Thursday, 31 July 2008

Lambeth: Rabbit in the Hat?

Some people, understandably, look to Lambeth for a magic blueprint. I don’t see this happening:
  1. There’s a process for Covenant and another for Windsor follow-up. Both are out for consultation. If Lambeth gazumps those processes, we really will be in a fix. We need to stick to the paths to which we’ve committed.
  2. Lambeth 1:10, much discussed is not gong to be revisited because it does represent something cebtral to where the vast majority of Anglicans in the world actually are. Some will like this and some won’t but that’s the fact.
  3. If we produce a toolbox for people to rebuild communion, the law of unintended consequences means it will be used in various ways. Nice Bishops will use the tools to fix the shed. Some touchline lobby groups will use the hammer to smash the windows, and go round poking their enemies in the eye with the screwdriver. These people have already worked merry hell in the communion, by strring up contention, sowing mistrust, and whipping people into their own foreign powergames. Best develop toolboxes slowly and deliberately, not here over the next day or so.
So what is emerging? I’ve spent the morning in a fantastc indaba, freindly, respectful, clearly focussed on the hard stuff, but good humoured. It’s illegal to discriminate against gay people in Los Angeles. It’s illegal not to in places homosexuality is a capital offence. Whatever we say, there are villages in Sub-Saharan Africa where the one generator runs a satelite TV set which will instantly beam the results, chewed about by Western Media, into the homes of the people. Local bishops then have to pick up the consequences, sometimes in the face of violent persecution.

Brian MacLaren challenged us to try and work the issues before us missionally, rather than as problems in machine age dogmatics. A lot of talk so far has been essentially about how the ship is running, rather than where the ship is going.
  1. We are the bridgehead of a renewed humanity in Christ, organs of the Body of Christ. Maximus the Confessor speaks of the Church as an enfleshing of Christ in the world. But how?
  2. African voices here tell me that God’s word is addressed to people through the Sciptures as they are where they are. Therefore, to quote the late Max Warren, “It takes a whole world to know Christ.”
  3. Our priority, thus, has to be Christ, whom we have to value and represent more than the cultural wrappings with which we received him. Vincent Donovan’s percetion, as an RC missionary among the Masai in the 1960’s, was that it is futile and non-incarnational to start from the centralised dogmatic end. Rather faith had to be built among people from the other end, with great cultural sensitivity. That’s how Jesus worked; from street level up, not Jerusalem down. We need to work as Jesus worked.
  4. How? One great controversy of the 1860’s at Lambeth I was polygamy on the mission field. It took until 1978 for the Lambeth conference to express trust in missionary dioceses to call this one correctly in their own circumstances. Today’s communications and the speed of cultural change among us do not give us 100 years to develop trust among us around our own cultural mandates as we enflesh the Incarnation. We could, of course, simply split. That is the way of the world. Or we can challenge that way of the world, by distinguishing first from second order clearly, and choosing to walk together, different as we are.


Erika Baker said...

Well then, if compromise no longer means accepting cultural differences and living side by side, united by the creeds, the 39 articles and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, then we really only have the choice to compromise our own integrity or to walk apart.

I would have much more sympathy for the compromise approach if there was, at the same time, a highly visible and audible dialogue with Africans about how they treat their own gay population. But the whole conversation has been pretty one-sided with extreme conservatives refusing even to accept lgbt people as properly human and claiming homosexuality is a Western import (cf Davis Mac-Iyalla who says that his own language, Kalabari, has words for lesbians and gays that pre-date Westerners arriving in Africa).
There is an enormous outcry against one single bishop in America, but no corresponding international outcry by the Anglican Community that proposing to jail supporters of homosexuals for up to 7 years is not compatible with Christian values.

I'm also very much struggling with the argument that supporting lgbt people in the West means Christians in Africa suffer at the hands of Muslims. Apart from blaming the victims rather than the aggressors, it also rings a little hollow when you remember that it was the Muslims in the Nigerian government that voted against the draconian anti-gay measures Archbishop Akinola tried to push through parliament last year.

I'm not saying I don't believe there isn't some Muslim violence against African Christians because of the perceived license of Anglican theology and practice, but I do believe this is an inflated argument.
It is certainly one that has not been mentioned much until very recently and one for which there appear to be no solid corroborating statistics.

