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The 1998 Lambeth Conference

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Lambeth Conference, 1998-JUL & AUG:

Lambeth Conferences 1 are held every 10 years and are an opportunity for all the various national churches of the Anglican tradition to gather and resolve conflicts over faith and social policy. In 1988, the most divisive topic was women's ordination. Only a few national churches had ordained women to the priesthood by that time; none had taken the next logical step and consecrated female bishops. By 1998, most "provinces" of the Anglican Communion now ordain women and seven permit women to become bishops. Allowing women to be ordained was considered a very schismatic issue at the time. The Eames Commission was formed to make certain that conflict over the issue did not escalate to the point where one or more provinces broke away from the Anglican Communion. None ever did. The monitoring group which has succeeded that Commission has found that female ordination has largely become a non-issue. Some opposition remains among a minority of provinces. As of 1998-JUL, 11 female bishops in the Communion.

The most divisive and potentially schismatic issue for the 1998 Lambeth Conference was homosexuality. Several bishops referred to committed, long-lasting homosexual partnerships as bestiality. 2 A bishop attempted to drive the 'demon' of homosexuality from an ordained gay Anglican, but only succeeded in physically assaulted him. A reporter at the conference suggested that Bishop John S. Spong ought to be blown up by a landmine. (Bishop Spong is a well known American bishop and author who has challenged the church about many topics, ranging from the virgin birth to homosexuality.) 3

Activities related to homosexuality at this conference include:

bulletHatred and Hostility in the Sexuality Subgroup: Bishop Duncan Buchanan of Johannesburg, South Africa was chairman of the sexuality subgroup. He said that he was "shocked and traumatized" by the degree of anger over the topic of homosexuality which was exhibited by the bishops at their initial meeting. "I expected [anger]. What I didn't expect was the strength of it...People have come from all over the world with vastly different agendas...and while, for some, issues around homosexuality are crucial and urgent, for others it doesn't even exist...many people have come with some very heavy agendas from their own constituencies. Some have been mandated to react and say certain things in certain contexts." Some bishops argued that the topic should not even be on the agenda. Members of the subsection agreed to delay a presentation by an English group of lesbian and gay Anglicans called "Changing Attitudes". This group promotes non-confrontational dialog on matters involving gays and lesbians. The chairman later cancelled the presentation. A group which talked about being "delivered" from homosexuality was heard instead - even though many of the presenters were not Anglicans.  In a later press conference, a reporter from the conservative publication "Christian Challenge" asked whether groups of "pedophiles, adulterers and any other..." would be allowed to give presentations; his question was cut off by Bishop Buchanan.
bulletPaper by Bishops Lee and Spong: Bishop Peter John Lee of South Africa and Bishop John Spong of Newark, NJ co-authored a paper at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is called a "Catechesis on Homosexuality" It recommends that the Lambeth conference study three deeply divisive issues: church rituals to bless the unions of same sex couples, ordination of gays and lesbians, and the authority of the Bible. Bishop Spong stated: "I would be delighted if we could at least say that we think gay people ought to be treated with justice before the law; that we think marriage is an institution worthy of our full support; and that we think predatory and promiscuous sexuality dehumanizes the victim." By "marriage" he apparently meant matrimony available to all loving, committed couples, whether they be same-sex or opposite-sex. 4
bulletLetter by Nine Conservative Bishops: Nine senior bishops [Archbishop Joseph Adetiloye of Nigeria, Archbishop Harry Goodhew of Sydney (Australia), Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania, Archbishop Patrice Njojo of The Congo, Archbishop Livingstone Nkoyoyo of Uganda, Archbishop Moses Tay of South East Asia, Bishop Daniel Zindo of The Sudan, and Presiding Bishop Maurice Sinclair of the Southern Cone (South America)] issued a letter just before the main debate over human sexuality, which was scheduled for AUG-5. It views homosexuality as a form of sexual brokenness, and views ordination of gays and lesbians as a threat to traditional standards for the clergy. The letter states, in part, that the "Lambeth [Conference] must call for a suspension of both the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same sex relationships, linking this measure with maintenance of our biblical standards for all clergy...." A "crucial question is how we relate to the modern globalising culture...(and) whether we are in danger of allowing this culture with its philosophical assumptions, economic system, sexual alternatives, and hidden idols to determine what we become."  While "in no way neglecting other areas of concern, we must clearly reaffirm our historic teaching and discipline in relation to marriage and to celibacy in the single state...At the same time there must be renewed respect, pastoral care and healing for all affected by whatever kind of sexual brokenness." 5
bulletCommittee on Human Sexuality: The Lambeth Conference's Section Group One, was titled "Called to Full Humanity," It was attended by 200 bishops and dealt with human sexuality; human rights and human dignity; environment; modern technology; euthanasia; and international debt. Its 36 page draft report was issued on AUG-3. Only two pages deal with human sexuality. It:
bulletconfirms past Conference's statement on the sanctity of marriage
bulletstates that sexuality is "intended by God to find its rightful and full expression between one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage...[which is] a life-long, monogamous and unconditional commitment between a man and a woman."
bulletopposes homophobia in the sense of discrimination against and oppression of homosexuals.
bulletopposes "any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."
bulletstate that gays and lesbians are loved by God, and that all baptized members of the church are "full members of the Body of Christ"
bulletdeclares that some forms of sexual activity are "inherently contrary to the Christian way and are sinful." Their list included adultery, incest, pedophilia, promiscuity, prostitution, female circumcision and rape. It did not include homosexual activity. They stated that "We must confess that we are not of one mind about homosexuality."
bulleturges that churches encourage youth to remain celibate until they marry.
bulletreports that the bishops "generally subscribe to four main perspectives on homosexuality:
bulletthose who see homosexuality as a disorder, but subject to healing;
bulletthose who see genital sexual activity by homosexuals as going against scripture and the church's teaching and, if unrepented, serving as a barrier to salvation;
bulletthose who regard committed homosexual relationships as outside biblical norms but preferable to promiscuity;
bulletand those who advocate the ordination of homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions."
bulletused wording similar to the 1988 resolution that established the Eames Commission on female ordination to call on the Primates and Anglican Consultative Council to develop a way to monitor the provinces' work on these issues
bulletadmits that the bishops lack a consensus on scriptural, theological, historical and scientific questions surrounding homosexuality.
bulletstates that most bishops are not ready to permit same-sex unions or to ordain non-celibate gays or lesbians. Many bishops support a moratorium on these activities.
bulletThe Final Resolution: A number of resolutions were debated on AUG-5, including one by a group of West African bishops that "homosexuality is a sin which could only be adopted by the church if it wanted to commit evangelical suicide." The compromise resolution submitted by the Conference's Section Group One was considered by the full contingent of bishops. They debated for two hours, exposing a major divide between conservative African and Asian bishops in conflict with liberals from Europe and North America. The resolution was toughened by conservative African bishops who inserted text declaring that homosexuality is against Biblical law. It was accepted by a vote of 526 to 70 with 45 abstentions. Some excerpts from the resolution are:
bulletThe church rejects "homosexual practice as incompatible with the Scripture."
bulletHomophobia, defined as the "irrational fear of homosexuality," was condemned.
bullet"In view of the teaching of the Scripture...abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage."
bulletThe conference "cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions or ordaining of those involved in same-sex unions."
bullet"We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual people. We wish to assure them we are all loved by God."
bulletThe conference asks "primates and the Anglican consultative Council to establish a mean of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the [Anglican] communion and to share statements and resources among us."

