Lambeth Conference: News or Not?

May 23, 2008

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 22 Feb 2008/Darren StaplesIt has been spoken of as a setting for schism. But could the Lambeth Conference — the worldwide Anglican Communion‘s once-a-decade global meeting beginning July 16 in England — be a bust when it comes to headline-making news?

That’s the way leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church see it. There will be no grand pronouncements made or resolutions voted on, they say. The traditional Western parliamentary idea that produces winners and losers on debated issues has been scrapped for face-to-face meetings. Some of them have been baptized “Indaba groups,” which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has described as a Zulu term denoting “a meeting for purposeful discussion among equals.”

The Rev. Ian Douglas, a professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts who helped plan the meeting, recently told reporters at a briefing:

“I appreciate that it’s going to be a hard job for the media because there isn’t a focal point of up-down decison making, and that (much) of what’s really happening … is going to be happening in very small, very close one-on-one relationships and deep conversation.

“I  don’t envy your job. It’s going to be difficult to get ‘the story’ out of Lambeth unless you want to tell the story that as leaders come together to be better equipped in their service to God’s mission in the wider world,  not only is the Anglican Communion strengthened but God’s purposes are better fulfilled in the wider world. It’s a tough story to tell but I think it’s a story.”

The 1998 Lambeth Conference did produce news — a resolution known as Lambeth 1:10 that said homosexual practice is incompatible with scripture. That pronouncement became a major part of the splintering now going on in the worldwide church after the American branch in 2003 installed the first the first bishop known to be in an openly gay relationship in more than four centuries of Anglican history — Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Bishop Gene Robinson, 2 Nov 2003/Jim BourgRobinson was not invited to this summer’s meeting at Canterbury though he plans a fringe presence — after he weds his long-time partner in June.

The news at Lambeth ’08 then may be more about who doesn’t come. Already 280 conservative bishops from Africa, Latin America and Asia have said they will attend a break-away summit in Jerusalem in June to “prepare for an Anglican future in which the Gospel is uncompromised and Christ-centered mission a top priority.” They expect about 1,000 conservative Anglican leaders to attend.

Bishops from Uganda, Kenya and Australia have said they plan to boycott Lambeth, to which more than 800 bishops have been invited. Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, a leader among the traditionalists, has said he may also skip Lambeth.

Douglas, in the briefing mentioned earlier, said the hope is that the bishops who attend the meeting in Jerusalem will also go to Lambeth. There is, he said, “no fear or concern” that the Jerusalem summit is an exclusionary Lambeth alternative.

Much of this reflects Anglicanism’s structure where federation trumps hierarchy. The Episcopal News Service noted at one point that there is no complete agreement on when any resolution passed by a Lambeth Conference becomes official church teaching. The Lambeth meetings, which date to the 19th century, do not have specific authority to require compliance with their resolutions, it said.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, 14 March 2007/SIPHIWE SIBEKOKatharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who joined Douglas at the briefing, also has a long-term view. One of the first Lambeth Conferences well over a century ago, she said, was called “to deal with issues like bishops teaching things that other bishops found uncomfortable, and bishops wandering into other bishops’ territories and how do to we transfer clergy from one part of the communion to another.

“And we still haven’t sorted that out. The gathering will continue to wrestle with some of the challenges of living together in a compex, diverse and sometimes challenging family. That is God’s gift to use and we celebrate it,” she said at the briefing (view webcast here).

It also reflects Anglicanism’s diversity, with half of its 77 million members now in Africa, Asia and Latin America, many with conservative views on issues that go deeper than just those involving gays. In terms of numbers, the bishops organizing the Jerusalem meeting claim to represent 17 countries and 35 million followers.

The road from Jerusalem to Canterbury will be closely watched.


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The Anglican Church MUST eradicate any hint of bigotry and the woeful anti-Christian ethos that says that the persecution of gay and lesbians is an okay product of their infernal biblical bickering.

We must NOT give in to some members deluded idea that it’s perfectly Christian to single out people who are fundamentally different and still to promulgate a sometimes fascistic passion for all things condemnatory. Essentially, their unkind and unforgiving anti-gay rhetoric encourages vicitisation based on difference.

Some of the anti-gay contingents are, without doubt, some of the most lacking in Christian love, and their ruthless and uncaring attitude is an affront to the true doctrine of Jesus Christ.

It is they who MUST see the light and promulgate an inclusive, welcoming church that is against bigotry, devisive argument and negative and destructive mindsets.

It is time th Anglican grew up ans stopped behaving like school yard bullies.

They must contemplate their infighting in terms of how it impacts in real terms on lesbian and gay men within society as well as the church.

That so many anti-gay/lesbian opponents feel so self-satisfied in a complacent and wholely irresponsible way, is an indictment on the Anglican church as a so-called Christian church, and more in keeping with a political extremist group.

Until they change their ways and stop acting as puppets to condemnation, the numbers of the flock will continue to languish between scarcity and destitution.

Wake up all ye true Christians!

Posted by Keith M Warwick | Report as abusive

Anglican Church schism

Parts of the Anglican World including Britain are forgetting the Christian roots by persecuting their fellow Christians. Both the female and gay clergy are not being allowed to follow their role in the church I love.

Ask yourself, what would Jesus have done?

Posted by Don Harrison | Report as abusive

Indaba? Meanining: for purposeful dicussion among equals.
e.g. Mugabe murders part of his electorate, buldozes their home, uses the fiscus as his private ATM, steals farms of the white minority, displaces half the population to boadering countries, rigs an election, still loses that election has an indba and still remains in power.
Hmmmmm, Indaba sounds good to me, well done Bishop

Posted by Malcolm Fletcher | Report as abusive

I am a mother of a homosexual son and I have observed this brave human-being coming to terms with whom he really is.My heart aches for all homosexuals and lesbians whose sexuality has been discussed in such depth over the last few weeks and that so many in past years had to hide their identity. Lets pray that the Lambeth Conference will heal wounds and that with Gods help the church will seek to confirm that we are all equal in the eyes of God.I have noticed that many gay friends have extroadinary compassion and empathy for other people.I suspect it is because they have suffered so much themselves.I am so thankful that I have a large family who supports my son completely without reservation.I pray that the church one day will be able to do this so that all gay people will feel accepted,whole and most of all truly loved.

Posted by Elaine Huckle | Report as abusive