Monday, June 23, 2008

Lambeth at the End of the 20th Century: The Rest of the Story

[UPDATE 07/11/2008: Father Webber has published a revised summary of his history at Timesonline. He corrects some of it in light of criticisms made here and elsewhere, and he brings it up to date with a reference to GAFCON (without, however, mentioning it by name). His overall thesis remains, however, the same: change has occurred, is occurring now, and will occur again; better to be nice and go with the flow than to dig in your heels and oppose it, because you might just be wrong---like those bishops at the early Lambeth Conferences.]

We come now in our survey to the last of the Sunday bulletin inserts prepared by Episcopal Life from a longer series (Part IV of which is here, with links to the earlier parts) by the Reverend Christopher Webber which appeared on the former Episcopal Majority Website. In many ways, as we shall see, it is the worst of the lot. [UPDATE 06/25/08: For an entirely different manner of subjecting the bulletin insert to critical analysis, be sure not to miss this post.]

The anonymous reductor(s) have let the prescribed Episcopal Life agenda completely dominate the historical reality of what happened at the 1988 and 1998 Lambeth Conferences. In short, what Episcopal Life is offering churchgoers is not history, but undisguised propaganda.

Look at the very beginning of the June 22 insert:
The Lambeth Conference can recommend but not command. The bishops had said there was a need for careful study of sexual issues at their 1978 meeting, but when they came together again in 1988 the study had not been done and tensions were greater than ever.
This makes it sound as though Lambeth itself was responsible for a supposed failure to have what the anonymous reductor calls "the study" done by 1988. Well, in the first place, Lambeth 1978 did not call for some single, generic study of sexual issues. Here is the relevant portion of the resolution it passed on the subject (with bold print added for emphasis):
While we reaffirm heterosexuality as the scriptural norm, we recognise the need for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research. The Church, recognising the need for pastoral concern for those who are homosexual, encourages dialogue with them. (We note with satisfaction that such studies are now proceeding in some member Churches of the Anglican Communion.)
There is no call here for some single, monolithic study, to be ready in time for Lambeth 1988---as the reductor should have noted from his/her own earlier summary, "The Lambeth Conference can recommend, but not command." Instead there is recognition that there is a need for the subject to be studied, and that several individual churches had begun their own studies in the area. The Lambeth Conference had no control over the content or the timing of those studies.

The insert continues:
The bishops found themselves discussing “the present impaired nature of communion.” They said there was a great need for “sensitivity, patience and pastoral care towards all concerned.” But bishops facing intractable divisions were “encouraged to seek continuing dialogue with, and make pastoral provision for, those clergy and congregations whose opinions differ from those of the bishop, in order to maintain the unity of the diocese.” How separate pastoral provision would maintain unity was not explained.
If the bishops could not agree on homosexuality, they did find themselves able to agree to reverse themselves on a stand taken one hundred years earlier and allow the baptism of polygamists if they promise not to marry again and if the local community were agreeable.
There is no attempt at context here. If you believe from this passage that there were already divisions in the Church in 1988 over homosexuality, requiring in some cases the making of alternative pastoral provision in order to maintain unity, you could not be more wrong. The language of the first paragraph is actually quoting from the 1988 Lambeth resolution on the ordination of women to the episcopate! That topic, along with the question of women's ordination in general, was dividing the Anglican Communion in 1988, and led to the break-off of a number of groups from The Episcopal Church (as I have detailed earlier in this account). But the anonymous Episcopal Life reductor (and not, I should emphasize, the Rev. Webber in his post) has seen fit to recast history, by employing a highly misleading introduction to the next paragraph: "If the bishops could not agree on homosexuality . . .", thereby giving the impression that the previous paragraph had been describing that topic. To the contrary---and if you are not yet incensed by such blatant manipulation, well---read on.

Even that last suggestion, that "the bishops in 1988 could not agree on homosexuality," is a bald-faced lie---for the bishops in 1988 reaffirmed what they had said in 1978 on homosexuality. The only disagreement, in 1978 as well as in 1988, came from those who dissented from the respective resolutions adopted by the majority---but the archives do not disclose just how many such dissenters there were.

