Thought of the week
What price Truth and Unity?
Every ten years the bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion come to England for a conference, called the Lambeth Conference, because that’s where the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace is. It’s just concluded. We ordinary members of the Church hope that their presence will be inspirational and encouraging, and that they will make helpful and challenging comments about current issues of concern. At the very least, we hope they won’t embarrass us and gain negative publicity.
But I expect that if you have any gay friends, you will have found yourself having to apologise to them for what came over as not really very helpful or encouraging. We might have hoped that the bishops would have had some insightful words to say about the climate emergency, or about the disastrous war between Russia and Ukraine, or about the crippling cost of living rises. They probably did; but once again the dominating message was a negative take on same-sex relationships. It has not been good publicity for the Church in the UK.
Now to be fair, Archbishop Justin has an impossible job, as primus inter pares, of holding the various provinces of the Church together. More than half of them are countries where homosexual relationships are illegal. A very similar challenge applies in the Commonwealth Games too, but there Tom Daley was prepared to stand up and be counted. The dilemma is that the bishops in those provinces where homosexuality is illegal are not going to challenge the status quo there; in many cases they support it. Whereas in other provinces where the state has legalised same-sex marriage, and the local Anglican Church has supported it, they likewise are not about to change their stance. Both sides hold their views with an equal and firm conviction. Both sides believe they are speaking with the authentic voice of Christianity.
Bishop Steven has summarised his take on the Conference in a recent Bishop’s letter. This also directs us to Archbishop Justin’s introduction to the debate at Conference, which attempts to appeal to both sides. He says; “Truth and Unity must be held together. But Church history says that this sometimes takes a very long time, to reach a point where different teaching is rejected or received. I neither have, nor do I seek, the authority to discipline or exclude a Church of the Anglican Communion. I will not do so. I may comment in public on occasions, but that is all. We are a Communion of Churches, not a single Church.”
But can we in conscience hold together two factions who each cleave strongly to a different conviction about the truth? Veteran peace campaigner, Canon Paul Oestreicher writes in the Church Times: “If Christian pacifists like me can live lovingly with members of the armed forces in our common struggle for a more peaceful world, why can’t Christians be seen to live lovingly across our deep divisions on the nature of human sexuality? To love each other conditionally is not love at all.”
Do we have the time that Archbishop Justin talks of for teaching to be received? Can unity and truth be reconciled? If not, which should be prioritised?