Friday, August 08, 2008

That Wild Uncontrollable Force

Watching Lambeth unfold was like watching one of those foreground/background optical illusions where, as you stare at the picture, either the profile of a beautiful young woman moves to the foreground or the image of an old woman moves forward while the young woman’s image disappears. It is almost impossible to see them both at the same time.

Lambeth was the same-there were two Lambeths occurring simultaneously, one out in front, the other in the background.

The Lambeth of the Indaba and Bible Study groups was the one in the foreground most of the time. But at key points, the Lambeth of the Windsor Continuation Group [WCG] and the group writing the Reflections documents moved out of the background into sight.

The disconnect between the two was complete. One Lambeth was focused on building relationships and reaching toward understanding across differences in language, culture, history, wealth, and theological approaches to scripture with the goal of reaching consensus on a number of issues facing the Communion, of which only one was human sexuality. And while everyone pretty much agreed there were too many issues to hope to reach consensus in three weeks, they also agreed that the Indaba discussions should continue post-Lambeth. In a very Anglican-like way, people were agreeing to continue in conversation -despite their differences.

The other Lambeth – rooted as it was in the deeply flawed and historically inaccurate Windsor Report – inevitably was focused on institutional preservation, on coming up with structural solutions to current problems. All of which, in the sight of these officials, are almost totally the fault of the Episcopal Church and, to a lesser degree, that of the Anglican Church of Canada, with the main issue being that of human sexuality, specifically homosexuality.

Both reports emphasized the importance of “every bishop being heard,” apparently quite willing to ignore entirely the fact that not every bishop could be heard, given that the bishop of New Hampshire had not been invited. Additionally, more than 200 bishops chose not to come -- or were intimidated into not coming.

No members of the Windsor Continuation Group favor the blessing of same sex unions. And while both the reports of the WCG and the drafts of the Reflections document supposedly reflected feedback from the bishops’ Indaba groups, many bishops across the spectrum complained that the documents were presented to them without an opportunity or way for them to react to perceived distortions or to agree on the final product.

Bp. Kirk Smith of Arizona blogged, “We had not been given a chance to review the last and most controversial section before it was printed up, and I felt that the process had not been done fairly. The trust that had built up over the past few weeks was rapidly evaporating for me,” although after a session with his Bible Study group he felt better.

Bp. Tim Stevens, Leicester, Church of England, wrote, “Today we shall see the final version of the document which reports the conference, but there has been no process by which the members of the conference can agree the text!”

In spite of that, the final draft of the Reflections was to be “dedicated in prayer” at the final worship service. One might assume this was a tacit acknowledgment that the document was not the product of consensus or the result of a vote.

And the Windsor Continuation Group will take what it reported as agreed-upon-proposals for moratoria on same-sex blessings, the consecration of any more [openly] gay bishops, and border incursions forward as it presses hard for the completion of an Anglican Covenant that will include an ecclesiastical SWAT team called a Pastoral Forum that will go into offending provinces – meaning the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada – and do something-as-yet-undetermined to make them “behave.”

(One wonders how it will deal with those Primates who clearly have no intention of stopping their border incursions.)

So. Which is the true picture? The beautiful young Lambeth of the Indaba process, or the old woman of the Windsor Continuation Group and the Reflections document?

Well, both are. The better question might be, which one will matter as we move forward?

The final press conference with the Archbishop of Canterbury made it clear that for him, the only one that matters is that of the dour, pessimistic, and threatening old woman – the institutional structural Lambeth of the WCG and the Reflections group. Rowan Williams skillfully drove the Conference to the conclusion he wanted, and he did it in a most British way – using soothing words and large courtesies to cover up the fact that long-targeted backs were being stabbed.

At the press conference, Williams made it clear on whose shoulders the fate of the Anglican Communion rests: “I think if the North American churches don’t accept the need for moratoria then at least we are no further forward. As a communion we would be in great peril.”

Williams also said he wanted “a clear and detailed specification for the task and composition of a Pastoral Forum” within the next two months from the Windsor Continuation Group. At the same time, the Covenant Design Group will be working out the details of “enforcing” a Covenant.

He said, “There was a sense that that sort of external support was something worth pursuing.” This is code for intervention by the Pastoral Forum – a misnamed entity if there ever was one.

Williams went into the Lambeth Conference with little knowledge or understanding of and no patience with either the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada. He emerged from it with both deficiencies intact.

He has long viewed both the Episcopal Church and the Canadian church through the lens of his decades-long socialist-veering-on-communist-distaste for these two capitalistic nations. Additionally, his extreme distaste for the USA’s foreign policy has colored his view of the Episcopal Church, as it has the views of many of the bishops from Africa and Asia. For Williams as for many others, the Episcopal Church is indistinguishable from the Bush Administration.

This view has remained untroubled and unchanged by personal contacts with bishops from those churches or visits to their countries. For example, Williams still clearly believes that almost half of the Episcopal Church is ready to bolt, despite being told many times that the dissenters represent a tiny part of our church.

Rowan Williams has been quite willing to sacrifice his personal views on homosexuality, which are quite liberal, for the sake of holding the Anglican Communion together. Of course, this sacrifice of his views, while it may say something about his lack of integrity, does nothing to impede his ministry or relationship with his wife.

He obviously assumes that the Episcopal Church’s reluctance to sacrifice the vocations and relationships of its LGBT members is simply American arrogance and unilateralism.

But when asked what theological and moral justification there is for requiring a small group to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the majority, he could only respond, “Sacrifice has to be accepted voluntarily that’s true. That’s why this means something about consent. There are those, I know, who won’t be willing to take on that kind of sacrifice. There is something about the preservation of the global fellowship that is bigger than any of us.”

