Editorial: Lambeth I:10 Rediscovered


Lambeth I.10 Rediscovered

One mantra from the Living in Love and Faith discussions was that texts should be understood in their cultural context. Simply quoting a Bible verse was not sufficient to settle debate; further reading, much study and endless discussion were prescribed to make sense of these ancient texts. Bits of the Bible condemning homosexuality were deemed to be unclear, belonging to another time, and therefore not passages to be readily applied to today’s culture, so the argument went.

This need for cultural context, so beloved by liberal commentators when awkward biblical verses lie before them, seems to abandon them when dealing with texts from other cultures today. One example is seen in their furious reaction to the Archbishop of Uganda’s recent support of his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023.

From the outrage in some quarters one would get the impression that Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba had rolled up his sleeves and offered to perform some Old Testament-style executions personally. It is worth looking at his actual words. For context’s sake, it is worth remembering also that this is the Church of the Ugandan Martyrs, commemorated annually on 3rd June. These Christian slaves bravely refused the homosexual advances of the King, and paid with their lives in 1885-86.

Archbishop Kaziimba did not give the legislation uncritical approval, and this publication does not give the Archbishop’s statement uncritical approval. But let us recognise what it represents in its own context. He sought to provide a Christian critique of the Act, and not only in terms of homosexuality, but within a wider sexual ethic. He sees the promotion of homosexual lifestyles as something imported, foreign to the Bible and to Ugandan society. Is it wrong for a government to pass laws in line with the type of society its people seek? Sixty years ago the United Kingdom had similar legislation on sexual behaviour, albeit with less severe penalties. Can we say that every development since has been good for sexual well-being, for family life and for the protection of children?

It must be recognised that the Archbishop did not agree with the death penalty being included in any of this legislation: “the Church of Uganda supports life and, in principle, does not support the death penalty.”

Dr Kaziimba’s stated preference is for imprisonment instead, and this obviously is at odds with the principles of a liberal society, where government ought not be policing the private lives of citizens. It is worth noting that where the Archbishop is calling for imprisonment rather than execution, it is for ‘aggravated offences’, including rape, sexual activity procured by intimidation or by someone in authority or sex with vulnerable persons.

To observers looking at the Archbishop’s statement with Western-liberal-tinted lenses, his words are wholly draconian. Within the Ugandan context, it forms a plea for clemency at least in how the law is applied, and might later be reformed.

Moreover, Archbishop Kaziimba has more to say on the whole area of sexual ethics; he is not Indulging in gay-bashing: “At the same time, we must recognize we also have major challenges in our families and communities with heterosexual immorality. Fornication, defilement, and adultery are also attacking our families, our souls, and our country. Many of the people loudly protesting against homosexuality are quietly fornicating or betraying their spouse through Gender-Based Violence, adultery, or defiling their own children… We must also examine our own hearts and repent of sexual greed.

“Many people feel like they can’t control their sexual urges. It’s as if they are a slave to it and they must obey it with whoever is in front of them. Sexual temptation is a very strong force, which is why we preach Christ crucified and risen because He sets us free from being slaves to such temptations.”

The Archbishop does not merely critique Ugandan society; this is surely a word to our culture also.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written to Archbishop Kaziimba, expressing his “grief and dismay at the Church of Uganda’s support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act.” 

Archbishop Justin Welby advised his fellow Primate, “this is not about imposing Western values on our Ugandan Anglican sisters and brothers. It is about reminding them of the commitments we have made as Anglicans to treat every person with the care and respect they deserve as children of God.”

He quoted the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution I.10, On Human Sexuality, citing its “commitment to minister pastorally and sensitively to all – regardless of sexual orientation – and to condemn homophobia.” He rightly reminded the Communion “that the criminalisation of LGBTQ people is something that no Anglican province can support: that must be stated unequivocally.”

It remains to be seen how the Ugandan Church will respond to Canterbury’s words. However the Archbishop’s appeal to Lambeth I.10 is somewhat weakened when he states its teaching is held by “many Anglican provinces” – he cannot say ‘all.’ He has allowed the Resolution’s importance to be eroded within the Anglican Communion by not censuring provinces that ignored other aspects of its teaching. Do the obligations of Lambeth I.10 apply to African churches only?  What authority can this Resolution have if some are free to treat it as optional advice? Welby is now perching on the very branch that he has been chopping down for over a decade.

Like a latter-day Josiah, the Archbishop of Canterbury has now rediscovered the 1998 Lambeth Resolution I.10. This is good news indeed. He has taken it out of a dark corner and blown off the dust in the sunlight of public discourse. We can once more recall how this Resolution “upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”, rejects “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” and “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”

Might we now expect a similar public letter from Justin Welby, as Head of the Anglican Communion, to the General Synod of the Church of England, reminding them of these clauses and commitments?