Upcoming Lambeth Conference for Anglican Bishops

Upcoming Lambeth Conference for Anglican Bishops

God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

Dear Friends of the Diocese of Washington,

As I make my way to England to attend the two week Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, I have in mind the counsel a wise priest gave me when I was first elected bishop. He said, “When you’re clear about an issue, don’t pretend that you’re not.” I have since realized that his words are equally helpful in the reverse: When I’m not clear, there’s nothing to be gained by pretending that I am.

Since deciding to attend, my daily prayer has been to go to Lambeth with an open heart, so that I might pray alongside bishops from around the world, listen to and learn from colleagues whose life experiences are vastly different from mine. I expect to be humbled and challenged as we discuss pressing global issues and ask ourselves what it means “to be God’s church for God’s world,” which is the conference’s overall theme. There is so much about which I am not clear, and I am ready to enter into prayerful discernment with others.

On one matter, however, I am clear, as are most bishops coming from the Episcopal Church: the validity and sanctity of same gender marriage. I am more than happy to share with others how we came to our position of full acceptance and inclusion for LGBTQ+ persons, with rightful access to all the sacraments of the Church, including marriage. I intend to listen respectfully to those who feel otherwise. But I will not pretend that in the Diocese of Washington this is a topic for which further discernment is needed. Imagine how painful this conversation will be for the married gay and lesbian bishops invited to Lambeth, and all in our church whose marriages are a continual topic of debate.

I hadn’t thought it necessary to write to you on this matter, for the Archbishop of Canterbury had assured us that our primary focus would be on all that unites us as Anglican followers of Jesus and on global concerns we must address together. I believe that is still the case, and in that spirit I go. But last week we received the documents that will guide our conversations. We will be asked to discuss ten topics and then express our individual response to matters ranging from Mission and Evangelism to the Environment and Sustainable Development. In a section entitled “Human Dignity,” which begins with a declaration that all human beings are created in the image of God and includes the affirmation that “all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ” we will be asked “to uphold marriage as between a man and woman.” The only options we have been given as our response to this and all other statements are full endorsement or “needs further discernment.”

It’s a puzzling insertion within a topic that deals primarily with the enduring dehumanizing effects of colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and unjust economic systems. I’m not sure what to make of it, and I don’t know what will happen when the topic comes up. But on this matter I am clear and will not pretend otherwise. Based on the multitude of letters coming from other bishops across the Episcopal Church this week, I am not alone.

I commend to you one such letter written by Bishop Susan Snook of the Diocese of San Diego. Bishop Snook gives a helpful historical overview of the Lambeth Conferences and how we in the United States and elsewhere have come to our understanding of human sexuality and LGBTQ inclusion as, indeed, matters of human dignity.

Serendipitously, in the two weeks between our General Convention and Lambeth, several of us in EDOW and other dioceses have been crafting an alternative lectionary season for this October based on Micah 6:8, to help us all speak to one another clearly, yet with kindness and mutual respect when discussing divisive issues. More on that to come soon. In the meantime, I will have ample opportunity to practice being just, kind and humble at the Lambeth Conference.

I am honored to represent the Diocese of Washington at the Lambeth Conference. Thank you in advance for your prayers.

Bishop Mariann