Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Should Lambeth be Cancelled?

In October, the Diocese of Utah, meeting in Convention, endorsed a recommendation from Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish that the 2008 Lambeth Conference be cancelled. Here is part of the letter of explanation that Bp. Irish sent to the Presiding Bishop:

...We urge you to ask the Archbishop to cancel the Lambeth Conference for 2008.

EXPLANATION:
• The Communion is in such disarray over who recognizes whom, and the participation of “irregularly consecrated” bishops, that little good can come from the fragmented gatherings sure to take place at the Conference, and even attendance at common worship is unlikely.

• We are unclear about the “other issues” being raised around the Communion, although the Archbishop suggests they are “very specific.” Within the constitution and canons of our church we have responded faithfully and courteously to the demands of others, even though questioning their authority to set the conditions of our continued participation in the Communion.

• We are leery about using the occasion of the Conference to present a Covenant that is exclusionary, that centralizes authority, or that adds to the core doctrine of our faith.

• The cost of holding the Lambeth Conference under the present circumstances is disproportionate to its benefits, and to the good we can do elsewhere in the mission of the church.

• Given the disarray we referred to above, we think that a Lambeth Conference in the near future would be disastrous to our public image around the world.
The Diocese of Olympia soon passed a similar resolution at their Convention:

...The text approved by the convention said, “We are leery about using the occasion of the [2008 Lambeth] Conference to present a Covenant that is exclusionary, that centralizes authority, or that adds to the core doctrine of our faith. The cost of holding the Lambeth Conference under the present circumstances is disproportionate to its benefits, and the good we can do elsewhere in the mission of the church”...
The bishops of Nigeria want to call it off as well. One of the reasons they list is their fear of protesters (go Josh!).

The Daily Episcopalian is hosting an essay by the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska and current president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, in which he explores the question of canceling Lambeth. Here's part of it:

...But would cancelling Lambeth be a mistake? Should we not come to the table, perhaps most especially when we disagree? The knee jerk answer should be yes, that sounds right, but the realities of past experience should caution us to think twice before we respond. The performance of some bishops at Primates’ gatherings demonstrates that unless there is a firm hand at the tiller of Lambeth, any amount of childish posturing and manipulating is likely to reoccur. In addition, the sad sight of bishops refusing to worship with one another is hardly a global invitation to join such a fractured community. And finally, with special authority being granted and cited for pronouncements coming from non-legislative meetings like Lambeth, running the risk that some partisan “resolution” will be adopted and enshrined into dogma is a risk not worth taking.

But perhaps the most persuasive thing about the Utah suggestion is that it forces us to confront our own dysfunction. More meetings enable more silly behavior. The waffling of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the manipulation of meetings by some bishops, and the lame rhetoric of other bishops who have made a cottage industry out of doom and gloom prophecies has to be faced. For too long we have all been watching this soap opera called Anglican leadership and wondering when the adults would come back into the room to make the kids play nice.

That may not happen unless we take some serious steps. What the diocese of Utah raised is an idea for just this kind of wake up call and action. Perhaps if we call off the party, some people will sober up. It may be disconcerting to many that we have decided not to have another Lambeth right away, but after all, when did we start to worship Lambeth anyway? Even more disconcerting would be the spectacle of global religious leaders playing political gotcha over issues that most Anglicans find pointless and diverting from the mission of the gospel...
So, what do you think? Shall we call off the party?

J.

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