Plural Truth: Playing The Cards Right
This is the first in a series of three blog posts, examining the concept of ‘Plural Truth,’ in the light of what has been observed at the Lambeth Conference. This one looks at how ‘Plural Truth’ has impacted the Communion this week, the second looks at how it has developed over the last decade and the third will think about some of the possible implications for ministers of the gospel, particularly in the Church of England.
At first glance, it might be thought that given the hand he was dealt for the Lambeth Conference, Archbishop Justin Welby has played it pretty well. After all, it has been a Lambeth of written statements, and of polite, generally not poisonous debate.
The orthodox – under the umbrella of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) – have issued their own Call, affirming, amongst other things, Lambeth 1.10. The Call has been signed anonymously by an as yet unknown, but substantial, number of bishops.
The liberals – led by the Episcopal Church of the USA affirmed, amongst other things, “…the holiness of [LGBT+ peoples’] love wherever it is found in committed relationships”. At the time of writing it had been signed publicly by three Primates and 143 bishops – from ten Provinces – but in fact only 33 are not from North America.
The GSFA bishops are typically thought to represent between 60 and 80 million Anglicans. The liberal bishops probably represent around 2 million Anglicans.
Nonetheless for the purposes of decisions at Lambeth, it is all about the counting of bishops.
Moreover, neither of these statements have been through any process that could give them the status of a Lambeth Resolution – they are just statements, signed, without any conference debate, or vote, by those who probably came to the conference holding the views expressed.
So, we’ve ended up with a split pot – or to mix the metaphor – a score draw.
This point is underlined by the fact that about half the bishops at the Conference have kept their cards close to their chest, by committing to neither statement. And an equal number stayed away.
Justin Welby has played his cards, some have shown their hands and some haven’t; the outcome is two pairs.
There is the “pair”, of these informal, essentially equal statements, and a second pair of those bishops who stayed away matched with those who have kept schtum. The four groups aren’t quite equal in number of bishops but they’re sufficiently close to think of four quarters in the Communion.
In some ways, nothing will please the archbishop more – four groups; two polarised, one absent and one present – representing every possible view, but all still giving the appearance of “walking together,” even if “at a distance” of many thousands of miles. In his mind, there is visible unity despite functional diversity.
This is the great achievement of Justin Welby’s arch-episcopacy: to formalise the acceptance of plural truth at the heart of the Communion. Of course, liberalism has been alive and well for years, but it has never been the official stance of the Communion on any matter that impacts the salvation of souls.
This is the prize he has been working towards for many years, and one which will have serious implications for everyone.
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