Lambeth 2008 – Moving Forward

So the big shin-dig at the campus of the University of Kent is over. Bishops are either returning home or taking the opportunity to spend a few days having a look round this Sceptered Isle.  The Reflections Document has been issued, Rowan has had his final say, and as we all pause to consider the events of the past few weeks, our thoughts turn to one question – what happens next?

For what it’s worth, the Archbishop’s final address is a master-piece in providing a glimpse of what the way forward might look like. Anybody who knows Rowan Williams knows that his style of leadership is to suggest what the path might be and then to step back and let those on the ground decide whether that is the path that want to take. While many might think that such an approach lacks the firm hand that is needed right now, it is right to applaud Rowan for his unwillingness to attempt to impose a solution on the Communion that will simply be rejected. If the Spirit is at work amongst us (and He is), then he doesn’t need to do that – we will all, on genuine, heart-searching reflection come to the mind of Christ.

When discussing previous Lambeths, Rowan had this to say:

The Resolution of Lambeth ’98 was an attempt to say both ‘We need understanding and shared discernment on a hugely complex topic,’ and ‘We as the bishops in council together are not persuaded that the new thoughts offered to us can be reconciled with our shared loyalty to Scripture.’ Perhaps we should read that Resolution – forgetting for a moment the bitterness and confusion around the debate and acknowledging that it remains where our Communion as a global community stands – as an attempt to define what a healthy Church might need – space for study and free discussion without pressure, pastoral patience and respect, unwillingness to change what has been received in faith from Scripture and tradition. And this is not by any means to say that a traditional understanding and a new one are just two equal options, like items on the supermarket shelf : the practice and public language of the Church act always as a reminder that the onus of proof is on those who seek a new understanding. To say that the would-be innovator must be heard gratefully and respectfully is simply to acknowledge the debt we always owe to those who ask unfamiliar questions, because they prompt us to explore our tradition more deeply.

One of the points of fracture at the moment in the Communion is that different parts of the church have taken ’98 1:10 and read the bits that they wanted and ignored the bits that they didn’t like. So naturally, Conservatives get utterly frustrated by revisionists who insist upon the "listening process" being adhered to yet seem to ride very roughly over the other parts of the statement that draw an absolute "no-no" (at this time) for in any way endorsing same-sex practice, let alone seeing same-sex unions as holy.

But conversely, there is huge frustration amongst revisionists that many parts of the conservative elements of the church simply haven’t bothered to engage with listening, even five years after the ACC in Nottingham and ten years after Lambeth 1998. When they hear statements such as "We do not have homosexuality in our country", what they hear is a refusal to even engage with the issue at hand. It is blatantly clear to all those with just a smidgeon of anthropological and sociological understanding that homosexualities exist in every single part of the world. The refusal to admit as much is not to take a clear moral stand on the issue, but rather is a pastoral failure of the highest order, because it is evidence of an unwillingness to engage with people where they are at.

(As an aside, often when I speak on this issue I get people to listen to Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy. If you don’t know the song, click on the link now and spend five minutes listening to Jimmy Sommerville articulate what it is like growing up knowing you are gay, in a society that looks down upon homosexuality. Put aside your moral judgements for a few seconds and just hear what he says and how he says it, the emotion involved in articulating not just the rejection he experiences but also his perceived inability to talk to his nearest and dearest about this most initimate part of his life.)

Listening though is more about just hearing stories. It is also to do with, once having listened, building and affirming relationships. What is so often disappointing in the past few years is the failure of those who have had the opportunity to influence, who have had the public ear, to use that privilege to affirm the humanity and dignity of those they disagree with theologically. We all know the websites that refer to "polysexual sodomites", but it is not just the cruder forms of language in this discourse that are a sign of no real intent to listen and build relationships. Despite the fact that there exist texts like Goddard and Walker’s "True Union in the Body" which attempt to engage with the best arguments in favour of monogamous gay unions, some conservatives insist on producing writing that condemns not the best examples of gay life, but the worse. Do we need chapters of books denigrating the promiscuous lifestyle of some, when our opponents are actually those who believe very strongly in "Permanent, Stable, Faithful"? Do we need to concentrate on the way that some in our western society want a "plasticisation" of sexuality and cross-generational affection, when the leadership of Integrity and the like are joined with us in condemning paedophilic and ebophilic relationships of any form, consensual or otherwise?

