From our special correspondent
Beyond words, does the Anglican Communion still exist? The question arises as the 15e Lambeth Conference, bringing together in Canterbury (United Kingdom) some 650 bishops – including around a hundred women – from all over the world and from around forty Churches “independent but interdependent”, since July 27. First negative signal: the refusal of the primates of the communities of Rwanda, Uganda and especially Nigeria (about 18 million faithful in the country) to participate in the meeting which is held approximately every ten years. Second signal, perhaps even stronger symbolically: the refusal of some bishops present at the opening ceremony in Canterbury Cathedral, Sunday July 31, to receive communion.
In question each time, the possibility allowed within some Churches (in the United States, in Wales, etc.) for same-sex couples to unite, and for people involved in such unions, to access consecrated ministries. “The Eucharist comes after the gesture of peace and communion alongside one’s brother means being reconciled with him, argues one of these bishops who remained seated when the bread was shared, the South Sudanese Zechariah Manyok Biar. It would have been hypocritical to commune side by side. »
The vast majority of the Churches of the Anglican Communion – around 85 million faithful worldwide – indeed claim to follow the so-called “Lambeth I.10” resolution, approved at the 1998 Lambeth conference. Passed by a large majority, it claims to base itself on the Scriptures to adopt positions on marriage and homosexuality very close to those of the Catholic Church. Namely: invite homosexual people to continence and recognize as legitimate union only that between a man and a woman.
For the “Southern” group of churches, where the majority of the faithful of Anglicanism are present, not following this resolution is a casus belli. “For some churches to not follow Lambeth I.10 is a questioning of Scripture and therefore of all Anglican doctrine,” explains a connoisseur of the matter. For their representatives, the Lambeth conference should therefore be an opportunity to reaffirm all the authority of this resolution and why not to adopt sanctions against the communities that do not follow it – or even to vote for their exclusion.
The subject was to be addressed on Tuesday, August 2, during the examination of an “appeal” – name given to the texts studied by the bishops during this conference and submitted to their opinion – on human dignity. In a first version of the document, published ahead of the meeting, the terms of Lambeth I.10 were recalled. Faced with the excitement aroused in certain countries, such as the United States, Canada or Scotland, the words had been changed, rather recalling the differences between Churches on the question of homosexual unions.
Prior to the examination of the text, everyone prepared minds. “If we want to stay united, let’s beware of the existing gaps (between Western communities and others) », launched Archbishop Maimbo Mndolwa, Primate of the Anglican Church of Tanzania, in front of all the bishops. You don’t have to “instrumentalising holiness” confusing it with “purity”urged Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and host of the Lambeth conference.
Recognized as one of the four “instruments of unity” of Anglicanism, the Archbishop of Canterbury thus put all his energy into preventing the meeting, which he himself had convened, from leading to a schism. . First of all by receiving from the first days the representatives of the Churches of the South, one-on-one. If the content of their exchange was not published, he obtained from them that they do not require that the text on human dignity consist of a reminder of Lambeth I.10.
Then, just before the Anglican bishops examine this text – again, behind closed doors – by sending them all a written message. The 1998 resolution, asserting the primacy of the Church of England in this missive, “continues to be a source of pain, anxiety and discord between us”. However, she is no less ” valid “ and ” still exists “. With these words, analyzes the Archbishop of Cape Town (South Africa) Thabo Makgoba, Justin Welby assures that Lambeth I.10 is not “not repealed”. Means therefore of recalling that it is still the official doctrine of the Anglican Communion without explicitly repeating its words, thus giving cause for satisfaction on both sides.
Above all, the finesse of Justin Welby was to propose to recognize that communion between Churches can exist even if divisions on subjects exist. “We are deeply divided, and this is not about to end”he acknowledged in front of all the bishops gathered at the time of the examination of the text on human dignity.
Again, he agreed with both sides. “For the vast majority of the Anglican Communion, the traditional understanding of marriage is understood, accepted and beyond doubt, he continued. For them, it is unthinkable to question this teaching. » But to continue immediately: “For a minority, you can say almost the same thing. (…) They are not indifferent to the scriptures, do not reject Christ, but have come to a different view of sexuality after long prayer. » According to participants’ accounts, Justin Welby’s speech received a standing ovation.
Acting on the division of views, it made it possible to avoid frontal opposition between the bishops and therefore to push back the specter of a rupture in the immediate future. But it will not be enough to restore the full unity of the Anglican Communion. For for now, in the words of James Wong, Archbishop of the Indian Ocean and important voice of the Churches of the South, this remains “fractured”. And if this fracture is left untreated, it could ultimately lead to a split.