Note: This is the 20th anniversary of the historic 1998 Lambeth Conference. I was present there, representing the American Anglican Council (AAC). In this capacity I filed a three-week “Diary” of the Conference. I am posting this diary without revision, except for the final week.
The first conference of 76 bishops was held at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Palace in London. This year’s conference, the largest ever with over 800 bishops and 600 “spouses” (all wives except for 4 husbands of female bishops), is being held on the campus of the University of Kent, located on a hill overlooking the town of Canterbury and its historic cathedral. The weather has been sunny and cool, easing the movement of the bishops who must walk from event to event as few of them have cars. The accommodations are spartan. Several of the buildings were designed by a mad geometric genius, and it is possible that some bishops are forever roaming the halls looking for their rooms. One gets the sense that the physical set-up impedes fellowship and organization among the bishops.
Even though the Western bishops are disproportionately represented (e.g., an average U.S. bishop may represent 5,000-10,000 laypeople, while the average Nigerian bishop represents 150,000-200,000) the predominance of non-white bishops here is striking. Sadly, this predominance is not matched in terms of the Conference leadership, which is largely white and largely liberal theologically.
Who’s In Charge
The agenda has been set by the Anglican Consultative Council Office, a London-based bureaucracy set up in 1968 to keep the Communion going between decennial conferences. In the eyes of many, the ACC Office (note not AAC!) has been inordinately influenced by the West and the Episcopal Church USA in particular. To give an example from the most contentious issue of the Conference, the pre-Lambeth sexuality report, written by appointment of the ACC, totally ignored and indeed contradicted the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality, which was a document that emerged from an official meeting of “Southern” (i.e., Third World) Anglicans.
Unhappiness with the ACC Office boiled over last weekend when the Bishops of the Province of South East Asia circulated a letter expressing “grave concern about the General Secretary of the ACC [the Rev. John Peterson] and the future of the Anglican Communion.” Speaking for the bishops, Archbishop Moses Tay of Singapore charged the ACC with bias in the firing of the Rev. Dr. Cyril Okorocha, an outspoken Evangelical who was fired this year as the coordinator of the Decade of Evangelism. This accusation has lead to a series of closed-door meetings and points to what may be a major political dynamic of the Conference: a revolt of the Third World bishops against the Western-dominated leadership.
The handling of the press reflects the top-down mindset of the ACC brass. The official news service is composed of Establishment church journalists, overseen by James Rosenthal of the ACC. There was a long delay in accrediting other reporters, including conservatives and representatives of “pressure groups.” Only the week before the Conference did they decide to issue credentials to all comers, warning the bishops privately to beware of people in pink nametags.
The daily press briefings would do Mike McCurry proud, as his counterpart, Father Bill Beaver, makes sure that no controversy breaks out. This tactic may have backfired on Friday. The press conference seemed like a pep rally for Christian Aid, a group promoting “Jubilee 2000” and damning the World Bank. There was no inkling of how controversial Christian Aid’s position truly is (see below).
Major Events of the First Week
The opening events felt like a convocation during the “Babylonian Captivity” in the 14th century, when there were two popes, one at Rome and one at Avignon. This time the rivals are the Archbishop George Carey in Canterbury and the Great Reformer (some would say Heresiarch) John Spong in London who were competing for headlines.
The Archbishop gave very proper opening addresses on Saturday and Monday, calling for unity and charity among parties. However, he also issued a veiled challenge to Spong’s denials of a personal God and the Resurrection of Jesus. The Archbishop spoke of the Resurrection as “the very heart of Anglicanism and concluded: “My brothers and sisters, be very sure of this, that if our faith is not based in the personal God who has made himself known to us in Jesus Christ and who has raised Jesus from the dead, we have nothing, absolutely nothing, to offer our world.” Ipso facto, Bishop Spong has nothing to offer the Christian faith and Anglicanism and should hie him hence to a Buddhist temple (if they will have him there).
The opening service on Sunday was held in Canterbury Cathedral, the central seat of the Anglican Communion. Much pageantry, with bishops all dressed in purple (rather clashing shades, one must confess). The music and liturgy reflected the multi-ethnic character of the communion, mixing “O For a Thousand Tongues” with “Sizohamba naye” translated “We are on the Lord’s Road.” What was strikingly missing from the service were the cadences of the traditional English Book of Common Prayer, which has been one hallmark uniting Anglicans worldwide.
Meanwhile back in Avignon… Bishop Spong had kicked off his triumphal tour the week before by referring to African Christians as “superstitious and fundamentalist.” “They’ve moved out of animism into a very superstitious kind of Christianity.” (Later on, in a rare admission, he asked that this statement not be taken literally.)
Then on Saturday, just as the Archbishop was speaking, the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, one of Spong’s 30-strong cadre of gay/lesbian clergy, celebrated the Eucharist at the chapel of King’s College in London, the first time a lesbian has openly presided in England. According to a press report in The Guardian, “Mrs Kaeton has been living ‘monogamously’ with her partner Barbara, a nurse, for 22 years. They were both previously married and knew each other’s families. After they fell in love and their marriages broke up, they lost custody of the four children from their marriages. Five years later the couple regained custody, adopted another child and had another through in vitro fertilisation.”
The report went on to note: “Mrs Kaeton’s licence to celebrate the sacraments as a priest outside the Church of England was approved by officials of the Diocese of London, who were apparently unaware of her background.” From the Philadelphia Eleven (1974) to Ellen Barrett (1977), to Robert Williams and Barry Stopfel (1989-90), to you-name-it, the tactics of the revisers continue unabated. It is just possible, however, that the Third World bishops, who have experienced their share of bullying over the years, will not be cowed by this approach.
On Sunday, Bishop Spong preached in Southwark Cathedral in what he had earlier billed as an “alternative opening” to the Conference. Few if any bishops hearkened to his call. At the same time, two bishops and a few gay activists picketed outside the cathedral in Canterbury. One of them was Otis Charles, former Bishop of Utah and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, who a few years ago abandoned his wife of thirty years for a gay lover in San Francisco.
Bishop Spong appeared at the Conference Monday and has been strangely silent since. Since nothing he does is apolitical, one may opine either he is biding his time for a grand blast or that he realizes that he may drive centrist Western bishops to support a conservative sexuality statement from the Third World. He admitted that conservatives could well succeed: “If they choose to move in that direction, they have the power to do so,” he said to his loyal coterie in London and promised a minority report if that were the case.
On Monday, the Conference officially began with bishops attending plenary addresses and sections on the four assigned topics of the Conference. But the most newsworthy event of the day came at Vespers where Cardinal Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity warned obliquely that “the commitment to unity is relativised if diversity and differences that cannot be reconciled with the Gospel are at the same time being embraced and exalted.”
The spin doctors at the ACC Office tried to blunt the point by noting that “he did not specify any particular situations difficult to the Roman Catholic Church.” This is a bit hard to reconcile with his actual words: “Are we not experiencing in fact new and deep divisions among Christians as a result of contrasting approaches to human sexuality for instance? When such attitudes are in the ascendant, disunity between Christians will remain unresolved. Moreover, disunity becomes an increasingly grave matter within the still separated Churches as well. Authoritative proclamation of the Gospel is diminished.”
The Cardinal was making a salient point. Not only does the sexuality issue doom any further ecumenical progress, but it threatens the Anglican Communion with internal disunity. It is therefore ironic indeed that following the address, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who has spent many years in Anglican-Roman talks, introduced the ecumenical representatives from the Roman Catholic Church. Bishop Griswold, one would think, must be awfully torn knowing that his support of the gay agenda and mandatory women’s ordination has driven a stake into the heart of any unity between Rome and Canterbury.
