Lambeth 1.10 – line in the sand or milestone on the way?

I can’t say that I often find myself studying the Anglican Communion’s official statements and conference resolutions!

But in recent days, I have found myself reflecting afresh on ‘Lambeth 1.10’ – the resolution of Anglican Bishops from around the world in 1998 on sexuality.  This resolution will from a backdrop to the reviews announced recently by the Church of England, and has become something of a bedrock for Anglican thought on the subject.

As I went back to consider the resolution, I realised that back in 1998 I was on the other side of the argument.  I was still convinced that same-sex relationships were wrong – contrary to Scripture, and to the will of God.  I was simply content to hear the affirmation of conservative theology which it contained.  And indeed there its conclusions were predominantly conservative. 

They included clear statements such as

“rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture”

 and pronounced that the conference

“cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions”

 As a conservative evangelical at the time, that was all I needed to hear, and never went on to read the resolution as a whole.

So it has only been more recently that I have begun to realise that the resolution as a whole is much less dogmatic, and not set in stone.   I had not noticed the statements within it which were much less certain, and the variety of opinion which clearly existed among the bishops. 

The resolution is quite open in saying that:

“We must confess that we are not of one mind about homosexuality…

… we have prayed, studied and discussed these issues, and we are unable to reach a common mind on the scriptural, theological, historical, and scientific questions which are raised. There is much that we do not yet understand.”

In the light of the substantial level of disagreement which existed, the conference called for more work on the issue:

“We request the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council to establish a means of monitoring work done in the Communion on these issues and to share statements and resources among us…”

and crucially, recognised the need to listen to homosexual people in the process of continuing to seek the will of God.

“We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ..”

It also recognised that the process would not be an easy one,

“The challenge to our Church is to maintain its unity while we seek, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to discern the way of Christ for the world today with respect to human sexuality.”

So in spite of some who have portrayed Lambeth 1.10 as a line in the sand, a fuller reading reveals it to be more akin to a milestone along the way.  Rather than being a final statement, it was a statement of its time, offering the opportunity for further study, prayer, listening and reflection. 

Now the House of Bishops have given themselves the opportunity  to put into practise the continued study and deeper understanding that it calls for.

If you haven’t read Lambeth 1.10, I would encourage you to – not for the pronouncements which it makes, but for the potential which it contains – and do feel free to leave your comments below…

Benny Hazlehurst

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  1. An important post, Benny. Let’s hope they do listen.

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