There has been a lot of recent media coverage of the treatment of bishops who are in same sex marriages and the way that their spouses have not been invited to the 2020 Lambeth Conference.
Rt Revd. Mary Glasspool, an assistant Bishop in the Episcopal diocese of New York, had this to say about the letter Archbishop Justin Welby sent to her to ‘outvite’ her spouse of 31 years, Becki Sander.
The Canadian suffragan bishop, Rt Revd Kevin Robertson who is the Area Bishop for York-Scarborough in the Diocese of Toronto is married to Mohan Sharma.
Bishop Kevin was interviewed by the Church Times. The interview is accessible here.
So far, two married bishops and two outvitations.
However the Episcopal Church in the United States has very recently elected Revd Thomas Brown to be the next bishop of Maine. He is in a same sex marriage as well, being married to Revd Thomas Mousin. Assuming that his election is confirmed by the other Episcopal dioceses, he is due to be consecrated as a bishop in June this year. This will give the Anglican communion a third bishop in a same sex marriage. Should we assume that he will also be told that his husband will not be invited to the Lambeth Conference? A report on the election can be read here.
Between now and the start of the Lambeth conference on July 22nd 2020, how many other bishops will be elected who have same-sex partners? What will the status of their partners be?
The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon tried to explain in his blog that ‘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 recognising 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.’ The full text of his blog can be accessed here. The text of Resolution I.10 can be found here.
Dr Idowu-Fearon has made it clear that ‘the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.’ There are two elements to this and somehow it is only the second part that seems to provoke outvitations to legal spouses. No bishop who has been divorced and remarried has had their invitation rescinded, nor have previously married spouses been left out. Only those in same sex marriages have been treated in this way. Treating those in a same sex marriage differently from those in an opposite sex marriage is discrimination.
In previous Lambeth Conferences there has been a programme for the bishops and a separate programme for their spouses. This year, for the first time, there is a joint programme for the bishops together with their spouses. The Lambeth Conference website has a FAQ section and one of the questions is ‘Why is it a joint conference?’ Their answer is:
‘The joint conference is in recognition of the vital role spouses play across the Anglican Communion and a desire to support them in their ministry. The intention is for every spouse to develop their ministry through their participation in the conference. There is recognition that fellowship will be a key aspect for spouses.’
Full list of questions available here.
Is there a touch of irony in the phrase ‘every spouse’? Surely, if the role of the episcopal spouse is so vital, then it is defeating the purpose of the conference to exclude some of the spouses. Unless there is a subtext that the conference only sees those in opposite sex marriages as spouses and wants to make a point that marriage is only affirmed between a man and a woman.
It has been questioned whether this discriminatory treatment is legal in this country. The Lambeth Conference is a charity that is registered in the UK, charity number 1121679. This means that the Lambeth Conference is subject to UK law, specifically the 2010 Equality Act. The Equality Act allows some exemptions (Schedule 23 paragraph 2) and it looks like the Lambeth Conference comes under this, so it would be legal to discriminate. However, if this were challenged, they would have to show that excluding same sex spouses is necessary to comply with ‘the doctrine of the Organisation’ or ‘the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers’. While the religious conviction part might be true worldwide, I doubt it is the case in the UK. I think that, unfortunately, only the two bishops or their same sex spouses would have the legal standing to bring a case to test this legally.
The question of same sex marriage is not contained in any of the creeds nor is it in any of the authorised liturgies of the Church of England which means that Lambeth resolution I.10 does not have the status of doctrine. Lambeth resolutions are not mandatory and have to be adopted by each province individually. By specifically relying on Lambeth I.10, Dr Idowu-Fearon may be ruling out an exemption based on doctrine, because he is showing that the basis of the exclusion is something other than doctrine.
Lambeth I.10 is very much at the forefront of GAFCON literature. In 2008, at the first GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, they issued the Jerusalem Statement. Anyone wishing to attend subsequent GAFCON conferences has had to agree to this Statement. Section 8 of the Jerusalem Statement declares that:
8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.
Full text of the Jerusalem statement can be accessed here.
What we appear to be seeing in the preparations for Lambeth 2020 is GAFCON inspired ideology, in line with their priorities and structured to idealise opposite sex marriage. This is not in accordance with the equality values of the English people that the Church of England is established to serve.
In order to be able to be registered as a charity, it is necessary to show that the organisation has ‘public benefit’. I checked out the Lambeth Conference’s statement of public benefit with the charity commission website. The third and final paragraph of the public benefit statement says:
‘Most people are likely to become disciples of Jesus if Christians live a Christ like life amongst them, share the good news of Jesus, demonstrate God’s love and prayerfully expect the Spirit’s power to transform individuals, communities and whole nations.’
I fail to see how the exclusion of same sex spouses is living a Christ like life and I seriously doubt this will encourage anyone in this country to become a disciple of Jesus.
I would like to know how those organising the 2020 Lambeth Conference will live up to their own public benefit statement.