Tuesday and Wednesday included plenary addresses on the Bible and moral decision-making that made some good points but seemed designed to suggest that using the Bible to determine matters of faith and morals was a terribly complex matter and that “diversity in communion” (the in-word for conference organizers) was the best way ahead for the Anglican Communion.
This ideal of diversity was shattered on Wednesday afternoon. Bishop Duncan Buchanan of Johannesburg, who had been appointed over the contentious sexuality section, had unilaterally promised gay rights activists that they could “tell their stories” to the bishops in his group. Bishop James Stanton, it is reported, objected to importing outside advocates to an internal discussion and argued that if the gay lobby was admitted, ex-gays and celibate gays must also be invited to speak. This objection led to an hour-long brouhaha and a 2-to-1 vote to overturn Bishop Buchanan’s decision.
So the gay lobby was disinvited. Bishop Buchanan was later described as “shell-shocked and traumatized” by the “strength and ferocity of feelings and the dynamic of the group.” The next day he said he was committed to the decision and the process as expressing the will of God. (The next evening, Archbishop Carey and 28 other bishops, apparently responding to the event, paid a visit to a cheese and wine reception by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and agreed to further face-to-face meetings.)
This rejection of gay testimony, plus a vote in the House of Lords blocking the lowering of the age of consent for homosexuals from 18 to 16, cast a dark cloud over “Rainbow Day” on Thursday. Richard Holloway, Primus of Scotland, who is resigning his post in order to run for Parliament, spoke to a bishop-less assembly of about 50 lamenting that the Lords’ decision would be “perceived by the gay and lesbian community, especially among the young, as yet another rejection.” Excuse my asking, but I thought the gay lobby favored only para-marital sexual relationships between mature adults. Does this suggest they favor genital acts between 16-year-olds or between 30-year-olds and 16-year-olds? Better that the Primus favor the raising of the age of consent for heterosexuals!
After his speech, the Rev. Earle Fox asked Holloway whether his mind on homosexuality might be changed by incontrovertible evidence. Holloway replied: “If, incontrovertibly, you brought me a personally signed fax from God, it might, but that’s not likely.” To which one is tempted to reply to him: “You don’t need a FAX. You have Moses and the prophets; listen to them” (Luke 16:29).
Friday was International Debt day. Christian Aid, an advocacy group calling for the complete remission of the $215 billion in Third World debt, was given a place of privilege at all events. (No mention was made, for instance, of the “Five Talents” proposal, sponsored by the AAC.) This promotion, however, became problematic in the afternoon plenary session. The program began with a video from Christian Aid, highlighting the plight of the poor and criticizing the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for placing too many conditions and restrictions in its loan reduction programs.
Archbishop Carey followed with an introduction that seemed to commit himself personally to the approach of the next speaker, James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank. “He is,” said the Archbishop, “a man of high principle and broad sympathy. His own undeniable vision for a better, fairer world is challenging to all who claim for themselves the moral high ground on this complex issue. He too wants to get things done, but he more than most knows the economic realities which challenge simplistic solutions.”
What followed was, it seems, not anticipated by anyone, including perhaps the speaker himself. Apparently, abandoning his notes, Mr. Wolfensohn began: “I believe I have never before been preceded by two such diverse introductions,” referring to the film and the Archbishop. He proceeded into a spirited defense of the World Bank and attacked the data and spirit of the film. “I yield the moral superiority to nobody.”
Wolfensohn has been responsible for a major policy change at the World Bank called the Highly Indebted Poor Countries”(HIPC) debt initiative, which provides for restructuring of loans and actual forgiveness of some debt. What has offended proponents of total debt forgiveness is HIPC’s requirement that countries make political and economic reforms in order to qualify for debt reduction. Jubilee 2000 calls for total remission of debt, while HIPC retains the requirement that countries honor their financial commitments.
Wolfensohn by no means minimized the seriousness of the debt crisis, though he pointed out that there was a difference between “a debt you can live with,” which everyone carries, and unsustainable debt. But, he said, “if someone comes to you and asks for $10,000 and is a gambler and a womanizer, will you likely to loan them your money. Countries are the same.” He pointed out that even if the World Bank committed itself to total forgiveness, it would have only $23 billion at its disposal. The remaining assets of 150 billion belong to investors (like pension funds). “There is a limit to the extent to which we (the World Bank) and they (investors) are willing to forgive debt.”
After Wolfensohn’s blast, Bishop Ndungane of Cape Town got the program back on course by calling for an “international mediation council” or bankruptcy court. HIPC, he said, was dominated by the creditors, who serve as plaintiff, judge and jury. Bishop Ndungane’s proposal may represent a moderation of the Jubilee demand for total remission, but it was clear that he expected the mediation council to side, more often than not, with the debtor nations. “I have a dream,” he perorated in a weak imitation of Martin Luther King, “cancellation of debt by the year 2000.”
Bishop Ndungane received a half-standing ovation from the assembly. Afterward some were angry at Wolfensohn’s defensiveness and felt he had spoiled the day. Others appreciated the directness and realism of his speech after much utopian rhetoric. One senses that many bishops, while applauding total debt forgiveness publicly, realize that it is impractical. I pointed out the reason for this in the June/July Encompass editorial:
Creditors know how to “make friends with unrighteous mammon” (Luke 16:9). If we have learned anything in the last 25 years, it is that no-strings-attached welfare does not work at home or abroad. Programs like the HIPC Initiative of the World Bank combine market incentives with debt forgiveness. Why should we disparage their work by lofty proclamations that we cannot possibly carry out?
The week ended quietly in terms of plenary sessions, but the four section groups are moving toward final reports. From these reports, each section will send 3 resolutions to a Resolutions Committee. In addition, each of 9 regional meetings (regions are groups of provinces, which are themselves composed of dioceses) will submit 2 resolutions. The Resolutions Committee, which is one-sidedly weighted with liberals, will screen the resolutions that actually come before the whole assembly. Lambeth Conferences have always passed resolutions that have moral if not legal force throughout the Communion.
The AAC’s Role at Lambeth
There were two big events sponsored this first week by the Oxford Centre/AAC. The first was the distribution of the Lambeth Directory on Monday. The Lambeth Directory is a complete listing, beautifully bound, of every bishop in the Communion, with a photograph and basic statistics. The book was researched by George Conger (amazingly the ACC Executive in London had only sketchy information), and it was paid for by the Bishop of Dallas and published by the Oxford Center and the AAC. Our staff fanned out across the campus to hand-deliver these directories. The directory makes it possible for bishops to identify each other and have more polite and accurate conversation. Archbishop Carey was ecstatic. “This is the Anglican Communion,” he said. Many others, of all different political stripe, agreed that this was a wonderful gift. We see it as representing our primary mission to the Conference, to serve the bishops in their important work.
The second major event was a reception Thursday night to explain and celebrate the Five Talents project. The Five Talents idea emerged out of the Dallas Conference last fall, where we heard the concerns of the Third World bishops about poverty and debt. The project was researched and worked into a formal proposal by Robert Miclean of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, an AAC affiliate, whose director Diane Knippers raised the funding for Robert’s work.
The term “Five Talents” is taken from Jesus’ parable about stewards who used their money wisely in order to earn yet more (Matthew 25:16). It proposes a micro-enterprise development (MED) plan for the churches of the Anglican Communion. Five Talents would link up with Opportunity International, a Christian-based MED group that has 28 years of experience all over the world. The basic idea is that Five Talents would arrange to make small loans ($100) to villagers who would use the money to enhance their business. When they repay the money (and over 90% do), they qualify for further loans. This creates a revolving fund that can be expanded to others.
