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LAMBETH HYPOCRISY: Disinviting the Spouses

LAMBETH HYPOCRISY: Disinviting the Spouses

By The Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll
July 2, 2022

UPDATE from Lambeth 2022: I wrote two posts (now Parts One and Two below) three years ago when Archbishop Justin Welby was preparing his invite list to the Lambeth Conference and was including same-sex married bishops but excluding their spouses (by my count there are currently three such couples in TEC and one in ACoC). According to a recent news reports, it appears that Canterbury is doubling down on this hypocrisy for Lambeth 2022.

Part One: Lambeth Hypocrisy (2019)

"Now then make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives." (Ezra 10:11)

So the same-sex spouses of Anglican bishops are not welcome to Lambeth 2020, according to an announcement by ACC General Secretary Josiah Idowu-Fearon on 15 February.

"I need to clarify a misunderstanding that has arisen. Invitations have been sent to every active bishop. That is how it should be -- we are recognizing that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend. But the invitation process has also 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. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a series of private conversations by phone or by exchanges of letter with the few individuals to whom this applies."

This is shameful even as it is shameless.

It's shameful that the Archbishop of Canterbury was content to send Bishop Fearon as his surrogate to announce the bad news. Fearon himself never reveals who decided that it would be "inappropriate" to invite the spouses, but ultimately it is his boss who is responsible. The "misunderstanding that has arisen" derives not from Fearon but from Justin Welby himself, who extended the invitation to all active bishops and spouses (see the video that follows the announcement at 3:51).

What caused the hiccup between the making of the video and the issue of the press release? I think it had something to do with another news release and photo from Toronto about a wedding there. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photo of the Toronto "marriage" says it all. Anyone who is not appalled at the idea of a bishop of the church of God being married to a same-sex partner, officiated by another bishop and with the Primate present in the congregation to congratulate him, is not walking in the light.

I am not the only person to notice this announcement. Archbishop Nicholas Okoh saw it and circulated it to the Gafcon bishops who are being wooed to come to Lambeth. I suppose the people at Lambeth Palace must have seen it too and decided that disinviting a few spouses was a lesser price to pay than alienating the bishops of the Global South.

A reasonable calculation, I suppose, but here is the problem: the Lambeth Establishment is all calculation and no spine. If, as some say, the Archbishop of Canterbury has the unique authority to invite or not invite to the Lambeth Conference, then he is the one who should announce his decision to the world. That's the shameful part of this matter.

The shameless part is invoking Lambeth Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality to justify the decision. To begin with, Communion officials almost never utter the words "Lambeth I.10"; and when they do, it is always a belittled and adulterated version of the Resolution. In truth, it is a problem for them.

I was present at Lambeth 1998 and have explained it on more than one occasion. The Resolution is a clear statement of Christian moral doctrine. In brief it states:

1. that God has ordained and blesses sexual relations in two and only two forms: heterosexual, monogamous, and lifelong marriage and abstinent singleness;
2. that many people experience same-sex attraction and the church is called to listen to them, counsel them, and welcome them into its fellowship so that they may by God's grace live transformed lives, either by remaining abstinent or finding fulfillment in traditional marriage;
3. that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture, and therefore the church cannot legitimize the ordination of practicing homosexuals or the blessing of same-sex unions.

What is fatally absent in Bishop Fearon's recital of the Lambeth Resolution is #3. God not only ordains and blesses what is good, He declares what is sinful, which He calls immorality (porneia). Homosexual practice is by its very character sinful, as is heterosexual promiscuity and cohabitation.

So, the problem is not just the scandal of the non-episcopal spouses but of the episcopal spouses themselves. Indeed, as bishops their sin is the greater (1 Timothy 3:1-2). The accountability goes even deeper. These bishops were nominated by canon, elected by their synods, and consecrated by their fellow bishops. Since judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17), it is those churches and bishops who should be disinvited.

The shamelessness of invoking Lambeth I.10 is that they do not really believe it. They have already abandoned the prohibition on ordaining openly homosexual priests and bishops. They claim they are upholding the prohibition on same-sex marriage but only half-heartedly and until Lambeth 2020 is past. How likely is it that Justin Welby phoned the couples involved and explained: "I'm sorry, but you are in violation of Scripture and Resolution I.10, which as you know speaks of marriage as only between a man and a woman, and it will cause a scandal if you appear in Canterbury together"? And if he did say that privately, why will he not say it publicly?

It's the same shameless pose which the Communion Establishment took toward the Episcopal Church in 2017: "Because of your violation of Communion norms, you may not attend Communion meetings for three years -- until (surprise, surprise) 2020." But what will have changed in 2020? Well, after 2020, it's the norms.

Our Lord's harshest condemnations were of hypocrisy: "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'" (Mark 7:6-7). As I see it, this latest move is hypocrisy squared: shameful and shameless.

