Sunday, September 23, 2007


How should the House of Bishops respond to the Tanzanian non-ultimatum? Should they totally absent themselves from Lambeth?

Kendall Harmon thinks it is a good idea; Marshall thinks it is at least worth talking about; Jake seemed to like the idea for a time, though perhaps he now has had second thoughts.

Radner put forth a variation: only those prelates unable to bring themselves to consent to Lambeth 1.10--on homosexuality--should absent themselves; Wells likes the sound of it; Bishop Howe sounds like he would approve of it; Kennedy sounds like he'd go with either version.

There are other voices to consider.

So far as I can tell, the largely unspoken subtext of these proposals runs something like this:

Given the ABC's likely inclinations and what the HoB is likely to put out before 9/30, soon the Anglican Communion will fracture, and the break will likely be permanent--much like the break between northern and SBC Baptists, or Protestants and Roman Catholics. To avoid that scenario, radical measures should be taken, such as the ones outlined above.

The rationale for the HoB or certain parts thereof refusing Lambeth rests on the premise that it would somehow keep the AC together. Does anyone think that premise is true? Anglican separatists are intent on replacing the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion, and if that proves to be impossible, they will produce another entity, an alternative communion. For these, excision of the Episcopal Church from the AC is non-negotiable. Why? Separatists remain convinced that the Episcopal Church is on a liberal trajectory that cannot be altered and will only grow in contrariety to the faith once delivered to the saints.

In some conservative quarters it is sinking in: a break-up of the Communion is likely sooner rather than later, and efforts to excise the Episcopal Church are stalling relative to separatist expectations--in part due to Williams' notable lack of enthusiasm for the requisite purification. No wonder there is some anxiety among conservatives, and a search for means adequate to the ends of separation and replacement.

Getting the HoB to stay away from Lambeth is just such a means, enabling better passage of whatever strong resolutions can be mustered to aid the separatist project. A focused Episcopalian presence at Lambeth might rally allies and reasonable bishops to the cause of Moderation, and would almost certainly result in the absence of much of the Global South faction, especially Nigeria.

Nigeria is committed to absence in the event of HoB attendance; going back on their word would occasion an enormous loss of credibility. Yet, Nigeria's absence would very likely hurt the GS-faction's cause at Lambeth, resulting in a weakening of separatist momentum. In short, given Williams' surprising resistance to Nigeria's threat of a boycott, Nigeria's threat looks more and more lilke a strategic disaster for the GS/separatist cause. TEC should do absolutely nothing to prevent that disaster--entirely the work of GS hands to be sure--from visiting the GS faction.

On the other hand, the necessary condition of Nigerian/GS-faction presence at Lambeth seems to be TEC's absence. Only in that way can Lambeth be utilized by the GS faction as a means to strengthen momentum toward separation and replacement.

From a GS-factionalist's point of view, something must be done to get TEC to stay away from Lambeth so that the GS faction can have a chance to dominate it.

Attempts to stay away motivated from some notion of Christian witness or affection or sincere desire to express regret are futile and misguided. Attempts to paint staying away from Lambeth as somehow the Christian thing to do seem to me objectively ideological. What do we know about Biblical meekness exemplified in Moses and Jesus? There is no doubt that it is openly confrontational. Nonviolence and desire for peace do not imply submission or, for that matter, working overtime to enable the triumph of Pharaoh, Babylon, or their contemporary analogues.

If the HoB is serious enough about what it did at GC2003, then it should go ahead and represent its actions at GC2003 at Lambeth as part of its commitment to the didache, the Christian moral response to the Gospel of Christ. Episcopalian bishops would be well advised to spend their scarce energy making a better and more persuasive theological case for themselves than they have up to this point.

Moreover, the HoB has no business copying the GS faction by using absence from the councils of the church as a tool. There is ample precedent in church history for the presence of contending--even heretical--parties at church councils. Consider the precedent we might set for future Lambeth meetings: "Having a tough time communicating? Having a tough time making a persuasive case? Solution? Stay home, of course. Somehow that will help communicate and make your case."

And who else--aside from Canada--is similarly qualified to represent the voices of homosexual Christians? Will their need for representation magically go on vacation? Until Lambeth 2016?
Now that we are engaged in this action, we cannot simply opt out for a path of less resistance--TEC is obliged to represent those voices and take whatever hits come its way. That is genuine fidelity with the weak and defenseless. Absence says, in effect, that we Know discourse is impossible, and our not being there would at least enable discourse for those who remain. Oh? But do we know that? Do we have permission to undermine the necessary conditions of discourse?

