'Time out' on divisions
Lambeth 2008 ended on a high. As the final service ended in Canterbury Cathedral, the names of nine members of an Anglican Mission Order in Melanesia martyred in 2003 were placed in the chapel of Martyrs of our Time.
Their colleagues processed with their names, from the nave up the many steps to the quire screen, singing the most haunting refrain. They passed from sight through the quire screen. But they continued singing. The refrain echoed round the cathedral. It was as though we had seen the martyrs themselves pass into the nearer presence of God, yet their beautiful singing could still he heard. Strong men wept.
Bishops have been reporting back the great value of meeting with colleagues from round the world, with some of whom they disagree intensely, but building relationships of respect and growing understanding.
If the purpose of the conference, attended by only 617 of the 850 bishops invited, was to prevent further division between those advancing a pro-gay agenda and those wanting Anglicanism to remain true to biblical orthodoxy, it succeeded for the sunny days in Canterbury. But one senior overseas primate thought it was only ‘time-out’. Divisions and issues remain the same. The £6 million gathering with a £2 million deficit came to no decisions.
Another senior archbishop noted that the conference culture was highly controlled and the pre-determined outcome was spelt out in an early conference document from the Windsor Continuation Group.
It called for a complete cessation of:
(a) the celebration of blessings for same-sex unions,
(b) consecrations of those living in openly gay relationships, and
(c) all cross-border interventions and inter-provincial claims of jurisdiction.
The group writes that ‘cessation of activity ... applies to practices that may have already been authorised as well as proposed for authorisation in the future’.
They propose the swift establishment of a Pastoral Forum to ‘engage theologically and practically with situations of controversy as they arise or divisive actions that may be taken around the Communion. The President would be the Archbishop of Canterbury who would also appoint its Episcopal chair and its members’. The forum would take under its wing those who were in dispute with liberal bishops until they could return to their parent province.
The Primates asked for just this at their meeting in Tanzania in 2007. Archbishop Orombi of Uganda, not present at the conference, said: ‘The functions proposed for the Pastoral Forum are exactly what the Primates of the Communion (the 38 leaders of Anglican churches in different countries Ð Ed.) have been charged to do’. Orthodox Anglican leaders in North America say that they are not asking for this now.
The Conference Reflections say: ‘There is much discomfort about the role that the Primates’ Meeting now finds itself exercising. Many fear it is trying to exercise too much authority. Perhaps their key role is in supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury’. One overseas Primate believes that this resistance is based on racial prejudice.
American bishops were reportedly surprised by the strong support for Lambeth 1.10 in discussion groups. They were shocked by the Archbishop of Sudan’s call for Gene Robinson to step down. A few days later an American bishop suggested that some bishops might be wife-beaters and reported on its incidence in Africa. This was seen as an attempt to discredit African orthodoxy on sexual matters.
Missing most glaringly from the Reflections are the presence of sin and disobedience in the leadership of the communion, clear disobedience to revealed truth in Scripture and a total avoidance of the issues of power in any relationships local or global. Mere repetition of being gracious and not rushing to judgment is the ploy that unethical power uses to mask its strategies of continuing hegemony.
The press asked who was running the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave five retreat addresses, three presidential addresses, chaired the five evening plenary presentations from guest speakers, and preached the final sermon. The press were told he was the common figure in meetings of the Design Team, the Anglican Communion Office and Lambeth Palace Staff meetings.
At the final press conference he spelt out the future agenda as the moratoria and the pastoral forum. It is unclear how much this had been thoroughly discussed with the Primates beforehand. Some bishops noted that the Pope always speaks with his bishops rather than to his bishops. There was much speaking of people’s respect, loyalty and affection for Archbishop Williams. If people say that of a Primate in Africa, this is regarded as fawning on an autocratic tribal chief. The Lambeth Conference Network in the Anglican Communion seems to have been overtaken by celebrity culture. Is this style a reaction to criticism of lack of leadership?
Inclusion — secular or faith-centred?
The Culture of Lambeth was of Inclusive Church. The opening service was on the theme of diversity in unity. Most self-select sessions were from the liberal perspective. The market place was dominated by gay organisations.
The Archbishop said in his second presidential address: ‘And the answer, I hope, is that we speak from the centre. We should try to speak from the heart of our identity as Anglicans; and ultimately from that deepest centre which is our awareness of living in and as the Body of Christ’.
What is the centre which is the heart of our identity as Anglicans? Is it defined by the faith, or is it defined by inclusion? Traditional Anglican liberalism was founded on core Christian truths and commitments. Secular liberalism denies that truth is possible and urges the equality of every person and their views. Therefore all views can contribute and must be at the table.
Secular liberalism places the value of inclusion over against faithfulness and faith. The claim to speak from the centre must face the challenge of whether the faith that defines the centre is the centre of faith, or the centre of the secular vision of inclusion?
Chris Sugden attended the Lambeth Conference with Press Accreditation on behalf of Evangelicals Now.