Foreword By The Most Reverend Dr Robin Eames Archbishop of Armagh, Chairman of the Lambeth Commission
What do we believe is the will of God for the Anglican Communion?
That question has never been far from the minds of the members of the Lambeth Commission during the exacting work they have undertaken in the past year.
Since the 1970s controversies over issues of human sexuality have become increasingly divisive and destructive throughout Christendom. Within the Anglican Communion the intensity of debate on these issues at successive Lambeth Conferences has demonstrated the reality of these divisions.
The decision by the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) to give consent to the election of bishop Gene Robinson to the Diocese of New Hampshire, the authorising by a diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada of a public Rite of Blessing for same sex unions and the involvement in other provinces by bishops without the consent or approval of the incumbent bishop to perform episcopal functions have uncovered major divisions throughout the Anglican Communion. There has been talk of crisis, schism and realignment. Voices and declarations have portrayed a Communion in crisis.
Those divisions have been obvious at several levels of Anglican life: between provinces, between dioceses and between individual Anglican clergy and laity. The popular identification of 'conservatives' and 'liberals', and 'the west' as opposed to 'the global south', has become an over-simplification - divisions of opinion have also become clear within provinces, dioceses and parishes. Various statements and decisions at different levels of leadership and membership of the Church have illustrated the depth of reaction. Among other Christian traditions, reactions to the problems within Anglicanism have underlined the serious concerns on these issues worldwide. Comparison has been made with the controversies on women's ordination years ago. But the current strengths of expression of divergent positions are much greater. Questions have been raised about the nature of authority in the Anglican Communion, the inter-relationship of the traditional Instruments of Unity, the ways in which Holy Scripture is interpreted by Anglicans, the priorities of the historic autonomy enshrined in Anglican provinces, and there are also issues of justice. Yet the Lambeth Commission has been aware that consideration within its mandate of any specific aspect of inter-Anglican relationships overlaps and relates to others and has a clear bearing on the sort of Anglican Communion which should enhance the life and worship of our diverse worldwide church family.
What could be termed 'the human face' of these divisions has become clear to the Commission. Within provinces, dioceses and parishes, where individual Anglican Christians have experienced degrees of alienation and exclusion due to differences of opinion between leadership and members, there has been much pain and disillusionment. Further questions have surfaced about episcopal oversight within a diocese where significant groups of Anglicans have become alienated from their bishop. The Commission has seen and heard those emotions.
During its work the Lambeth Commission has recognised the existence within the Anglican Communion of a large constituency of faithful members who are bemused and bewildered by the intensity of the opposing views on issues of sexuality. This group embraces worshippers who yearn for expressions of communion which will provide stability and encouragement for their pilgrimage. At times they have felt their voices eclipsed by the intensity of sounds on opposing sides of the debate.
The Lambeth Commission was established in October 2003 by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the request of the Anglican Primates. The mandate spoke of the problems being experienced as a consequence of the above developments and the need to seek a way forward which would encourage communion within the Anglican Communion. It did not demand judgement by the Commission on sexuality issues. Rather, it requested consideration of ways in which communion and understanding could be enhanced where serious differences threatened the life of a diverse worldwide Church. In short, how does the Anglican Communion address relationships between its component parts in a true spirit of communion?
As the Commission has addressed its mandate the atmosphere in the Anglican Communion has continued to reflect the depth of feeling on these issues. Indeed during the past year events in the Communion have prompted observers to conclude that our work was so overtaken by decisions of some provinces and by words of individual Church leaders that any conclusion reached would be irrelevant. The Anglican Communion appears to such observers to be set on a voyage of self-destruction. I acknowledge the willingness of large sections of the Anglican Communion to permit this Commission space to complete its Report. However, in some instances the request by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates for an absence of developments or pronouncements which would make the work of the Lambeth Commission more difficult has been ignored.
The depth of conviction and feeling on all sides of the current issues has on occasions introduced a degree of harshness and a lack of charity which is new to Anglicanism. A process of dissent is not new to the Communion but it has never before been expressed with such force nor in ways which have been so accessible to international scrutiny. Not all the opinions voiced have been expressed in ways which are conducive to dialogue or the encouragement of communion. Modern methods of communication and in particular the internet have become powerful means of expressing and influencing opinion. This fact requires careful note by the Anglican Communion when consideration is given to its traditional decision-making processes.
The 'bonds of affection' so often quoted as a precious attribute of Anglican Communion life, as well as the instruments of communion and unity, have been threatened by the current divisions. While attention in this regard turns to the developments in the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada it is clear that this threat has been increased by reactions to them.
This Report is not a judgement. It is part of a process. It is part of a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation. The proposals which follow attempt to look forward rather than merely to recount how difficulties have arisen. A large majority of the submissions received by the Commission have supported the continuance of the Anglican Communion as an instrument of God's grace for the world.
Throughout the work of this Commission many different views have been expressed by its members. These opinions have been shared openly. We have come to a position which takes our differing views seriously and yet we are able to offer this Report together for the Communion's consideration.
A process for the study of this Report is being established and there will be opportunity for the Communion as a whole to consider its findings. However, if realistic and visionary ways cannot be agreed to meet the levels of disagreement at present or to reach consensus on structures for encouraging greater understanding and communion in future it is doubtful if the Anglican Communion can continue in its present form.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of our current difficulties is the negative consequence it could have on the mission of the Church to a suffering and bewildered world. Even as the Commission prepared for its final meeting the cries of children in a school in southern Russia reminded us of our real witness and ministry in a world already confronted by poverty, violence, HIV/AIDS, famine and injustice.
As Chairman of the Commission it has been my privilege to lead and co-ordinate the work in fulfilment of this mandate. I pay a warm tribute to the involvement of all members of the Commission who have worked with such commitment at their difficult task and enjoyed genuine Christian fellowship in their work. This task has involved three detailed plenary meetings, two at St George's, Windsor, England and one at the Kanuga Conference Centre, North Carolina, USA, in addition to months of intensive research, debate and prayer as the Commission has considered the problems and reviewed the many submissions from throughout the Anglican Communion and beyond. In addition to oral presentations the Commission is grateful for many written submissions which have been available to all of its members. There has been a genuine search for the will of Almighty God for the Communion. Each meeting has commenced with worship and Bible study. The Commission has been much encouraged by the expressions of prayerful support for its work.
I acknowledge the service and immensely detailed work of the Secretary of the Commission, Canon Gregory Cameron, Director of Ecumenical Affairs and Studies at the Anglican Communion Office in London; the assistance of our legal consultant, Canon John Rees; the secretarial staff at the Anglican Communion Office at St Andrew's House, London; and the Revd Brian Parker, who acted as Media Officer. Dr Albert Gooch, President of the Kanuga Conference Centre in North Carolina, facilitated a full meeting of the Commission and has given much practical assistance in the costs involved on that occasion. The Dean and Chapter of St George's College, Windsor, England, hosted two of our meetings: I express our sincere appreciation to them and the staff at Kanuga and Windsor.
The Lambeth Commission has been conscious of the trust placed in it by the Anglican Communion and, despite the difficulties it has faced, offers this Report in the prayerful hope that it will encourage the enhanced levels of understanding which are essential for the future of the Anglican Communion. Above all I pray it will be viewed as a genuine contribution to what communion really means for Anglicans.