General Synod Day 2 – Archbishop of Canterbury Presidential Address

At the beginning of this afternoon’s session in Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered his Presidential Address, beginning by reflecting on the Lambeth Conference and last week’s Primates meeting in Alexandria.

The Archbishop spoke of two things which were established at the Lambeth Conference last year. Firstly: “the significance of a climate in which every participant is guaranteed a hearing.” The hearings that were part of Lambeth didn’t work well and underlined the likelihood and reality of polarisation. The indaba process, on the other hand:

“acted as a reminder that not every discussion in the Church should reduce to a zero-sum game, and that what looks utterly urgent here may elsewhere be either deeply problematic or simply not on the radar.”

The two big issues we face in the Communion are the place of women and the place of LGBT people in the church. Changing Attitude has never believed we are involved in a zero-sum game. The place of LGBT people in the church is clearly on the radar of those driving the conflict – conservatives in North America and the Global South. Homosexuality is deeply problematic in some Provinces, not only in itself, but because sexuality is not something about which particular cultures allow public of private discourse. This was made clear to me by several African Primates last week in Egypt, who are not afraid to talk about homosexuality themselves but explain that sexual matters are just not talked about openly in families.

The second thing to emerge, he said, was: “a strong sense of what might be lost if the Communion fragmented further or found itself gathering around more than one centre.” Throughout the Lambeth Conference, said +Rowan, bishops developed new relationships and commitments of mutual support, formal and informal.

Turning to what people do not want to lose in the life of the Communion, +Rowan addressed:

“the difficult but unavoidable search for the forms of agreed self-restraint that will allow us to keep conversation alive – the moratoria advised by Lambeth, very imperfectly observed yet still urged by the Primates as a token of our willingness not to behave as if debates had been settled that are still in their early stages at best.”

Changing Attitude, of course, does not agree that we should abide by the moratoria. We can understand why they were proposed, and we do not wish to close debate – listening needs to continue on all sides, and in many places listening needs to start. But in North America and the UK, LGBT have waited long enough for the church to bless our relationships and grant equality to clergy.

The Archbishop repeated at Synod what he has said at the Press Conference in Alexandria last Thursday, that “when talk of replacing Communion with federation of some kind was heard, nearly everyone reacted by saying that this was not something they could think about choosing.”

Note the nearly – I don’t know whether +Rowan means that not everyone reacted, or they did react, but there are some Primates who do think about choosing federation rather than Communion. Communion, relationship, koinonia, were repeatedly the words used last week in Alexandria to describe the vision Archbishop Rowan has for our Communion, and the majority of Primates are with him.

“Somehow, the biblical call to be involved with one another at a deeper level than mere affinity and good will is still heard loud and clear. No-one wants to rest content with the breach in sacramental fellowship, and everyone acknowledges that this breach means we are less than we are called to be.”

“Underlying this is something that dawned on me last week with renewed force. We
have not yet got to the point where we can no longer recognise one another as seeking to obey the same Lord.”

“…common Bible study would not be possible if we did not see in one another at least some of the same habits of attention to and devotion to Scripture, whatever the diversity of interpretation. We can see that the other person is trying to listen to God’s self-communication in scripture, not just imposing an agenda. But this entails a more complex and challenging point. If we recognise this much, we have to recognised that the other person or community or tradition is not simply going to go away. They are near enough to be capable of conversation, shared prayer and shared discernment with us. They are not just going to be defeated and silenced. For the foreseeable future they are going to be there, recognisably doing something like what we’re doing. We can’t pretend.”

In this paragraph, +Rowan presents conservatives with a truth which has always been obvious to me. My integrity as a gay Christian is as authentic as any conservative’s. In Changing Attitude we have always affirmed our commitment to the Communion. We are not going away. LGBT people have always been integral to the church and always will be. We are simply becoming more visible. No-one is going to be defeated or silenced, that is not the Christian way. We will continue to rise to the challenge presented by the conflict, seek friendship with all who are prepared to acknowledge us, and firmly advance our goals.

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