Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lambeth continues, and so does my frustration

(Hooboy, this is a long one. Stick around, though, and there's a funny picture of Rowan Williams in it for you at the end!)

Most of the news pouring out of the Lambeth Conference this week is disheartening. But I don’t want to be disheartened. I want to be happy. I want to sing. Thus, this post will start with a look at the happy news – American reaction to +Gene’s exclusion, and a bit from Brian McLaren – before descending to its inevitable depths – hard-line rumblings and Rowan Williams’ utter failure to lead. But of course, I continue to insist that the Communion is NOT headed towards schism.

The Good News
Episcopal CafĂ© has a wonderful roundup of bishops’ reactions to their Bible studies and discussion groups. The reactions are generally positive, which is a good thing, as those discussions are at the heart not only of Lambeth but of our spiritual identities. My favorite of the posts comes from the Bishop of Arizona, Mark Smith, as he shares good news about two of my favorite figures of mine – Bishop Gene Robinson and theologian Brian McLaren.

We had a meeting of the American Bishops in the Big Tent this afternoon and one of the topics was the status of Gene Robinson, who you know has not been invited. There is some misinformation I want to clear up: Gene was NOT excluded from the HOB meeting! He was invited to join us and accepted. The problem was that we are in conference facilities and since he has not been invited to the Conference, he was not given security clearance. Know that the American HOB is concerned about this and it is working on a way that Gene can be included. Stay tuned…

Then tonight, in a plenary session, we heard Brian McLaren's presentation on the dynamics of making disciples in a rapidly changing world. His point, not a new one but one which he convincingly presented, is that the ways of the modern world, to which the Church for five hundred years has accommodated (or over-accommodated) are losing their currency. He also suggested that in the three basic cultures in place in the current world--non-modern, modern, and whatever it is that you want to call the one after that--the Church has yet to find a voice. He pointedly challenged this Conference to work in finding one, saying that the Anglican way has within it distinct gifts to do so. The coexistence of the three cultures, he also said, has in it the makings of many of the conflicts in a world-wide communion like ours. A long evening well spent.

For another cheery read, look to Allie’s firsthand reports at “Tales from a Lambeth Steward.” Also providing first hand reports of both the cheery and not-so-cheery variety are Elizabeth Kaeton at Telling Secrets, Susan Russell at An Inch at a Time, and Francisco Silva at Kantinho Do Rev.

The Not So Good News
But alas, not all is so chirpy. The Archbishop of Sudan, Daniel Deng, has called for Bishop Robinson to resign and be come “a normal Christian.” He brought up that old argument about Adam and Even vs. Adam and Steve. My problem with that is it suggests life is all about sex, gender, and reproduction. I would submit that in a discussion about love, grace, and even Scriptural interpretation, Adam and Eve are totally relevant. To take Rt. Rev. Deng’s flawed theology to its logical extreme, the Adam and Eve story has two people, not six billion, and one garden, not 200 countries. Shouldn’t most of this modern world be banished for not being an exact mirror of that one Bible story?

Sudan was joined by the Bishop of Fort Worth, Jack Iker, who said that all the bishops who support +Gene should withdraw from Lambeth themselves. (For the record, +Jack opposes the ordination of women.) That seems like such an absurd statement to me. In demanding that only people who agree with his views participate in a conversation, he is proclaiming that only echo chambers have value and demanding that the Anglican Communion cease to be the Anglican Communion. Bishop Iker, if you have no interest in a church based on dialogue and inclusiveness, I have to wonder, why did you become an Episcopalian in the first place? Isn’t it you who should leave this church, and let it to the conservatives, liberals, and moderates actually interested in a path forward together?

It would seem Sudan and Fort Worth have gotten to our normally cheery and ever intrepid Ruth Gledhill, who writes,

“This represents the hard-line conservative-traditionalist stance at the Lambeth Conference and it is widespread. I wish I wasn't writing this but things here are really not looking good. The Anglican Communion seems to be falling apart in front of our eyes and it is not a pretty sight.

Cheer up, Ruth! Remember, the hardliners, for all their rhetoric, are small in number – seven bishops out of 110 in the US, seven primates out of 34 globally – and are eating their own. Our church will be just fine. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a press conference, "Are we heading for schism? Well, let's see. If it is the end I do not think anyone has told most of the people here."

The Lack of Leadership
Ah, yes. The Archbishop, or as Allie the steward calls him, "ArchieRo". Earlier this month, I wrote that his reply to the GAFCON convention and his sermon at England’s General Synod suggested that he might at long last be emerging from his listless shell to finally show real leadership, but that the real test would come at the Lambeth Conference. Unfortunately, ArchieRo seems to be failing that test. When asked why Bishop Robinson is not allowed to participate at Lambeth, he gave the most confusing doublespeak answer I’ve ever heard. MadPriest went as far as to dub it his “homophobic quote of the day”:

The problem we faced within the Anglican Communion that bishops gathering for the Lambeth Conference represent not only their diocese but their participation in the fellowship of worldwide Anglican Christians. Where there are bishops whose participation in that worldwide fellowship is for one reason or another questionable, that is the reason for questioning their participation.

Let me make sure I’ve got this straight. +Gene’s participation is questionable because we question his participation… did I miss something, or did Donald Rumsfeld move into Lambeth Palace?

Say what you will about global fellowships, +Gene is still the leader of New Hampshire’s Anglicans, and to exclude him from the Conference is to exclude all of New Hampshire’s parishes, campus ministries, outreach committees, and more. To tell him he is not in communion with the Communion is to tell that to me. To make matters worse, +Gene is not being allowed to participate in the Episcopal House of Bishops meeting tonight, as the meeting is Lambeth-sponsored and received its resources (meeting room, etc.) from Lambeth and he is not invited to Lambeth events. The Archbishop’s office has tried to explain this away, but their excuse was thin: “This is NOT a meeting of the House of Bishops; it is a gathering of American Bishops at a meeting of the Lambeth Conference.” Call it what you want, but words don’t matter – it seems to me that if the house of bishops meets, then it’s a meeting of the House of Bishops.

But the Archbishop’s henchmen don’t stop there. Remember the “Banned from GAFCON” buzz? A poster floated about GAFCON listing the liberals not allowed on the premises… and it would seem Lambeth security guards have been given a similar poster of Gene Robinson. Dr. Williams had spoken out against GAFCON, but it would seem that such criticism stops only with their theology, not their even more ill-advised tactics. This is a shame – he was showing so much potential. One can only hope, and pray, that he’s holding back for a big finale.

(Picture credit = Allie)

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