Saturday, July 26, 2008

History Repeats Itself at Lambeth 2008

[A note to the reader who happens by this site: Apparently, criticism of the role which V. Gene Robinson has been playing in The Episcopal Church, and lately also at the decennial "Lambeth Conference" of all Anglican bishops at Canterbury, is taken in certain circles as an instance of gay-bashing, homophobia, or even worse forms of mental perversion. Like many others, the Curmudgeon has not been immune from this form of criticism (see the first comment to this post). Being a curmudgeon, however, he has never let any thought of how his remarks might be perceived by others influence either their character or their tone. The following essay, therefore, remains what it is, regardless of how any given reader may choose to interpret it: it is nothing more than a criticism (along with an accompanying historical parallel) of a bishop in the Episcopal Church who persists in conduct that is anything but episcopal. Were Pope Benedict XVI himself to visit Canterbury Cathedral for propaganda purposes, and to arrange to have himself filmed in doing so, this Curmudgeon would be no less severe in his criticism of that august figure. So be forewarned: if you are one of those who might perceive any criticism of Bishop Robinson as upsetting, or as a form of gay-bashing, or worse, then please stop reading, and find something here that is more to your liking. And for those who are not upset in the least, you might also enjoy this post (the latest in a series), which includes a game in which you can take part in order to mitigate the impact of all those personal pronouns that +Gene employs.]  

We learn from the Weblog of Gene Robinson that he had a little run-in with the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral when he tried to use that historic shrine as a prop in a film that he is making to record, presumably, his experiences in being excluded from the 2008 Lambeth Conference. First he sets the stage for us:
Since arriving in Canterbury, I had not yet visited the Cathedral. I went nowhere near the place on Sunday's opening service. The ever-anxious leadership had provided the Cathedral security guards with a large photo of me, posted at the security checkpoints, presumably to keep me from "crashing the gates" of the opening service. No one believed that I would be true to my promise to the Archbishop not to attend.
Note the self-serving projection here: Bishop Robinson, seeing himself as the divinely-appointed leader of the movement to win equal rights for gays within the church, conceives that such a leader probably ought to "crash the gates" rather than allow himself to be excluded from Lambeth. This sets up feelings of guilt, since he has not in fact done so, and he projects these feelings of guilt onto "the ever-anxious leadership" of the Anglican Communion, who simply cannot believe that he "would be true to [his] promise" not to do so. (Of course, does anyone doubt that had the Lambeth Conference not taken any security precautions at all, Bishop Robinson and his Episcopalian enablers would have taken advantage of that circumstance to hustle him in to create "an event"? Otherwise, what would be the point of having him come to Canterbury at all?) Thus, as +Gene projects his feelings of guilt onto the Lambeth leadership, we are already off on a very unepiscopalian note. As Archbishop Rowan Williams told the assembled bishops in the pre-Conference retreat, "bishops can never, however much they’d like to be, become the spokesperson of a single nation, or cause, or group, however worthy they may be. . . Therefore we can never simply be servants to one subgroup."

Next +Gene reveals that he is in fact making "a documentary" to be released---oh, in 2010 or so (no need to give the details, because all will be disclosed in time):
On Thursday, knowing that the conference attendees would leave early in the morning for London -- for the MDG walk, lunch at Lambeth Palace, and tea with the Queen -- it seemed like a good, low-profile time to make my own pilgrimage to our Mother Church. I told no one of my intentions to attend -- except I had my security person follow the properly courteous protocol of alerting the Cathedral to my visit. I had him also seek permission for a videographer to accompany me on my visit for a documentary to be released sometime in 2010. We were informed that the videographer could NOT accompany me or film me inside the Cathedral. Fair enough. We were told that he could accompany me to the gate onto the Cathedral grounds, and, standing in the public street, could at least film me walking into the Cathedral through the gate's archway.
So he picks the day when he knows most of those attending Lambeth will not be around, and arranges to bring his cameraman. His cameraman?? Is it not remarkable that a bishop making a pilgrimage to Canterbury imagines, before all else, that it would be wonderful to star in a little documentary of his visit, in which he could be filmed kneeling at the shrine to St. Thomas à Becket, and admiring the other features of that most holy site? (See the still pictures at his blog for an idea of what this would be like.) Would he still have made the visit had his camera- man been unable to come, I wonder? (The fact that this curmudgeon is having to ask such a question goes to the heart of the criticism being made: what kind of a documentary needs to be made about a visit to Canterbury, if not for purposes of the gay-rights agenda? And just what is "episcopal", anyway, about starring in a documentary?)