We hand-delivered invitations to each bishop’s dorm room on Monday and began receiving RSVP’s in large numbers. About 150 bishops attended the Thursday reception at the Franciscan Centre, which featured a tasty spread of pies and cheeses. Considering that we were competing with a production of Murder in the Cathedral at the Canterbury Cathedral and the Jubilee 2000 reception, the turnout was remarkable. The large preponderance of bishops was African, but there were several Western bishops, such as Michael Peers, Archbishop of Canada, and Rowan Williams, Bishop of Monmouth (Wales).
Bishop Simon Chiwanga, who is the head of the ACC (and much more sympathetic to our work than the bureaucrats in London), chaired the reception. “What we would like to see,” he said, “is a resolution at Lambeth which endorses and commends to the Church the Five Talents Project initiative.” He urged that the proposal be pushed forward in several sections, concluding: “As the Church implements Five Talents the world will see our concrete response to poverty. They will see the love of Christ and the tangible way in which we minister to ‘the least of these our brethren’ and God will be glorified.”
We were ecstatic about the response. There seems to be momentum for the Communion to endorse Five Talents. We received notice on Saturday that Archbishop George Carey is the first contributor to the fund, donating £1000. Praise God! If all goes well, our work will be to raise the minimum $500,000 needed to begin the project. With God all things are possible, and we believe that this program will be ready to roll within a year.
Five Talents is not meant to compete directly with Jubilee 2000. The Conference may endorse both. But there are divergent principles at work. Jubilee 2000 aims at governments with the hope they will use money for the poor; Five Talents begins at the grass roots and hopes that strengthening families and villages will enhance the overall quality of life. Jubilee 2000 speaks of a “a moral obligation to forgive debt.” Five Talents assumes that people will repay their debts when they contract them freely and that “to those who are faithful in a little, more will be entrusted.” Jubilee 2000, like the original biblical Jubilee, is more a dream than a reality. MED’s like Five Talents are already being successfully employed around the world.
Meet the AAC Team
There is a team of volunteers, working for the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and AAC. Most of these workers are operating out of the Franciscan Study Center, just off the Kent University campus, and are living together at Riverdale House, a dormitory of the Kent School of Art and Design. Meet some of the foot soldiers in our all-volunteer army.
Truro Episcopal Church has made a signal effort to help the AAC work at Lambeth. The Rector Martyn Minns and his wife Angela and their daughter Rachel have given up three precious weeks of sabbatical time to be here. Martyn leads devotions every morning at 8 am in the dormitory and is organizing various events, such as the upcoming meeting on sexuality to be held next Wednesday. Angela has become house-mother to all the team. She says she actually enjoys doing laundry and has kept us all in clean attire. Rachel interjects good-humored comments into our meetings just when things are getting too heavy.
Bruce Mason is Martyn’s Executive Assistant at Truro. A young man with great organizational gifts, Bruce has helped organize the team, produced the nine-day cycle of prayer, and has worked on the Five Talents project. On Friday night he heard that a gunman had broken into the Whip’s office in Congress where his wife Shay works. We gave thanks that she was not present at that time, even as we grieve with the families of the guards who were killed. Bruce is returning to the States and Truro this weekend.
Paul Julienne, a Truro parishioner, is an atomic physicst with the Bureau of Standards who believes in the power of prayer. He recruited one Episcopalian to pray for every diocesan bishop at Lambeth. On Friday, when my computer crashed, I sought Paul’s technical support. The computer immediately booted up. “You really know what your are doing,” I said. “Actually,” Paul replied gently, “I think my prayer helped.”
Warren Thrasher, another Truroite, took an early separation package from AT&T where he had been a vice-president. Finding himself between jobs, Warren decided to take the opportunity it afforded to serve. He has been ubiquitous during the week, setting up the office, overseeing the mail distributions, and equipping the team with cell phones (he has worked for AT&T no less) and keeping us theological types in touch with the layman’s point of view (Warren’s word or Bishop Spong is not heresiarch but hypocrite).
Marietta Julienne and Emily Thrasher are Truro parishioners who have been librarians in schools and churches. So naturally they began setting up the small but helpful OCMS library at the Study Center. This library provides resources to our team and to bishops who need to write position papers or news reports.
Looking Ahead to Lambeth, Week Two
Several main events are planned for next week. Two of these will seek to bring together bishops from particular regions. The first begins on Saturday, July 25. It will be a celebration of the East African revival, with worship and fellowship.
The second, on Wednesday July 29, will include bishops from India and Pakistan, many of whom have encountered discrimination and persecution from the Hindu and Muslim majorities in their countries.
The third event will be a forum of bishops and advisors to discuss the biblical understanding of sex and marriage, and to talk about the nature of homosexuality and how they may deal with and overcome this disorder. A letter of invitation, signed by 7 archbishops and 68 other bishops, is going out Saturday. We hope that out of this event, all those who share a commitment to biblical morality will be brought together, edified, and unified in their approach to this issue facing the conference.
Please pray for these events, along with our prayer team, which meets from 9am to 10 pm each day. While it is hard to gauge exactly how the conference is moving, we are, all in all, encouraged. We have experienced great encouragement working together and great encouragement from the many godly bishops here. Above all, we are encouraged by “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:1).
I began my week with a memorable pair of images that I think may foreshadow the future of the Anglican Communion. On my way to worship early Sunday morning, I suddenly made a turn and was confronted with the tower of Canterbury Cathedral shining in the early summer sunshine. We worshiped in the choir area where the stones are chipped and gnarled by generations of reverent feet. The service was the traditional Anglican rite. I could not help thinking of Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant archbishop, who had so shaped the Anglican way by his precious words, by his cautious but principled government of the Church through many tribulations, and by his final self-offering on the pyre.
Sunday evening I found myself seated around a table with bishops and archbishops from all parts of the world. As the meeting closed, the Most Reverend Joseph Adetiloye was asked to pray. Though soft-spoken, he radiates spiritual gravitas. He presides over the world’s largest province of Anglicans, where there are far more Anglicans in church on Sunday than in the United States and England combined. As the Archbishop prayed in precise but African English, I heard the same cadences of beauty and piety proceed from his mouth that I had heard that morning in the liturgy. George Herbert the poet once predicted that the power of the British Church would follow the horizon west. Truly in our day the vital glory of Anglicanism has taken residence south of the equator.
What Ever Happened to the Decade of Evangelism?
So how large is the Anglican Communion? The official figures for 1997 claim 63 million. A Sunday Times survey, however, claimed that only 23 million actually attend church on a given Sunday. The most embarrassing statistic is that while England claims 26 million baptized members, only a million attend church. Archbishop Robin Eames of Ireland explained that this gap “simply reflects the reality that not every baptised member is in church on Sunday every week.” Huh? Denials like this are part of the problem.
It is hard to see that the Decade of Evangelism, approved at Lambeth 1988, has had any impact in the West. But then the Decade of Evangelism was the Third World’s baby to begin with. (To be sure, the idea of calling the 90’s a Decade of Evangelism came from Bishop Alden Hathaway and was presented to the Episcopal Church in 1988.) But one gets the sense that many Western bishops humored their Third World comrades by voting for it. After all, who can oppose evangelism, especially if one is free to identify it with one’s own pet projects?
I have just seen the Report of the mission section “Called to Live and Proclaim the Good News.” It is not bad overall, it has some helpful analysis of the missionary setting of the churches. Still, there is something missing, the urgency, the boldness, the sacrificial spirit that is called for by the Risen Lord. The problem is not in the plans but in the will to evangelise.
