“It is about as clear as any historical chain can get that the continuing implosion of The Episcopal Church is a direct consequence of the famous Lambeth Conference in 1930” [First Things, August 2008, page 40].
So what happened in 1930 of such consequence? Whatever did the assembled Bishops (mostly from the West in those days) do or say to be so important and far-reaching?
Do not be surprised! They spoke about sex and family life in which they said many helpful and even wise things (see Resolutions 9-20 of the Conference). However, in one Resolution, in which they were also trying to be helpful (and relevant!), they gave advice that was wholly innovatory in 1930 for a traditional Christian Church, be it Catholic or Protestant. Here is Resolution 15:
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex
Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.
Voting: For 193; Against 67.
In the Early Church, in the Medieval Church, in the Churches of the Protestant Reformation and in the Christian tradition to the 1920s (e.g., see the Marriage Service in The BCP 1662), any form of artificial birth control in order to make the sexual act sterile was regarded as a serious sin against God’s holy law. In 1930 the Anglican Council of Bishops, for what seemed to be good pastoral reasons, suggested ways for Christian couples in certain circumstances to reject this law. By this Resolution, which went around the world like wild-fire, the Anglican Way was changed permanently. No attempt has been made in any Lambeth Conference since 1930 to reverse it, and no national or regional synod of the Anglican Communion has officially rejected it. Thus it stands as part of the modern, Anglican teaching on sexual relations within marriage.
To quote from First Things again: “By giving benediction in 1930 to married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican Church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell other members—married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual—not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals start claiming the right to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals start claiming the rights of heterosexuals” (page 40).
Much ground is covered and many assumptions taken for granted, of course, in the last sentence, for, while the seed was sown in 1930, the fruit did not really begin to be seen till the 1970s and on into the twenty-first century. (For more detail on this period see my booklets from www.anglicanmarketplace.com “Episcopal Innovations, 1970-2004;” and “Same-Sex Affection, Holiness and Ordination”.)
The key moments and moves in the historical chain, which goes from the adoption of artificial birth-control, through marriage without procreation, to the pursuit of sterile sex between homosexual partners, include the following:
(a) The arrival of the “Pill” in the early 1960s and its impact on the easy availability of sterile sex for all kinds of heterosexual couples from then till now;
(b) The major change in the Episcopal Canon of Marriage in 1973, allowing for Divorce and then Remarriage in Church; and making “traditional marriage” as one of various possibilities.
(c) The new marriage service in the Episcopal 1976/79 prayer book, where procreation seen as an option within, not a normal part of, the “one flesh” union in healthy married couples.
(d) The widespread presence and acceptance of expressive individualism so that a person seeks self-worth, self fulfillment, self-justification and self-orientation. In this context, marriage is seen as created by the two concerned as a personal covenant, according to their own lights and needs. They marry into a subjective rather than an objective reality and order.
(e) The powerful homosexual lobby in the General Conventions and some diocesan synods from 1970 onwards; and the support for this major push given by those whose see morality in terms of human rights and human happiness in terms of expressive individualism as the norm for human identity.
(f) A sense of major support from the culture, its media and progressive Roman Catholics—via the continued major ridiculing of the official Roman Catholic teaching on right Sexual Relations and against artificial birth control and sterile sex, as found in Humanae Vitae.
(g) The election and consecration of the openly-active homosexual Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2004.
Other facts and details, of course, could be added to this list.
What seems to be the case is that the progressive liberals of The Episcopal Church, who favor full and equal rights for homosexual persons and couples, accept the general truth of this historical chain. They have long made their petition, “Give us what the heterosexuals enjoy in the Episcopal Church.” Also those few Anglicans who hold to the doctrine of Marriage provided in the Service in The BCP 1662 (see especially the Preface) generally find the historical chain makes full sense, as do Roman Catholics (see e.g., the essay, “The Vindication of Humanae Vitae” cited above).
However, many of those evangelical Anglicans in The Network, Gafcon and Common Cause, who describe themselves as “orthodox” or “traditional,” or both, seem to reject the historical chain presented above. Apparently, they actually believe that the historical chain does not begin with the Resolution of Lambeth 1930, and not even with the new Canon on Marriage of 1973 and the new Marriage Service of 1976/79! In fact, many of them have no quarrel with what these three teach!
Rather, they believe that The Episcopal Church got its first homosexually-active Bishop in 2004, and provided before then for the blessing of same-sex couples in varied dioceses, because during the 1980s and on into the 1990, the General Convention of the Church, followed by diocesan conventions, knowingly rejected the teaching of the Scriptures on sexuality in its traditional and straightforward meaning. That is, the supporters of same-sex arrangements worked over-hard to seek justification for their position by new and involved interpretations of Scripture, thereby twisting the meaning of the Bible to make it say the very opposite of what it actually says and had been heard to say by millions over millennia. And all this, it was alleged, was to avoid the clear sense and meaning of the Bible, which is that God has willed marriage for a man and a woman. (For details of this “new” use of the Bible to commend homosexual acts see my booklet, Same-Sex Affection.)
For many conservative Anglicans the primary question and issue has been, and remains, primarily hetero- or homo- sexuality. And for them absolutely and clearly hetero- is seen as the only Scriptural way. On this basis and from this mindset, it seems that, usually, they are happy to fall in with the Episcopal Church’s Canon Law and its 1976/79 Marriage Service. Why? Because they accept the “pastoral” need for divorce and remarriage in modern society and also they do not see any problems with “sterile” sex, if engaged lovingly and tenderly within a marriage. In real terms, one may observe they have accepted some if not all of the expressive individualism of modern society and are “realists,” not denying the full biblical doctrine of the one-flesh union (of the BCP 1662 Marriage Service), but seeing as an “ideal” for which to strive, not a commandment to follow now.
Finally, let us recall that the famous Resolution on sexuality of the Lambeth Conference of 1998, cited universally as a modern statement of Anglican orthodoxy, is, of course, the “orthodoxy” of post-1930, and it is within what we may call the modern, partial Anglican Christian doctrine of marriage.
While it is clearly the case that Anglican married couples are not prevented from following the full Christian doctrine of sexual relations within marriage, they do not as Anglicans belong to a visible branch or part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which can claim to receive and proclaim the teaching of the Bible, the Early Church, and the Fathers on sexual relations in holy matrimony. And this situation will not change in the immediate future!
In fact, the Anglican Way may be said to have been permanently weakened and disturbed in its morality and teaching office. This means, in brief, that the Anglican Way has constantly to fight the harder to keep at bay innovations even in basic sexual morality. What it has endured in the last decade is merely a foretaste of that which is to come!
The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon July 18 2008 firstname.lastname@example.org www.pbsusa.org