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Reactions to Lambeth Conference span the spectrum

Episcopal Life Online – News

[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] The buses bearing the 2008 Lambeth Conference’s 670 purple cassock-clad bishops had barely arrived at Canterbury Cathedral for the 18-day gathering’s final Eucharist August 3 when reactions to the event and its final reflections document began to appear.

The reactions ranged across the spectrum of opinion, with some urging decisive action in concert with the comments made in the reflections document and some cautioning against making legislation out of a document that is a self-described narrative of the conference.

Noticeably quiet on that day was the Global Anglican Future Conference, which held a June gathering of conservative Anglicans and Episcopalians in Jerusalem. Its silence was noteworthy considering that the absence of the so-called GAFCON bishops is referenced in the introductory section of the reflections document.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said near the end of his final presidential address that “in the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages” of the efforts to maintain the communion. “Much in the GAFCON documents is consonant with much of what we have sought to say and do, and we need to look for the best ways of building bridges here,” he said.

Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen, who emerged as a GAFCON leader during its June gathering in Jerusalem, said August 4 in a short news release that “our absence focused minds on the problems within the communion and spoke louder than our presence would have.”

A two-sentence statement appeared August 4 on GAFCON’s website, saying: “The Primates’ Council of GAFCON will wish to study the outcome of the Lambeth Conference carefully and consult with those they are leading. They are meeting towards the end of August and will make their response following that meeting.”

There was still a day to go before the reflections document was released when the bishops of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa issued a statement August 2 calling for “a spirit of mutual submission to prevail and for unity to be restored.”

Bishops Mouneer Anis, Derek Eaton, and Andrew Proud said that the gathering had been a “most valuable opportunity to express our thoughts and concerns and to listen to the concerns of others.” They called for movement on the Windsor continuation process, the Anglican covenant and the moratoria — called for in the Windsor Report (in Section D) — on authorizing public rites for blessing same-gender relationships, consecrating people involved in same-gender relationships and crossing diocesan and provincial borders to exercise episcopal ministry.

The three argue that the first two moratoria “pertain to central moral teaching while the last is a matter simply of administration and good order.”

Anis, the primate of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East, is also one of the signatories of a statement issued August 3 by the self-identified members of the Anglican global south.

The statement was issued from the Lambeth Conference, according to the text, and is currently also signed by bishops and primates Ian Ernest (Indian Ocean), Bernard Ntahoturi (Burundi), Dirokpa Balufuga Fidèle (Congo), John Chew (Southeast Asia), Stephen Than Myint Oo (Myanmar), Valentino Mokiwa (Tanzania), Daniel Deng Bul Yak (Sudan), and Justice Ofei Akrofi (West Africa), John Wilson Gladstone (South India) and Donald Mtetemela (Tanzania). The current version of the statement notes that the list of signers is being updated.

The signers said that they “stand in solidarity with all the faithful Bishops, Clergy and Laity in the United States and Canada and elsewhere who are suffering recrimination and hostility perpetrated upon them by their dioceses and/or national churches which have not unequivocally complied with the specific Windsor proposals required of them in full.”

They said the communion “is at the probable brink of collapse” and that the May 2009 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) ought to endorse the proposed Anglican covenant. They called on the Lambeth Conference to give “clear endorsement and immediate implementation” of the Windsor Continuation Group’s July 28 proposal for a pastoral forum.

The continuation group, charged with the implementation of the some of the Windsor Report’s recommendations, proposed that the forum that would rapidly “engage theologically and practically with situations of controversy as they arise or divisive actions that may be taken around the Communion.” The forum could “offer pastoral advice and guidelines.” It could also develop a plan to hold “in trust” alternative Anglican groups that have attempted to organize people who disagree with the Episcopal Church’s stance on the issues involved in the moratoria so that they can prepare “for their reconciliation within their proper provinces,” the continuation group said.

While the reflections document says the idea of a pastoral forum was supported by many Lambeth bishops, it did not outline the implementation the statement signers called for. Williams said in his last presidential address that he would “look within the next two months for a clear and detailed specification for the task and composition of a pastoral forum.” Williams did not say where that “specification” would come from, although the continuation group has said it will meet in the fall to consider what it heard from bishops at Lambeth.

The Global South leaders’ statement also charges that “substantial theological voices outside of the Western world have not been present in the evening plenary sessions of the Lambeth Conference,” calling it an example of the “continuing patronising attitude of the West towards the rest of the churches worldwide.” The signers deem the perceived lack to be part of what they call “attempts to cause divisions and break the bonds between churches in the Global South,” adding that “the realities in our churches are often misrepresented and misunderstood in the West.”

The statement says that the Global South Primates’ Steering Committee will meet soon to discuss “how to move the global Anglican Communion substantially and effectively forward.” The signers pledge to work with “all orthodox groups in the United States of America and Canada: to listen together to what Lord Jesus says to his church today, to draw strength and insights from one another, and to take fresh initiatives in upholding and passing on the faith once delivered to the saints.”

On the day after the conference, Diocese of California Bishop Marc Andrus described as “profound and generous”
Williams’ suggestion in his final presidential address that “there will be some who cannot abide by these moratoria, and in this they signal that there are steps to deeper unity they cannot take; or it may be that they conceive of deeper unity in other ways.”

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.”

Andrus echoed others’ reactions when he noted that “the document is not legislation.”

“We will pay close attention to it, but we must not reify the agreement points in it into laws, and we should resist interpretations that seek to employ those agreements as laws,” he wrote.

On August 3, Integrity USA’s Susan Russell warned of a similar tendency, urging bishops to “resist the temptation of those who will try to turn this descriptive document into a proscriptive edict.”

She also challenged the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops to partner with the House of Deputies “to break the cycle of being bullied into bigotry and distracted from mission and ministry by those who would exclude us because of our commitment to the full inclusion of all the baptized in the Body of Christ.”

“We look forward to General Convention 2009 and the opportunities we will have there to move the church further forward on the journey toward full inclusion,” Russell continued.

“We remind our bishops that we cannot live up to our baptismal vows to respect the dignity of every human being if we tell some of them that they are good enough to arrange our flowers, play our organs, direct our choirs, teach our Sunday Schools, and lead our worship — but not good enough to have their vocations affirmed and their relationships blessed,” Russell said.

Referring to suggestions made during the conference that the proposed Anglican covenant and the moratoria might be ways that members of the communion might be generous towards each other, Russell argued that “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.”

Diocese of Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee said August 3 in a video log that he had come to understand “like never before” how physically dangerous it can be for some Anglicans to discuss homosexuality. He said he came “face-to-face with fellow believers who hold a view of Scripture that I cannot understand.” Lee said that he did not get answers to the questions he asked them about how the issue of the full inclusion of homosexual persons can rise “to the level of saving [the] faith or should be the cause of the breaking of communion.”

Before the reflections document was released on the afternoon of August 3, South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence, who later called Williams’ comment about GAFCON “a crucial and gracious overture,” told reporters that he had witnessed a “new prince” being born at the group’s Jerusalem meeting.

“It was an awkward and messy birth,” he said, reading from what he called his “morning meditation.” Lawrence said he knew that his role is now to “hold together as much as I can for as long as I can that when he comes to his rightful place on St. Augustine’s throne in Canterbury Cathedral he will have a faithful and richly textured kingdom.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for Episcopal Church governance, structure, and trends.

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One response

  1. Wait for WHAT, I ask. What exactly does time have to do with the love of God and our Baptismal covenant, as outlined by Susan Russell, above?

    August 5, 2008 at 10:33 pm

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