The Business of Lambeth
Although the Lambeth Conference is not a political legislature, it is the closest analogy to the early Church’s ecumenical councils that we have. To mobilize 800 people (and bishops to boot) to reach a conclusion on any one issue or range of issues is a colossal task. The key advantage in influencing so large an assembly clearly belongs to those who set the agenda. If one steps back and surveys the array of agenda-setting devices, it is perfectly clear that the “progressivist” leadership of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is heavily indebted to American Episcopal Church, has had a massive advantage. The Oxford Centre/AAC team has tried to offer a counterbalance to this initial advantage.
The bishops have spent much of the week in the four main “section” groups:
Section One: Called to Full Humanity, dealing with social ethical issues of environment, euthanasia, technology, sexuality, international debt.
Section Two: Holding and Sharing the Faith, dealing with mission and evangelism, interfaith relations, and youth.
Section Three: Living as Anglicans in a Plural World, dealing with structures of authority within the Communion.
Section Four: Seeking Full Visible Unity, dealing with ecumenism.
Many of these sections are divided into subsections by topic. Bishops were invited to sign up for the topic of their choice. Thus, for instance, it is not accidental that Jim Stanton and Jack Spong are both in the Human Sexuality sub-section. By the end of the second week, each section will have written a report on behalf of the whole Conference, along with accompanying Resolutions. The Reports are approved by the Conference and then bound together in a volume.
Clearly there has been much vigorous fellowship in some of the subsections. The Human Sexuality group has met overtime but seemed to have reached a conservative “consensus” by the week’s end. In other groups, there was clearly not enough debate. The euthanasia group appears to be prepared to defend, after very little debate, withdrawal of food and water from people in a persistent vegetative state. The International Debt section appears to be dominated by one agenda: a call for total remission.
Conference Resolutions, which will be debated next week, carry more weight than the section reports for a number of reasons. First, they are shorter and attempt to sum up the wisdom on a particular subject. Secondly, they represent the mind of the whole Conference rather than merely that of one section. Much of the Conference agenda for the third week will involve debate on the Resolutions.
Some Resolutions will sail through without debate as “Agreed Resolutions,” unless fifty bishops sign a petition opposing them. As many of us know from Episcopal Church politics, one must read the fine print of such Resolutions as they go by. There was an Agreed Resolution on “Unity Within the Provinces of the Anglican Communion” that would place sole oversight of “alternative oversight” of parishes (like the one in Arkansas) with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Because this issue touches on the larger problems of theological disunity in the Communion, conservatives mustered fifty votes to oppose it.
Resolutions come not only from the four Sections but also from the 9 regional groups of the 37 Provinces, e.g., North America. It seems clear that some Resolutions from the sections will overlap with, and probably conflict with, the Resolutions of the sections. The task of the Resolutions Committee is to bring a coherent package to the full Conference next week. Whether the Committee, which is composed predominantly of liberals, will perform that task fairly is yet to be seen.
Looking ahead to the week of August 2-9, the key legislative sections of the whole Conference begin Tuesday afternoon and conclude by Friday noon. The closing session is held Saturday morning and bishops begin to leave on Sunday. Somewhat surprisingly, there is no final service at the Cathedral.
Events of the Week
The Spong Show is, of course, a running attraction. There was an ongoing debate about what Jack Spong said about the African Christians and what he meant. By mid-week Spong had made an apology of sorts for describing African Christians as having just “moved out of animism into a very superstitious kind of Christianity.” This Clintonesque apology did not carry much conviction, as he went on explain: “I don’t know what to do about [their offence]. Religion is a deeply emotional thing. It gets into the very fibre of our soul. It is part of our security system.” In other words, their reaction is a psychological defense mechanism to protect themselves from the painful recognition that he’s right.
Personally, I do not think Jack Spong is a racist. I do think he manifests that “politically correct” cultural arrogance characteristic of the Western knowledge class. What Bishop Spong cannot fathom is that the insult which the Africans most resent is the insult to Jesus Christ. It’s a theological offence, and they take it seriously. We in the Episcopal Church have become inured to this man’s constant blasphemy. Our African brothers and sisters have paid a high price for their faith, and they are not amused.
The week began with a discussion of Christian-Muslim relations. The morning press briefing included two rather different figures: Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, and Josiah Idowu-Fearon, bishop of Kaduna in Nigeria. Nazir-Ali, who is Pakistani by birth but Oxbridge by education, is cool, sophisticated, and convinced that Christians and Muslims can live in harmony together, respecting each others’ rights. Idowu-Fearon, whose evangelism has been primarily among animists, is also interested in Christians learning about Islam, but he called Nazir Ali’s vision “an ideal, not the reality.” The reality, he says, is that in Nigeria conversion to Christianity from Islam spells death. He described the way in which Nigerian Christians often experience deprivation and persecution in the Muslim north.
Tuesday was tea-time, as 2,000 bishops and spouses paid a visit to the nominal head of the Church of England at Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth was generous in personally greeting many. The handlers made sure that she met the 11 women bishops, even though she is reported to be opposed to women’s ordination. (From the official press treatment, one would gather that women’s ordination, especially to the episcopate, is not an issue at all.) The Queen’s arrival was announced by a chorus of “God Save the Queen!” At 6pm, the anthem was played again, with the apparent message “Y’all go on home now!”
On Wednesday international debt was back in the headlines. World Bank President James Wolfensohn and his negative words were out of mind, and Archbishop Ndungane of Capetown, who apparently wants to make world debt the equivalent of apartheid, called for immediate action on the program of canceling all debt by 2000. The day before Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of the G8 ministers pilloried by the Jubilee movement, promised an increase of $2.5 billion over the next three years toward international development. That’s about one year too late and $222.5 billion too little to achieve the Jubilee. If Ndungane’s international mediation court is set up, perhaps it can present the U.S. Congress with a bill for the balance. Isolationist conservatives and liberals would love such a move to argue for defunding the World Bank and IMF altogether!
The head of the section on international debt is Bishop Peter Selby of Worcester, who seems to regard the past decade not as a springtime of economic democracy but as the dark age of economic oppression (there has been no mention here of the fall of Communism since 1988). His section refused to consider the Five Talents project because, he said, the proposal did not sufficiently deal with certain justice concerns of the poor. Why doesn’t he let the poor decide about this? Interestingly, although Archbishop Carey himself made the first contribution to Five Talents of £1,000, the Lambeth Daily has not yet mentioned the existence of the proposal.
Each day the bishops meet for Bible study, with accompanying video presentations. Certainly this is good in principle. Apparently the videos are often quite powerful (e.g., one on reconciliation in Northern Ireland), but they are only tangentially connected to the text of 2 Corinthians. It is interesting to note that one bshop, Paul Barnett of Australia, has written a full-length commentary on 2 Corinthians and was not consulted about the Bible study. “Imaginative reading,” rather than close exegesis, is a la mode.
The AAC’s Role at Lambeth
The Oxford Centre for Mission Study/AAC headquarters at the Franciscan Centre has become a hub of activity this week.* There have been major receptions and meetings almost every night as well as daily meetings. We have offered bishops access to e-mail, FAX and phone facilities, and word seems to have gotten out that the Centre is a place for tired bishops to come get a break from the heavy schedule of the Conference. *Note: The Franciscan Centre became notorious. When conservative leaders, well advance of Lambeth 2008, sought to book it again, they found that it was strangely unavailable.
In addition, several of our staff are specifically working with bishops in the four sections, helping them write up proposals and hosting meetings of bishops who need a place to come together.
Wednesday night was a backbreaker for the staff but a blessing for the bishops. Early in the evening, we first hosted a Pakistani-Indian dinner with genuine Tandoori food. It was wonderful to see bishops from these rival nations sitting together. Of course, they have much in common since in their countries Christianity is under attack both from militant Muslims and Hindus.
