Sunday, August 03, 2008

Lambeth Post-Mortem

In his 1999 book Plato, Not Prozac!, Lou Marinoff contends that a substantial proportion of human mental and emotional suffering stems not from the actual events of our lives, but from our expectations about the actual events of our lives. The ants at the picnic didn't ruin our afternoon; our expectation that the picnic grounds would be free of ants ruined our afternoon.

The Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops has now concluded after three weeks, and if the blogsphere is any indication, there is a palpable degree of human mental and emotional suffering floating in its wake. It's certainly not suffering on the order of that experienced by those who are punched by a tsunami or a hurricane, but it's nonetheless important to those who are feeling it at the moment. Perhaps Marinoff's book should have been required reading for anyone with a horse in this race.

A couple of weeks ago, I took inventory of my own expectations, hopes, and wishes for this Lambeth Conference. This seems an appropriate time to audit that list and reflect on its relationship to subsequent developments:

What do I expect? I expect, at the very least, that the Archbishop's Indaba groups will indeed have the desired and intended effect of strengthening the bonds of affection and respect among bishops of the Communion. This would be a good thing. Not a sufficiently good thing, one might argue, given the imperiled state of Anglicanland, but, nontheless, in itself a good thing. It will do no harm, and may plant the sort of seeds that can yield unexpectedly fruitful harvests at time and under circumstances that we cannot presently imagine.

I think it's safe to say that my expectations were pretty much met. By all accounts, from all perspectives, lots of new personal relationships were created and lots of existing ones were strengthened. Most of this relationship building took place in the context of shared availability—even vulnerability, at times—to the text of sacred scripture. Surely the Holy Spirit would not be absent from those encounters and exchanges. The seed scattered by the Word of God will never, we are told, return to Him empty. For that we should all be, I think, profoundly grateful.

In this vein, it is also worth recalling the candid but non-rancorous remarks of the Primate of Sudan (speaking for himself and his episcopal colleagues), and how the American bishops whose dioceses have had close ties with that beleaguered African nation and church did not have a fit. Not a public fit, at any rate. The Sudanese bit one of the hands that feed them, and the hand didn't slap back. That may not fix anything that needs fixing, but it is in itself a good thing.

As to my hopes, this is what I wrote two weeks ago:

What do I hope for? … I believe that there is reason for hope that the bishops will give the Anglican Covenant development process a steroid shot, and that the process will continue with renewed energy. … I have hope that the bishops assembled at Lambeth 2008 will turn up the flame under the Covenant process.

This is a tougher call to make. It wasn't exactly a steroid shot—more like a caffeinated cola—and if the flame was turned up, it wasn't by much. But I'm going to claim victory nonetheless, because I think we will look back on this Lambeth Conference and see it as a tipping point. Progress toward an Anglican Covenant was not dramatic, but I think there is solid reason to believe that it is now inexorable—there will be a covenant. The report of the Windsor Continuation Group says as much, the final Reflections document says as much (calling it a "strong consensus") and the repeated remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury say as much. Even some American bishops are beginning to "get it." They still don't like it, but they are beginning to get it.

At a more profound level, as a result of the Covenant and the process leading up to and following its implementation (which will no doubt take a good number of years), the constitutional foundations of Anglicanism will change, and they will change in what is, from my perspective, a positive direction, which is to say, a more Catholic direction. At this afternoon's press conference, Archbishop Rowan was asked directly about his habit of speaking of the Anglican Communion as "a church" rather than something like "a family of churches." He unequivocally "owned" his choice of words, suggesting that the only way the Communion is going to hold together in any meaningful way is if it finds a way to be more coherent and less fragmented. This, again, is cause for thanksgiving.

What about my wishes?

What do I wish for? … What I wish for is that the bishops read and take to heart the open letter from the Reverend Dr Ephraim Radner. This is would be the best news possible for Anglicans, for other Christians , and even for Episcopalians, though it is medicine that many among us will find bitter to the taste. We would find, in time, however, that it is sweet to the stomach. Of course, this is not something I am either expecting or hoping for. It would require a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit.

The conference gets mixed marks here. (Or is it the Holy Spirit who should get the mixed marks? Hmmm.)

The Covenant process was affirmed and moved forward. Check.

