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THE TONY CROSS COLUMN

Article No. 146

The call to postpone Lambeth 2008

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The Archbishop of Canterbury (hereafter the ABC) has issued invitation to bishops across the Anglican Communion to the conference, held every ten years, at Lambeth in 2008.

Various bishops - mainly in Africa, but also a few others scattered across the world,. Including Britain, have asked him to postpone the Lambeth Conference . The main reason, they say, is that while the current disagreement about homosexuality and attendant matters runs, there cannot be unanimity and therefore the meeting should be postponed. I think one bishop or archbishop somewhere has said that if they cannot take communion together then they should not meet.

I leave aside the very pertinent question of how some bishops can ever possibly feel that they cannot take communion with other bishops with whom they disagree about homosexuality! I cannot for the life of me see why it is that they are making such an incredibly significant act of dis-fellowship on such grounds. Surely what binds Anglican Bishops from across the world together is much more important than this subject?

Yet, so be it. That is what they say and that is what they feel. That is where they stand. For them the issue is so important that they are willing to even split the church just because they don’t agree with the other lot of bishops!

So the invitations to the 2008 Lambeth Conference have been delivered - well, most of them. And various expenses have been incurred and will require financial assets to be transferred at periodic points until July 2008 when the conference takes place.

Yet these bishops, because they don’t agree with the other bishops ( all in the same Anglican communion, serving the same Lord, bound together on the same basis) want the Archbishop of Canterbury to backtrack and call off his Lambeth Conference.

Note here that the conference is purely at the behest of the ABC. He calls it personally and decides what it shall cover and who shall be invited. It is his shindig. There is financial liability involved. And we are talking mega bucks here! No just a few hundred thousand!

So, because they cannot agree to be at one with the other bishops and because they feel they cannot take communion with them, they want to call it off!

I can think of a number of reasons why the ABC should turn a deaf ear to these pleas from bishops - at home and abroad- who are so desirous of not meeting with their fellow bishops.

The first is that considerable financial liability has already been incurred, and this will regularly increase as the months progress towards July next year. It is going to cost a bomb and no one should treat this aspect lightly!

Secondly - it is the ABC’s show and he personally invites all those he wants there - these invites have already gone out and some acceptances have been received. Why should all of this be reversed?

Thirdly- there has already been an immense amount of thought, planning, prayer and preparation put in hand. This would all be completely wasted. It is not easy matter to stage a multi-national jamboree like this with many hundreds of overseas participants.

Fourthly - to accede to this request would be to defer to the partisan views of a group of bishops who are refusing to fellowship with fellow Christians. It would foment the differences rather than heal them.

Fifthly - to defer the conference would defer the decision making process that is steadily going forward. Why should delay be imported into this process? Heaven knows it has taken enough time already! There are those who feel that it may have taken too long! Whatever is the correct view on this, clearly an aborted conference would put back decision for many more months - maybe years,

Sixthly - there are those who see in the demand for delay a form of blackmail. They think the message intended is: ‘Delay or we won’t come’ If that is correct then it is very clear that the ABC should do everything in his power to defeat such power politics. Neither the ABC nor the Anglican Communion should be subjected to blackmail - no matter how masked it may be.

Seventhly and lastly - there is an agreed Anglican Communion policy that requires there to be a process of discussion across the Communion about homosexuality, including reference to gay Christians themselves. Lambeth 2008 may help that process - it is certain that to cancel the conference would hinder that process.

This latter point reminds me that it is essential for gay Christians to recognise that the Primates of the Anglican Communion have requested more material from gay people. A communications channel for gay Christians to communicate their views of the whole matter has been set up and a Facilitator appointed. This is a most important and necessary requirement - contributions are required from gay Christians so that Anglican Bishops can access the stories and ideas of gay Christians.

It is very important that all gay Christians who read this article - whatever their churchmanship - consider and pray about whether they should submit something to the Facilitator. There is a web site that refers and gives all relevant detail. I recommend you read it - it is at http://www.anglicancommunion.org/listening/about.cfm

The Facilitator of the Listening Process is the Revd Canon Phil Groves who was previously a vicar in the Church of England. On his website he says: ‘The process of listening to lesbian and gay people is a commitment to hear what they have to say, how they feel and how they understand the gospel’ That surely is something that a number of us can undertake to supply?

This is an opportunity for all who are gay to actually contribute to the process. This is a chance to have your say so that heterosexual bishops in the Anglican Communion can read your views and catch, perhaps, something both of the hurt that gay people feel when fellow Christians turn away and call them sick, evil, perverted or sinful and also the assurance of standing we have in Christ. You will never get another chance like this and I heartily recommend that you take it.

There is time for you to compose your ideas into readable form - I would suggest that you aim to submit your thoughts as soon as possible and by the end of this year at the latest. Don’t procrastinate!

Finally I want to address any Christians who are finding the whole process we are going through discouraging. We know that many gay Christians have given up on the churches. They feel that this subject has been discussed and argued about in the church for years - at least ten - and why hasn’t the church come to a firm view? They feel betrayed by the various statements from various conferences and especially from certain bishops and archbishops across the Communion - and they have despaired of it ever producing the right solution.

Such despair is very understandable. It is especially sharp when you are in a church that has a homophobic attitude towards gay people. Many gay Christians have left the churches because there appears to be no chink of light at the end of the tunnel. But many have stayed - whether in or out of the closet - and are hoping against all hope that the international conferences will eventually come to the clear decision that the church should be inclusive of homosexuals.

To all such I want to say one thing: this situation in the church is not new. It may appear to be fought on the level of power politics, but underneath there is a deep and well trodden process being followed. It might be described as the tortuous process of the Christian church making up its mind about matters of moment. It happened for example about the doctrine of the Trinity. That took many years to be discussed and prayed over and thought about and argued about. Eventually, a settled doctrine was produced and that doctrine has served the universal church well over many centuries.

So it will be with homosexuality. It is no surprise that it is taking decades for the church to make up its mind. Heaven knows how long the church has been of a contrary opinion! People cannot change dearly held doctrines overnight - and remember we are dealing here with much more than a doctrine because, interlinked with it, there is the matter of inherited homophobic attitudes.

It is asking a lot of the churches to come into the twenty first century on this matter in a few decades. They may even buck the decision that is now lying on the table. But eventually we are sure - aren’t we? - that the right decision will be arrived at. The world is already there - convinced by the scientific evidence and by the naturalness of gay people - and we have been recognised as normal people! And that is a huge advance in itself!

So my advice to all gay Christians is simply this: cling to Christ. Let him be the source and the destination of your life. Hold to his gospel. Avoid fruitless argument with evangelical Christians who want to argue. It does no good. Pay attention that your life reflects the goodness of Christ - that His light shines out through you - that you can answer questions put to you as to why you believe. Stay close to Christ - he is our Lord and Saviour. With him there is life in abundance, Without him all is tasteless and barren - a fact that it sometimes takes us a lifetime to understand!

Whether there is Lambeth Conference or not, whatever is said or decided there, whatever attitude the churches show to gay people - whatever you are called to suffer for his sake - hold to Christ! He is our salvation.

Tony Cross

October 2007

 


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