+Gene recounts what happened next:
We contacted Cathedral security to let them know of our imminent arrival, as had been request[e]d. When we got there, we were met by a gentleman, representing the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral, I think. He intercepted me and told me that I could not be filmed walking into the Cathedral (even from the public street outside) after all. The reason he gave took me by surprise, rendering me speechless (an uncommon experience for me!). "We can't have any photographs or film of you entering the Cathedral," he said, "because we want this to be a church for ALL people." Presumably he meant that my being seen walking into the Cathedral would cause others not to want to come.
What a conceit! "[A] gentleman representing the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral, I think." (Emphasis added---Gene was too self-absorbed to take in who was addressing him.) But the next conceit is still greater: "Presumably [by saying 'we want this to be a church for ALL people'] he meant that my being seen walking into the Cathedral would cause others not to want to come." [Emphasis again added. And now, a warning again to those who are sensitive (see first warning above): the criticism is about to become severe. Depart, or forever hold your peace.] 

These words manifest a distortion of reality so great as to border on megalomania. Bishop Robinson is not even certain as to who ordered him he could not take a propaganda film of his walking into the Cathedral. OK, let us grant him that one, because he was obviously flustered after thinking he had slipped one by those in charge of the Cathedral, only to be told (even though he did not recognize the reason) that he could not use the shrine of a martyr as a backdrop for his little "documentary." But then the megalomania sets in: he projects again that what is forbidden is to be "seen" walking into the Cathedral---not filmed for a documentary, mind you, but "seen" by others.  In +Gene's distorted projection, in other words, his very figure is so upsetting to orthodox Anglicans that just the sight of him walking up the steps to Canterbury Cathedral is enough to deter them from their own plans to worship there.

Can the man not even see how his declared intent to star in a film at the site struck those who had the responsibility of guarding it against just such abuses? He confesses that their protest took him aback:
This was one of those breathtaking moments when you just can't come up with the right thing to say. The rest of the day I thought of all the things I SHOULD have said. Like, "so you mean that I am not included in 'ALL people?!'" Or, "isn't this MY cathedral too?!" Or, "so what am I, chopped liver?!" The moment was so surprising, after having been so forthright in our notification of our visit and going through all the channels to ensure courteousness, I just couldn't come up with anything to say except, "okay," and accede to his wishes.
But the fact is that he was allowed to "walk into the Cathedral"---indeed, he was even assigned a genial and capable guide so that he could have a tour, just like any other pilgrim:
We were taken to the Cathedral's visitors office, where we were introduced to Theresa, a competent and warm guide who provided me with a wonderful, informative and hospitable tour of the Cathedral. But I simply couldn't shake the feelings engendered by the previous "welcome" a few minutes before.
He never gets it. If, indeed, the problem was with his being seen walking into the Cathedral, so that the very sight of him doing so would deter other worshippers, why did the staff assign him a guide to take him around the entire church? Why does he think they allowed him in the place to begin with? (As I say, logic is not his strong point.) 

The rest of his post is as self-serving as what I have already quoted, if not more, and it would be beating a dead horse to continue with this criticism. I shall note only the fact that the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral was entirely within his rights to stop +Gene from turning his Cathedral into a scenic prop for the gay rights agenda, for yet another documentary to be aired in 2010. How many bishops of the Anglican Communion have not one, but two documentaries coming out about them within a three-year period? (I refuse to give links to the first; you'll have to find it on your own if you want to see it.) Is this the role of a bishop---to make documentaries about how the rest of the Communion keeps him from their meetings, and about how he shows up anyway? "Episkopos" means "overseer", not "film star" or "gate-crasher."

And now it is time to answer +Gene's questions. Recall what they were: "So you mean I am not included in 'ALL people'? "Isn't this MY cathedral, too?" "So what am I, chopped liver?" (Well, maybe I will leave the third question to those more knowledgeable than I.)