Unless we as the conservative church are willing to admit that we have sometimes (often?) failed in the call of the Lambeth ’98 resolution to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian people (and post-gay and post-lesbian, for the conservative church is still shockingly ignorant in how to deal pastorally in this area) then we have no right to ask those whom we disagree with to take such resolutions seriously themselves. What we need at this point then is a serious, critical self-examination. Can we truly say that in all cases we are the ones sinned against? Can we really stand clean in front of the Lord and argue that we have not ourselves sinned in this conflict?

When I talk with men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction, or indeed any form of sexual or emotional brokeness, what we often discuss is the web of sin that encompasses our lives. The picture for so many is the same – first we are sinned against, and then in our brokeness and woundedness we sin in response. While healing is found by allowing Jesus to send the Spirit into our wounds, that is only part of the journey towards wholeness. At the same time there is an accompanying need for confession and admittance of guilt. Even in those situations where our sinful response was beyond our control, we still need to accept culpability for acting in a manner that God didn’t create us to. In order to move forward we need not just healing for our wounds, but the will to die to the sinful self that seeks its own glorification and satisfaction rather than God’s.

Here’s Rowan again:

It’s worth adding, too, that the call for a moratorium on interventions across provinces belongs in the same theological framework. Such interventions often imply that nothing within a province, no provision made or pastoral care offered, can be recognizably and adequately Christian; and this is a claim not lightly to be made by any Christian community regarding any other without grave breach of charity. And it seems to be widely agreed in this Conference that internal pastoral and liturgical care, strengthened by arrangements like the suggested Communion Partners initiative in the USA and the proposed Pastoral Forum we have been discussing, are the way we should go if we want to avoid further ecclesial confusion.

Do you see how that links in with what I’ve just been saying? Cross-boundary interventions are often seen as the only possiblity in some circumstances, but they themselves become acts of sin in response to sin. If we truly believe that the Spirit was at work in the Ecumenical Councils of the first millenium, then we have to see these violations of the Nicene principle of diocesan integrity as serious breaches of catholicity. They may themselves be the result of other serious breaches of catholicity (false teaching), but we need to accept that one sin does not somehow validate the second that comes in response.

So we need brutal honesty in ourselves at this point. We need to have a moment of clear examination of our consciences. Whether we believe ourselves to be in Egypt, in the Wilderness, in the Promised Land or in Babylon, all these occasions call for a genuine and sincere engagement with where we as the conservative part of the chuch have sinned.

And let us be clear on one thing. Confession in Scripture is never on the basis of "I will confess if my enemy will". You simply won’t find such a concept. Jesus calls us very clearly to first examine our own eye before commenting on the speck in our friend’s. The plank doesn’t come out at the same time as the speck – it is only in realising that we have a plank and first doing something about it that we gain any ability, morally or practically, to address the specks in others.

Here then is perhaps one road forward for the Conservatives. GAFCON and the Global South should call an immediate moratorium on border-crossing. Yes, that will be painful for many. It will explicitly involve the dying to self that I spoke about above, for in the short term it will leave many abused and attacked in liberal dioceses, believing that they have been abandoned by those who said they would provide rescue. It would also implicitly involve confessing that the act of crossing diocesan boundaries was wrong, for we there would be no need to have a moratorium if crossing boundaries was seen by all as acceptable. But beyond these two things, it would at the same time indicate that we are serious about holding the Communion together, and what it would also do is give TEC, Canada (and Scotland now it appears) a very clear opportunity to also engage in the moratoria that they have been asked to impose, on same-sex blessings and ordaining and consecrating those in sexual relationships outside of marriage. There is a US House of Bishops meeting in September followed by Diocesan Conventions throughout the Autumn, easily enough time for all the necessary bodies in TEC to have come to a clear and unequivocal decision before the Primates’ Meeting in early 2009 on whether they want to take the path advocated by Rowan.

