A debate in which opposing deeply held views on the issue of human sexuality were firmly but politely expressed threatened to sound a chord of disunity on the final full day of the seventeenth meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Hong Kong on Saturday (4 May). But a prayerful discussion during a break in proceedings, and a subsequent apology from the Archbishop of Canterbury over invitations to the Lambeth Conference, produced a compromise resolution and hugs from two bishops who had early spoken in opposition to each other.
The debate was sparked by a draft resolution proposed by the Bishop of Oklahoma, Ed Konieczny, a member of the US-based Episcopal Church. The resolution sought to re-commit the Anglican Communion to the listening process called for in resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, on human sexuality. But its wording proved to be controversial. Some members described it as “ambiguous” and one said it would provide “fodder to GAFCON” and cause a “red signal” in some provinces.
The Primate of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Ezekiel Kondo, spoke about the impact of the resolution in his home country. “What happens here has effect there”, he said. “If we pass this, and we are taking it to my country, tomorrow the Church would be closed.”
Bishop Ed gave an emotional response to attempts to alter the wording, saying that his heart was broken. He was concerned at the message that would be sent if the Council rejected his draft resolution. ”We respect you at a distance but you are not welcome”, he said was the message that people would receive.
The meeting paused for prayer before round-table discussions. The meeting broke for an early extended tea-break, during which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, together with Bishop Ed, the Bishop of Nairobi, Joel Waweru, and others, gathered to discuss the resolution.
Some 45 minutes after the proceedings were suspended, the ACC’s Vice-Chair, Maggie Swinson, announced that the meeting was going into an informal session. Archbishop Justin then took to the stage to deliver an emotional speech, which he translated into French and asked ACC members to translate into Spanish and Swahili.
In it, he apologised for the distress caused by his invitations to the Lambeth Conference – both to those opposed to his invitation to bishops in same-sex relationships; and to those opposed by his non-invitation to same-sex spouses.
He requested an indicative show of hands to test support for an amended motion which, in part, expressed “our concern around invitations to the Lambeth conference”, he explained. “That concern comes in two directions. The first is that certain people were invited and the second is that certain people were not invited. And different people are very deeply concerned by both. And that is my fault and my responsibility. . .
“Where I handled it badly, which I am sure I did, for one group or another, I want to apologise to you because I have not helped the Communion. . . I ask your forgiveness where I made mistakes.”
He said that the amended motion would call on him, as one of the Instruments of Communion in the Anglican Communion, with responsibility as a focus for unity, to initiate a “listening process . . . with supportive and independent facilitation in order to hear the concerns and voices of people especially those who have felt themselves marginalised with regard to sexuality.”
The amended motion also called on the Archbishop “to look at all issues of discrimination across the Anglican Communion and make recommendations to the Standing Committee and to report back to ACC18.”
He told the members of the ACC: “I give you my word, I promise you, I will make sure this happens neutrally and independently”.
The indicative show of hands showed universal support for the amended motion. Once the meeting resumed in formal session, it passed with 83 votes in favour and none against. There were three abstentions.
The amendment was formally moved by the Bishop of Nairobi, Joel Waweru, from the Anglican Church of Kenya. It was accepted by Bishop Ed, who told the meeting: “out of respect and love and affection for our archbishop and out of love and affection for our member churches, and especially for my brothers in the global south, and for the unity of the church,” he was “willing to accept this amendment from my brother, Joel.”
After the result was announced, Bishop Joel and the Bishop of Bujumbura, Eraste Bigirimana, from the Anglican Church of Burundi, approach Bishop Ed and the three embraced. As they did so, Council members began an impromptu rendition of the Taizé chant “Bless the Lord, my soul” after one member began singing it solo.
The amended resolution, as passed by the ACC reads:
The Anglican Consultative Council
- notes with concern the pattern of invitations to the Lambeth Conference 2020 and requests that the Archbishop of Canterbury as a focus of unity ensures that a listening process is put in place with supportive and independent facilitation in order to hear the concerns and voices of people especially those who have felt themselves marginalized with regard to sexuality. The Archbishop of Canterbury will also be responsible for compiling all the work done in this area across the Anglican Communion since Lambeth 1998 and reporting to the Standing Committee [of the ACC] and ACC18.
- requests the Archbishop of Canterbury to look at all issues of discrimination across the Anglican Communion and make recommendations to the Standing Committee and to report back to ACC18.”