Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Most Important Teaching of Lambeth Thus Far

It has not made the headlines, but this message of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the bishops assembled at Lambeth in the Bible study he led this morning (as paraphrased by the Rt. Rev. Alan Wilson of Buckingham) is tailor-made for the social activists of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, and is in my view the most important teaching to come out of Lambeth thus far:

In Galatians 1:15 Paul says God reveals himself not “to” me (safe option in most translations) but (Greek) “in” me. So every calling or vocation is an invitation to become, gradually, a place where God’s life is revealed, his promise and judgment. We sometimes meet fellow disciples who make us realise, with devastating clarity, how far we need to change. This is holiness. So we thank God for all who do this in their calling as Bishops, including (especially?) those unable to join us. The Christ we are all called to reveal is one whose body is real, in time and eternity, who gathers God’s Children from the corners of the earth into his kingdom. This is the prime vision we were called to represent and enact. II Corinthians 11:28-9 —

Besides other things I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble and I am not indignant?
". . . a place where God's life is revealed, His promise and judgment. . . . The Christ we are all called to reveal is one whose body is real . . . who gathers God's Children from the corners of the earth into His kingdom." And note: "We thank God for all who do this in their calling as Bishops, including (especially?) those unable to join us." This is fine teaching, and I think Bishop Alan could remove the question mark; the sentiment was undoubtedly sincere. Archbishop Rowan now continues to emphasize the special calling of bishops:
So the only way of being a successful apostle is to be incapable of distancing oneself from the weakness of others. Bearing apostolic witness we have to speak of a new humanity in which we bear others burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ. Represent Jesus Christ and your defences will be down, and you will share in the weakness and loss of all, and your assumed loss will be part of the pain God takes upon himself in his infinite love. Paul sees the Church as being called to living the death and resurrection of Christ in the world.
Note well, TEC (and all other) Bishops: you have to learn "to be incapable of distancing oneself from the weaknesses of others." So much of what passes for deliberation these days in TEC's House of Bishops , and all of the litigation TEC is embroiled in, shows exactly the opposite face to the Communion, and to the world as a whole. Think again about the oxymoron of a church that fully endorses abortion, and ponder on the Archbishop's words.

Having set up the assembled bishops for their special role, Archbishop Rowan now delivers the clincher:
Therefore 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.

Simply wonderful! This is what TEC's social activists need to hear. He says it once more, for emphasis:

Some will call it dithering — we have to find ways to make it prophetic. It would be much easier to turn the church into an association of people who sign up to particular ideas, or reflect the nation in some vague way.
Such as abortion, gay/lesbian civil rights, liberation theology---you name it, it has been promoted in the name of our church and social justice. Just in case anyone is still wondering about the message of this study, Archbishop Rowan now says it a third time:
What we actually have to do is express in our living the whole new humanity that is being gathered up in Christ. Therefore we can never simply be servants to one subgroup. We have been taken hold of by Christ. We may of course want to affirm this person or that, but we cannot without also some note of challenge as well as affirmation. Therefore bishops have to prioritise living and proclaiming the life of a Christ who gathers lost humanity into one in himself.
And now Bishop Wilson summarizes in his own words (not the Archbishop's, I presume), and shows that he, for one at least, heard the message loud and clear (I have added the emphasis):
So Unity is not just everybody feeling good about each other, a quantitative thing, but a qualitative thing — each person impoverished by the another’s loss, each person enriched by others’ holiness. This is what Church is for, according to Saint Paul; and we’re off with some homework to reflect on what it means in our own lives.
Please, I pray, do reflect---not just Bishop Alan, but all of you there at Lambeth, and especially those at the forefront of our church's activist stance. To live in Christ is to have God reveal Himself in you, where you are incapable of distancing yourself from the weakness of others. It is not about taking up the banner of this or that cause in the name of the church that you represent, because in the very act of doing so, you distance yourself (and the church, as a consequence) from the weakness of others. I shall add to this some words I wrote in an earlier post, because they supplement what the Archbishop so importantly taught today, and help explain (not justify, but just explain) why a quarter of the Communion's bishops are absent from Lambeth:

The fallacy in bringing a civil rights point of view to matters of Church polity is not just that sinners have no "civil rights", but also that one cannot champion civil rights in a representative capacity. A Bishop represents his diocese to the church catholic, as the above quote observes. If that Bishop feels strongly about women's rights, or gay and lesbian rights, or both, or still other rights, he or she may march in all the demonstrations and parades, and even get arrested if civil disobedience is felt to be the only way to gain attention for the cause. But when a Bishop marches, or is arrested, he is placing his individual liberty on the line. (I shall switch to using a generic "he" at this point, because it is simply too cumbersome to keep repeating "he or she," "his or her," etc. Let the gender-neutral intent be understood.) As a Bishop of his Church, however, his authority does not extend to placing his Diocese on the line, because he only represents the Diocese; he is not the Diocese itself.

Indeed, civil disobedience makes sense only from an individual standpoint, as I noted in an earlier post. There is no admirable sacrifice of liberty, no example for others to follow, if you use your representative authority to get someone else to go to jail for you. And this has been the problem with how TEC (and the ACoC) have gone about advancing the cause of gay and lesbian "rights" within the Anglican Communion. (I place the word in quotes, remember, because it does not make sense to speak of demanding from God a "right" to be ordained, or to receive God's blessing on one's relationship.) They claim to have done so in order to "be a witness" to the "new things" which the Holy Spirit is doing in the Church---that is the language of (religious) civil rights demonstrators. In fact, the compulsion for former Presiding Bishop Griswold to be a witness was so great that he could leave the Primates' Meeting at Lambeth Palace in October 2003, having signed a statement that urged TEC not to go forward with the consecration of Bishop Robinson, and then officiate at the ceremony just seventeen days later; he left it to his deputies to justify his conduct to the Communion. And the compulsion of the current Presiding Bishop to brook no opposition to the social justice agenda was foreshadowed even before she was elected.