Both the WCG reports and the Archbishop's personal remarks directly mentioned, and in a highly favorable manner, the Communion Partners initiative, which could be construed as a response to Dr Radner's call for ways of recognizing and working with disaffected elements in North America who are nonetheless communion-minded. Semi-check. I would like to have seen more.

The initiative toward a Pastoral Forum to serve as a sort of "escrow" for those communities that have already placed themselves under offshore oversight has the potential, at least, to address Dr Radner's concern that the GAFCON coalition be engaged seriously and sympathetically. Quite frankly, the jury will have to remain out on this one, because the verdict will depend on how quickly and in what form the panel's recommendations are given substance and life. It was encouraging to hear Rowan affirm yet again today that it needs to happen quite soon. So now it needs to actually happen. Quite soon. Possible check in October. If nothing's in place by November, or if it's not something sufficiently robust and confidence-inspiring that would, say, enable to Bishop Venables to hand the keys of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin over to the Escrow Officer, then the whole idea is a bust. Time is of the essence.

The conference did reaffirm the moratoria requested by the Windsor Report, and that's a good thing, so put a small check mark in that column. But the Radner memo also called for TEC's bishops to be told clearly (I'm paraphrasing here), "Live this way for the foreseeable future. If you can't, don't bother sending your Presiding Bishop to the next Primates' Meeting, or your elected representatives to the Anglican Consultative Council next spring. You're on lockdown until you can decide whether you want to be part of this family or not." (OK, I guess "time out" would be more charitable than "lockdown." But it felt good to say it.) This message definitely did not get conveyed, and I'm disappointed in that. I didn't get what I wished for. But, hey, I never expected it anyway!

(I am indebted to my friend Christopher Wells for his dissection of Lambeth with regard to the Radner memo in a private message.)

A final word about the process that guided the conference: It was intentionally not legislative. There were no resolutions and no votes. Dr Williams has received heavy criticism for this. While I—linear-thinking western white male that I am—would have wished to see the Lambeth bishops hold an actual vote and by that means resoundingly endorse the present draft of the Covenant (along with all of the WCG recommendations, and I.10 from '98 for good measure), I am not unable to discern a measure of wisdom in the non-parliamentary tack that Rowan has taken, frustrating though it may be. Because of that decision on his part, it may be that the effect of this now-concluding conference will not be like the decisive explosion of a bomb (one of those behemoth "bunker busters", no doubt), but more like the slowly gathering momentum of a volcanic eruption—i.e. the one on the island of Hawaii that hasn't forcefully blown anybody away, but just keeps on pouring lava until it alters the landscape more substantially and more enduringly than a great many bunker-buster bombs could have done. The process will be slow. TEC and its allies and clients will do all in their power to retard and obfuscate. It will be our vocation—my vocation, at any rate, I suspect—to suffer and pray our way through some times that are darker than we can imagine. As I consider my own calling, that suffering and praying will take place amid leading worship and celebrating the sacraments and evangelizing and catechizing and delivering pastoral care to people who are trying to raise families and deal with diminishing health and figure out how to conduct themselves responsibly and faithfully in a challenging post-Christian society. For that dose of reality, refreshingly ordinary, I am also grateful.


Anonymous said...

Dear Father Dan,
"It would require a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit.

The conference gets mixed marks here. (Or is it the Holy Spirit who should get the mixed marks? Hmm

1. I think that it goes without saying that God (The Holy Spirit) is Sovereign.
2. Don't you think it is a bit presumptuous to be grading God?

Dcn Dale

Anonymous said...

Fr. Dan,
I am glad that you feel that you can claim more victory for your expectations regarding Lambeth, but it's really sad that for the masses it is not so. Nothing was done nor said to reign in rogue bishops and primates that have torn and ripped the bonds of affection of the WWAC, i.e. TEC, ACofC, and a host of bishops who are, right up to the very last day of Lambeth, are performing gay weddings/blessings in their chueches in their diocese. here was nothing really accomplished at Lambeth that was concrete on the elephant in the room that is still standing there. Alas, Lambeth was set up that way so we should ne surprised. But, there is one concrete thing that will very much need to be resolved and that is the bill! I'm confident that TEC will write a hefty check to help the pain of debt with strings attached.

And for the record, I agree with Dcn Dale....grading God very presumtuous.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Here's a link to Lou talking about philosophy and business: