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When is a vote not a vote?

Bernard Woollley: What if he demands options?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, it’s obvious, Bernard. The Foreign Office will happily present him with three options, two of which are, on close inspection, exactly the same.


(For the Foreign Office you might read the organisers of the Lambeth Conference).


Anglican Futures has ruminated already on the democratic deficit, as two-thirds of the bishops of the Anglican Communion meet in Canterbury.


Today, was the first ‘vote’ on a ‘Lambeth Call’, except that it wasn’t a vote because as the Rt Revd Tim Thornton said, when asked about the process, “We’ve been very careful not to talk about voting.” And as Gavin Drake, the Anglican Communion’s Director of Communication, added later, “it’s not just the votes or the non-votes, the choosing or the discernment, whatever you want to call it…”. Or, as the Archbishop of York described them, “Choice one and choice two.”


The ‘voting’ was:

  • 306 or 307[1] for the Call (in fact for, “This Call speaks for me. I add my voice to it and commit myself to take the action I can to implement it”),

  • 153 or 154 for “further discernment” (more fully, “This Call requires further discernment. I commit my voice to the ongoing process”),

  • 4 or 5 for “against” (although you aren’t allowed to say that either, only that, “This Call does not speak for me. I do not add my voice to this Call”).


Apparently though, both 'voting' 'for' the Call and for 'further discernment', are, as Sir Humphrey would say, “on close inspection exactly the same”.


The Archbishop of York announced that the 306/7 and 153/4 proved that, “99% expressed a clear affirmation, some feeling more strongly that it needs more work on the basis that I can recognise this and support it”. So it seems that now, supporting the process appears to equal supporting the words of the Call.


He also confirmed that the Call had been adopted by the Conference, even though fewer than half the bishops present at the conference had not agreed that “this call speaks for me”, as at least 186 did not vote.


Of course, this was not actually a 'non-vote' of all the bishops of the Communion but of those who have come to Canterbury. Less than a third of the bishops have actively agreed with the Call and who or how many they speak for is anyone’s guess.


Quite what they are “not voting” about is also unclear. The Conference used to vote on 'Resolutions'. A Resolution had an authority which could be appealed to as to what was and wasn’t “appropriate behaviour in the Communion”. This was the position of ++Carey[2].


It was also, at times the position of ++Welby, at least when trying to prevent “border-crossing”[3].


It was not, however, Justin Welby’s position when he had to deal with provinces who “tore the fabric of the communion” on matters of sexuality. In January 2017, adopting the words of General Secretary of Archbishop’s Council, William Nye, he stated that,


“Lambeth Conference Resolutions do not provide a binding discipline on member Provinces of the Communion”.


“[Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10] is not legally binding on all Provinces of the Communion.”


“Lambeth 1.10...has no binding legal force.”


“The Resolution...does not have the force of Scripture, nor is it part of the deposit of the faith. The key elements for the Communion are those within the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral”.


That is itself is a little odd because it relies on the ongoing authority of the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral, which authority is drawn exclusively from being a Resolution of the 1888 conference.


So, there are Resolutions and Resolutions and then in his, “Guide to the Lambeth Calls Process at the 2022 Lambeth Conference”, the archbishop says,


“But the authority of any resolution is limited. Member churches have distinct processes for receiving decisions from Lambeth Conferences and deciding/discerning to what extent they will have authority in their context”.


And so now we have votes that may or may not be votes, calls, that may, or may not be similar to resolutions, depending on what a resolution is at any one time, and votes that may or may not be votes giving rise to three options, two of which are in fact the same on the basis of majorities that may or may not exist, speaking for an unknown number.

I think you can see why I started with a quote from Yes, Minister.


But the 'Yes, Minister' scene actually ends with a third option, which, “is totally unacceptable, like bombing Warsaw or invading France”.


Of course, the really clever conceit is that there are only three options when in fact there are four. And the fourth is always the most important option, that which the vested interest of Officialdom is putting all this effort into avoiding - the one that turns the status quo upside down.


And in this case there actually is a fourth option - one that would be highly disruptive to the Canterbury - aligned structures but is possibly the last resort for preserving an Anglican Communion. It is known as the Cairo Covenant and you can read about it here.

[1] Voting is by percentage. [2] Letter to the Primates of 20th February 2000, “This is a tradition which was reaffirmed in the document known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which was adopted in an amended form as Resolution 11 of the 1888 Lambeth Conference, and which has since become a fundamental document in the Anglican understanding of the Church. Territorial integrity is a most important element of due episcopal order and collegiality. Against the background of different issues over the years, successive Lambeth Conferences have emphasised and endorsed this principle, which itself reaches back at least to the Council of Nicea. “In 1988, we re-affirmed our 'unity in the historical position of respect for diocesan boundaries and the authority of bishops within these boundaries', and stated that 'it is deemed inappropriate behaviour for any bishop or priest of this Communion to exercise episcopal or pastoral ministry within another diocese without first obtaining the permission and invitation of the ecclesial authority thereof' (Resolution 72). Against the background of the discussions at Lambeth in 1998, we specifically affirmed the importance of the principle we had set out so clearly ten years earlier (Resolution V.13) [3] Letter to the Primates of the Communion of 1st June 2017, “I would also like to remind you of the 1988 Lambeth Conference resolution number 72 on episcopal responsibilities and diocesan boundaries. It also affirms that it is deemed inappropriate behaviour for any bishop or priest of this Communion to exercise episcopal or pastoral ministry within another diocese without first obtaining the permission and invitation of the ecclesial authority thereof.”

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