Absenting oneself from a church council while continuing to be a church seems to willfully undermine the authority of the council by undermining any claim the council may make to at least approach being genuinely ecumenical. That may not bother those who would deny TEC is a Christian church, or who would see its esse as church diminished--on those views, TEC's absence from the council approaches irrelevance for the council's authority. Otherwise, supporters of GC2003 should pause longer before advocating the Episcopal Church withdraw from Lambeth.


At 1:12 AM, Blogger Fr. Gawain said...

Excellent post, Scotist. Nigeria can then realize that its actions also have consequences.

At 3:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The House of Bishops absenting itself from Lambeth 2008 seems, in my mind, like a senseless martyrdom, and it would ultimately have the opposite effect of what was intended. If we as a Church really are committed to the larger Communion, then it is our responsibility to engage.

At 6:15 AM, Blogger Jon said...

Amen, reconciliation by avoiding each other sounds like a silly plan to me.


At 9:06 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Yes--we tried absenting ourselves from the various and sundry deliberations of the Anglican Communion. How did that go? Not so well.

Let's learn from experience.

It might be that with the CoE evangelical faction being so strong and militant, Williams will need support if he is to resist being reduced to a tool of the GS.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Christopher said...

I agree with you. But let's stop with the bishops represent homosexual Christians...their representation has been too spotty and too willing to set us aside at the last minute to make such a grandiose claim. Certainly, they can represent perhaps the rest of the Body's experience of us, but not us. The only one of us openly among their number isn't invitied.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Christopher said...

In other words, if they were my counsel and advocate, I would have fired them by now.

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, AS. I see the internal consistency of your position, and esp. appreciate your high view of councils (esp. in your final para.).

I wonder how this view would compare with Radner's articulated last summer in his piece "Lambeth Can Be What It Wants To Be" ( The views have a similar pragmatic bottom line, it seems to me.

I have posed a similar question over on Covenant to Fr Tony Clavier in his interaction with Doug LeBlanc (who seems to favor more the Harmon than the Howe line). If you wanted to come post on that thread, we'd love to have you.


At 9:22 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


This is an excellent analysis. I think you've nailed it from a strategic perspective. There's also the theological perspective, which you've alluded to: Reconciliation, which we are called to pursue as witnesses of Christ, is not possible when one party is not engaged or even present.

We need to go to Lambeth.


At 12:46 AM, Blogger trueanglican said...

What makes everyone think that Peter Akinola's control of the Church of Nigeria is total and absolute? Don't forget the Christian Council didn't want him for another term. There have been reports that many Nigerian bishops want to come to Lambeth despite the Akinola threat to stay away. Perhaps it could be made known quietly that travel money to the UK was available for those bishops who wish to participate. I think there's a good chance Big Pete and his allies have painted themselves into a corner. Let's get out the paint pots and lay down a second coat.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

"Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things which are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
-- Collect for this past Sunday

I still think Dr. Harmon's proposal is worth considering, but let me modify my support by adding that our withdrawal from this Lambeth should be conditional on the withdrawal of those who have crossed boundaries to consecrate bishops over here.

Of course, that won't happen, and the Anglican Communion will fracture, whatever the bishops decide. However, the WWAC is still an earthly construction despite its grounding in things heavenly. To paraphrase an ancient saying, "There was a time when it was not." I would also add, "There will be a time it is not."

What is passing away, and what shall endure? Can we let go of the former and hold fast to the latter?


At 11:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's just have EVERYBODY stay away from Lambeth! Nobody come. Take all the money saved and provide relief to Dafur refugees or reforest the Amazon.

Besides the current unpleasantness, what memorable contribution to the history of Christianity has any Lambeth Conference provided? I cannot think of any great insight into the faith that our bishops have ever provided us at their meetings.

At 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let them beg us to return, that's what I say. Fools, fools, the lot of them.

At 9:14 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

You are preachingto the choir here: I will agree in a heartbeat that Big Pete has backed himself into a corner; won't Nigeria want to eventually come out of the corner when he is out of power?

And sure, Lambeth is being made out in our mess as something it has not been and cannot be. It's fascinating to see how power warps perception.


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