I submit, Bishop Robinson, that in your focus on just yourself and your agenda for Lambeth, you have forgotten the history of the first Lambeth Conference, in 1867. You might want to remember that an even greater percentage of bishops---nearly fifty percent---stayed away from that Conference than the percentage that stayed away from this one. The reason? Because in 1867, the idea of a gathering of all the bishops of the Anglican Communion was so novel. It had never been done before, and to the many who stayed away, it sounded as though they would be coming together as a "council" of the Anglican Communion, and would pass resolutions that were intended to be binding on all its members, whether present or not. Even the Archbishop of York, whose title as "Primate of England" makes him a close second to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the "Primate of All England," decided not to legitimize the first Conference with his presence, and he was joined by the Bishop of London.

All in all, only 76 out of the 144 bishops of the Communion attended the first Lambeth Conference, which was just five days in duration. The agenda at the Conference was dominated by the current strife between the Bishop of Capetown and the Bishop of Natal, whom the former had claimed to depose, but who had been reinstated in his position by a judgment of the Privy Council, as I have explained in this post. The Archbishop of Canterbury had planned to hold a concluding festival service with the assembled bishops in Westminster Abbey. The Dean of that church, however, declined to allow the service to be held there, for reasons explained by his biographer:
The Conference concluded with a special service. Before the opening of the proceedings the Archbishop expressed a wish to hold this service in Westminster Abbey. In the uncertainty that [Dean] Stanley felt as to the purposes for which the Conference was summoned, he feared that it might be used for party objects, such as giving support to the Bishop of Capetown, repudiating the Judgment of the Privy Council, and confirming the alleged deposition of the Bishop of Natal. He therefore declined to promise the use of the building for the proposed special service . . .   
We have, indeed, the actual letter written by Dean Stanley to the Archbishop of Canterbury declining to make Westminster Abbey available for the purpose requested:
Deanery, Westminster, Sept 21st 1867. 

My dear Lord Archbishop, ---  I have been honoured with a communication from your Grace through the Bishop of London requesting the use of Westminster Abbey for a special service to be held for the English, American, and Scottish bishops now assembled in England---to be held, as I understood, on September 28. On all occasions it is my earnest desire to render the Abbey and the precincts of Westminster available for purposes of general utility and edification, and this desire is increased when the request comes from your Grace.

You will kindly allow me to state the difficulty which I feel in the present instance. I have endeavoured to act in such matters on the rule of granting the use of the Abbey to such purposes, and such only, as are either coextensive with the Church of England, or have a definite object of usefulness or charity, apart from party or polemical considerations. 

Your Grace will, I am sure, see that however much your Grace's intentions would have brought the proposed Conference at Lambeth within this sphere in fact, it can hardly be so considered. The absence of the Primate and the larger part of the bishops of the Northern Province [York], not to speak of the bishops of India and Australia, and of other important colonial or missionary sees, must, even irrespectively of other indications, cause it to present a partial aspect of the English Church; whilst the appearance of other prelates, not belonging to our Church, places it on a different footing from the institutions which are confined to the Church of England. And, further, the absence of any fixed information as to the objects to be discussed and promoted by the Conference leaves me, in common with all who stand outside, in uncertainty as to what would be the proposals or measures which would receive by implication the sanction given by the use of the Abbey---a sanction which, in the case of a church so venerable and national in its character, ought, I conceive, to be lent only to public objects of well defined or acknowledged beneficence. . . .
Thus, Bishop Robinson, I say to you that the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral was only following in a venerable tradition when he declined to let you film yourself walking into or around his church for purposes of making a documentary to advance the narrow agenda of those whom you represent. It is not that the Cathedral is YOUR Cathedral, but that it is a Cathedral belonging to the WHOLE Church---"to ALL the people," precisely as you were told. In 1867, Dean Stanley felt that the Lambeth Conference was not representative of the entire Communion---let alone the Church of England, whose Northern Province had largely absented itself. Consequently, he used his authority to bar even the Primate of All England from using Westminster Abbey as a theater for a culmination of the Lambeth proceedings. How much less of a claim, therefore, could you have to employ the hallowed precincts of Canterbury Cathedral for your own agenda, which is so much at odds with the rest of the Church you profess to serve? 

Surely, as Santayana noted, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. To which I will add the following observation, from Karl Marx: "Hegel remarks somewhere that history tends to repeat itself. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." 

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