Saturday August 6, 2022
“I would utterly have fainted had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. O wait for the Lord; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart. O put your trust in the Lord.” Psalm 27:16-17
This is the last full day of the Lambeth Conference of Bishops 2022. Tomorrow all that remains is the final keynote address of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the closing Eucharist. In casual conversations and interviews with bishops today from the Global South, I heard the echoes of Psalm 27:16-17 in their voices: a weariness of soul mixed with hope that comes from their trust in the Lord. They continue to speak publicly, and in their small groups, stating that they cannot walk together with bishops and dioceses that do not follow Lambeth Resolution 1.10. There is no acknowledgement of their voice from the official press briefings and conferences.
Earlier this afternoon, at one of these press conferences, five bishops from different continents extolled the unity and love they experienced for one other in all of their conversations. The bishop representing Africa, from South Sudan, also shared his affection for the bishops he came to know in his small group, none of whom shared his convictions about the Bible and human sexuality. He spoke about the skill with which the Archbishop of Canterbury navigated the conversation about Lambeth 1.10 (1998) in their one-hour session on Tuesday, explaining he was “surprised by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who stood in the middle and gave a little to one side and a little to the other.” But he confessed very honestly, “I’m confused whether to be happy or sad.”
Confused. This is the state of the Communion in which we now live regarding the authority and clarity of the Bible in Anglican belief and practice. Another bishop from South Sudan put it this way: “We are in the middle of spiritual warfare, and we are in need of putting on the full armor that Paul talks about in Ephesians 6.”
Later in the afternoon, we sat for the final Lambeth press conference, which you can watch online here: https://app.frame.io/reviews/06cc21f3-31c1-4299-9f95-33fc4fabd73b/d0a660dd-ffcf-4302-9295-02aed483166b. It was an opportunity for Archbishop Welby and other leaders to share the accomplishments and unfinished business of this conference, along with answering any unanswered questions and tying up loose ends. One of the topics that came up was the Communique of Orthodox Bishops of the Global South (5 August 2022), which states unequivocally that these bishops are not walking together with those who will not abide by Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998): “Our willingness as orthodox bishops to attend this conference does not mean that we have agreed to ‘walk together’ with the revisionist primates and bishops in the Anglican Communion.” (para. 5.5) And yet, the closing words of Archbishop Welby’s letter to the bishops on Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998) and the message from Lambeth that “the bishops are walking together despite deeply held differences” were repeated every day, at every opportunity, including this final press conference.
I took the opportunity to challenge that narrative by posing the following question to Archbishop Welby. Below is the transcript of the Q&A, which can be heard in the video at 22:25-23:35.
Phil Ashey: Phil Ashey – from the American Anglican Council – Your Grace – do you accept that the GSFA have said that they are not walking together with those who do not abide by Lambeth Resolution 1.10 1998
++Justin Welby: Is that for me? You are in charge
Gavin Drake: I think Archbishop that question it was directed to you
++Justin Welby: They have to go through the chair – Canon – not direct to me
Yes of course – if they said it, of course I accept they said it. I mean I can’t deny they have said what they have said.
But um, a number of Primates in the Global South have also said, actually that is not the case, we don’t agree with that.
So, yes, um, I don’t, I have to confess to not reading with remorseless interest every Press Release that is put out by every group connected to the Anglican Communion, because that would be quite a lengthy undertaking. I’d probably never get anything else done but I did look at that one and um, err, it’s what it says.
But I have also talked to a number of other Primates, who say, “Well yes, but we are really walking together”
But there it’s, Walking together is a phrase that has to be interpreted – “Walking together at a distance” is certainly the case for some, not walking together at all I don’t think that we quite mean that and that is certainly not what the leaders of the Global South, themselves, I am talking here about the Primates I met last Saturday – and that is not what they are saying. Personally, in my presence, in front of witnesses.
Questions abound. On the one hand he accepts that this was said, but then he states that not all of the GSFA bishops believe it. Who are those in the GSFA who say otherwise? He confesses to “not reading with remorseless interest every press release put out by every group connected to the Anglican Communion,” but the GSFA bishops are not just any group. They represent 75 percent of the Communion’s members and are challenging the accepted structures of the Church. Shouldn’t he be at least interested? Has he even read their August 5 Communique? It does not seem so.
Archbishop Welby then suggests “walking together” could actually mean a range of things, including “walking at a distance.” Is he hairsplitting here, trying to reinterpret what the GSFA bishops are trying to tell him and the Communion? Finally Welby suggests that witnesses will testify that the primates who signed this Communique certainly did not mean they were walking apart. Who are those witnesses? How could they know what the GSFA bishops meant, the very same bishops that already stated publicly the day before that they were “gathered together but not walking together.”?
The questions brought on more questions that could not be asked at this press conference, but in the middle of this continuing confusion, I found some clarity in an interview with Archbishop James Wong (Indian Ocean), who sits on the GSFA Steering Committee and signed the Communique. Susie Leafe, of Anglican Futures, and I spoke with him shortly after leaving the media room. You can hear the whole interview on our Anglican Perspective Podcast here. On behalf of the GSFA and the Communique of its orthodox bishops, Archbishop Wong brings clarity out of confusion with these three takeaways:
- We are NOT walking together! We may be gathered together at Lambeth 2022, but we are not walking together with the bishops, dioceses, and national churches that are not handling the Scriptures rightly. GSFA bishops came to reaffirm Lambeth Res 1.10, because it reaffirms Scripture as the ultimate authority for all Anglicans. It is the unilateral decision of the leadership of this Lambeth Conference to claim that we are walking together despite the evidence. Either they cannot see or will not see what is happening.
- The Holy Scriptures are the ultimate authority for all Anglicans, in all cultures and contexts, in all of life. With all due respect to the Archbishop of Canterbury, not all interpretations of the Bible and their application are equally valid. The Bible is the unchanging Word of God. It stands over all cultures and corrects the beliefs and practices of all cultures, not the reverse. Romans 1 reminds us that our own rebellion and sin can and will corrupt our minds and our hearts so that we cannot hear or follow God’s Word. Anglican Churches in the West must reflect seriously on the consequences of departing from the clarity and authority of the Bible, not only for themselves but for the rest of the churches in the Anglican Communion.
- Visible differentiation from false teaching and practice is the only way forward for biblically faithful Anglicans today. This is what the GSFA Primates and Bishops did at this Lambeth in refusing to share the sacrament of Holy Communion with bishops who will not repent and abide by the biblical teaching in Lambeth 1.10. It is the first public and visible sign of their differentiation from false teaching in the Anglican Communion. What this will look like moving forward must be decided in a conciliar way by the GSFA Steering Committee, including primates responsible for the “enhanced ecclesial responsibility” of the Church.
This will not be easy; it will be painful. Meanwhile, under the terms of The Cairo Covenant (2019), a committee pro-tem was already established to review applications for membership in the GSFA from biblically faithful Anglicans not geographically located in the Global South, but who share the same orthodoxy or doctrinal foundations outlined in Section 1 of the Cairo Covenant.
Since 1996, the mission of the American Anglican Council is to bring clarity out of confusion, not only in our culture but especially in the Church. We gladly share this mission with the primates and bishops of the GSFA, and we invite you to join us in praying for them, for such a time as this!