In order to send a signal that they were witnessing to the cause of gay and lesbian civil rights, the Bishops of TEC and ACoC did not just pronounce that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 was not going to be followed in their churches; TEC actually consecrated a Bishop who, it was warned in advance, would not be able to represent his diocese to the wider church, and who could not be invited to the gathering at Lambeth without making a mockery of the actions taken there. And asked to clarify its stance, the Anglican Church of Canada responded with an ambiguous authorization to hold rites for the blessing of same-sex unions. Each of these actions, be it noted, constituted official acts of the respective churches, performed and approved by their delegates in their representative capacities. No one's individual liberty was placed at risk by such Anglican disobedience; instead, what it called into question was the churches' willingness to remain as full partners in the Communion.

It is very difficult to remain impartial about the different sides of this dispute, because there is so much at stake once the disobedience went to a representative, as opposed to staying on an individual, level. Some devout Episcopalians, whose sincerity cannot be questioned (even though the other side will not credit it), believe (along with Lambeth 1.10) that participating in or approving the ordination of a non-celibate gay or lesbian to the ministry simply cannot be reconciled with Holy Scripture, and quite a number of these Episcopalians also believe that it concerns one's salvation. The other side believes just as sincerely that gays and lesbians have for too long been discriminated against by the powers of the Church, are determined to put an end to the discrimination they see, and think that what they are doing is strengthening, not weakening the Church. The problem is that by taking action in the name of the whole Church, the activists have made it impossible for those who disagree to remain neutral or indifferent. The reasserters (to use the neutral terminology now current) cannot accept what has been done, and what continues to be done, in their name. And for their part, the reappraisers are just as determined to continue with what they have started, and to do so in the name of the Church as a whole.

One of the predictable consequences of such an impasse is that the reasserters will seek to be led by Bishops and clergy whom they see as faithful to Holy Scripture, and will reject the leadership of those who are approving and performing gay and lesbian ordinations and blessings. The results are the withdrawals, the joining of other Anglican provinces, and the border crossings by Bishops.

To those who have borne with me thus far, I hope you will join me in praying that all of our Bishops---on both sides of the controversy (pax, Cany)---open their hearts and their minds to the Bible teaching offered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and that in reflecting on its wisdom they achieve a new and better understanding of the roles they are called on to play as our Bishops.


Postscript: I shall add below, as I find them posted, other bishops' accounts of the Bible study they experienced with the Archbishop. The first one shows the motive power of ++Cantuar's spiritual force, for which we may all be thankful; is it too soon to say that it also shows the force of collective prayer? Time will tell---please continue to pray. (See also this moving account by Bishop Nedi Rivera of the Diocese of Olympia.)

Bishop Porter Taylor
(Western North Carolina)

Bishop Coadjutor Stephen Lane (Maine)

Bishop David Rossdale (Grimsby) (he really took it in!)

Bishop Wayne Smith (Missouri)

It is, of course, too much to hope that all the blog posts will be as detailed as the one featured above. Here is the Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania, who at least was motivated to think back to his ordination. The Bishop of Arizona, however, devotes just a single sentence to the experience. Bishop Pierre Whalon, of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, gives no details, but is "hungry for more." The Bishop of Arkansas is struck by the sounds of Canterbury Cathedral in taking in the Archbishop's message. The Bishop of Connecticut's reaction was like that of the Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania. And Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington sums up in two sentences: "There were two addresses by Archbishop Rowan. They were both thought-provoking."

Finally, the contrast of the Lambeth experience as shown by the bishops above to the experience of the one who was not invited could not be more painful, even though TEC was warned from the outset that this would be the consequence. This report "from the inside" by a priest who is one of the Lambeth stewards offers yet a different perspective.


  1. just an observation, but I could easily turn the words you seem important and aim them at the sucessionists, interlopers, GAFCON/FOCA types.

    the message is for everyone, not just those we may disagree with, personally.

  2. Baby Blue, if you wouldn't mind, please elaborate. Were you referring to this statement of Desmond Tutu about Lambeth, or this one about GC 2009? Or something else still?

  3. Cany, the Archbishop's teaching applies to everyone, I agree. "Successionists, interlopers, GAFCON/FOCA types"---if the shoe fits, wear it. If any Bishop is out there taking his or her Diocese or Church into political and social justice activism just so the people that agree can all feel good, then the ABC's teaching applies in spades: to the extent they are doing so, they are to that extent impeding their true role as a bishop of and in Christ's church.

    I invite you to put up a post that applies the same teaching to those with whom you disagree, and that points out the respective ideological/social activist banners they have grouped themselves under, with appropriate links to the sources. Then tell me about it, and I will post a link to it here.

  4. The problem w/+++Rowan is not his teaching, which is usually keen, uplifting and faithful.

    The problem is his inability to lead people to act on what he puts out... even he seems reticent to act on it.

    Remember, he was clear that decisions to ignore consensus constituted "walking apart." But he's not done a thing to give that idea flesh and bones when it comes to the LGBT club that is TEC.