‘It may be time to pull the plug’ on the Lambeth Conference

Image credit: RMC

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the church at the University of Oxford, says it may be time to pull the plug on the Lambeth Conference.

He says it gives the illusion that there is an Anglican church worldwide with a leader in the Archbishop of Canterbury, but “that’s an entirely wrong way of looking at Anglicanism and that’s why it may be time to pull the plug on Lambeth Conferences, because they’re inclined to give that illusion.”

In an interview with Roger Bolton for the Religion Media Centre, he says there is enormous value in the Communion, but it is a valuable, fragile structure. “You don’t mess with it. You don’t use it as a football.

“It has this rueful quality of being able to hold people, be hospitable to people, with entirely different opinions. This has actually been the case since its very early days in the 16th and 17th century”.

He said the issues were different now, but basic questions, such as the nature of Eucharist, had engendered violently opposed views in the history of the Communion.

“My experience of bishops is that they are basically good things. But get them together and the timidity, the stupidity and the blockishness of the collective is a very bad thing. And you must multiply that by a factor of ten when you put them in Lambeth or Canterbury”

– Rev Professor MacCulloch

He said the questions that really matter are issues such as world inequalities, poverty and climate change. Sexuality will go its own sweet way. But the way this dominates discussions implies the church has nothing to say about big issues and therefore appears irrelevant to people. “That’s one of the reasons why churchgoing has become a minority pursuit”.

The Rev Professor MacCulloch has been an Anglican all his life. He was ordained a deacon but not allowed to go forward to the priesthood because of his sexuality, once describing his relationship with the church as “a candid friend”. But now he says he is rather more “inside the edge of things”, taking morning prayer and being involved in his local parish church.

He views the recent debacle where the Lambeth Conference had to rewrite documents for discussion on same sex relationships, as a huge act of incompetence, confusion and dishonesty.

The original wording included a clause saying bishops should re-affirm a ban on same sex marriage.  It caused such an outcry that the documents were re-written to simply state the fact that church is deeply divided.

“I’m astonished by the sheer incompetence of all that”, he said. The original document did not reflect the discussion of the group tasked with drafting it and the Communion has not yet given an explanation. Professor MacCulloch said answers were needed:

“Who slipped it in? And with what motive? And who signed that off? No one has yet told us those things. And this is the real problem about the leadership of the Church of England at the moment. It seems both incompetent and devious”.

In a wide ranging interview, he spoke warmly of his parish church and the compelling attraction of traditional worship and music. He said it didn’t seem possible to finance the traditional parish system, which had worked well from the 11th to the 20th century – but that system was not the church.

He pointed to the success story in England of cathedrals – vastly expensive, very elaborate, but attracting people as visitors and to worship. They had done it by just getting on with it.

Listen to the interview here and view it on our YouTube channel below:


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