The remaining body of work accomplished at Lambeth 1988 accounts, of course, for naught in the reductor's agenda. Thus is omitted all that might really be relevant to the reader who might want to put Lambeth 2008 into perspective with prior conferences. For example, the insert neglects to mention, in light of the proposal for a draft Anglican Covenant that will be considered at the 2008 Conference, Resolution 17 of 1988 that "recommends to the Churches in their own particular situations that they progress from mere coexistence through to co-operation, mutual commitment or covenant and on to full visible unity with all their brothers and sisters in Christ." (Italics added; see also the more precise Resolution 19.) Also, it might have been worthy of note that the Conference took a stance on the introduction of shari'a law which is quite at odds with the recent position of the Archbishop of Canterbury. And what about Resolution 18, entitled "The Anglican Communion: Identity and Authority," which included recommendations (1) that "encouragement be given to a developing collegial role for the Primates Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that the Primates Meeting is able to exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters"; (2) "that in the appointment of any future Archbishop of Canterbury, the Crown Appointments Commission be asked to bring the Primates of the Communion into the process of consultation"; (3) that while Lambeth Conferences should continue to meet "at appropriate intervals," (4) "regional conferences of the Anglican Communion should meet between Lambeth Conferences as and when the region concerned believes it to be appropriate." In support of these recommendations, the Resolution noted:
We see an enhanced role for the Primates as a key to growth of inter-dependence within the Communion. We do not see any inter-Anglican jurisdiction as possible or desirable; an inter-Anglican synodical structure would be virtually unworkable and highly expensive. A collegial role for the Primates by contrast could easily be developed, and their collective judgement and advice would carry considerable weight.

If this is so, it is neither improper nor out of place to suggest that part of the consultative process prior to the appointment of a future Archbishop of Canterbury should be in consultation with the Primates.

On 3 above: We are convinced that there is considerable value in the bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting as bishops, both in terms of mutual understanding and as an effective agent of interdependence.

On 4 above: Regional issues need regional solutions. Regional conferences can also provide for wider representation.
I cannot of course speak for everyone in TEC, but I for one, at least, would have appreciated being told of these resolutions in light of the issues that will be discussed in 2008 revolving around the much-discussed Covenant. Given Episcopal Life's agenda, that was not to be. No, we are to come away from the bulletin thinking that Lambeth 1988 was all in an uproar over homosexuality, and that the battle lines had been drawn for the Great Confrontation of 1998.

So we come to the bulletin's account of the 1998 Lambeth Conference---a fait accompli, in our anonymous reductor's eyes. In a "building bridges" variation on the famous (and much discredited) "Fried Chicken" attack, he/she recounts:
Before the 1998 Lambeth Conference convened, First World conservatives began building bridges with Third World bishops in preparation for the next gathering. Instead of trying to understand each other, factions were forming in preparation for battle. The result was prolonged and angry debate.
Notice the all-out political rhetoric deployed here: "First World conservative bishops", and "Third World bishops." (What about "Second World bishops"? Didn't they have anything meaningful to contribute to the dialogue? ---And who would they be in this revolutionary scheme of things, anyway? The bishops from the Church of England? Surely not; surely not even Episcopal Life would be guilty of such patent reverse colonialism.) "Prolonged and angry debate"? (Here the reductor is simply using Father Webber's words.) This is a projection of what the liberals felt after being unable to convince African ("Third World") bishops to climb on their bandwagon. Contrast this revisionist account to a contemporary one that characterizes the debate as "solemn and orderly---(with a few exceptions)." Moreover, it is adding insult to injury to suggest that the votes of the African bishops in 1998 were motivated by political or financial (or even culinary!) considerations.

Needless to say, the work of the 1998 Lambeth Conference is once again conflated by our anonymous reductor into just Resolution 1.10, which is described in a very deprecatory tone:
As to homosexuals, the bishops committed themselves “to listen to the experience of homosexual persons” and “assure them that they are loved by God and. . . full members of the Body of Christ,” but homosexual practice was rejected “as incompatible with Scripture.” A resolution referring to homosexuality as a “kind of sexual brokenness” and calling on bishops who ordain homosexual persons to repent was defeated but the bishops found that they could not “advise the legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same-gender unions.” They called for a Listening Process, but again many churches failed to take part and others were unwilling even to listen.
"[M]any churches failed to take part and others were unwilling even to listen"---could any tone more propagandistic than this be employed? Churches failed to take part---in what? Was there some organized activity following Lambeth 1998 in which each individual Episcopal parish was invited to participate? Of course not; this is our reductor's intellectual fantasy.

