Friday, February 3, 2012

The sad legacy of Resolution 15

Bishops seated at the 1930 Lambeth Conference
In light of the recent assault on religious liberty by the Obama Administration, specifically its bullheaded refusal to allow educational and charitable agencies of the Catholic Church conscientious exemptions from health insurance mandates regarding contraceptive and abortifacient drugs, it is prudent at this time to revisit a fateful resolution adopted by the bishops of the Anglican Communion at the 1930 Lambeth Conference.

Resolution 15 addressed The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex. It read as follows (emphasis added):
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.
As the late Peter Toon noted in a 2008 essay, this resolution represented a radical departure from what had been, up to that time, an undisputed ecumenical consensus and codified throughout the Anglican Communion a novel teaching on artificial birth control which has yet to be refuted by any national or regional body.
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.
The sad legacy of Resolution 15 has been the disintegration of the Anglican Communion, at first gradual, but accelerated in the past few decades by the schismatic practices of its most liberal provinces in North America and the British Isles and, most recently, by the rebellious actions of the indigenous leaders of once promising missionary jurisdictions. The fact that it probably comes as a surprise to even the most conservative of Anglicans in America and Britain that the change in the Communion's teaching on contraception came so relatively recently, and that the present teaching is alien to Reformed, as well as Catholic, tradition ought to be evidence enough that the depth of our troubles is far greater than we had first thought. Indeed, the innovations of the more recent past are merely the inevitable metastasis of a malignant tumor which first invaded the body in 1930.