On Wednesday, the archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote a letter in which they “recalled the common mind” of the Primates of the Anglican Communion to say that it wasn’t right to support anti-gay legislation in places like Nigeria and Uganda.
It’s hard to argue with the message, but it is interesting how they chose to phrase it—pointing back to a communique from a meeting of the leaders of the Anglican Communion in 2005. In the years immediately after the consecration of Gene Robinson, there were a fair number of these communiques. When I read the letter from the archbishops on Wednesday, I wondered on Twitter how long it would be before someone quoted from another one of those communiques or some other “common mind” Anglican document to make a different argument.
Not long, it turns out.
Yesterday, the archbishop of Uganda, Stanley Ntagali, responded to the Wednesday letter by reaching for the granddaddy of them all, Resolution 1.10 from Lambeth 1998:
We would further like to remind them, as they lead their own church through the “facilitated conversations” recommended by the Pilling Report, that the teaching of the Anglican Communion from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, from Resolution 1.10, still stands. It states that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture,” and the conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”
It was the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada’s violations of Lambeth 1.10 which caused the Church of Uganda to break communion with those Provinces more than ten years ago. We sincerely hope the Archbishops and governing bodies of the Church of England will step back from the path they have set themselves on so the Church of Uganda will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church.
Then today, the archbishop of Kenya responded by quoting Lambeth 1.10 and a different Primates’ communique, this one from 2007. You can read his whole text here.
It’s worthwhile looking back at the history here for just a minute. The 1998 Lambeth Conference was a fraught affair—one bishop publicly tried to exorcise a gay activist—and Resolution 1.10 was one result of that atmosphere. The resolution says a number of things, though the phrase that is most commonly quoted is “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.” (Then again, so is eating a cheeseburger.) Throughout its history, the Anglican Communion has had trouble figuring out what weight to accord to the voice of bishops assembled in Lambeth. So some Anglicans point to 1.10 as the final, definitive answer; others do not.
You might note that Archbishop Ntagali slightly misquotes the resolution. The actual text is “rejecting homosexual practice as” and not “is incompatible.” I point this out because it means that this most-commonly quoted phrase is actually a subordinate clause in a larger sentence. And that larger sentence? I’m so glad you asked:
[This Conference] while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
The “irrational fear of homosexuals”: does that sound familiar to anyone? Oddly, it is not mentioned in any letter I have yet seen.
We are quickly getting lost in the weeds here. Resolutions and communiques, rather than serving as unifying documents that express a common mind, quickly become cudgels which we start selectively (mis-)quoting to beat our opponents over the head with. Frankly, it’s not very fun.
A couple of conclusions, then:
First, responding by saying, “Yeah, but they did it first” is not very effective.
Second, perhaps it is actually time for Anglicans to think seriously about the weight we accord the voices of our bishops and how we integrate that voice into our life of faith. In this context, it is no surprise that the conversation is between (arch)bishops quoting documents written solely by (arch)bishops.
Third, rather than reaching for the nearest cudgel, maybe in the future we can reach for a slightly more constructive instrument and come back to the verb that is at the centre of Resolution 1.10: listen
We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.