University hosting global Anglican bishops' meeting says event is 'contrary to its values'

(Photo: University of Kent)

The university scheduled to host the next Lambeth Conference of worldwide Anglican bishops has said the event does not fully comply with its values.

Academics at the University of Kent say the fact that the same-sex spouses of gay and lesbian bishops are not being invited "raises serious issues" and "significant ethical concerns" as it is "contrary to the values" of the institution.

Now Sir David Warren, the chair of the University Council – its governing body – and Professor Karen Cox, its Vice-Chancellor and President, are seeking to meet with the Lambeth Conference organisers and the Archbishop of Canterbury to voice their concerns directly and to discuss the issues further.

Their move follows a recent announcement by the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who said same-sex spouses wouldn't be invited to the event, held roughly once a decade, as the official Anglican position is still that marriage is between a man and a woman. 

The Kent University statement says: "Welcome and inclusion are key to who we are. We also place great value on diversity of opinion, open, respectful debate, recognition of difference, and the central role of constructive engagement and dialogue. These, we believe, are all essential to progress in a democratic society. The University has become aware that proposals relating to the Lambeth Conference 2020, which is due to be held at the University, raises serious issues at the heart of these values."

Referring to Dr Idowu-Fearon's statement, the university adds that it is "concerned by this... as it does not accord with our values".

It says it has "received a large number of concerns raised by staff, students, and members of the public, about hosting the conference.

"While we currently understand that the Lambeth Conference may be permitted by law to rely on exemption under the Equality Act 2010 for religious organisations, we also believe there are significant ethical concerns raised," it says.

The university council says it is "clear that exclusion of same sex spouses, on grounds of orientation, would be contrary to the values of the University. Council determined that the University shall ensure that accommodation will be available on campus for those spouses affected by this decision who wish to be in Canterbury with their partners during the conference period. The University welcomes them and affirms its belief in, and commitment to, diversity and inclusivity".

While the Lambeth Conference has come under fire for being too restrictive from Kent University, it has also been criticised for being too liberal by more conservative Anglicans. As reported by Christian Today, the traditionalist Anglican grouping Gafcon has argued that not only should same-sex spouses not be invited, but the bishops in those relationships also. Bishops from the Anglican Churches of Nigeria and Uganda have already said they plan to boycott Lambeth 2020.

In 2008 the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, declined to invite American Bishop Gene Robinson to the last Lambeth Conference, held that year. Robinson had become the first openly gay and partnered bishop in the Anglican Communion a few years earlier.

In 1998, the Lambeth Conference passed a resolution stating that "in view of the teaching of Scripture, [Anglicanism] upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage".

The conference rejected active homosexual relationships as "incompatible with Scripture" but called on "all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex".