Diary from the Third Week of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops August 2-9, 1998
"This has been an historic session," announced the moderator Archbishop Robin Eames as he announced that Resolution 1.10 [or A 31] on Human Sexuality had passed by the margin of 526 for, 70 against, and 45 abstaining.
Indeed it was. And the outcome was hardly assured until the day itself, Wednesday, August 5. Despite pronouncements of "a spirit of unity descending" by the Lambeth Daily, there had been frantic backroom dealing, which was brought to a halt at the eleventh hour by George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose "intervention" led to a landmark Resolution on Human Sexuality.
Later, on Thursday, while bishops debated some of the other 108 Resolutions, the Rev. Arnold Klukas gave some of us a tour of the Cathedral. Arnie wrote his doctoral thesis on the architectural symbolism of Canterbury Cathedral, which is a kind of catechism in stone. He pointed out, for instance, the typology of the windows, which juxtaposes Old Testament saints with Jesus Christ and with Thomas Becket, martyr and exemplar of the Christian disciple. Much of the cult of Thomas Becket had to be purged at the Reformation, but the symbol of the cathedral was that we are to live out the life of Christ in our own day following the patterns of faith given in Scripture and in the lives of the saints who looked to Jesus as their pioneer. Such a message seems quite relevant to the challenges facing the Church today.
Canterbury has been comfortably full of secular pilgrims. Every time I am in England I am stunned by how secular a country it is, more like Europe than the U.S., burdened with the legacy of an ideal, the Christian commonwealth, now long defunct. The Church of England, writes Bishop Colin Buchanan, "loves fantasy and unreality, invents rationales that no one can actually believe, conceives that fudge is better than principle on many issues, expands minor issues into major principles, and hates having to grapple with reality." This phrase occurred to me later in the week as Resolution after numbing Resolution trudged its way through the Conference. Can Resolutions breathe life into a somnolent Body? Hardly, no more than they can on New Year's Day.
Yet several of the Resolutions may signal a new day and a new locus of authority for this historic body. The British newspapers have not been reticent about declaring a "shift to a South" (and that's not whistling Dixie!). There is a split in the Communion which is missiological, between those whose faith is young and confident and eloquent and those who are encumbered by a decadent Westernism. The latter is embodied in the ponderous "Virginia Report," recited by episcopal bureaucrats like a mantra, as much as by the bombastic blasphemies of Bishop Spong.
As we walked the stone streets, I remembered that last summer the Rev. Jon Shuler had led a team on an evangelistic campaign here. I recalled that the first archbishop of Canterbury had been a missionary whose goal was the reaching of the pagan tribes of Britain for Christ. All the Cathedrals and all Resolutions should not replace this primary focus of the call of Jesus to raise up children to Abraham, to make disciples and witnesses to his Name.
The third week is set aside for debate in full session. The plenary sessions began on Tuesday; by Monday the proposed list of Resolutions was out. Moses had 10, Luther 95, John Spong 12, but despite all efforts to reduce the number of Resolutions, there were 108, which guarantees that they will be seldom read by laypeople. Many of them were "agreed," requiring no debate and seem something like "pork barrel" legislation that representatives can take to the folks back home.
First Skirmishes in the Sexuality Debate
Like Gettysburg, the Battle of the Sexualities went for three days. The first skirmish happened off-stage on Monday. On Sunday evening when the list of Resolutions appeared, the Resolution from the official "section" on Sexuality appeared in a form no one recognized. It seemed to be a conservative proposal minus the phrase "In consequence we cannot legitimize or bless, or ordain those involved in, same gender unions." Conservatives were furious, claiming that the section chairman Duncan Buchanan had unilaterally gutted it.
The story became more bizarre. Buchanan claimed (rightly) that the section had not had time to complete their Resolution and that he had simply inserted something (call it 1.10) to "hold a space." On Monday, then, the section set down to work and came up with another Resolution (call it A 31). This Resolution included the phrase "cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions." It also stated that the Conference, "in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage."
On Tuesday morning, Bishop Buchanan circulated the A31 Resolution at the daily press conference and announced that this was the Resolution that would be debated the next day. As the press grilled him on this Resolution, it became clear that it would be considered a conservative statement. The original "three ways" typology, which included long-term homosexual partnerships as an option, had now been dropped in favor of two ways: marriage and chastity.
The meaning of "chastity" then came up. While most spokesmen interpreted it to mean abstinence, one imaginative bishop from Canada suggested that it simply meant "purity," which is in the eye of the beholder. Sigh! There goes another fine English word. I'd much rather name a daughter Chastity than Abstinence; but then I there was also a time I would have considered naming a daughter Gay too.
It was settled, so it seemed. The section that included Jim Stanton and Jack Spong at last had a Resolution. Or did it? The "process" took a final bizarre turn. In the mid-afternoon Tuesday, there suddenly came an announcement that the "Steering Committee" had declared that the printed Resolution 1.10 and not Buchanan's A 31 would be the version debated the next day. This smacked so clearly of manipulation that everyone was in an uproar. Conservatives, of course, felt betrayed, but so did liberals from the section.
The Turning Point
Integrity supporters arrived on Wednesday with smiles on their faces. The sexuality debate seemed doomed to deadlock. The revisionists had two things going for them. First, the printed "section" Resolution 1.10 was so bland that it could be easily spun as a signal to go ahead with the gay agenda. Secondly, the entire debate had been allotted two hours and there were six Resolutions.
Four of these Resolutions were "regional." To be sure, all the Resolutions were orthodox, and the two African ones were very strong, calling revisionists to repentance and speaking of the gay agenda as "evangelical suicide." Many of the Third World bishops were saying, "Let's pass them all." This was not likely to happen in a two hour Western-style debate. More likely, none would get a majority. Anticipating this possibility, the revisionists entered an Amendment (not printed and therefore something of a sleeper) that would have referred all the Resolutions to the Primates and the ACC. In effect, the Lambeth Conference, on a major matter of principle, would have abdicated responsibility in favor of a study commission. And we Americans know from "Continuing the Dialogue" how that works.
One further sidelight. The debate had originally been scheduled for 2:30 pm Wednesday but was then postponed until 3:30. This rattled conservatives because it was known that up to 90 Church Army bishops were leaving for London at 4 pm to see the Queen Mum, who turned 99 that day. Since most Church Army bishops are conservative, this looked like just one more ploy. As it turned out, the Church Army bishops stayed for the debate.
What happened next is only known in bare outline. Apparently, the Archbishop of Canterbury became aware of the switcheroo made by the Steering Committee. He also began to heed reports that African bishops were determined to pass a clear Resolution or else - and that the "or else" might include a walkout. Up to that point, the Archbishop had not been active in the debate. He has made it clear that he holds to traditional Christian teaching on sexuality and is deeply concerned for the unity of the Anglican Communion. These concerns apparently coalesced in such a way that by the Wednesday afternoon of the debate the Integrity folks were no longer smiling. The Archbishop had apparently insisted that the process should be set up so that the Conference might express its mind. This is what happened.
The sexuality debate was solemn and orderly. With a few exceptions. One Pakistani bishop went over the top suggesting that Lambeth 2008 would be asked to approve blessing of cat lovers and their pets. A Nigerian bishop afterward tried to lay hands on Richard Kirker, a homosexual advocate, to cure him of his addiction. The media of course picked up on these excesses. But the vast majority of speakers, such as Bishop Eustace Kaminyire of Uganda and Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania, were measured and articulate. Bishop John Sentamu was particularly delightful as he extolled "the glories of abstinence." Archbishop Robin Eames conducted the session with clarity and dignity.
Delegates upon arrival received a clearly spelled out "Notice Paper," outlining their choices among Resolutions. In fact, the major shape of the final Resolution had already been crafted by a compromise among evangelical Westerners and the Africans. The printed Resolution was quickly replaced by A 31, which became the base point for a series of amendments.
The bellwether amendment came from Archbishop Mtetelema, which added the phrase "while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture." This amendment focused the concerns of the Africans about the whole issue. As they have said repeatedly, homosexuality is not their problem and they do not want to waste time talking about it. But they do care passionately for the authority of Scripture, and they saw the West, and the American Church in particular, as endangering this core principle.
To be honest, I was not sure, before I began to meet them in numbers this past year, whether the Third World bishops had the will to stand up and fight on the sexuality question. Some people feared, totally without warrant as it turns out, that they might be pressured into acquiescence out of financial dependence on the West. Just the opposite is true. They saw the issue threatening the Communion clearly, and they never wavered in their determination to speak to it. One of the African Resolutions, in my opinion, was the best of the lot because it saw the issue in biblical terms as involving sin and repentance.
And they were of one mind. The speakers for Resolution A 31 and the amendments to it were multi-cultural, whereas the speakers against were very white and hailed exclusively from the Western provinces. They later accused us American conservatives of buying votes with chicken barbecues. This is a demeaning accusation against the Third Word delegates, many of whom have put their lives on the line for the Gospel. Opponents who said this are not, in my opinion, racists, but they are cultural imperialists. They cannot believe that someone who holds to a straightforward biblical morality is either not "superstitious" (a la animism) or "fundamentalistic" (a la Islamic jihad).
Mtetemela's key amendment passed 390 to 190. After that, conservatives got two more victories. They amended "chastity" to "abstinence" in order to close the linguistic loophole. They also changed the condemnation of "homophobia" to a condemnation of "the irrational fear of homosexuals." I thought this was a particularly nice touch, suggested by the Africans. Finally, Bishop Richard Harries of Oxford spoke eloquently on behalf of the Kuala Lumpur Statement, and reference to it was added.
Those who opposed the amended Reolution never addressed the core principles of Scripture, or God's purposes for male and female. Their main arguments were that the Resolution threatened the unity of the Communion and sent negative signals to gays and lesbians. They did pass an amendment calling for the Church to listen to the experience of homosexual people (I assume this will include celibate and ex-gay people). When it came to a vote, there was remarkable unity - 526 for and only 70 against - to constitute what Archbishop Carey later called the "mind of the Church."
Resolution 1.10, Human Sexuality
(a) commends to the Church the sub-section report on human sexuality;
(b) in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
(c) recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
(d) while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
(e) cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;
(f) requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;
(g) notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in Resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.
The Authority of Scripture
Resolution 1.10 is at the heart of Lambeth 1998, not just because it clarifies the Communion's position on sexuality but because it reasserted the fundamental principle of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, the primacy of Scripture. One of my gloom-and-doom friends described the decision as representing "vestigial Anglicanism." I prefer to think of it as "resurgent Anglicanism."
As if to hammer home the significance of this principle, the Conference passed a Resolution on the Bible next day by "assent," i.e., without debate. The Resolution is much stronger than several statements from recent Conferences in its confidence of the primary authority of the Bible and its power to transform lives and societies. Again I think it is worth quoting in full.
Resolution III.1 - The Bible
This Conference, recognising the need in our Communion for fuller agreement on how to interpret and apply the message of the Bible in a world of rapid change and widespread cultural interaction,
(a) reaffirms the primary authority of the Scriptures, according to their testimony and supported by our own historic formularies;
(b) urges that the Biblical text should be handled respectfully, coherently, and consistently, building upon our best traditions and scholarship believing that the Scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures, and ways of thinking, especially those that predominate today;
(c) invites the provinces, as we open ourselves afresh to a vision of a Church full of the Word and full of the Spirit, to promote at every legel biblical study programmes which can inform and nourish the life of dioceses, congregations, seminaries, communities, and members of all ages.
This Resolution, needless to say, warms my heart, as an evangelical and a Bible teacher.
The Conference passed a strong Resolution on mission the same day. It affirms that mission "springs from the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ and that without this foundation, we can give no form or content to our proclamation and can expect no transforming effect from it." The Resolution goes on to identify the Nicene Creed as the doctrinal foundation for mission and the Great Commission as an imperative to mission. So much for Spong's "New Nicea" and Wiles's "Sea of Faith."
These three Resolutions, I suggest, represent the "defining moment" of the Conference that Archbishop Carey was hoping for. The sexuality vote was certainly taken that way by the press. The Guardian predictably condemned the decision as homophobic, but The Times editorialized that the decision had saved the Church's Reformation foundation.
Win Some, Lose Some
Many other Resolutions came and went. On some of these the conservative alliance held and in others it folded. This represents a reversion to previous Conferences where the "Anglo-American" axis used its procedural power to push Resolutions through which were not fully understood or agreed upon.
One such Resolution, in my opinion, was on euthanasia. It came to my attention late in the day because I had been working somewhat fixedly on sex. The Resolution is not bad at all in condemning euthanasia, until it gets to this provision in which the Conference
(d) distinguishes between euthanasia and withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating excessive medical treatment and intervention, all of which may be consonant with Christian faith in enabling a person to die with dignity. When a person is in a permanent vegetative state, to sustain him or her with artificial nutrition and hydration may be seen as constituting medical intervention. (emphasis added)
Ten bishops offered an amendment to strike the final sentence, and Archbishop Moses Tay, himself a doctor, rose to argue that the distinction between PVS victims and other sufferers was arbitrary. But it was too difficult to overcome the weight of the section report and recommendation. The amendment failed. This is one issue we shall have to work on for the future.
International debt was a theme dear to Archbishop Carey's heart. Resolution 1.15 is a mixed bag of proposals, but, all in all, it is a more moderate statement than the Jubilee 2000 demand for total cancellation of $220 billion in debt. The Resolution calls governments to seek "substantial debt relief, including cancellation of unpayable debts of the poorest nations." The word "unpayable" at least places the issue in the realm where prudence and charity can talk.
In a July Encompass editorial, I called for Western churches to put their money where their mouth is on this issue by giving a tithe or a tithe of a tithe to economic opportunity programs for the poor. Resolution 1.15 includes a final appeal to the Primates to challenge their dioceses to fund international development programs at the rate of at least 0.7%. I hope we can find a way to follow up this idea.
In light of this challenge, it was particularly gratifying that in Resolution V.2 the Conference specifically commended the Five Talents Program developed by our affiliate, the Institute for Religion and Democracy. Archbishop George Carey gave the first gift of #1,000 and endorsed the program publicly. "We are delighted and ready to go to work raising the start-up money," said Diane Knippers of IRD.
Resolution III.6 on governance of the Communion may prove to be of long-term significance. There has been a sense that the Anglican Consultative Council and its staff have not been representative of the member churches, to be specific that it has been unduly influenced by the Episcopal Church USA. Resolution III.6 tries to spread out representation on the ACC more broadly and balances its power with that of the Primates, i.e., the Archbishops of the various regional churches. Even the name ACC will be changed to denote the "Anglican Communion Council."
In a related Resolution, the Conference rebuked the American Church's canon revision last summer that delegitimized those who are opposed to women's ordination. In Resolution III.2 (b) (c), the Conference "for the purpose of maintaining this unity, calls upon the provinces of the Communion to uphold the principle of 'Open Reception' as it relates to the ordination of women to the priesthood" and "in particular calls upon the provinces of the Communion to affirm that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans." This message was received by Anglo-Catholics with great joy and presents the Episcopal Church with a challenge: to revoke the Canon III.8 revision of 1997.
Liberal American bishops won a pyrrhic victory on Friday with the last-minute revival of a Resolution that conservatives had thought dead. Resolution V.13, "Episcopal Responsibilities and Diocesan Boundaries," is one of only two brought by the North American region. By passing the Resolution, the Conference reaffirmed a long-standing Anglican principle of territorial integrity. In 1988, the Conference had said that "it is deemed inappropriate behaviour for any bishop or priest of the Communion to exercise episcopal or pastoral ministry within another diocese without first obtaining the permission and invitation of the ecclesiastical authority thereof." Clearly the reaffirmation of this principle was directed at the situation in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Bishop John Rucyahana of Rwanda has taken oversight of a priest and parish over the objection of the ECUSA diocesan Bishop Larry Maze.
This situation poses conservatives with a dilemma. Most of us do not oppose territorial integrity in principle, but many of us believe the theological integrity of the Episcopal Church has been threatened by the overt denial of Scripture in the words and deeds of certain bishops, e.g., the Koinonia Statement signers, of which Bishop Maze is one. It is my personal opinion that since few of us want to see the Little Rock situation to become a pattern, the simultaneous passage of Lambeth Resolutions 1.10, III.2, and V.13 provide an excellent opportunity for the Presiding Bishop to sit down with AAC bishops and work out a modus vivendi.
The AAC's Role at Lambeth
Let me begin by clarifying that the AAC volunteers were formally working under the auspices of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, under the leadership of Drs. Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden. This has been a fruitful relationship, even though each group has somewhat different aims and constituencies. I think it is also fair to say that Bishop Jim Stanton, President of the AAC, emerged last week as a key facilitator in bringing together biblically-minded bishops from around the Communion.
Our work got little notice until the last day, when The Sunday Times gave the following sympathetic, if inaccurate, report:
The American Anglican Council (ACC) [sic!!!], a powerful group led by James Stanton, bishop of Dallas, gave friendly bishops pagers and mobile phones [actually, we didn't]. The bishops were able to call a central HQ [actually they called home from the central HQ], based at the Franciscan study centre just outside the campus, where 30 volunteers provided points of instant rebuttal for use in debate [well, 30 of us over three weeks did various jobs and a whole lot of others prayed].
During the preparation of the resolutions, American lobbyists [as opposed to the non-partisan staff of the ACC, ha ha!] were supplying bishops with arguments and powerful explanatory material to aid their case....
Richard Holloway, the liberal Bishop of Edinburgh and leader of the Anglican church in Scotland, accused the conservative lobby groups of trying to win the hearts and minds of the African and Asian bishops with "chicken and sausages" - a reference to their frequent barbecue parties. But the lobbyists said that without using tactics more commonly associated with political campaigning, the traditionalists would not be heard within the church. [This is true.]
Lobbyists? To see ourselves as others see us. Speaking personally, there is nothing I would love to imagine than a gathering of Anglican bishops who, like the apostles, would "be of one heart and one mind," who could say with full conviction: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us." We in the American Anglican Council must model this among ourselves and hope and pray for the day when the same may be said of the General Convention and the Lambeth Conference. Who knows, perhaps ten or twenty years from now, we will look back and say, "Thank God, the bishops don't need us at Lambeth. Let's go to the beach!"
Among the 30 "lobbyists," let me name a few more. I am sure I'll miss a few and trust they will accept my apologies.
The Rev. George Conger, who worked for the Oxford Centre and was sponsored by AAC, did an absolutely fantastic job of making arrangements, especially the locating of the Franciscan Centre and dorm.
The Rev. Martyn, Angela, and Rachel Minns were our dorm parents. As Rector of Truro Episcopal Church, Martyn devoted a month of his sabbatical leave to Lambeth. Martyn led prayer each morning and provided a steady pastor's hand on the team when crises occurred, which they often did. Angela said she loved washing and hanging out clothes to dry, so we were always neat and clean. Rachel turned 16 and had a joyous birthday party. Her humor always lightened up our meetings.
Canon Bill Atwood, General Secretary The Ekklesia Society, has contributed as much as anyone to the results at Lambeth by his constant traveling among the churches of the South. Much of the unity among the Third World bishops with us from the West has emerged from the personal friendships that he has built up in recent years.
Mr. Robert Miclean and Mrs. Diane Knippers saw the Five Talents program to approval. Robert was the chief designer of the program, and Diane brought her usual professionalism in getting support for it when we needed it.
The Rev. Dr. Arnold Klukas, Rector of Grace Church in Pittsburgh, worked on various writing projects, was a liaison with friends at the Forward in Faith delegation, and was our residential expert on Canterbury.
Mr. Roger Boltz, Chief Mission Officer of AAC, made sure the office was functioning efficiently. Given that we started from scratch in a strange land, the office became a real communications and work center, as noted in the Times article.
The Rev. Todd Wetzel, Director of Episcopalians United, helped with networking, wrote articles, and was a "lubricator," treating all to dinner more than once. EU had also published my book The Handwriting on the Wall, which had been distributed to bishops here.
Mr. Doug Leblanc, who writes for EU's United Voice, helped to provide a stream of news stories out of Lambeth. Doug has the ability to come alongside people on both sides of an issue and present their views fairly. He did so here once again.
Mr. Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff, whose accent is as British as his name, did research and was particular helpful in facilitating a dialogue between Nigerian bishops and British corporate directors on a topic of mutual concern.
In addition, the dorm was a meeting place for a number of journalists like Mr. David Virtue and exhibitors like the Rev. Tad de Bordenave of Anglican Frontier Mission.
Where Do We Go From Here?
For most of us, the immediate answer to this question is, on tour or back home. This is true for the bishops as well.
Already there is an official Lambeth team seeking to define the meaning of the Conference. For me, the "defining moment" is the possibility that the Communion will return the Bible and its authority to the center of its life. One African bishop put it well in the sexuality debate. "Your missionaries brought us the Bible," he said, "and they told us to obey its Word. We are not going to turn away from it now."
"We have seen a work of God. Our work has just begun," Jim Stanton said to us as the Conference came to a close. This chapter of the history of Anglicanism is coming to a close - almost with disaster, but now, by the grace of God, with hope. What will they say about us in the next century and the new millennium? God only knows, but we are called to be faithful and to work for the coming of his Kingdom. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Submitted August 9. This Report can also be found in the AAC Archives at http://www.americananglican.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=ikLUK3MJIpG&b=689485&ct=3198227
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Diary from the Third Week of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops August 2-9, 1998