Ex post facto truth, Archbishop?

The Christian faith has many mysteries. Now, along with the mysteries of the Incarnation, the nature of Hell etc, there is a new mystery – where does Justin Welby get his legal advice?

The Anglican consultative council meeting #ACC17 is currently taking place in Hong Kong. On the opening day there was a press conference and ++Justin was asked whether the ACC would be debating the invitations to the 2020 Lambeth conference.

[Video of press conference can be viewed here.    Start viewing at 38.50]

The short answer was ‘no’, but the explanation was surprising, for several reasons. The reason ++Justin gave for this was that:
‘The ACC is the only one of the four instruments [of communion] that is under a legal jurisdiction. It is an English company with charitable aims. And as such is governed by its trustees under British law. The trustees clearly specify what it can and can’t do … and doctrine is not one of the things that it does. ‘

Not exactly right…

The Anglican Communion has four instruments of communion. There are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. Information about each of these can be found here.

The ACC is a Registered Charity, No. 1137273 and a Company, No. 7311767. So is the Lambeth Conference – Registered Charity No. 1121679, Company No. 05985741. Both of these are subject to UK law.

A charity has to have public benefit in order to gain charitable status. The statement of public benefit is on the website of the charity commission. According to the public benefit statement of the ACC:

The Trustees believe that the Christian faith is of benefit to individuals and to society since it works towards a holistic vision of a transformed and peace-filled community and the flourishing of humankind and all creation.
The stated objective of the ACC is ‘to advance the Christian religion and in particular to promote the unity and purposes of the Churches of the Anglican Communion in mission and evangelism, ecumenical relations, communication, administration and finance’.

I agree that doctrine is not explicitly mentioned in these objectives. However things like ‘promoting unity’ and ‘finance’ are explicitly stated so they can be discussed.

In 2017 the Lambeth Conference received £160,324 from the ACC. It is expected that there will be more money paid to the Lambeth Conference by the ACC before July 2020. Clearly the numbers of people attending has financial implications, so it is hard to see how any discussion of the invitations would not be relevant.

Unity is another of the ACC objectives. Archbishop Justin has been using this in his discussions with Bishop Robertson, one of the bishops whose spouse is excluded. Bishop Robinson told Episcopal News Service: “He [Archbishop Welby] said to me there are only two of you in the Communion in this situation, you and Mary, and he said if I invite your spouses to the Lambeth Conference, there won’t be a Lambeth Conference.”

The full text of this interview can be accessed here.

The invitations impact on the unity of the Anglican Communion, so they are relevant for discussion under that objective.   When the news was originally announced, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon wrote a blog and it was he who affirmed ++Justin’s decision and he linked it to the Lambeth Resolution I.10.  That blog can be accessed here.

Something else that came out of the press conference at the start of ACC17 was the statement that the invitations to the Lambeth Conference are issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury and fall within that Office. This puts the it into a different legal situation. I was previously of the opinion that the discrimination was legal under the Equality Act 2010, schedule 23 paragraph 2. However, that exemption only applies to organisations. The Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury is not an organisation, so these exemptions do not apply.

To suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury does not fall under UK law is a claim that I find hard to credit. Certainly there are many aspects to the role, but they include being the diocesan bishop of Canterbury diocese and being a member of the House of Lords. Both of those aspects are under UK law.   A fuller list of the roles of the Archbishop of Canterbury can be found here.

It is always dangerous when those in power believe that they are not subject to the law or believe they are above the law. That is when abuses of power can so easily happen. It is easy to tell yourself that what you are doing is for the greater good or to ignore the voices of those without power when you feel that there is nobody to hold you to account for your actions and decisions.

What this has shown is the need for ++Justin to get legal advice.  He needs advice about conflict of interest under UK law. As Archbishop of Canterbury he calls the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference, chairs the meeting of Primates, and is President of the Anglican Consultative Council. Huge conflict of interest. If the ACC want to discuss the Lambeth Conference invitations, it should not be for the person issuing the invitations to also decide that his decisions cannot be discussed.

Is anyone else at the ACC familiar enough with UK company and charity law to tell the Archbishop when it is appropriate to hand the meeting over to someone else and leave the room because he has a personal interest in the decision?