And "unwilling even to listen"? Listen to what, specifically? There was no single position statement following Lambeth 1998 prepared by homosexual activists; the refrain of "being unwilling even to listen" is again a modern-day projection read onto the "solemn and orderly" debates in 1998 as described by Stephen Noll in the article cited earlier. "Listening," incidentally, is a two-way process, calling for giving as well as getting. One cannot listen for long to a monotonic harping that never acknowledges there may be two sides to the debate, and which itself does not model any "listening" for others to emulate.

So the work of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, including its acceptance of the Virginia Report (a predecessor to the Windsor Report) and the work of the Eames Commission on women's ordination, including the endorsement of a period for reception and discernment, is passed over in favor of stressing its reaffirmation of a 1988 Resolution calling for bishops to respect diocesan boundaries---one that had particular reference to TEC's continuing projection of its presence into Europe, where the boundaries were particularly unclear. Once again, the point rings as one-sided without the full perspective of what the Conference was actually addressing in its resolutions.

The bulletin series concludes with a peroration that is condensed from that of Father Webber's series. It is instructive to compare the two, for then one sees exactly the editorial bias of the anonymous Episcopal Life reductor(s). The conclusion begins with the deprecatory note sounded by Father Webber (this is taken over relatively intact; I have indicated deletions from his text with brackets, and bolded the additions):
A summary of such a tumultuous history is all too likely to reflect the concerns of the moment and the point of view[point] of the individual historian. This review has focused on two central issues: changing understandings of gender and sexuality, and the balance between diversity and unity. [In recent years the emergence of new “instruments of unity” has raised new questions as to the relative significance of Lambeth, primates, and the Consultative Council with a critical underlying issue of the relative power of clergy and lay people.] In regard to the concerns of the moment, the initial hesitancy [of the bishops meeting at Lambeth] to pronounce on anything at all rapidly had shifted [until,] in the latter part of the 20th century, when  there were few things on which the conference did not have an opinion. The initial insistence on dispersed authority left a vacuum which the [primates] Primates Meetings now seem determined to fill. In regard to gender and sexuality, earlier positions taken on polygamy, birth control, and remarriage after divorce have been reversed.  
(The last sentence condenses an entire paragraph of Fr. Webber's text.) One sees how editing the original text has changed the overall motif and theme. As I noted at the outset of this series, the theme of the Episcopal Life inserts was not Father Webber's original theme of "unity in diversity," but rather "Change: It's Healthy, Necessary, and Inevitable"---and specifically, changes in attitudes about gender and sexuality. The proper title for the Episcopal Life series should have been "A Quick Survey of Birth Control, Polygamy and Homosexuality at the Lambeth Conferences." Certainly, having finished the four parts, a reader might be forgiven for coming to that conclusion---but then, such a title would hardly be suitable for the Sunday bulletin, would it?

In the final paragraphs we see the reductor(s) plainly at work to change the tone and emphasis. Once again, I have put brackets around deletions from, and have bolded additions to, Father Webber's original text:
All this seems to raise again the central question of [the] Anglican life [ethos]: Can a Christian community exist without a central authority and narrow definitions of doctrine? [For centuries, royal authority and unquestioned cultural traditions enabled Anglicanism to survive and even thrive without such authority and definition. A world-wide community, existing in widely different cultures, no longer has these built-in supports. This might be an advantage if Anglicans were prepared to accept the variety of styles, theologies, liturgies, and polities that have resulted. One might imagine a community in which Christians were willing to accept strong episcopal authority in some places and strong lay leadership in others, narrow interpretation of the Bible in some societies and a more liberal interpretation in others. Why should African bishops have to dress like Victorian prelates and Japanese Christians be required to worship in Gothic buildings? Yet these cultural trappings have been accepted and the more significant differences that might reflect a truly encultured gospel have left us badly divided and on the verge of dissolution.] One proposed answer is an Anglican covenant, which some see as a hopeful way forward, but others reject it as changing the focus of Anglican life from communion to laws.

A careful review of our history, even one narrowly focused on some aspects of the Lambeth Conference, might lead us to be less sure of ourselves, [more ready]readier to listen, and more willing to leave a generous room for difference. If so many definitive statements of Lambeth have proved [so] subject to change, how sure should we be of our own current pronouncements? Might it be better to recognize that we might be wrong again; that sexual attitudes may be culturally conditioned; [and that we have yet to succeed in striking a proper balance between Biblical authority and cultural conditioning? Is it possible] that we [serve God’s church] do best when we do least to divide ourselves and do most to center our [common] life on a pattern of worship that draws us closer to the redeeming love of God? This year's conference will seek to provide guidance on these questions. It will need our prayers.

I rest my case.

[A printable version of this post may be found here.]

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