Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Lambeth Lobotomy

One of the most astonishing things about Lambeth 1998 was the effect on American bishops. It was as if processing into Canterbury Cathedral at the opening service turned their brains to pudding and their spines to mush.

Several of us observers began calling this phenomenon the Lambeth Lobotomy.

Any thought that they were not "the church" was drowned in the sea of purple. Any memory that church meetings are inevitably political meetings seemed to be totally gone. Any acknowledgement that voices of clergy and laypeople should be part of important decisions was absent. And any strategic thinking was done only by the conservatives who expertly took over the agenda of the conference and made it their own.

It all culminated in the "debate" on Lambeth Resolution 1.10, when the African bishops, carefully prepped by their American allies, essentially threw out all the carefully crafted work of the Lambeth human sexuality committee and took over the meeting.

American bishops sat in silence as African bishops read prepared statements comparing homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. The rhetoric was so toxic it made me nauseous. Finally American bishops who are women couldn't listen in silence any more. Kathy Roskam and Cate Waynick spoke out in protest, pleading with their African brothers to try to understand the context in which they ministered to their LGBT congregants.

It fell on deaf ears. The playbook given to the African and Asian bishops by American conservatives was being followed to the letter, aided and abetted by Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who lobbied for it from the chair. The resolution passed, and David Virtue and Andrew Carey burst out of the plenary tent chanting V -I -C -T -O- R -Y as if they had just won a football match. And indeed they had, only this time, the "football" was the lives and ministry of LGBT Christians.
Andrew Carey has taken exception to this. I accept his statement that he was not the man with Virtue and I apologize for the error. He is also correct that the debate was in the sports hall -- I think I was thinking of the marquee [tent] they will be using at this year's Lambeth. And Andrew, my last name has two r's in it.]
Dear Ms Sherod,

I was alerted to your blog article (31 March) 'Lambeth Lobotomy' by another journalist who was also in attendance at the Lambeth Conference and didn't believe your account of my actions after the human sexuality plenary. In fact, there are several inaccuracies. The plenary took place in a sports hall on the campus and not in a tent. Archbishop Eames chaired the debate and not George Carey. And I certainly did not come out of the plenary chanting 'Victory'. I was working and was not at a football match. My immediate job was to seek reaction from bishops and other bystanders after the plenary. I hope you will correct your account.


The American bishops were sitting in silence at the instruction of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who had told them to listen and learn from their third world brothers -- a noble idea indeed, but hardly helpful once Lambeth was hijacked by the American Anglican Council and its anti-LGBT agenda.

As Lambeth 2008 approaches, I am not reassured by the claims that this Lambeth will not have resolutions, that there will be no "legislative" sessions. The planners assure us they have carefully arranged the bishops' schedules to keep them separated into small groups, with all of them coming together for only a few sessions. They have deliberately pushed conversations on human sexuality and the Anglican Covenant to the very last days. The thinking is, apparently, that the bishops will have spent so much quality time bonding in their small groups over Bible study that they will not allow any group of bishops to disrupt their newly forged relationships.

I do not find this convincing. Do you really think Jack Iker, Greg Venables, Bob Duncan, et al, are coming to Lambeth to learn how to be better bishops? Do you really think they are eager to "bond" with bishops who interpret scripture differently than do they? Do you really think they will give up the opportunity presented by Lambeth to simply study and hang out?

If you do, you haven't been paying attention.

What it sounds like to me is that, once again, the American bishops will work hard at doing what is asked of them by Rowan while the conservatives -- American and otherwise -- use the time to plan a strategy to take over the meeting again.

What plans are in place to prevent the hijacking of the meeting again? How much is Rowan Williams willing to give up to get his Anglican Covenant? We've already seen his willingness to dump on the Episcopal Church to appease the orthotoxic bullies. Why should I not believe he won't do it again?

I am given some hope by the behavior of the House of Bishops in recent months, as they have resisted attempts by Rowan to make them take unilateral positions without waiting for General Convention to act.

I am encouraged by Bonnie Anderson's clear-eyed take on the situation, as reported here at Episcopal Cafe:

A statement by Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church at Preparing for Lambeth: A Conference for Religion Writers held at Virginia Theological Seminary on May 30, 2008.

There are two dynamics that will significantly affect our bishops at the Lambeth Conference.

One is the exploration of the role of bishops and the other is the discussion of the proposed covenant.

Examination of the role of bishops:

At the opening of the Lambeth Conference in a traditional “retreat” style of brief theological reflection by the Archbishop, silence and mediation by the participants, then reflection, our bishops and all invited bishops, will reflect upon the archbishop’s words about “the bishop as a disciple of and leader in God’s mission”.

This event is a conference for bishops and it seems completely right for this topic to kick off this historic event. But I think that this topic also speaks to the Archbishop’s hope to confront what he has identified as a “major ecclesiological issue”.

I think that the Archbishop has given up trying to get our bishops to take an independent stand on the future of the moratorium of same sex blessings for instance, and is now moving to “plan B” and turning his attention to encouraging our bishops to understand their “distinctive charism” as bishops, perhaps in a new way.

I envision Archbishop Rowan pondering in, to use his word, “puzzlement” why these bishops of the Episcopal church don’t just stand up and exercise their authority as bishops like most of the rest of the bishops in the Communion do. Why would our bishops “bind themselves to future direction for the Convention?”

Some of us in TEC in the past have thought that perhaps the Archbishop and others in the Anglican Communion do not understand the baptismal covenant that we hold foundational. Perhaps they just don’t “get” the way we choose to govern ourselves; the ministers of the church as the laity, clergy and the bishops, and that at the very core of our beliefs we believe in the God- given gifts of all God’s people, none more important than the other, just gifts differing. We believe that God speaks uniquely through laity, bishops, priests and deacons. This participatory structure in our church allows a fullness of revelation and insight that must not be lost in this important time of discernment. But I think our governance is clearly understood. I just don’t think the Archbishop has much use for it.

In his Advent, 2007 letter, Archbishop Williams states:

"A somewhat complicating factor in the New Orleans statement has been the provision that any kind of moratorium is in place until General Convention provides otherwise. Since the matters at issue are those in which the bishops have a decisive voice as a House of Bishops in General Convention, puzzlement has been expressed as to why the House should apparently bind itself to future direction from the Convention. If that is indeed what this means, it is in itself a decision of some significance. It raises a major ecclesiological issue, not about some sort of autocratic Episcopal privilege but about the understanding in The Episcopal Church of the distinctive charism of bishops as an order and their responsibility for sustaining doctrinal standards. Once again, there seems to be a gap between what some in the Episcopal Church understand about the ministry of bishops and what is held elsewhere in the Communion, and this needs to be addressed."

At the Lambeth Conference, I believe that the voice of the conformed bishop will be easily heard and affirmed. The prophetic voice will not be easily heard.

Our bishops will experience a dynamic that will encourage them to guard the unity and to hold the communion together, perhaps even through the vehicle of a covenant.

The Archbishop has made it clear to our bishops that when they accepted the invitation to Lambeth, they have indicated that they are willing to work with implementation of the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a covenant. Again, in the Archbishop’s Advent letter:

I have underlined in my letter of invitation (to the Lambeth Conference) that acceptance of the invitation must be taken as implying willingness to work with those aspects of the Conference’s agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a Covenant.

A word here about the process and how the process for receiving comments on the second draft of the covenant underscores the understanding of the role of the bishops by the ABC. The people of the provinces, the clergy and laity have a voice regarding the second draft through their bishop. Unlike comments received on the first draft from all interested members of the communion, with a process for laity and clergy to give direct input, comments on the second draft are made solely, directly by bishops. The Secretary General wrote to all the primates and provincial secretaries with the St. Andrew’s Report and the Joint Standing Committee supporting resolution. There were three specific questions attached and the primate was asked to determine how to address the questions and which body was the most appropriate to answer.

The questions are:

1) Is the province able to give "in principle" commitment to the Covenant process at this time (without committing itself to the details of any text)?
2) Is it possible to give some indication of any synodical process which would have to be undertaken in order to adopt the Covenant in the fullness of time?
3) In considering the St. Andrew's Draft for an Anglican Covenant, are there any elements which would need extensive change in order to make the process of synodical adoption viable.

The input of the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church is especially important as the Anglican Communion considers the development of a covenant. The joint work of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops is the highest institutional expression of our belief that God speaks uniquely through laity, priests and deacons and bishops. It is thus crucially important that our bishops go to Lambeth knowing what we think about the current state of the proposed Anglican covenant.


I know many deputations have indeed met and given their bishop their input on the Covenant. I know many bishops who attended Lambeth 1998 are aware of the dangers lurking there. Best of all, I know many American bishops are talking to one another about the possibility of Lambeth being hijacked again.

The question now is, will the bishops be able to resist the effects of the Lambeth Lobotomy?


PseudoPiskie said...

I suspect/hope PB Katharine has more backbone than Griswold. She was vastly outnumbered at Dar es Salaam but she'll have help at Lambeth. Praying...

Richard said...

I wonder how the above post would sound if one did nothing more than switch the "sides/causes".

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hmmm . . .I was there. I remember David Virtue shouting "V I C T O R Y" and I could have sworn that was Andrew Carey with him. . . hmmm . .

As I recall, Virtue was quickly joined by a few bishops. I'm remembering Duncan's eyebrows and Jack Leo Iker's 'helmut hair'.

If Andrew was interviewing bishops and some of them were chanting, this may have lead to the confusion.

The scene was surreal. Bishops Behaving Badly" doesn't even begin to express it. It was worse than a tailgate party - without the beer.

Many of the Western bishops - including the American bishops who had been told by ++FTG to sit down and shut up - were silent because they were appalled by the behavior of their brother bishops.

I'm going to have to go read Jim Rosenthall's book as I think he has written about this moment, as well.