Lambeth Conference Spouses

The Lambeth Conference is a global gathering of Anglican leaders that takes place every ten years. The bishops who are due to attend the forthcoming meeting in July next year have been told that same-sex spouses are not welcome at the event.

Some Anglican provinces, such as the United States and Scotland, perform same-sex weddings in church and allow gay clergy to marry. It has therefore become necessary for the General Secretary of the conference, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, to clarify that, “The invitation process has... needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman… Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference.”

This has prompted the Council of Kent University, where the meeting is due to take place, to demand a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury because they believe that exclusion of same-sex spouses on grounds of orientation would be contrary to the values of the University (although not illegal). To further signal their defiance, the University has stated its intention to make available on campus accommodation for those spouses affected by this decision, should any same-sex partners wish to be present.

In effect, the University is declaring that a religious group should not be permitted to decide, based on an understanding of their sacred texts, who may or may not participate in their meetings – at least if they wish to meet on their premises. In doing so the University is taking a stand against what it considers to be a backward view of marriage, sex and sexuality, contrary to what is most commonly accepted in the UK today.

It is of, course, their right to decide to whom they will let their premises, but it is hardly an inclusive policy when it discriminates against any group whose views they dislike. This is not an isolated incident; it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian organisations to hire buildings from public bodies due to their intolerance of our position on various issues.

However, there also seems to be a lack of consistency and fairness on the part of the Anglican Communion. They have a stated position on marriage, quoted above, but clearly it is not the view held by some of those invited to attend – and the General Synod of the Church of England has members who teach, campaign for and practise the acceptance of same-sex relationships as normal and good. So whereas the Church of England and the Lambeth Conference seem to have re-affirmed a biblical view of marriage in some of its statements, it lacks the conviction to act against those, even their own bishops, who openly flout this teaching by what they say and how they live. So I can sympathise with anyone who is slightly confused by the Church’s apparent tolerance in one area and not in another and is suspicious that the decision is being made for internal political reasons, not as a matter of principle.

All this raises really important questions about the basis upon which professed Christians can have fellowship with one another and work together. Do we accept a “lowest common denominator” approach in terms of Christian belief and thus say we are united on the grounds of some very minimal doctrinal standard? What is fundamental and what is secondary? Where do issues of gender and sexuality fit? It seems to me that they go to the heart of a biblical view of humanity: what it is to be human, and what it means to be sinners in the sight of a holy God. This is not some peripheral issue on which there can be acceptable disagreement and debate. If the “traditionalists” are right, those who promote an alternative view on these matters are seriously in error and have forfeited their privilege to function in leadership roles in the church. We can and must show love towards all people but can we have true Christian fellowship with those whom we believe are actively sinning and promoting sinful behaviour? I don’t believe that is possible or biblical.

While there are many thriving and influential bible-teaching Anglican churches, as a network in the UK and across many other parts of the world they seem to have no biblical grounds for their “communion” because it is no longer based on a shared understanding of the gospel and the Bible.

So maybe the University of Kent will be doing them a favour if they cancel their booking.

Graham Nicholls is Director of Affinity

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