That is one road forward. The other road, which I fear is what may yet happen, is that we will continue to maintain the absolute moral high-ground, that schism will formally happen, and though we will have been vindicated theologically by the applause that comes from Rome and Moscow for our stand, we will have spiritually failed to deal with the real issue that Jesus wants us to deal with – the need for us to be brutally honest about the mistakes we have made on the journey to such a conclusion.

I’ll leave the (almost) last words to Rowan:

And as we come to the conclusion of our Conference, we very rightly and understandably bring all our thoughts, our reflections, our memories, our frustrations and our hopes into a liturgy in which what we do is precisely to tell the story that makes something happen.  We tell the story of how the Word of God made flesh, living in our midst, on the night before he offered himself so that we might live, took bread, and broke it, and shared it.  We tell that story and something happens, something that enables us to recognize, yet again, that the deepest thing in us is that which God invites to share his table, to share his company, to lay close to his heart.  That thing in us which God invites and longs for, drawn to him to be next to him, ‘next to the Father’s heart’, in the gospel’s phrase.  Here, at this Eucharist, we experience—each one of us—what it is for a story to be told that makes something happen; that changes not just bread and wine and believer, but the whole world:  because here, in our midst is the beginning of the end, the realization of the hope of all creation, all people, all reality, drawn together in the broken bread and the shared wine.  

That is our story and our song, at this and every Eucharist.  And strengthened by the resurrection life that is there given, we go out to tell the story afresh, we go out in the confidence that when we speak from that heart of reality, which is the broken bread of Jesus’ truth and Jesus’ love, recognition will happen.  The springs will be unblocked, the deserts will blossom, the Spirit will overflow.  

God give us grace to tell that story.  May God pour out his Spirit on each of us in all our words and deeds of witness so that something will happen, and that something will be the Holy Spirit of God.  Amen

If we fail at this last moment to truly speak from the heart of reality, to be honest and open about how we, corporately and individually, have sinned and where we need to repent, we will have lost everything. May Jesus give us the grace to die to ourselves and to see him rise in glory.

46 Comments on “Lambeth 2008 – Moving Forward

  1. Strikes me that all these labels and acronyms and everything coupled with all the discussions about listening and arguments and sexuality and border crossing add up to one of the best distraction efforts the devil has hit on. Screwtape would be proud!

    So far as I am aware, the US bishops who have moved to welcome and endorse homosexual relationships started moving a long time ago on far more fundamental issues.


    As a rule (and doubtless there will be those who will jump on what I’m going to write to try to disprove it), those who want to open the Church to welcome and endorse homosexual relationships do not have a biblically orthodox understanding of Jesus.

    If Jesus doesn’t deal with my sin, I will cause schism. If I haven’t understood and received Jesus meeting me and dealing with my sin, I have no grounds to make any statement about Jesus’ Church.

    The current problems are not current. They date back decades to the picking apart of our essential, under-pinning, basis-for-catholicity – Jesus had been and is being denied.

    Schism is an act of sin directly linked to an underlying rejection of the authority of Jesus as head of His Church.

    Let’s stop going round in circles and get back to Jesus, His sin defeating work on the cross and His giving of new life. There are far too many people who are ready to hear that good news for us to be getting so distracted by those who clearly don’t.

  2. Peter,

    Let me say that while I completely respect “baby blues” thoughts. Please know that the mass exodus she speaks of is essentially not true. I travel around the USA quite a bit and while there are certainly conservatives who are not happy with what is going on, this thought of people in the pews running towards Rome or some other place is essentially not the case. I will give Baby Blue credit : she is a great “spinmeister”.  As far as all the law suits are concerned, if the shoe were on the other foot and the orthodox were in control of general convention, I can just imagine the way we would be treated. Legally claiming church property on behalf of a diocese would only be the tip of the iceberg.

  3. My reliable sources tell me that in fact only 40 parishes in the States have left TEC for other jurisdictions….I suspect, like Jack Harris,  there is a good deal of spinning about numbers and lawsuits….