So there you have it – if the Communion comes apart, it will be the fault of those selfish LGBT Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans who are not willing to put their relationships and vocations on the cross for the benefit of the majority of the Communion.

Perhaps the best description on the proposals of the WCG came from Bishop Michael Ingham, whose diocese of New Westminster voted to allow same-sex blessings in 2002. He called it, “an old-world institutional response to a new-world reality in which people are being set free from hatred and violence.”

The Anglican Journal, a publication of the Anglican Church of Canada, reported, “In a statement, Bishop Ingham called the WCG document – copies of which were distributed to bishops for discussion – ‘punitive in tone, setting out penalties and the like, instead of inviting us into deeper communion with one another through mutual understanding in the body of Christ.’ He added that the suggestion of a pastoral forum ‘institutionalizes external incursions into the life of our churches.’

"Bishop Ingham also questioned why the Windsor Report was being regarded ‘as an agreed benchmark from which it is assumed we can move forward. It is not so.’ (The Windsor Report, published in 2004 by an international commission, outlined ways of healing divisions within the nearly 80-million Anglican Communion over human sexuality. The WCG, which produced the preliminary observations at the conference here, was created last February by the Archbishop of Canterbury to ‘address outstanding questions arising from the Windsor Report and the various formal responses from provinces and instruments of the Anglican Communion.’

“In his statement,” the Journal report continued, “Bishop Ingham said that the WCG’s proposals ‘seeks to impose a singular uniformity upon the complex diversity of our Communion.’ He said that while in some parts of the Communion ‘homosexuality is subject to criminal law and cultural prohibition,’ in Canada, homosexual people ‘enjoy the same rights and responsibilities under the law as every other citizen.’

"If the proposals are accepted by the Communion, ‘it will put the Anglican Church of Canada in the position of having to support and defend irrational prejudice and bigotry in the eyes of our nation,’ he added.”

Integrity’s statement picked up on the hope that the Indaba spirit would become the dominant one, rather than the prescriptive one of the Windsor Process:

The 43-page “Lambeth Indaba: Capturing Conversations and Reflections ” provides a snapshot of the diversity of opinion and perspective held throughout the global communion and resists the temptation to offer – much less insist – on the means to reconcile the differences that challenge us. We call on our bishops to resist the temptation of those who will try to turn this descriptive document into a proscriptive edict.

This is particularly critical in the language around moratoria. The inclusion in this set of descriptions of the conversations in the bishops’ Indaba groups of the “desire to enforce a moratoria” on further consecrations of bishops who are gay or lesbian and on the blessing and celebration of same sex unions is an accurate reflection of how some in the communion would prefer we moved forward.

So is the reflection about “the positive effects in parts of [the Communion] when homosexual people are accepted as God’s children, are treated with dignity and choose to give their lives to Christ and to live in the community of faith as disciples of Jesus Christ with fidelity and commitment.”

And while the Archbishop of Canterbury in his concluding address expressed his own preference for moratoria as a way forward, we are reminded that we are, as Anglicans, bound together in bonds of affection rather than authority.

Williams clearly hopes he comes out of Lambeth with additional strength to get his way with the Covenant and the moratoria, as he acknowledges he has no authority over any part of the Communion except the Church of England. In an exquisite touch of irony, he is depending on the relationships he developed with bishops during the conference to enable him to impose his institutional “solution” on all of them.

He is moving ahead quickly with it. He said that the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council will meet in November to discuss the Pastoral Forum and the Covenant. He plans to call a Primates Meeting in early 2009. The Anglican Consultative Council meets in May 2009.

He clearly is pushing hard to have a concrete proposal ready in time for the General Convention to act on – or not -- in June 2009.

I think he is living in LaLa Land.

I believe that in the end it will be the Indaba Lambeth that will prevail.

What will hold the Communion together will not be the scapegoating some of the baptized, but rather the understanding that relationships – our relationship with God and with each other – are what matter.

I believe this because the bishops saw what a difference there was between the Indaba Lambeth of 2008 and the brutal Lambeth of 1998, when North American conservatives aligned themselves with some African and Asian bishops and with George Carey to push for legislative solutions to hot button issues. It was a process that left deep wounds that even a decade later were still painful for many.

In a way, both kinds of Lambeths were on display this year. The Indaba Lambeth, which sought to work toward relational solutions, and the 1998-style Lambeth of the WCG and the Reflections groups that demanded political, institutional solutions.

Again and again, bishops from around the Communion made it clear which they preferred, even as many politely acquiesced to the Archbishop’s insistence on continuing with the flawed Windsor Process.

It seems that the Lambeth Conference Design Team, in designing a conference that built on relationships and avoided up or down votes, has indeed pitched a wild card into the plans of Archbishop Williams.

Because the bishops of the Anglican Communion learned many things at Lambeth, and among them is the fact that when any group insists that their process must result in winners and losers, everyone loses. As one observer noted, “It is not a bad thing to live and work together without resolution - walking by faith and not by sight.”

The bishops have begun to understand that they don’t have to “fix” everything, that they can talk together about things that they disagree on, talk about difficult subjects, and still love one another.

It is this, that wild uncontrollable force called Christian love, that gives me hope for the Anglican Communion.


Leonard said...

Thank you...yes Christian love, and "loving them anyway" ought make for the "save" in the end...I'm glad Dr. Rowan Williams isn't in charge of my faith or fate.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Spot on, Katie. As usual.


Katie Sherrod for ABC.

it's margaret said...

Katie Sherrod --thank you for these essays. I have posted a link to you from my blog --I will remove it if this does not please you.

God bless you! And again, thank you!

johnieb said...

Terrific posts, Katie, perhaps the best I've seen out of Lambeth.

And it seems as if the right people think so, too!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Fine reflections on relationship...

Unknown said...

What a great response! I completely agree!