Did the Lambeth Conference make or break the Communion?

December 1, 2009

in God Made the Rainbow

Originally posted on God Made The Rainbow on 5th August, 2008.

Well, Lambeth Conference 2008 has finally come to an end, and it seems that the question left over (besides the gay one, and the women one, and the scriptural interpretation one, and…) is, will there be enough of a Communion left for the next conference in 2018?

By any most standards, the conference has been a success, there was no rumpus within the the conference itself, despite Gene Robinson and the Archbishop of Uganda trying to stir things up. More importantly, most of the bishops finally got a chance to meet and get to know one another, in a non-confrontational setting. Rowan William’s decision to strip Lambeth of all votes, resolutions and other combatory processes was a stroke of genius – suddenly the bishops could stop trying to trip each other up with their mitres and get on with the business of loving God and each other. Not to say there weren’t pitfalls, of course, the Archbishop of Sudan demanding Gene Robinson’s resignation being the low point for me. But like Rabbi Shlomo Riskin said, "there is a tendency to demonise, almost dehumanise" those who are different from you. Until of course, you realise they aren’t any different. I think a large part of Lambeth was about getting the bishops to realise that their fellow bishops were, in fact, humans too. It’s just a shame that the 230 hardliners couldn’ t have shown up – their hearts could do with a little softening.

Much as I think Gene Robinson should, as a validly consecrated bishop of the Anglican Communion, have been invited to the conference, I don’t really see what he achieved by hanging around on the fringes beyond making people unnecessarily paranoid. To be honest, to me it made him seem a bit like a little boy hanging around on the the edge of a football pitch, wanting to be invited to join in the game. I have more respect for him than that.

But now that both Lambeth and GAFCON are over, what are we looking at? Ultimately, I believe we ARE looking at a schism, or rather, several schisms. Obviously, there would the intial split between the "liberal" (America) and "conservative" (Africa) wings, but then it gets more complicated. On whose side, for example, would the Anglican Church of Australia fall? The country is reasonably liberal, but the Archbishop of Australia happens to be as fundamentalist as you can get for an Anglican. What would happen with all the cross-border interventions that will start happening right, left and centre as traditional parishes in liberal provinces and liberal parishes in traditional provinces decide they want their own pastoral care?

Similarly, the African archbishops seem to think that their church is entirely united on doctrinal issues, but Times Correspondant Ruth Gledhill was told by several bishops that they would have liked to attend the conference but were forbidden to by the archbishops. And what about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who fully supports women and gay’s ordination? Indeed, who said "If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God."? Will Peter Akinola demand his ejection from the Communion or whatever replaces it as well?

In addition to these complications, there is the issue of money. The conservative church’s funds nearly all happen to derive from the very churches they are seeking to separate from. Call me cynical, but I suspect that was what prompted GAFCON, a way of making trouble in the Communion without havng to give up any of the cash that comes with membership. I guess it rather puts the conservatives in a bit fo a quandary; you cannot, after all, serve both God and Mammon. ;)

All these issues face anyone unable to bear a second longer sharing a room, or church, or brotherhood with a gay man. I find it unfortunate that so many bishops have chosen to spend so much time thinking about it when every time Bono clicks his fingers, a child dies in Africa. I know I approach this from a perspective that fully supports gay equality, but even so it really is beyond me why so many people oppose one sort of "sin" over another. Anglican theology states that we all sin, even bishops. So Gene Robinson is just as much a sinner as Peter Akinola, whether he happens to be sleeping with men or not. What happened to "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?" Am I missing something here? I hope Lambeth may have in some small way focussed the bishops on the same question. We need hope and reconciliation, like the 1st century Jews needed hope and reconciliation from their oppression by the Romans. Jesus said all sorts of nice and lovely things (except for that fig tree incident) about accepting your fellow man exactly as they are, but they seem to be getting rather lost in the ether…

So, I think Lambeth was good. It brought the bishops together as people, and as worshippers, which I am always in favour of. It did highlight some pressing social issues, and it did manage to avoid the tactically managed hysteria of Lambeth ’98 (Read "Anglicans at War: The Church and Homosexuality" by Stephen Bates for a brilliant retrospective on THAT one). It’s probably delayed schism by a few years, but it hasn’t stopped the slide.

The rest of us will just have to sit back and watch in despair.

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