  4. The argument from silence doesn’t work. Jesus does imply that homosexuality is out of the question when in Matthew 19 he says that a man is to leave his parents and to find a wife. Only those who can marry should marry according to Jesus. Matthew 19 clearly echoes Genesis, where man and woman are brought together and told to ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Matthew’s Gospel focuses on Jesus’ fulfilment of the Jewish law, and on Jesus as king. Here Jesus is seen as preaching about how people should be in the new creation that is the kingdom of God. That includes redeeming the relationship between men and women.

  5. Have you read After the Ball:  How America will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s?  Published in 1989.  Authors Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen.  If you have read this manifesto for social revolution you would understand what has happened to the “listening process” and why it can never work in the church.

    I appreciate that you are coming to terms with the situation later than we have been forced to do.  The schism began when innovative interpretations of what is blessed and what is sin were introduced in the TEC and ACC. Please brush up on your history and have another look at the Windsor Report.  However what you call sin in episcopal border crossings, I call a godly response to rescue orthodox Christians who are under siege from their own leaders.  The gay activists could not be more effective than our own Anglican bishops.  Someone else wrote that those who wish to stay Anglican and orthodox, who need episcopal intervention are in fact the Anglican Communion’s, most loyal supporters.  I agree.  It is much harder to stay and fight.  That being said, I know too that if you run away from a problem, it follows you.  So many of the mainline denominations are being torn apart by this issue.

    I responded so strongly to your proposal because I thought surely a fellow struggler with SSA, who works with those who suffer with SSA would understand what is happening here in North America.  I think the only reason the UK did not end up in the forefront of this debate is that New West and New Hampshire beat you to the punch…and your leaders pulled back from the brink.  But your division is definitely smoldering and I hope that you don’t get caught flatfooted the way we did, by not taking the threat seriously enough.  Be skeptical of process.  It is not designed in your favour.  Just look at “Gay Wednesday” and the fact that evangelicals had to put out God, Gays and the Church to redress the imbalance in the “listening process.”  Excellent article by the way, Peter.

    I think the way forward is education, both about the Truth and exposing the agenda of the process.


  6. Does Matthew 19 really apply here in the way that CM suggests? The verse in question (5) taken as describing the only permissible way of life would mean that all men must marry, and to remain single (for whatever reason, and whether chaste or not) would be sinful. I don’t think most conservatives would teach that. Besides, a little later Jesus says (11-12) that not all can accept this teaching, without apparently condemning such people outright – a pretty extraordinary thing that he doesn’t say in relation to other teachings that I can think of. The passage seems to me to be less straightforward than CM apparently believes. Besides, the context here is Jesus’ condemnation of divorce. Conservatives are quite rightly unhappy about divorce, but they do not seem to think it is so important as to necessitate the kind of actions that are the subject of this discussion.

  7. By the way I would like to thank Peter for his words and this forum. Although I do not agree with all the comments that have been made on it, reading through them has left me with a much better idea of what all the fuss is about, something which I think many of us who live outside North America don’t appreciate.

  8. My reliable sources tell me that in fact only 40 parishes in the States have left TEC for other jurisdictions.

    Forty is about the number of parishes in San Joaquin alone. So much for his “reliable sources.” Also, let us remember that the largest parish in the country left. So there’s numbers of parishes and parish numbers. Also remember the TEO was the fastest declining denomination in the country. Also remember three dioceses are poised to go.

  9. Luther said the believer is both saint and sinner at the one and the same time.

    Church life is messy.

    Sometimes when the hurts run so deep and the mission to be salt and light, to go and make disciples gets lost, disengagement is the best way forward.

    Historically, Presbyterians – contra Anglicans – have understood this to be so and have a history of disengagement/reengagement and Christ’s kingdom continues (somewhat imperfectly) to be built regardless.

    The part that I like in Peter’s essay is the call to understand the plight of the person who finds him/herself with a homosexual orientation. However there are homosexuals who utterly reject such concern and many of us find ourselves in a bitter fight with such people to preserve the notion of marriage as the God ordained union of a man and a woman voluntarily entered into for life.

    Insofar as I have been able to think about homosexuality and without debating the existence or otherwise of a gene for homosexuality or denying the shaping of upbringing or conscious decisions to embrace homosexual behaviour, surely our doctrine of original sin helps us to understand that human nature has been corrupted through and through. Some people can have the same indwelling tendency to homosexuality as others have to rage, jealousy, or promiscuity, every bit as real as another person having congenital heart disease. So even as we hate the constant pushing and promotion of homosexuality, we feel compassion toward homosexuals, particularly for those who want to break the habit of homosexual activity and find it so hard to do so.

    I would be interested in Peter’s (and other’s) comment on such an understanding.

  10. U2 are famously Christian, so I don’t think should be blamed for the misapplication of their music. Personally I’m disappointed that St.Silas never did the U2charist (and, aesthetically, it would have been much bettter than some of the soppy inane moder worship crap that evangelicals lap up)

    Quick point: most liberals (including +Gene at the service I attended last sunday) make an analogy between the change in treatment of women and how the church should respond to gay people. I have had some evangelicals try to convince me that Jesus and Paul were feminists : would people here go along with that? I find it odd when conservatives say we have no right to alter tradition, when we (and they) manifestly have on women.  I of course concede that Paul seems (if one subscribes to literalist readings f scripture) to indicate that engaging in homosex can endanger one’ salvation which differentiates it from the women issue.

  11. Hello Ryan,
    I agree that in some ways the ordination of women makes life more difficult for evangelicals who have accepted these arguments but hold a traditional view on human sexuality. (Jeffrey John makes a lot of it in his book “Permanent, Faithful, Stable”, for example). I would say that women’s ordination (or, more accurately, women leading congregations) is firstly a secondary issue about church govt, not a primary issue about morality. Secondly, it is possible to reach these conclusions through the bible, whereas I don’t think this is the case with homosexual practice. (That doesn’t mean that everyone reaches these conclusions through scripture, when you look at the synod debates on women bishops it is clear that a lot of people are coming in from liberal or liberal catholic assumptions). On the subject of Paul, I think he is more egalitarian than some people think, but some liberals like to present him as a misogynist so they can discredit his teaching on homosexuality as well.

  12. Hi David,

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Whether homosexuality is genetic, entirely environmental or, as is probably likely, a complex mix of nature and nurture, the issue is one of how we live as disciples when we are fallen. That’s why increasingly I major *less* on the “reparative” side of ministry and more on the “dying to self” side. I truly believe that we really discover grace when we learn to let God deal with our temptation to sin, whatever that sin is, rather than simply try to wipe it out.

    There is also the issue of making “straight” a goal. The Bible doesn’t talk about gay vs straight, so to say that one orientation is superior and desirable above the other is nonsense. The Bible talks about choosing what we do with our bodies, not simply caving in to what we’d like to do with our bodies.

  13. Hi Peter,
    I know I’m a bit late in commenting, but I’ve been wanting to say that I think this is a great post - I commend you for its honesty and bravery. Reckon the paragraph beginning, “Listening though is more…” is particularly good.
    in friendship, Blair

  14. Me again,
    MattS, out of interest how would you interpret 1 Timothy 2:11-13 – where Paul says that women should not teach or have authority over men, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve”. Slightly cheeky coming from me, as I’m not sure how to approach it myself (I support the ordination of women)… but am asking as you said that “it is possible to reach these conclusions through the bible”.
    in friendship, Blair

  15. Thanks Blair. I’m aware that for many reading in the US this is a “hard word”, but it needs to be said, especially to those who consider themselves more Virtueous than most…

  16. Hi Peter,
    I appreciate your post in many ways, particularly your emphasis on dying to self and on the need for pastoral sensitivity towards persons who experience same-sex attraction–irrespective of whether such persons choose to act on that attraction.

