LONDON (RNS) — Anglican bishops from all over the world began the Lambeth Conference this week amid a furious conflict over same-sex marriage and a scramble by the archbishop of Canterbury and other church leaders to defuse it.
The conference, meeting for the first time in 14 years, was supposed to be an attempt to bring the Anglican Communion together — to pray, listen and discuss issues that affect the church and the world, such as discipleship, climate change and poverty. More than 650 bishops registered to attend, including more than 100 from the Episcopal Church. They represent some 85 million Anglicans worldwide.
But the documents produced in advance of the conference, which runs through Aug. 8, provoked outrage among those belonging to the liberal wing of the church. Those documents included a reference to the entire Communion being wholly opposed to same-sex marriage.
The protests forced Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to revise the statement and to make an embarrassing, last-minute U-turn on how the talks will be conducted.
According to the original documents, called “Lambeth Calls,” marriage is defined as “between a man and a woman,” and the documents go on to say: “It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same-gender marriage is not permissible.” The documents also stated that “legitimizing or blessing same-sex unions” cannot be advised.
Bishops and laity in favor of same-sex unions were outraged, among them Bishop John Harvey Taylor of Los Angeles, who said the statement was “the opposite” of healing and reconciliation. “It divides, hurts, scapegoats and denies,” Taylor said. Bishops from the Church in Wales said the call “undermines and subverts the dignity of an integral part of our community, rather than affirming them.”
The conflict deepened when Bishop Kevin Robertson of Toronto, who was part of the team that wrote the “Lambeth Call on Human Dignity,” said on Facebook that the wording did not represent anything that the group had produced.
On Tuesday (July 26), the Lambeth Conference revised “Lambeth Calls” after Welby met with the group. The revision now says, “Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible.”
It also says: “Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.”
The document kept a reference to a 24-year-old previous Lambeth Conference resolution that states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised.
Another revision allows bishops to vote against proposals put forward in the documents. Yet another one allows them to state: “This Call does not speak for me. I do not add my voice to this Call.”
Mary Glasspool, an assistant bishop in New York and the first married lesbian bishop in the Anglican Communion, said: “If the Anglican Communion is to survive it needs to recognize that there are provinces that affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman and others who accept LGBTQ.”