The Living Church

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The Living ChurchDecember 21, 1997Warning Against a Lambeth 'Showdown' 215(25) p. 6

Warning Against a Lambeth 'Showdown'
Archbishop Carey Responds to Letter From Bishop Spong Concerning Sexuality

The Archbishop of Canterbury has responded to a statement he termed "hectoring and intemperate" by inviting the author, the Bishop of Newark, "to re-read my Christmas Letter [p. 15] in which I express my hope that bishops coming to Lambeth will come to 'give' and 'receive'."

The Most Rev. George Carey was replying to a recent letter from the Rt. Rev. John Spong to the primates of the Anglican Communion concerning next summer's Lambeth Conference of bishops. In that letter, Bishop Spong expressed his "deep concern for a significant part of both our Communion and the human race ... the gay and lesbian population," saying he feared that at Lambeth, "we will act out of our long-standing ignorance and fear" to "deal one more violent blow to these victims of our traditional prejudice." He cited various recent comments including the Kuala Lumpur Statement as proof of the "distorted picture ... of this debate."

With his letter, Bishop Spong enclosed a "white paper" titled "A Message to the Anglican Communion on the Subject of Homosexuality," in which he detailed "new insights [into] human behavior and ...brain function and formation."

The paper calls for "authentic" discussion of homosexuality at Lambeth, and "the appointment of a special commission to work on this issue during the next 10 years." In each case, the paper recommends the inclusion of persons "recognized as leaders by the gay population itself."

In a section headed, "A church dedicated to institutional maintenance, rather than truth, will not survive," Bishop Spong states, "Those who share these commitments with me do not plan to come to Lambeth demanding that our agenda be affirmed," but warns, "If the Lambeth Conference is forced to vote negatively on this issue, we will take to the public media to assure ... especially those gay and lesbian Christians we are privileged to serve ... they have not been abandoned by the leadership of their church."

The archbishop acknowledged that the Newark bishop "feel[s] passionately about [the inclusion of homosexuals]" and has "the support of a significant number of bishops," but goes on to remind him that "a very large number of bishops from all over the world disagree with you with equal passion."

He warns in turn that "if bishops come to Lambeth wanting a showdown ... there will follow a very negative and destructive conflict which will put even further back the cause of the people you represent."

The archbishop continued by saying he "hopes the bishops will ask me to set up an international commission to consider these issues." He concludes his response by imploring Bishop Spong to "come in peace ... to learn ... to share - and leave behind any campaigning tactics which are so inappropriate and unproductive, whoever employs them."

Bishop Spong issued a response to the archbishop, which he concluded, "I will come to Lambeth guided by the motto of my theological seminary, 'to seek the truth of God come whence it may, cost what it will.' I hope you and all the other bishops of this church will do likewise."