Approximately once each decade, the Archbishop of Canterbury invites hundreds of Anglican bishops from around the world to attend the Lambeth Conference to discuss church relationships and plan for the future. The next conference, Lambeth 2020, will take place July 24- August 3, 2020, held at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England.
Not all invited participants are likely to attend. On June 20, Church of Uganda Archbishop Stanley Ntagali relayed that his Anglican Communion province will only participate in the gathering if certain conditions are met. With more than eight million members, the Church of Uganda is the second largest province in the worldwide Anglican Communion, the global family of churches descended from the missionary activities of the Church of England. The Archbishop reasoned that “because things have not changed, we will not attend Lambeth 2020.” He went on to say, “unless godly order is restored within the Anglican Communion, we shall not attend other meetings invited by Canterbury.”
The change the Ugandan bishops seek refer, in part, to disagreement about the permissiveness of homosexual practices, part of a larger disagreement about the role of scripture and the uniqueness of Christ’s divinity. The U.S.-based Episcopal Church was censured in 2016 by Anglican Communion primates (senior bishops in each of the Anglican provinces) due to Episcopal Church enactment of same-sex trial rites. In the statement released by Ntagali, he writes that “churches from the more socially conservative Global South object to the stances of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Scottish Episcopal Church, which permit gay marriage.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was enthroned in 2013 and inherited this deep divide between liberals and conservatives from his predecessor, Rowan Williams. Since then, Welby has held several meetings with leaders from provinces around the world to heal the division. In 2016, he held one such gathering in order to “work out if and how [the Anglican Communion] can stick together after more than a decade of bitter disagreements.” Ntagali had the same reaction then as he is having now, saying “unless discipline is implemented and godly order restored, [he] would withdraw from the meeting.”
In recent years, Welby has been known to tout the phrase “good disagreement.” As talks across the religious aisle have become increasingly intense, the archbishop seems to want to settle for peaceful living in the midst of disputes. In a BBC radio interview in 2016, Welby said he “certainly wants reconciliation, but reconciliation does not always mean agreement. In fact, it very seldom does. It means finding ways to disagree well.”
This is not the first time the Anglican Church of Uganda has declared its intention not to participate. Ugandan bishops were among approximately 200 Anglican bishops who declined to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference, objecting to the invitation of Episcopal Church bishops who had participated in the consecration of an openly partnered homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Among those who refused to attend were Kenyan, Nigerian, Rwandan and South American bishops, among others, for similar reasons. It is yet to be seen how many may potentially decline to participate in the 2020 conference.
Traditionalist Anglican bishops have gravitated to another gathering, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) which meets every five years. A statement released Friday by the GAFCON leadership respectfully urges the Archbishop of Canterbury
- to invite as full members to Lambeth 2020 bishops of the Province of the Anglican Church in North America and the Province of the Anglican Church in Brazil and
- not to invite bishops of those Provinces which have endorsed by word or deed sexual practices which are in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture and Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, unless they have repented of their actions and reversed their decisions.
“In the event that this does not occur, we urge GAFCON members to decline the invitation to attend Lambeth 2020 and all other meetings of the Instruments of Communion,” the statement reads.