Part Two: Pay Attention to Power (2019)

Seeking to learn more about the Lambeth talking point about "good disagreement," I dutifully downloaded the "Pastoral Principles for Living Well Together," a little slide show from the bishops of the Church of England aimed at local parishes. Most of the principles are quite squishy: "acknowledge prejudice," "speak to silence," "address ignorance," "cast out fear," "admit hypocrisy" [= avoid "intrusive questioning"], "pay attention to power."

"Pay attention to power." That's not squishy! It goes on to say: "Inequalities of power have led to abuses in the past and will continue to do so... Power must always be acknowledged." I think they let the veil slip here. Because everything that Lambeth Palace and its collaborators are doing right now boils down to the inequities of power in the Communion.

Some of these inequities involve fairly obvious things like money and status. Canterbury is spending large amounts of money to jet around the world and meet with bishops, to bring them to pre-Lambeth gatherings including a Primates' Meeting in January 2020, and to finance the Conference itself. I am not going to play Judas' role of saying "Why wasn't this money given to the poor?" (John 12:5), because they are also offering various bishops "development projects" in return for their attendance. And of course, when you are the Mother Church, you have no lack of status to dole out, as witnessed last year when Michael Curry preached to the world about love.

But the game of power is more complex than such things, and the power players know how to play the game.

I remember when I was in middle school, my basketball coach taught us how to defense the ball-carrier. "Follow their belly button," he said. "Don't pay attention to their head or their arms: follow their belly button. Because they can't go anywhere without that!"

So last week the news came out that the Archbishop of Canterbury will not be inviting the same-sex "spouses" of three bishops in North America to the Lambeth Conference. (This decision was not really unprecedented: in 2008, Rowan Williams had invited all the bishops except Gene Robinson, who had become something of a public-relations problem. Robinson came to Canterbury nevertheless and was the talk of the town.)

Not long after this news about the same-sex spouses broke, the reactions came in from North America. The affected bishops gave the news a head feint: they were not happy about the decision, they said, but were not planning to boycott the Conference. Then when the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church met, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, moderator of the House of Deputies, waved the ball around in an extended diatribe.

First, she noted that the Lambeth Conferences and their occasional Resolutions have no authority, which is in fact vested in the Anglican Consultative Council -- actually, the Communion Office is the real power center -- which is the legal entity that sets the agenda and holds the money bag for the Communion. For all its pomp and circumstance, she said, the Lambeth Conference is for show, not about real power.

Second, she accused the Communion Office -- Archbishop Welby, it seems, is not responsible for the decision to disinvite -- of child abuse because Bishop Robertson and spouse have two small children, "collateral damage," she said. When power players justify shady moves, it's always "for the sake of the children."

Finally, she warned ominously that "the day is coming when we will need to take a hard look at where and how we invest the resources of The Episcopal Church across the Anglican Communion." That's a lot of money, the news outlet helpfully informs us, somewhere between $2 million and $5 million. By the end of her rant, we learn something more about power: it's the paymasters in New York, not in London, who are entitled to call the shots.

Does this verbal feinting threaten the future of Lambeth 2020? Of course not. The Episcopal Church does not mean to boycott the Lambeth Conference any more than Justin Welby means to enforce Lambeth Resolution I.10. The belly button doesn't move.

Here is my prediction. Canterbury will not revoke the ban on the same-sex spouses, even while expressing deep sympathy for their plight. The bishops of the Episcopal Church and their celebrity Presiding Bishop will all show up in force. The disaffected spouses will come to Canterbury and will become the focus of much media buzz. And here I'm not sure -- but I do not see how anyone can prevent the spouses from occupying the dormitories at the University of Kent, which is a weird labyrinth of rooms to begin with, like something out of The Name of the Rose.

"Pay attention to power," they say. "Follow the belly button," my coach said. What this has to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I don't know. Well actually, I do. Jesus said:

"You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45)


On March 1 [2019], the three Episcopal bishops of New York issued a statement about the disinvitation of Becki Sander, the spouse of Bishop Mary Glasspool and the other same-sex spouses:

"We have considered not attending, in protest over this extraordinary action. But in the end, we have concluded that we cannot in conscience remove the voice of the Diocese of New York from the larger conversations at Lambeth regarding sexuality and the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the full sacramental life of the church. We certainly do not want to exclude the unique witness of Bishop Mary and her ministry from those debates and deliberations. So, not without mixed feelings, we the bishops of New York will be attending the Lambeth Conference."

"From the start, it has been the conviction of the spouses of Bishops Andy and Allen that they would fully and unambiguously support Becki, their sister and friend. They too look forward to being in conversation with the fuller community of bishops' spouses, but at this time it is the intention of Becki Sander to accompany Bishop Mary to England, though she will not be permitted to participate in the Lambeth conversations and activities. Margaret Dietsche and Clara Mun are also planning to go to England, to stand with Becki [wives of Bishops Andrew Dietsche and Allen Shin]."

Cover Art: "The Hypocrites" by Quinten Metsys 16th Century Dutch (Flickr)

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