    At the same time, though, I think you would have done well to consider more carefully how the Catholic Church thinks about unity and schism before suggesting that Rome and Moscow (I haven’t read what has come from the latter) would applaud an outcome if it should be “theologically” pure at the expense of humble self-examination on the part of conservative Anglicans as to how their own pastoral or other shortcomings might have exacerbated the current crisis.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
    In fact “in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church – for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame.”269 The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ’s Body – here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism270 – do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.271(CCC 817, emphases added)

    Moreover, Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has reiterated on several occasions, “It is our overwhelming desire that the Anglican Communion stays together, rooted in the historic faith which our dialogue and relations over four decades have led us to believe that we share to a large degree.”

    How the Anglican Community might accomplish this is obviously a very vexing question. As a convert (though not from Anglicanism), I wish in part, with some impatience, that the lot of you would just recognize the foundational problems with Anglicanism and get on with swimming the Tiber en masse, and yet, and yet, I am increasingly of the mind that “a bruised reed he will not break,” even as I continue to pray that all Christians may come into full and visible communion with Rome.

  17. I appreciate your careful, thoughtful analysis, but respectfully disagree.  Declaring a moratorium on border crossings gives tacit agreement that there is an equivalence between spiritual and administrative issues.  As someone who would not now be an Anglican without border crossings, I would find it very difficult to slam that door in the face of those now waking to the danger, even for a period of the few months it would take to prove, yet again, the pointlessness of the gesture.


  18. I agree Alan Jacob’s comments and would add that it was five years ago (Aug. 10, 2003) that we heard what had happened at GC2003.   Our bishop was on record as having said that the Bible was terminally disputatious and then later said that Jesus rewrote the Old Testament, which gave us permission to rewrite the New Testament.   Bp. Scantlebury came to our church and likened the problem to people who couldn’t decide what color to paint a room.    We asked for Alternate Episcopal Oversight (which Bp. Griswold signed agreement to in Lambeth, October 2003) and were told flatly that it would not happen in the Diocese of Chicago.  The ensuing months brought the resignations of 10 vestry members, one warden, our entire clergy staff, the youth pastor, and the exodus of well over half of the parish.

    Along with Alan, my husband and I had to look at what our children would hear (see his note about the current rector’s Easter sermon).  We got a liberal interim rector, and for the first time, we told our kids they could bring books into church to read during the sermons.  We couldn’t invite people to come visit our church as the tension levels were enormous – people literally sat in the pews crying every Sunday.  Taking communion was impossible as we were hurt and angry all the time.  Those in power (the Diocese) weren’t going anywhere, and someone had to leave – and it was us.

    Was that leaving a sin?  We prayed a long time over it, and I don’t believe that it was.   While it was agonizing to leave the people I loved, it was a lie to stay.  Staying indicated that we agreed with what was being done in the Diocese.  Withholding our funds (which was done, and with much acrimony) wasn’t sufficient. 

    We have been at All Souls’ Anglican in Wheaton for the last four years now.  We are not perfect, but there is no question about the bible being true or Jesus being the only Way.   The varying Anglican churches around us work together – Kenyan, Rwandan, Bolivian, REC, etc., unified around the gospel and I can’t see that as sin.  Did we all behave well – no.  Do we need to ask forgiveness – most certainly.  But staying in the building wasn’t an option and, to my mind, the real sin is that the situation was allowed to develop in the first place.

    TEC isn’t going to stop doing what they’re doing (see recent bishop’s statements).  I’m not going to subject myself or, worse yet, my children to false teaching – that would be irresponsible of me as a parent and a Christian.  I don’t know the state of the souls of the bishops in TEC.  All I can do is look at what their public comments and actions are, and I can’t sit in their pews.

  19. Hello Ryan,
    The problem with 1 Tim 2 is the tension with 1 Cor 11. In 1 Tim 2 it calls for women to be “silent” in church, but in 1 Cor 11 it says that women “prophesy”. To cut a long story short, some people interpret the Timothy passage to be the controlling one, where “prophecy” is seen as some form of non-authoritative speech. Others interpret 1 Cor as the controlling one, and see the 1 Tim injunction to be some kind of response to “local problems”.

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