I write this as we fly from Heathrow to LAX on the Monday after Lambeth Conference 2008. The map on the airline video monitor tells me we’re somewhere over Greenland. My watch tells me it’s either coming up on 2pm or 6am …depending on whether I want to be on London or L.A. time. So I’m in a very “in between place” at the moment.
And so, I believe, is our Church and our Communion.
There is much dust yet to settle before it will be possible to make whatever sense we will eventually make out of the just concluded Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. I’m not going to attempt to make any sense of it myself … not from this in between place. But I am going to offer some thoughts … at least in part so I can get them out of my head and settle in to the nap I should surely be taking at this point of this journey home – whatever time it is!
There were many good things that happened in Canterbury between July 16 and August 3:
Despite the dire predictions of a coup d’état, instead of an outbreak of schism there was an outbreak of civility. The interactions between the bishops over their two-week conference were marked by generosity and by a holy curiosity and genuine interest in learning from each other about mission and ministry in the various parts of the global communion. Building on those relationships – one-on-one, diocese by diocese, year by year – will continue to build up the bonds of affection that make up the fabric of this global communion of which is our Anglican family of faith.
The Indaba process offered a model of listening and reflection that might be the best souvenior any of them will bring home from their trip across the pond. I wondered aloud with a few of our bishops if we might not think about a way to bring that process home to the U.S. and imagine it as a means for conversation that would involve the whole church as we move toward General Convention 2009 and look beyond in our mission and ministry.
There was tremendous effort, energy, prayer and practice generated to make this Lambeth 2008 an opportunity for bishops from around the Communion to reflect on the multitude of issues that challenge us as Anglican Christians to live out our faith in the world. While our differences on human sexuality inevitably dominated the press reports, they did not dominate the daily discourse, where the bishops’ agenda focused on the kaleidoscope issues and opportunities that both challenge and bless us as a global communion.
After a decade of drum beating and saber rattling by the conservative fringe seeking to replace the generous comprehensiveness that is our heritage as Anglican Christians with a narrow orthodoxy that is not, the bishops in their weeks of reflection and the Archbishop of Canterbury in his 2nd Presidential Address clearly came down on the side of diversity. Despite both external and internal pressure for “resolutions” that would bring “clarity” on questions that challenge us, there was explicit recognition that those who disagree with the majority perspective reflected in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 are, in fact, faithful Anglican Christians and fall within the parameters of “the faith received through the ages.”
The opportunity to witness with LGBT Anglicans from around the globe to the Good News of Christ Jesus present in our lives, our relationships and our vocations was an incredible privilege. Our allies included the UK and Canada, Mexico and Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. The production of the “The Lambeth Witness” – a daily news and reflection paper – allowed us to resource our bishops with the voices they had committed to bring into their discussions at Lambeth Conference: the voices of the voiceless LGBT faithful who remain invisible strangers at the gate in much of the communion.
I want to applaud the extraordinary lengths to which so many of our bishops went to be supportive, available and active toward the goal of the full inclusion of all the baptized in the Body of Christ. I can’t possibly name them all … thankfully, they were too numerous to easily count, but want to call out +Tom Ely (Vermont) for his dogged faithfulness in organizing, cheerleading and networking; +Marc Andrus (California) for being fabulous in general and for his support of Voices of Witness: Africa in particular; +Mark Beckwith (Newark) and +Bruce Caldwell (Wyoming) for their work with the Chicago Consultation; +Gayle Harris (Massachusetts), +Nedi Rivera (Olympia) and +Chilton Knudsen (Maine) for their unfailing good humor, honesty and transparency; for all the “blogging bishops” who helped keep us clued in; for +Cathy Roskam (New York) who risked speaking truth to power on gender violence and has the scars to prove it; and my own bishops --+Jon, +Chet, +Bob & +Sergio – for not forgetting for a minute that as bishops they are shepherds to all their sheep: not just the straight ones!
I also want to note those bishops who do not agree with the inclusive perspective we understand to be God’s will for this church and yet stood in solidarity with us against those who would divide us from each other and from our Anglican brothers and sisters. +Duncan Gray (Mississippi) and +Charles Jenkins (Louisiana) are but two who spoke publicly and eloquently in that regard … and I know there were others.
Revisiting all that was good and holy and hopeful about this Lambeth Conference somehow makes the actions of the last day of the conference all the more difficult to fathom.
+Rowan Williams and his conference design team set the tone for reflection and deep listening to God and to each other during the opening retreat days of the conference, created a process of faithful conversations within the Indaba Groups informed by the daily Bible Studies and invited as plenary speakers visionary leaders like Brian McLaren and Jonathan Sacks. They resisted the conservatives within the conference who pushed for opportunities for “up or down” votes, the Gafconistas outside the conference pushing their schismatic agenda and the media covering the conference trying to manufacture controversy in order to have something to write about.
And yet, at the 11th hour -- in his final Presidential Address and at the Press Conference following -- +Rowan Williams managed to snatch the defeat of a guarantee that issues of human sexuality will stay on the front burner of communion discourse for the foreseeable future out of the jaws of the victory of a conference what was on the verge of finding a new way forward in faith for those committed to walk together in spite of their differences.
By pushing his preference that the American and Canadian churches abide by the moratoria on blessings of same sex unions and the consecration of any more openly gay bishops, he undid in a two-hour span a good percentage of the good work that had been accomplished over the two- week conference.
He was unwilling to let stand the Indaba Reflection reports as a mind of the communion declining to draw lines in the sand that would further polarize us on our differences on human sexuality and continue to distract us from the other issues our Gospel mission and ministry crying for our attention. After two weeks at Lambeth Conference, the mind of the bishops to live with those differences rather than let them be the divisions the Gafconistas insist they must be offered a great whiff of hope to the end of the sex wars and a vision for the beginning of a new way of being communion together.
Instead, Williams turned a blind eye to their leadership and threw down a gauntlet to the Americans and Canadians – challenging them to make the “Sophie’s Choice” between the full inclusion of their provinces in the Anglican Communion or the full inclusion of their LGBT baptized in the Body of Christ. Some bishops have already responded – including Marc Andrus in an ENS article:
Andrus said California would not abide by the moratorium on same-sex blessings but that he takes it "as incumbent on me and on us in the diocese to actively labor to both understand the position of those to whom that moratorium is important, and to convey the reality of our life together to the world."
And I was grateful to see this quote from the Integrity Lambeth Response Statement included by ENS as well: "there is nothing 'generous' about asking the LGBT faithful to bear the burden of unity of the Anglican Communion on their shoulders and there is no theological defense for sacrificing a minority of the baptized to the will of a majority."
So there you have it. And now I’m ready for my nap.
More Lambeth post-mortem later – maybe much later. I’m deeply aware that this long journey home is going to be followed by a short stay at home, as I head to Minnesota on Sunday to gather with family there for my mother’s memorial service on Tuesday next. And so my attention will be focused on my smaller immediate family rather than my larger Anglican family – which has gotten just about all I’ve got to give it for the moment.
La lucha continua!