Immediately following this dinner, there was a gathering of 200 bishops and wives to hear a presentation from Christl Vonholdt, one of our team. Christl lives in the Reichelsheim Fellowship near Frankfurt, Germany. The Fellowship is a kind of L’Abri, and it has always included a number of homosexuals. We had earlier circulated six brochures by Christl which put the gay rights movement in the contemporary cultural context.
After Christl spoke, four former homosexuals gave their testimonies of transformation in Christ. They put a human face on the issue that has been hanging over this Conference. We had invited all 800 bishops to the meeting. Most of those who came were traditionalists, but some like Otis Charles, the self-confessed gay bishop, attended respectfully. He later said that Integrity figured there were only 10 ex-gays in the Episcopal Church and that many who did move out of the gay community left the Church for more evangelical denominations. Precisely!
The Five Talents project, as mentioned above, has been ignored in favor of grandiose lecturing of world leaders on macro-economics. In order to get approval, it had to be supported by a resolution from one of the regions. The Central and East African region failed at first to endorse it, but at a critical moment, God intervened. Bishop Simon Chiwanga found himself, uncharacteristically, with some free time. As he strolled outside the place where the region was meeting, he met two people who told him Five Talents was dead. Bishop Chiwanga proceeded into the meeting, pleaded for the project, and it was added as an agreed motion. It appears likely to go through unless 50 bishops choose to oppose it by petition.
Friday was Celebrate Nigeria night. Nearly 200 Nigerian bishops and wives came decked out in their traditional attire. There was worship, singing, and words of encouragement. One sensed corporately their confidence that their moment of leadership in the Communion has come. May it be so, Lord!
On Saturday, the Franciscan Centre was quiet, but it is a calm before the storm. We are tracking the section reports and the proposed resolutions as they come in. We hope to be ready to help bishops respond to whatever comes out of the Resolutions Committee. But at this moment we feel like we are hitting tennis balls against a backstop. You are not sure how well prepared you are until you have a live player on the opposite court. The final set begins on Tuesday.
It’s Saturday night. I am planning to attend the Cathedral tomorrow again. Thomas Cranmer, pray for us!
Meet the AAC Team
Several members of the team left to go home, but others arrived to fill their ranks. The dormitory is so full that one person is sleeping in the kitchen!
Christl Vonholdt has been an immense help to the team. She had come to the Dallas Conference last September to share her expertise in understanding and counseling homosexuals. She has edited a collection of texts on homosexuality entitled Striving for Gender Identity. She speaks quietly but with complete confidence that homosexuality is a disorder that can usually be healed by God’s grace and by skilled counseling.
Rolf-Alexander Thieke is a Lutheran pastor and teacher from Baden, near Lake Constance in Bavaria. Rolf took his vacation time to drive over to Canterbury carrying the newly published pamphlets by Christl’s pamphlets on homosexuality. Rolf has his own ministry of writing and of counseling homosexuals. He stayed with us a week helping in whatever way he could.
Timothy Kujero is a priest and press officer from Nigeria. This has been Timothy’s first trip outside Nigeria and he has had some interesting reactions to Western food. Presented with a chicken sandwich, Timothy said, “In my country when you order chicken, they give you a chicken!” Timothy has been helping with all our projects and was the Centre host for Nigeria night on Friday.
Peter Aggarwal is an Anglican priest from Melbourne, Australia, who is pursuing doctoral studies at Oxford. He comes from Pakistani and Australian parentage. He took on the task of organizing the Pakistan-India dinner calling in a caterer on short notice. (Actually everything we do is on short notice!)
Yvonne Boltz is the captain of the prayer warriors. Yvonne, who is married to Roger Boltz, Chief Mission Officer of the AAC, organized a prayer team that goes off every morning and prays till 10 pm for the Conference and for the ministry team. We have had our ups and downs, our crises and near disasters. But God has gone before in every case, working good where we fell short. We are convinced that the covering of prayer is a major part of our fruitfulness and protection to date.
Les Martin is a priest from the diocese of East Tennessee. Les spent a month in England, attending the pre-Lambeth events. Once the conference began, Les collected all the stories for the day so that team members could be current on what issues were getting play in the press. We thank God for him as he heads home.
Bishop Alex Dickson, the AAC Vice President. is retired and thus is not an invited member of the Conference. However, he is a presence. Alex took the initiative to lead the American bishops in an act of repentance before the Africans at the pre-Lambeth conference of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC). Many believe that moment forged a bond of sympathy that has continued throughout the Conference. Alex has stayed on as an advocate for Bishop John Rucyahana of Rwanda, who is under fire for taking the Rev. T. J. Johnson and his parish in Little Rock under his wing.
Looking Ahead to Lambeth, Week Three
In our daily worship this week, we came across a remarkable concurrence of lessons. First, there was the proto-feminist Jael pounding the tent peg through Sisera’s temple (Judg 4:21). Next we had the apostles filling Judas’ hole in the apostolic band by electing Matthias (Acts 1:15-26). Finally, there was that pious man Joseph and the women seeing to it that Jesus’ body was properly buried (Matthew 27:57-61). It seemed to me the Word was telling us to do whatever it takes to complete the job God has set before us.
Please pray that the Lord will give us and the bishops grace to make a strong finish. We enter into the decisive week of the Lambeth Conference. We have helped consolidate a massive bloc of support from around the Communion, particularly from the Third World, to speak for a biblical agenda. However, a warning is necessary at this critical time. One prayer partner on the Global Intercessors forum notes:
At the 1988 Conference, the balance shifted at this stage. During the early sessions the voices of the African and other Third World bishops had been prominent, correctly reflecting the numerical balance of Anglicanism, which was noticeable even in 1988. When it came to the final third of the Conference, however, and the drawing up of resolutions, the Anglo-American axis took over, producing a series of statements which, on the whole, allowed Provinces to do whatever they wanted.
Pray that that scenario not happen again. Pray that the orthodox leaders will be wise, bold and cooperative. Pray that the Lord will foil the devices of the Enemy. Pray that unity and truth may prevail and that our Anglican Communion as a whole may be put back on the road to health.
Note: August 5, 1998, is an important date in Anglican history: the passage of Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality. This is my original diary entry from 1998. I have an edited version of this entry in Essay 5 of my book, along with an exposition of Lambeth Resolution I.10 in Essay 6. I could not resist adding one “Personal Anecdote” at the end of the diary. The diary for Weeks 1 and 2 can be found here and here.
“This has been an historic session,” stated the moderator Archbishop Robin Eames as he announced that Resolution 1.10 [or A 31] on Human Sexuality had passed by the margin of 526 for, 70 against, and 45 abstaining.
Indeed it was. And the outcome was hardly assured until the day itself, Wednesday, August 5. Despite pronouncements of “a spirit of unity descending” by the Lambeth Daily, there had been frantic backroom dealing, which was brought to a halt at the eleventh hour by George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose “intervention” led to a landmark Resolution on Human Sexuality.
Later, on Thursday, while bishops debated some of the other 108 Resolutions, the Rev. Arnold Klukas gave some of us a tour of the Cathedral. Arnie wrote his doctoral thesis on the architectural symbolism of Canterbury Cathedral, which is a kind of catechism in stone. He pointed out, for instance, the typology of the windows, which juxtaposes Old Testament saints with Jesus Christ and with Thomas Becket, martyr and exemplar of the Christian disciple. Much of the cult of Thomas Becket had to be purged at the Reformation, but the symbol of the cathedral was that we are to live out the life of Christ in our own day following the patterns of faith given in Scripture and in the lives of the saints who looked to Jesus as their pioneer. Such a message seems quite relevant to the challenges facing the Church today.
