Friday 1 August 2008

Hitting the wall or breaking through?

Things could well be getting what our Caribbean friends call Crucial. Yesterday afternoon’s meeting to share creative ways forward felt rather stuck, with three potential ideas nobody seemed to much want developed in detail. It was OK, but essentially consisted of the same old win/lose thinking from the same old people, the vast majority US or UK. It’s a grim thought but without the indaba process we could have been spending two weeks like this.

This experience does at least establish that we can’t make anything different without thinking different, which was pretty obvious, I suppose.

We’re not quite there yet I realise. Bad experience of old methods certainly vindicates the organisers’ decision not just to re-run the 1998 process. Another bishop said to me today that, actually, to get 650-odd incompatible people from 130 countries to listen to each other and communicate together, breaking bread as Christians, and praying through their problems without rancour or the smack of top-down authoritarianism, is in itself a reasonably unusual thing to happen in today’s world.

The indaba process seems to have been honoured. I was talking to our listener today, and he was telling me about comparing notes between the indaba groups for sympathetic resonance, then crystalising the widest held strong convictions into the document. It’s not every English bishop’s cup of tea, but it certainly gives voices to the voiceless, and may well beat Westminster Custard Pie fighting as a basis for real progress.

Here, for example, is a blog entry from George Packard, that is more wonderful the more I reflect on it:
If the Anglican Communion would just turn over their troubles to my 40 member indaba group everything would be fine. We had a break through as an American female bishop likened our church to siblings arguing in the back seat of the family car. There was a murmur of final understanding since there had been a wonder if those Episcopalians were coming unglued. No, just poking each other the way kids do. "But we stay together and that's what makes unwanted boundary crossings by South American and African bishops so confusing." She said.

I was re-playing that fateful day in Minneapolis in 2003 in my mind when we confirmed Gene Robinson's consecration and how no one gave much of a passing thought to how this news would impact anyone in this room. Some have been beaten and called members of "the gay church" in cultures where sympathizers like that were stoned, others have died...not because of Gene but because dioceses have rejected the HIV-AIDS assistance from the American church's tainted money.

The conversation--for the Americans and the Canadians--had real remorse in it: we acted without care for the greater family and we were deeply sorry. I'm not saying the consecration wouldn't have happened but the hurt of disregard for them--which was plain and evident--would not have been there.

Then Bishop Michael of Sudan continued as he said that his church was only getting used to thinking about homosexuals now with that he composed a prayer right on the spot emphasizing his point. After the entreaty to "Our dear Lord" it was as sensitive a summary of their uncertain lives in his land that I had ever heard. We were silent. (I wonder if this Lambeth is about where had hoped the 1998 meeting would have been in the appreciation of basic gay lives and rights.)

The bishop went on to say that we had to give he and his people some time; elevating gay persons into leadership positions of authority was confusing to him and his congregations. "Can't a baptized person get into heaven without you making him a bishop for awhile?" He had us there. As he was speaking I wasn't sure if the nods were in sympathy or agreement. It seemed like both and it came about as there was an acceptance of North American remorse.

The atmosphere in the room had changed. Said our facilitator, "We seem to arrived at a special level of trust." And that seemed to hold true for the heretofore stilted conversations about the Covenant too, that code of conduct we have all been dreading. Now, there was a growing consensus around the things which make us an affirmed, communion of churches in search of a grace-filled process which would come to the rescue when we get out of sorts with each other. It had been the meanderings in recent years for the right venue to discuss this which has been so maddening.
The vast majority of us in the middle, if you like, are now looking to the people who have more absolute ideas, left and right, to raise their game. If a few of them manage to do that, as well as having invented another way of decision making that takes every voice more seriously than our run of the mill synods and councils, we could achieve a significant breakthrough.


Erika Baker said...

I am so very touched by your reports, I can only read them with bated breath. This is all so very encouraging!

But the ultimate integrity of the process depends on the integrity of the individual participants and on what happens from now on.

If our own liberal bishops could be a little more courageous and act on their beliefs, we might get to a place where they say: We will not yet authorise same sex blessings and we will not yet be able to accept openly partnered gay priests, although we would like to. We recognise the tender shoots in some African countries and we will do everything in our power to support them. We also recognise the danger some Africans find themselves in because of this issue, and we will not do anything to make the situation worse for them.

On the other hand, we will from now on be more active in this process and more outspoken. When someone like Davis Mac-Iyalla is attacked in Africa and the Archbishop signs an open letter to GAFCON about it merely asking them to tone down the rhetoric because that, too, endangers lives, we will not just nod privately but we will sign the letter.

When a gay youth worker is denied a job because his bishop does not believe his assurances of celibacy we will point out, clearly, that this man has been following church guidelines and that his treatment was wrong.

When an African bishop makes anti gay remarks that dehumanise homosexuals, or when he tries to tighten the anti gay laws in his country, we will speak out loudly and audibly, so that our own lgbt people can see that the compromise we are striking is a genuine one.

I think that all except those on the extreme spectrums could live with that for now.
But it does depend on not only privately supporting lgbt people but being seen to do so publicly and possibly at some personal cost – at least the same personal cost currently being born by lgbts in the West, if not by those in Africa and parts of Asia, and by those African bishops who now return home from Lambeth to possible sanctions from their Archbishops for having attended at all, and by those African bishops who return to accusations of having listened at all.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks you, Erika, for giving some signposts to the area in which we can live together.

I think we all have to be clearer, perhaps, and more courageous in living out our own discipleship in the place to which we are called, among the people we serve. It is ironic, but no less useful for all that, to see how secular emploiyment tribunals are beginning to mark out in the UK the places in which our employment practices are unjust; it's driving a culture change that could radically improve the ways we treat people internally, to our great benefit and God's glory.

I think the challenge for each of us is to seek God's judgment on ourselves (not the other lot) at the place of judgment. Many of the lobbyists are very good at their own strengths, and lousy on their own shortcomings. As that turns round here in relationship to one another and to God, we are becoing slightly different people, and that is changing the way we approach the simple "what should we do?" questions.

I share your awe at the precariousness of the whole way of working, but what was so depressing about yesterday afternoon was the sense of many people talking past each other, that has been transcended by indaba. Mayve it's that kind of process rather than detailed plans which will be the legacy of this Lambeth.

Ann said...

I hope the "product" of this Lambeth is relationships and the ability to talk with each other about hard things and realize we won't die. A resolution of how the Communion will act on one thing or another is not possible and will break us apart -- it is not a bad thing to live and work together without resolution - walking by faith and not by sight.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Ann. the process you describe has happened in the main very readily and charitably at this conerence. I wish we could bottle up the spirit of indaba and get some round the more contested parts of the communion for healing...

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