Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cape Town on Lambeth 1998 and the Draft Covenant

Last week, the Most Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane, Archbishop of Cape Town, offered his thoughts on a number of current topics in regards to the Anglican Communion.

His description of how Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference came into being is quite enlightening. Keep in mind that this is the resolution that is often trotted out as "law" in regards to the Communion's teaching on human sexuality:

...So, finally we come to the 1998 Lambeth Conference. During the first two weeks of our three weeks together, Bishops spent considerable time working on particular questions. I chaired Section 1, which had the overarching theme of 'Called to Full Humanity'. Some 200 bishops opted for this Section, of whom 60 signed up to consider human sexuality. Let me tell you, these 60 spanned the broadest spectrum imaginable, from the hardest line conservatives to the most radical liberals!

Someone calculated that we devoted 800 bishop hours to this thorny subject. It was the most difficult group of the whole conference - there was huge pain and division as discussions began. But 800 bishop hours later, we had thrashed out a common position.

The result was the 11 carefully crafted paragraphs of Theme 3 of the Section 1 Report. I am making these available to you, so you can see how we managed to be completely honest about the breadth of views on which we could not agree, and yet also find considerable agreement on wider issues, and on a way to go forward together. We recommended that the Conference Resolution should not go into details, but merely accept and affirm our report, and refer it to the Provinces for discussion. The rest of the 200 Bishops of the Section agreed with this approach, recognising that it resulted from refining in a real crucible of fire.

Now this is where clumsiness prevailed. The Archbishop of Canterbury found himself under considerable pressure for there to be a fuller resolution on homosexuality. Contrary to all the usual normal procedures for handling resolutions, a draft was presented, and then debated and substantially amended in an hour-and-a-half plenary meeting, of over 600 bishops, spouses, observers, guests, and all in the full glare of the cameras.

The result was Resolution 1:10. Though it does commend the report of the subsection, the points that follow did not arise out of the long hard wrestling that we had done, and did not reflect the way that, despite such differences, we had managed to enunciate our differences in ways that allowed us to keep working together. It was as if our 800 bishop hours had never happened!

For all that resolutions are advisory and not binding, some of its clauses, those which 'reject homosexuality as incompatibly with Scripture' have taken on a life of their own. Other clauses, including those advocating continuing listening and also monitoring work in the area of human sexuality - alongside all the rest of the resolutions of the Conference - are given nothing like the same prominence!
It sounds to me as if Lambeth 1.10 is not the mind of Lambeth, but the mind of George Carey.

Regarding the Draft Covenant, the Archbishop offered these thoughts:

...I will be honest and say that beyond my continuing question of whether a Covenant is really the best way ahead, my serious concern with the current draft is that the ACC is being sidelined, and far too much power is being given to the Primates' Meeting.

I fear we are in danger of setting up something akin to the Roman Curia - and I am especially worried that the Primates, gifted and blessed and called as they are in so many ways, are nonetheless so unrepresentative of the totality of the Body of Christ. Even the representative breadth of the Lambeth Conference is questionable.

My theology continues to tell me that it is in and through our widest councils that we will most fully discern both what we should do, and how we should go about it...
I think Archbishop Ndungane's fears are well founded. It does indeed appear that the Communion, under pressure from a handful of Primates, is indeed moving towards a more authoritarian structure. This is yet another sign that we may be witnessing the end of the Communion.

If that is so, it will be sad, but it will not give us reason to abandon hope. Our hope is rooted in the living God, through whom a new creation will be raised up from the fragments of our shattered dreams.


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