Canterbury has been comfortably full of secular pilgrims. Every time I am in England I am stunned by how secular a country it is, more like Europe than the U.S., burdened with the legacy of an ideal, the Christian commonwealth, now long defunct. The Church of England, writes Bishop Colin Buchanan, “loves fantasy and unreality, invents rationales that no one can actually believe, conceives that fudge is better than principle on many issues, expands minor issues into major principles, and hates having to grapple with reality.” This phrase occurred to me later in the week as Resolution after numbing Resolution trudged its way through the Conference. Can Resolutions breathe life into a somnolent Body? Hardly, no more than they can on New Year’s Day.
Yet several of the Resolutions may signal a new day and a new locus of authority for this historic body. The British newspapers have not been reticent about declaring a “shift to a South” (and that’s not whistling Dixie!). There is a split in the Communion which is missiological, between those whose faith is young and confident and eloquent and those who are encumbered by a decadent Westernism. The latter is embodied in the ponderous “Virginia Report,” recited by episcopal bureaucrats like a mantra, as much as by the bombastic blasphemies of Bishop Spong.
As we walked the stone streets, I remembered that last summer the Rev. Jon Shuler had led a team on an evangelistic campaign here. I recalled that the first archbishop of Canterbury had been a missionary whose goal was the reaching of the pagan tribes of Britain for Christ. All the Cathedrals and all Resolutions should not replace this primary focus of the call of Jesus to raise up children to Abraham, to make disciples and witnesses to his Name.
The third week is set aside for debate in full session. The plenary sessions began on Tuesday; by Monday the proposed list of Resolutions was out. Moses had 10, Luther 95, John Spong 12, but despite all efforts to reduce the number of Resolutions, there were 108, which guarantees that they will be seldom read by laypeople. Many of them were “agreed,” requiring no debate and seem something like “pork barrel” legislation that representatives can take to the folks back home.
First Skirmishes in the Sexuality Debate
Like Gettysburg, the Battle of the Sexualities went for three days. The first skirmish happened off-stage on Monday. On Sunday evening when the list of Resolutions appeared, the Resolution from the official “section” on Sexuality appeared in a form no one recognized. It seemed to be a conservative proposal minus the phrase ”In consequence we cannot legitimize or bless, or ordain those involved in, same gender unions.” Conservatives were furious, claiming that the section chairman Duncan Buchanan had unilaterally gutted it.
The story became more bizarre. Buchanan claimed (rightly) that the section had not had time to complete their Resolution and that he had simply inserted something to “hold a space.” On Monday, then, the section set down to work and came up with another Resolution (A 31). This Resolution included the phrase ”cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.” It also stated that the Conference, ”in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage.”
On Tuesday morning, Bishop Buchanan circulated the A31 Resolution at the daily press conference and announced that this was the Resolution that would be debated the next day. As the press grilled him on this Resolution, it became clear that it would be considered a conservative statement. The original “three ways” typology, which included long-term homosexual partnerships as an option, had now been dropped in favor of two ways: marriage and chastity.
The meaning of “chastity” then came up. While most spokesmen interpreted it to mean abstinence, one imaginative bishop from Canada suggested that it simply meant “purity,” which is in the eye of the beholder. Sigh! There goes another fine English word. I’d much rather name a daughter Chastity than Abstinence; but then I there was also a time I would have considered naming a daughter Gay too.
It was settled, so it seemed. The section that included Jim Stanton and Jack Spong at last had a Resolution. Or did it? The “process” took a final bizarre turn. In the mid-afternoon Tuesday, there suddenly came an announcement that the “Steering Committee” had declared that the printed Resolution 1.10 and not Buchanan’s A 31 would be the version debated the next day. This smacked so clearly of manipulation that everyone was in an uproar. Conservatives, of course, felt betrayed, but so did liberals from the section.
The Turning Point
Integrity supporters arrived on Wednesday with smiles on their faces. The sexuality debate seemed doomed to deadlock. The revisionists had two things going for them. First, the printed “section” Resolution I.10 was so bland that it could be easily spun as a signal to go ahead with the gay agenda. Secondly, the entire debate had been allotted two hours and there were six Resolutions.
Four of these Resolutions were “regional.” To be sure, all the Resolutions were orthodox, and the two African ones were very strong, calling revisionists to repentance and speaking of the gay agenda as “evangelical suicide.” Many of the Third World bishops were saying, “Let’s pass them all.” This was not likely to happen in a two hour Western-style debate. More likely, none would get a majority. Anticipating this possibility, the revisionists entered an Amendment (not printed and therefore something of a sleeper) that would have referred all the Resolutions to the Primates and the ACC. In effect, the Lambeth Conference, on a major matter of principle, would have abdicated responsibility in favor of a study commission. And we Americans know from “Continuing the Dialogue” how that works. [Note: This was the tragic fate of the “To Mend the Net” proposal for Communion discipline three years later, as I have detailed in my book, pages 141-145.]
One further sidelight. The debate had originally been scheduled for 2:30 pm Wednesday but was then postponed until 3:30. This rattled conservatives because it was known that up to 90 Church Army bishops were leaving for London at 4 pm to see the Queen Mum, who turned 99 that day. Since most Church Army bishops are conservative, this looked like just one more ploy. As it turned out, the Church Army bishops stayed for the debate.
What happened next is only known in bare outline. Apparently, the Archbishop of Canterbury became aware of the switcheroo made by the Steering Committee. He also began to heed reports that African bishops were determined to pass a clear Resolution or else – and that the “or else” might include a walkout. Up to that point, the Archbishop had not been active in the debate. He has made it clear that he holds to traditional Christian teaching on sexuality and is deeply concerned for the unity of the Anglican Communion. These concerns apparently coalesced in such a way that by the Wednesday afternoon of the debate the Integrity folks were no longer smiling. The Archbishop had apparently insisted that the process should be set up so that the Conference might express its mind. This is what happened.
The sexuality debate was solemn and orderly. With a few exceptions. One Pakistani bishop went over the top suggesting that Lambeth 2008 would be asked to approve blessing of cat lovers and their pets. A Nigerian bishop afterward tried to lay hands on Richard Kirker, a homosexual advocate, to cure him of his addiction. The media of course picked up on these excesses. But the vast majority of speakers, such as Bishop Eustace Kaminyire of Uganda and Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania, were measured and articulate. Bishop John Sentamu was particularly delightful as he extolled “the glories of abstinence.” Archbishop Robin Eames conducted the session with clarity and dignity.
Delegates upon arrival received a clearly spelled out “Notice Paper,” outlining their choices among Resolutions. In fact, the major shape of the final Resolution had already been crafted by a compromise among evangelical Westerners and the Africans. The printed Resolution was quickly replaced by A 31, which became the base point for a series of amendments.
The bellwether amendment came from Archbishop Mtetelema, which added the phrase ”while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.” This amendment focused the concerns of the Africans about the whole issue. As they have said repeatedly, homosexuality is not their problem and they do not want to waste time talking about it. But they do care passionately for the authority of Scripture, and they saw the West, and the American Church in particular, as endangering this core principle.
To be honest, I was not sure, before I began to meet them in numbers this past year, whether the Third World bishops had the will to stand up and fight on the sexuality question. Some people feared, totally without warrant as it turns out, that they might be pressured into acquiescence out of financial dependence on the West. Just the opposite is true. They saw the issue threatening the Communion clearly, and they never wavered in their determination to speak to it. One of the African Resolutions, in my opinion, was the best of the lot because it saw the issue in biblical terms as involving sin and repentance.
