You may have read recently that the Archbishop of Canterbury, in planning an upcoming meeting of bishops in the Anglican Communion called the Lambeth Conference, has invited bishops’ spouses, except for those in same-sex marriages.
Last week I attended the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops meeting at which we spent much time discussing our response to this situation. On the final day, we adopted a resolution expressing no small amount of dismay at the “use of exclusion as a means of building communion.”
Most bishops and spouses are planning to attend the Lambeth Conference, which is scheduled to take place in July and August 2020, just before my retirement as your bishop. Lisa and I will attend in the spirit of the House of Bishops resolution, which says:
Through our presence we will participate fully in the program of the conference, as well as seek to further the conversation around the various cultural expressions of marriage. We intend to build relationships and missional partnerships that will be inclusive vehicles for building communion across the Anglican world in all its beautiful diversity. We will seek to reflect our varied understandings of marriage, as well as our profound commitment to the dignity of all human beings, including the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons.
In the last decade, I have become ever more grateful for the life-giving, life-sustaining relationships that the Anglican Communion makes possible for Episcopalians. Along the way, I have learned twin truths that I plan to carry to the Lambeth Conference.
The first is that the Anglican Communion exists in its most real, most vital forms through relationships like the ones we have with the Dioceses of Renk and Southeast Mexico, through gatherings like those the Chicago Consultation has convened to support the full inclusion of LGBTQ people across the communion, and through the work of Episcopal Relief & Development. The hierarchical structures of the communion and periodic pronouncements on doctrine from various gatherings of bishops, archbishops, or other dignitaries are simply reflections of efforts, often deep and sincere, to span vast cultural divides. But they have no governance authority in the Episcopal Church or in any member church across the globe.
The second is that when we show up to global gatherings, our witness as Episcopalians offers hope and sustenance to LGBTQ people across the Anglican Communion. On a global stage, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that for us, full inclusion springs from a deep and faithful commitment to our baptismal promises and our longing, as I said at a Chicago Consultation gathering in 2011, to “find ourselves seated with every child of God at the table of God’s delight.” By being at the table, we deepen global relationships that can help us grieve and perhaps one day heal the deep wounds of colonialism, homophobia, and other sins that divide us from one another.
If you have wisdom you would like to share with me as Lisa and I prepare for the conference, I hope you will let me know. As always, we crave your prayers.
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee
Bishop of Chicago