Friday, August 08, 2008

Peter Toon: From Lambeth 1930 to Lambeth 2008

From Mere Comments at Touchstone, an article by Peter Toon:

The Lambeth Conference of 1930: Its continuing influence on the Morals and Behavior of Anglicans.

“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). . .

Read it all.

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