable sources of power itself has the potential to create serious economic, social, and environmental problems. In addition, the statement that ‘politics must give way to action based on science’[14](a) assumes that there is a thing called science which is politically neutral and (b) begs the question of who should decide how to act on what the science says if not those with political responsibilities.

The Call on Sustainable Development (it is not clear why sustainable development comes twice) rightly calls on Anglicans to give support to the UN’s sustainable development goals. The question which is not considered, however, is whether the economic development necessary to achieve these goals is compatible with an attempt to move rapidly away from fossil fuels. If the attempt to achieve Net Zero crashes the world economy how will that help to achieve the development goals?

What would arguably be better would be one Call which acknowledges the complexity of balancing the economic activity necessary for human temporal flourishing with the need to protect the environment, and the need for Anglicans to work with all others of good will to try to ensure that as far as possible this balance is achieved.

The Call on Christian Unity is fine as far as it goes, but it fails to acknowledge that the Christian churches are now increasingly divided over their approach to both same-sex relationships and gender transition. The bishops need to be given the opportunity to declare that the full organic unity of the Church needs to include acceptance that (a) marriage is between one man and one woman and that sexual activity needs to take place only in the context of marriage thus defined and (b) that people are called to live as either men or women in accordance with their biological sex and that the call to Anglicans is to introduce this point into their ecumenical dialogues and to work for unity to be achieved on this basis.

The Call on Inter faith Relations is generally fine but in the light of what was said above about the Calls on the Environment and Sustainable Development it would be better if in paragraph 3.31 of this Call the words ‘the pressing challenge of climate change[15] were replaced by the words ‘the pressing need to protect the environment.’ Similarly in paragraph 4.2 it might be better to talk about ‘more effective collaborative work on tackling the challenges to our shared environment.’

The Call on Discipleship is again fine as far as it goes, but it could helpfully be supplemented by the acknowledgements (a) that discipleship needs to be rooted in understanding of, and unequivocal submission to, the teaching of Scripture and (b) that the right understanding of Scripture can be helped by the study of great Christian writers from the past and the historic Anglican formularies and that such study should therefore be encouraged.

Finally, the Call on Science and Faith is fine except that is unclear why footnote 16 states ‘Science has not been innocent in colonial history and this is still felt in certain parts of the Communion.’[16] The point being made here needs to be clarified.

Overall, the proposed Lambeth Calls contain much good material, but, as indicated above, they are also in need of amendment. The bishops should claim the right to make amendments and then make good use of it.

M B Davie 22.7.2022

[1] Lambeth Calls Guidance and Study Document, p.3.

[2] Guidance and Study Document p.5.

[3] Guidance and Study Document p.10.

[4] Guidance and Study Document, p.18.

[5] Lambeth Conference 1920, Encyclical Letter, in The Six Lambeth Conferences 1867-1920 (London: SPCK 1920), pp.13-14.

[6] In his book The Power of Reconciliation (London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2022) the Archbishop of Canterbury writes:

 ‘There are some people who, in police terms, need to be removed from a conflict if there is to be hope of reconciliation. That removal is a demonstration of a love for the majority whom they may influence by fear or favour. To bring them into reconciliation the worst of the spoilers have to be faced and not included in the process.’ (p.111)

This is the situation facing the Communion and that is why the discipline I have outlined is necessary.   Obviously the bishops from the provinces concerned will vote against such discipline, but that should not stop the majority of bishops voting for it and the authorities in the Anglican Communion then acting on the basis of this majority vote.

[7] Guidance and Study Document, p.28.

[8] Professor Nigel Biggar argues, for instance, in his major forthcoming study Colonialism – A moral reckoning (London: William Collins 2023) that a balanced approach is needed that acknowledges the dark side of colonialism but also gives proper recognition to its achievements.

[9] Guidance and Study Document, p.28.

[10] Guidance and Study Document, p. 32

[11] Guidance and Study Document, p. 33.

[12] Guidance and Study Document, p.32.

[13] Guidance and Study Document, p.38

[14] Guidance and Study Document, p.39

[15] Guidance and Study Document, p.50

[16] Guidance and Study Document, p.58.

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