Bishop Alan M. Gates issued on March 1, 2019, the following letter to the diocesan community regarding plans for Lambeth 2020.
Dear People of the Diocese of Massachusetts,
In December an invitation addressed to me and to my spouse, Tricia Harvey, arrived from the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. We have been invited to attend the 2020 gathering of the Lambeth Conference, an event held each decade to bring together active bishops from across the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Last week all of us learned, by way of a blogpost written by Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, that invitations to this gathering have specifically not been extended to the spouses of bishops in same-sex marriages. This inequitable exclusion is deeply grievous, and not reflective of the church to which I belong nor that in which I strive to lead.
Archbishop Idowu-Fearon reported that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby had communicated personally with “the few individuals to whom this applies.” I want to say that this reflects a very narrow understanding of the action taken. Those of us affected by this decision are not few. We are the countless millions of Anglican Christians who find the image of God reflected in all persons, who know our church to be immeasurably blessed by its fuller inclusion of LGBTQ persons, and who cannot but view this decision as a profound injustice.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, has given a cogent analysis of why this action is based upon a faulty understanding of Anglican Communion polity, in which neither the Lambeth Conference nor the Archbishop of Canterbury is empowered to set policy for the Anglican Communion, a function reserved to the Anglican Consultative Council.
The tragedy of the exclusion, however, is not located in its inconsistency with Anglican polity, nor in a miscalculation of the number of persons affected by it. The tragedy of the exclusion is to be found in its failure to honor the Gospel of Christ, in which love, in all its genuine manifestations, is understood to be the sign of God’s very presence in our lives. In our context in Massachusetts, where marriage has been open to all couples for nearly 15 years now, there is lived experience of the blessings to our families, churches and communities that equal access and full acceptance bring. There is also keen remembrance of how the exclusion of some was a diminishment of us all.
In a conversation with the Episcopal News Service, our colleague and friend Bishop Mary Glasspool reported on her own conversation with Archbishop Welby, in response to the exclusion of her spouse from the Lambeth guest list. She told him, “The important thing I want to say is it’s about love. I am talking about people who love one another and look to the church to support them in their life-long marriage where the values of faithfulness, respect, dignity, truth-telling, monogamy and the love that is our loving God’s gift to all of us are upheld. After a lifetime of discussion, I am relatively confident that The Episcopal Church will never again turn its back on the LGBTQ community. Will the same be said of Lambeth 2020?”
It is important, from my perspective, that our response to this decision and our hope to see it reversed be expressed not only by individuals but also in community. The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church last week called upon bishops and their spouses, and the House of Bishops collectively, “to prayerfully and carefully consider her/his/their response, choices and actions.” Tricia and I continue to reflect with colleagues and friends. Bishop Gayle Harris and I will be at the spring gathering of the House of Bishops next month. Please hold all of us in prayer as we discern our further response.
Faithfully, in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates