THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 164
Well, it’s all over!
Or is it? They have had their last talks and their last worship together. Now they are going home. What can we say about Lambeth 2008?
It was an exercise in preserving and binding more closely what still held together. As such it was a brilliant success. The credit for that goes to the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC). He devised the programme, and it worked. To a degree! Some were exasperated that there was no opportunity to dispute and argue the case for and against homosexuality. Instead they had their Indaba groups!
So now they are all on the way home. They will take with them the benefits of a spiritual experience. The fellowship alone, quite apart from whatever progress was made, will have affected most if not all of them. It is far too early to say what the outcome of this Lambeth will turn out to be. A lot of reflection, papers and comment will now be forthcoming - and that is as it should be. I have no idea what the outcome of Lambeth 2008 will be. Nor do I think that anyone else knows - although a lot of people will be trying to bend the outcome their way.
Is there anything useful that we can say for sure at this stage?
Well certain conclusions are clear - even to someone like me who only reads the news and blogs - and so I want to share how I see what has been happening in these last days.
Firstly, let us recognise that the name of the game for Lambeth 2008 was preserving the Communion. Or at least, preserving what is left of it. Over two hundred attendees chose not to attend. That is a significant number and the whole Gafcon episode - which took place just before Lambeth - must be taken full account of in the situation.
The aim of the conference must have been to try to get (or keep) the whole brood under the wing of the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) - and to open an eventual way back for the Gafcon faction, who are presently outside, and refusing to join in the game.
So the first objective was to bind those who did come to Lambeth into a cohesive group, under the leadership of the ABC, and hope that they would remain content (at least for the time being) with the old style Anglican Communion. Apparently he has done that very successfully. They appear to have gone away with their adherence to Canterbury enhanced rather than diminished, and with some sort of vision for the future in spite of no resolution to the conflict being provided. So the Anglican Communion headed by the ABC will continue. It is still a Communion, although fractured into several pieces! So the conference was successful in large degree - but at what price?
There has been a price to pay - lets examine what conditions are now suggested:
The main decision has been to prioritise the three moratoria that were laid down by the Windsor Report. What are these?
First there is the requirement that there shall be no new Gay Bishops
Second there is the requirement that gay blessings shall cease.
Thirdly there is the prohibition on the crossing of boundaries by churches from other Provinces.
If churches transgress on any of these three requirements it seems that they will be relegated to secondary status. So we are into a two tier communion. It is not clear yet what that will mean. But it may mean that they cannot participate (or vote?) in the highest councils of the Communion.
Insofar as these conditions are directly opposed to the declared intention of Gafcon in their Jerusalem statement, there is now a direct conflict between the ABC (representing the Communion) and Gafcon and this must mean that Gafcon may lose premier status. If the American Church continues to make gay bishops or bless gay partnerships, they too will lose premier status.
That is the price that has been paid for binding the remaining churches together and, hopefully, for enabling the Gafcon churches, and any others which transgress any of the three conditions, at some future point to re-enter the Communion as full member churches.
I detour here to mention that of course the Gafcon churches have already declared themselves in rebellion against the ABC by their Jerusalem Statement. In that document they declared that they no longer accepted the Church authorities and, particularly, the leadership of the ABC.
So, broadly speaking, the ABC has consolidated the middle and pushed those on either side of the debate outside the central grouping. It has been a brilliant exercise in preserving as much of the Communion as possible in the circumstances.
What will it mean, and will it be enforced? Will it work? Is the price acceptable?
It will mean that there is an immediate halt on absorbing gay people into church membership on an equal basis with heterosexual Christians across the Communion. While there is prohibition of any sort on gay people they are not equally acceptable with their brothers and sisters in the eyes of the church. It will mean that there will be no more gay bishops - at least in the main body of Anglicanism. It will mean that no gay couples can have their partnerships blessed in church.
Is that acceptable? Will it be acceptable in the American Church? - the Canadian Church - and others across the world? Should it be acceptable - even though some churches object to gay blessings and gay bishops? Will it be acceptable in the English church? What will the repercussions be in this country?
Those that refuse the conditions will be allocated a reduced status. And in those churches that remain in the main group, gay people will again be stigmatised as a special group that, in some respects, is unacceptable to the church.
What about the condition that requires there to be no crossing of geographic boundaries - no migration of congregations or dioceses to, for example, Gafcon type bishops? I suspect that that condition will not be acceptable to those churches that have already ordained specific people in order to do just what is prohibited.
Will these three conditions be enforced? Gay bishops, gay blessings and no incursions across frontiers? What does enforcement mean? Are they impossible conditions - ones that have already been so transgressed that there is no hope for future observance? Enforcement appears to mean that they eventually lose their status as members of the main body, and become second tier members.
The hope is that the ‘rest of the Communion’ - some of those who came to Lambeth and who form the major part of the Anglican Communion (in terms of number of churches, not in terms of membership of churches) - will go along on the new basis while fresh regulations and consultative committees and supervisory bodies and whatever are set up. Those on the right and left of the main group will go into the second tier.
Eventually, it is hoped, the others can be brought back into the fold, when they have seen sense about their extreme positions. And then we can all be good Anglicans together again!
The only trouble with this scenario is that it leaves the gay people out in the cold! In effect what has been decided is that decision on the gay issue must wait because unity is more important. If accepting gay Christians has to wait for Gafcon to accept them, then there is indeed a long wait ahead!
But will they ever come to a common mind on the subject? I take leave to doubt it! I believe that the conservative evangelicals will never forgo their adherence to Old Testament texts - and they will preserve their rejection of gay people until well into the twenty first century, and maybe for ever!
So are we content to let all this happen? Are we content to let homosexuals be excluded and differentiated against as these deliberations indicate? And if we are not prepared to put up with this gross injustice, then what can be done about it? Do we all have to opt for secondary status while conservative evangelicals go on refusing to depart from their rigid adherence to biblical texts?
We have not mentioned the Covenant yet. It was first suggested in the Windsor Report and ever since there has been no other worthy suggestion that has gained the attention of anyone of importance in this whole process. Is there no other way?
Of course there are other ways. A covenant is not the only way forward.
The benefit of a covenant is that it provides a mechanism and a method for resolving differences and assists in coordinating advance. It can have a positive aspect and can be useful and beneficial. We need some mechanism to help the thirty eight churches of the Anglican Communion to travel harmoniously together.
However, it all depends on what sort of covenant we are talking about. If you want a mechanism to ensure that no one steps outside a rigid role and position, then you need a clause that enables someone, or some group, representing the whole Communion, to enforce the demotion to secondary status of those who deviate from the authorised line.
A considerable number of people and churches have objected to a covenant that enables someone or some committee to demote churches - and the reason is simply that excluding in this way is not of the spirit of Anglicanism.
As far as I can make out the only reason for the success of the covenant idea is one of desperation: there is no other game in town and therefore it has been felt that we must forge ahead with the covenant. I agree with a mechanism to aid the working together of thirty eight churches - but I disagree strongly with any covenant having exclusory powers. Power to demote to secondary status is exactly that - exclusionary powers.
I believe that the covenant must stop short of having ‘teeth’ - in the form of a mechanism whereby someone, or some committee, or some high group can decide to demote a church to secondary status. Or even that they should ask a Church to volunteer to demote itself to secondary status.
Once you import that sort of discipline you move beyond what is the genius of Anglicanism and move towards a regimented and authoritarian organisation.
In my opinion it would be fatal to the Church as we know it. It would heap up trouble in the years and decades ahead.
The danger is that such a covenant will be seen as the price that has to be paid in the hope of getting the conservative evangelical churches back in the fold. In my opinion that would be a betrayal of the spirit of Anglicanism for a mess of pottage. It would be a selling out of the Church in the long term, because that would put us on a one way track to a undesirable future. It could eventually lead us to a rigid and fundamentalist future for the Communion, which would be a tragic way to go.
These are only first reactions to the fragmentary snippets from various reporters of the Lambeth Conference 2008. As final reports are seen, what happened is reported on, digested and interpreted and commented on no doubt we shall all develop our ideas. I hope to return to the subject when I am better briefed and have had time to reflect on what must be accounted an historic Lambeth.