And they were of one mind. The speakers for Resolution A 31 and the amendments to it were multi-cultural, whereas the speakers against were very white and hailed exclusively from the Western provinces. They later accused us American conservatives of buying votes with chicken barbecues. This is a demeaning accusation against the Third Word delegates, many of whom have put their lives on the line for the Gospel. Opponents who said this are not, in my opinion, racists, but they are cultural imperialists. They cannot believe that someone who holds to a straightforward biblical morality is either not “superstitious” (a la animism) or “fundamentalistic” (a la Islamic jihad).
Mtetemela’s key amendment passed 390 to 190. After that, conservatives got two more victories. They amended “chastity” to “abstinence” in order to close the linguistic loophole. They also changed the condemnation of “homophobia” to a condemnation of “the irrational fear of homosexuals.” I thought this was a particularly nice touch, suggested by the Africans. Finally, Bishop Richard Harries of Oxford spoke eloquently on behalf of the Kuala Lumpur Statement, and reference to it was added.
Those who opposed the amended Resolution never addressed the core principles of Scripture, or God’s purposes for male and female. Their main arguments were that the Resolution threatened the unity of the Communion and sent negative signals to gays and lesbians. They did pass an amendment calling for the Church to listen to the experience of homosexual people (I assume this will include celibate and ex-gay people). When it came to a vote, there was remarkable unity – 526 for and only 70 against – to constitute what Archbishop Carey later called the “mind of the Church.”
Resolution I.10, Human Sexuality
- commends to the Church the sub-section report on human sexuality;
- in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
- recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
- while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
- cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;
- requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;
- notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in Resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.
The Authority of Scripture
Resolution 1.10 is at the heart of Lambeth 1998, not just because it clarifies the Communion’s position on sexuality but because it reasserted the fundamental principle of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, the primacy of Scripture. One of my gloom-and-doom friends described the decision as representing “vestigial Anglicanism.” I prefer to think of it as “resurgent Anglicanism.”
As if to hammer home the significance of this principle, the Conference passed a Resolution on the Bible next day by “assent,” i.e., without debate. The Resolution is much stronger than several statements from recent Conferences in its confidence of the primary authority of the Bible and its power to transform lives and societies. Again I think it is worth quoting in full.
Resolution III.1 – The Bible
This Conference, recognising the need in our Communion for fuller agreement on how to interpret and apply the message of the Bible in a world of rapid change and widespread cultural interaction,
- reaffirms the primary authority of the Scriptures, according to their testimony and supported by our own historic formularies;
- urges that the Biblical text should be handled respectfully, coherently, and consistently, building upon our best traditions and scholarship believing that the Scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures, and ways of thinking, especially those that predominate today;
- invites the provinces, as we open ourselves afresh to a vision of a Church full of the Word and full of the Spirit, to promote at every legel biblical study programmes which can inform and nourish the life of dioceses, congregations, seminaries, communities, and members of all ages.
This Resolution, needless to say, warms my heart, as an evangelical and a Bible teacher.
The Conference passed a strong Resolution on mission the same day. It affirms that mission “springs from the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ and that without this foundation, we can give no form or content to our proclamation and can expect no transforming effect from it.” The Resolution goes on to identify the Nicene Creed as the doctrinal foundation for mission and the Great Commission as an imperative to mission. So much for Spong’s “New Nicea” and Wiles’s “Sea of Faith.”
These three Resolutions, I suggest, represent the “defining moment” of the Conference that Archbishop Carey was hoping for. The sexuality vote was certainly taken that way by the press. The Guardian predictably condemned the decision as homophobic, but The Times editorialized that the decision had saved the Church’s Reformation foundation.
Win Some, Lose Some
Many other Resolutions came and went. On some of these the conservative alliance held and in others it folded. This represents a reversion to previous Conferences where the “Anglo-American” axis used its procedural power to push Resolutions through which were not fully understood or agreed upon.
One such Resolution, in my opinion, was on euthanasia. It came to my attention late in the day because I had been working somewhat fixedly on sex. The Resolution is not bad at all in condemning euthanasia, until it gets to this provision in which the Conference
(d) distinguishes between euthanasia and withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating excessive medical treatment and intervention, all of which may be consonant with Christian faith in enabling a person to die with dignity. When a person is in a permanent vegetative state, to sustain him or her with artificial nutrition and hydration may be seen as constituting medical intervention. (emphasis added)
Ten bishops offered an amendment to strike the final sentence, and Archbishop Moses Tay, himself a doctor, rose to argue that the distinction between PVS victims and other sufferers was arbitrary. But it was too difficult to overcome the weight of the section report and recommendation. The amendment failed. This is one issue we shall have to work on for the future.
International debt was a theme dear to Archbishop Carey’s heart. Resolution 1.15 is a mixed bag of proposals, but, all in all, it is a more moderate statement than the Jubilee 2000 demand for total cancellation of $220 billion in debt. The Resolution calls governments to seek “substantial debt relief, including cancellation of unpayable debts of the poorest nations.” The word “unpayable” at least places the issue in the realm where prudence and charity can talk.
In a July Encompass editorial, I called for Western churches to put their money where their mouth is on this issue by giving a tithe or a tithe of a tithe to economic opportunity programs for the poor. Resolution I.15 includes a final appeal to the Primates to challenge their dioceses to fund international development programs at the rate of at least 0.7%. I hope we can find a way to follow up this idea.
In light of this challenge, it was particularly gratifying that in Resolution V.2 the Conference specifically commended the Five Talents Program developed by our affiliate, the Institute for Religion and Democracy. Archbishop George Carey gave the first gift of #1,000 and endorsed the program publicly. “We are delighted and ready to go to work raising the start-up money,” said Diane Knippers of IRD.
Resolution III.6 on governance of the Communion may prove to be of long-term significance. There has been a sense that the Anglican Consultative Council and its staff have not been representative of the member churches, to be specific that it has been unduly influenced by the Episcopal Church USA. Resolution III.6 tries to spread out representation on the ACC more broadly and balances its power with that of the Primates, i.e., the Archbishops of the various regional churches. Even the name ACC will be changed to denote the “Anglican Communion Council.”
In a related Resolution, the Conference rebuked the American Church’s canon revision last summer that delegitimized those who are opposed to women’s ordination. In Resolution III.2(b)(c), the Conference “for the purpose of maintaining this unity, calls upon the provinces of the Communion to uphold the principle of ‘Open Reception’ as it relates to the ordination of women to the priesthood” and “in particular calls upon the provinces of the Communion to affirm that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans.” This message was received by Anglo-Catholics with great joy and presents the Episcopal Church with a challenge: to revoke the Canon III.8 revision of 1997.
Liberal American bishops won a pyrrhic victory on Friday with the last-minute revival of a Resolution that conservatives had thought dead. Resolution V.13, “Episcopal Responsibilities and Diocesan Boundaries,” is one of only two brought by the North American region. By passing the Resolution, the Conference reaffirmed a long-standing Anglican principle of territorial integrity. In 1988, the Conference had said that “it is deemed inappropriate behaviour for any bishop or priest of the Communion to exercise episcopal or pastoral ministry within another diocese without first obtaining the permission and invitation of the ecclesiastical authority thereof.” Clearly the reaffirmation of this principle was directed at the situation in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Bishop John Rucyahana of Rwanda has taken oversight of a priest and parish over the objection of the ECUSA diocesan Bishop Larry Maze.