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Reactions to the resolution of the 1998 Lambeth Conference:

Some responses to the resolution were:

bulletArchbishop of Canterbury, (UK) George Carey, said "I see no room in Holy Scripture for any sexual activity outside of matrimony...The dialogue continues among us...We need to respect one another and not impugn the motives of one another."
bulletBishop Catherine Roskham (NY) said "It will be a Phrrhic victory...you will have a divided church."
bulletBishop Emmanuel Chukwuma (Nigeria) commented "Spirituality should overrule carnality...That's what the Bible says...God has said that those who condone and who support and those who are involved in homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God." [Author's note: We are unaware of any Biblical passage which supports Bishop Chukwuma's assertion that supporters of equal rights for gays and lesbian will not have eternal life in heaven.]
bulletArchbishop Michael Peers, (Primate of Canada), disassociated himself from the resolution.
bulletArchbishop Robin Eames (Ireland), said that the resolution was "...not the end of the story by any means. Looking ahead, what the Lambeth Conference said today is to the Primates, 'Monitor this, watch this'."
bulletIntegrity, a support group for gay and lesbian Anglicans, has written a resolution "as one way local congregations can respond to the Lambeth Conference Resolution on Human Sexuality." 7
bulletOver 100 bishops issued a "Pastoral Statement to Lesbian and Gay Anglicans, " It said, in part:

"It is our deep concern that you do not feel abandoned by your church and that you know of our continued respect and support...You, our sisters and brothers in Christ, deserve a more thorough hearing than you received over the past three weeks. We will work to make that so." 8

bulletThe Los Angeles diocese rejected the resolution in 1998-DEC. LA Bishop Frederick H. Borsch said that his fellow bishops "need to gain considerably more pastoral experience and engage in more thoughtful study and Christian conversations before I could regard them as well-informed and wholly guided by the Holy Spirit on this issue."

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References used:

  1. The Lambeth Conference 1998 has a main home page at: http://www.lambethconference.org/
  2. Louie Crew's "Anglican Pages" are at: http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/rel.html
  3. J.S. Spong, "Living in sin: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality," HarperCollins (1993)
  4. David Skidmore, "Bishop Spong apologizes for perceived insult to Africans," Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), 1998-JUL-28 at: http://www.wfn.org/conferences/wfn.news/199807/
  5. Allan Reeder, "Nine senior bishops call for end to ordinations of practicing homosexuals," Anglican Communion News Service, 1998-AUG-3, at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/
  6. Integrity, "A Response to the Lambeth Conference Resolution on 'Human Sexuality'" at: http://members.aol.com/natlinteg/lambeth/response.htm
  7. Edmund Doogue, "More than 100 Bishops Apologise for 'Rejection' Felt by Homosexuals," Ecumenical News International, 1998-AUG-10.

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Copyright © 1997 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2004-OCT-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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