What is clear, on the other hand, is the actual danger African lgbt people find themselves in. And I still believe we have a responsibility towards them that is at the very least as strong as the responsibility we have to protect African Christians.

Archbishop statements about lgbt people being loved by God and deserving of pastoral care are really neither here nor there in the context.

So unless whatever compromise is worked out now is accompanied by a genuine attempt at conversation at bishop level, and unless this is sustained for the next 10 years, I find it difficult to see how anything other than walking apart carries integrity.

Just hammering out a compromise that leaves lgbt people as the ones who are doing the compromising on everyone else’s behalf and then putting a lid on the subject for the next 10 years would not be convincing.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...


Many thanks for your explorations of what is meant, or might be meant, by "compromise." I think the part of proceedings I have felt the most out of my depth for understanding was the shared Bible study on II Samuel 13. This plainly stirred very muddy waters, healingly I hope, but I'm not quite sure how. There are big gender and justice issues that are nothing to do with homosexual people.

I think you're absolutely right to ask "who sacrifices what?"

I would want to say that I don't get a sense that the Sudanese I've met are doing anything but telling it as it is for them. I have to admit I have no means to weigh this hunch, one way or the other.

I think the increasing articulation of lbgt voices from Africa is very important, and it will be interesting to see how quickly some African cultures leap from one end to the other of Brian MacLaren's curve, from pre-mod/mod to mod/post-mod.

Christopher said...

You know Bp. Alan, what is heartbreaking for me is that in all of this, I come away again with the sense that persons like myself are the problem, to the point that I know my time as an Anglican is likely at a close.

The Canadian bishops clear pastoral guidelines, while less than what some would like, were a pastoral word that honestly recognized that persons like myself are also seeking to be faithful Christians given what we've been given to work with. And that we need ritual support and to hear the Gospel word applied to our lives as well just like everyone else, even though we all to often disagree about one another's choices or responses to Jesus Christ. Had our bishops as a whole not derailed conversation in 1998 for clear resolutions that were then used in all manner as hammers, and had our bishops here in the US said, we can't go ahead with official blessing ceremonies or elevations to the episcopate, but we will celebrate Holy Communion with you and pray for your commitment together, and honor you as brothers and sisters, I would have felt loved and wanted and a part of the whole.

As it is, we're the problem, the issue, something other than real human beings with skin, and bones, and blood, and feelings, who take our faith seriously. It's a very odd way to do moral theology or ethics that is so cut off from real flesh and bone, and not to mention in my reading of Hooker and others, somehow less than Anglican because not close enough to the ground of real cases and real people in application of Scripture, the interpretation of Scripture and movement of the Spirit over time(Tradition), and plain old common sense (which is how Hooker's "reason" tends to come across when he defines it at all).

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Christopher, I've been thinking of your words on and off a lot today. Though painful to you, they've been an important reality checkpoint for me during the day, so I thank you warmly for them.

I am so sorry that the way this problem is framed and being processed makes you feel like *you* are the problem. As I've said elsewhere recently, I don't think the problem is lbgt people (who by and large are a simple biological fact of life) but the reactions of different peoples in different cultures to them.

I do understand your reading of the political history of this, though like all political naratives I'm sure it could be contested or elaborated upon.

One or two things have become plain over the past couple of days. One is that problems about sexuality and inclusion are common to all — Anglicans have a way of talking publicly about their problems, but the attitudes, good and bad, are everywhere. Another is that the world is undergoing a social process that, as Timothy Radcliffe says, could take a very long time.

Each Anglican community, in its context, has challenges in its own directions. I have met very Conservaive two thirds world bishops here, who have tremendous reserves of compassion and imagination, but simply live a million miles away from the West.

I hope the basic principles of "Love God/ Love people" would form most Christian communities, Anglican or not. As I learnt when I worked in the Prison service, the best of it was the landing staff and prisoners, and the worst the senior hierarchy. That's probably true, though I'm uncomfortable to admit it, of Churches too.

I hope and pray you come to a place of refreshment within which your value is naturally affirmed and celebrated — but when that happens it will be the people, not the denomination, you've got to thank...

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