This situation poses conservatives with a dilemma. Most of us do not oppose territorial integrity in principle, but many of us believe the theological integrity of the Episcopal Church has been threatened by the overt denial of Scripture in the words and deeds of certain bishops, e.g., the Koinonia Statement signers, of which Bishop Maze is one. It is my personal opinion that since few of us want to see the Little Rock situation to become a pattern, the simultaneous passage of Lambeth Resolutions 1.10, III.2, and V.13 provide an excellent opportunity for the Presiding Bishop to sit down with AAC bishops and work out a modus vivendi.
The AAC’s Role at Lambeth
Let me begin by clarifying that the AAC volunteers were formally working under the auspices of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, under the leadership of Drs. Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden. This has been a fruitful relationship, even though each group has somewhat different aims and constituencies. I think it is also fair to say that Bishop Jim Stanton, President of the AAC, emerged last week as a key facilitator in bringing together biblically-minded bishops from around the Communion.
Our work got little notice until the last day, when The Sunday Times gave the following sympathetic, if inaccurate, report:
The American Anglican Council (ACC [sic!!!]), a powerful group led by James Stanton, bishop of Dallas, gave friendly bishops pagers and mobile phones [actually, we didn’t]. The bishops were able to call a central HQ [actually they called home from the central HQ], based at the Franciscan study centre just outside the campus, where 30 volunteers provided points of instant rebuttal for use in debate [well, 30 of us over three weeks did various jobs and a whole lot of others prayed].
During the preparation of the resolutions, American lobbyists [as opposed to the non-partisan staff of the ACC, ha ha!] were supplying bishops with arguments and powerful explanatory material to aid their case….
Richard Holloway, the liberal Bishop of Edinburgh and leader of the Anglican church in Scotland, accused the conservative lobby groups of trying to win the hearts and minds of the African and Asian bishops with “chicken and sausages” – a reference to their frequent barbecue parties. But the lobbyists said that without using tactics more commonly associated with political campaigning, the traditionalists would not be heard within the church. [This is true.]
Lobbyists? To see ourselves as others see us. Speaking personally, there is nothing I would love to imagine than a gathering of Anglican bishops who, like the apostles, would “be of one heart and one mind,” who could say with full conviction: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” We in the American Anglican Council must model this among ourselves and hope and pray for the day when the same may be said of the General Convention and the Lambeth Conference. Who knows, perhaps ten or twenty years from now, we will look back and say, “Thank God, the bishops don’t need us at Lambeth. Let’s go to the beach!”
Among the 30 “lobbyists,” let me name a few more. I am sure I’ll miss a few and trust they will accept my apologies.
The Rev. George Conger, who worked for the Oxford Centre and was sponsored by AAC, did an absolutely fantastic job of making arrangements, especially the locating of the Franciscan Centre and dorm.
The Rev. Martyn, Angela, and Rachel Minns were our dorm parents. As Rector of Truro Episcopal Church, Martyn devoted a month of his sabbatical leave to Lambeth. Martyn led prayer each morning and provided a steady pastor’s hand on the team when crises occurred, which they often did. Angela said she loved washing and hanging out clothes to dry, so we were always neat and clean. Rachel turned 16 and had a joyous birthday party. Her humor always lightened up our meetings.
Canon Bill Atwood, General Secretary The Ekklesia Society, has contributed as much as anyone to the results at Lambeth by his constant traveling among the churches of the South. Much of the unity among the Third World bishops with us from the West has emerged from the personal friendships that he has built up in recent years.
Mr. Robert Miclean and Mrs. Diane Knippers saw the Five Talents program to approval. Robert was the chief designer of the program, and Diane brought her usual professionalism in getting support for it when we needed it.
The Rev. Dr. Arnold Klukas, Rector of Grace Church in Pittsburgh, worked on various writing projects, was a liaison with friends at the Forward in Faith delegation, and was our residential expert on Canterbury.
Mr. Roger Boltz, Chief Mission Officer of AAC, made sure the office was functioning efficiently. Given that we started from scratch in a strange land, the office became a real communications and work center, as noted in the Times article.
The Rev. Todd Wetzel, Director of Episcopalians United, helped with networking, wrote articles, and was a “lubricator,” treating all to dinner more than once. EU had also published my book The Handwriting on the Wall, which had been distributed to bishops here.
Mr. Doug Leblanc, who writes for EU’s United Voice, helped to provide a stream of news stories out of Lambeth. Doug has the ability to come alongside people on both sides of an issue and present their views fairly. He did so here once again.
Mr. Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff, whose accent is as British as his name, did research and was particular helpful in facilitating a dialogue between Nigerian bishops and British corporate directors on a topic of mutual concern.
In addition, the dorm was a meeting place for a number of journalists like Mr. David Virtue and exhibitors like the Rev. Tad de Bordenave of Anglican Frontier Mission.
Where Do We Go From Here?
For most of us, the immediate answer to this question is, on tour or back home. This is true for the bishops as well.
Already there is an official Lambeth team seeking to define the meaning of the Conference. For me, the “defining moment” is the possibility that the Communion will return the Bible and its authority to the center of its life. One African bishop put it well in the sexuality debate. “Your missionaries brought us the Bible,” he said, “and they told us to obey its Word. We are not going to turn away from it now.”
“We have seen a work of God. Our work has just begun,” Jim Stanton said to us as the Conference came to a close. This chapter of the history of Anglicanism is coming to a close – almost with disaster, but now, by the grace of God, with hope. What will they say about us in the next century and the new millennium? God only knows, but we are called to be faithful and to work for the coming of his Kingdom. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
The Aftermath: A Personal Anecdote
The aftermath of the historic vote on Lambeth Resolution I.10 requires a separate history and the ramifications of that vote are continuing to the present day. I shall, however, sum up with a personal anecdote.
On the afternoon of the vote, I watched the debate unfold over Resolution I.10 via a video feed in a large tent on the campus of University of Kent. I was sitting close to the exit of the tent, and when the final vote was taken and the session adjourned, I walked out almost in a daze. Right opposite the tent, there stood several long tables filled with bottles of the local brew called “Bishops Finger Ale.” In my euphoria, I grabbed a complimentary bottle and took a swig. Before I knew it, I was being interviewed on camera, not about the Lambeth Resolution, but about the virtues of the Bishops Finger.
As it turns out, “bishops finger” refers to the sign-posts in Kent, which consist in vertical signage on a pointed white pole. These were the same signs that Churchill removed after Dunkirk so as to deter the expected Nazi invaders.
Anyway, it occurred to me later that there was some symbolism to the bishops’ finger. Bishops are ordained to defend the catholic and apostolic faith, to protect the sheep from false shepherds, and to point the way to heaven. The bishops of the Anglican Communion had done this on August 5, and they had done so at the historic font of Anglicanism, in Canterbury. Indeed the Archbishop of Canterbury himself had facilitated the passage of Lambeth I.10.
Unfortunately, Canterbury was not to stand firm. Two days after the vote, I listened to an interview with George Carey on BBC Radio 4. As one might expect, the interviewer was all sneers about the primitive and homophobic action taken by the Third World bishops. Carey was quick to assure the interviewer that Lambeth I.10 was not the end but the beginning of an ongoing dialogue about sexuality in the Communion. In my view, this was precisely the wrong reading of the Resolution. As I see it, the bishops were saying to those who were promoting the sexuality gospel: “Cease and desist, and conform to the biblical norms of marriage and abstinence.” Archbishop Carey’s – and his successors’ – failure to communicate that message was to have destructive after-effects, which I have documented elsewhere. [Note: Sadly, one of George Carey’s final acts as Primate at the 2001 Primates’ Meeting was to consign “To Mend the Net” to the dustbin of the Lambeth bureaucracy, where it died in obscurity.]
Photos from Personal Collection, Flickr and Wikimedia Commons