Wednesday 21 May 2008


What we have, it seems, is a method of consultation that has been theologised as "incarnate" and God-representing by its face to face human encounters.

Indaba, as far as I can see, is becoming a general term for meeting in southern Africa. Trying to push it more towards a particular meaning, it seems to imply a participatory meeting of a matter; thus there is an agenda on a deep discursive meeting out of which some kind of resolution is extracted.

Is it that so revolutionary? Surely a meeting that involves a fairly standard procedure of many group discussions and workshops more than enough amounts to an Indaba. There is usually a plenary session when groups report back and then further debate. There is an implication, however, in the Lambeth design, that there should be no plenary session and no resolution.

Why should an Indaba group imply that cut-off point? I cannot see it. It seems to me that the Indaba meeting on a matter, to get more deeply into the issue of concern, is to bring out the issue and bring it to a satisfactory resolution, via more understanding all around.

It is not just about face to face people, it is about variable commitment to issues being reported upon to others in order to sort out a predicament.

So I might go to an Indaba with all my concerns, or those I represent, and then get stuck in with conversations that give rise to me being confronted by the other point of view too, and force me to take on how the other person sees the issue. There may be multiple variable commitments. It is in that encounter that I have to face up to the kind of agenda I want when there are other pressing stances. They also do the same. The talk, the negotiation that results, may take a long time.

Why should there be a binary opposition about this with the parliamentary? Both the Houses of Parliament and indeed the United States Congress hold committee hearings. Imagine instead if those hearings had everyone who are witnesses coming in at once, and all discussing. That would make it more Indaba (presumably). But there would still be a sense of resolution, and just as a committee report can and should affect a parliamentary vote, so would such a meeting affect an outcome. But an outcome there would be, because the other person has seen that they live in a community where there are real arguments among real people elsewhere. It may be, of course, that zero-sum decisions have to be taken in some places as real gains by some mean real losses by others.

People might remember the British Channel Four programme that had people of very different views all on comfy chairs and sofas around a table with drink and nuts, and that (within some boundaries obviously) went on as long as it would into the night. So time becomes an element in this; indeed shortening time might be a way to force through some resolution after long discussion. There is no flexible time element at Lambeth: just set times and set topics.

Now if there are no mechanisms by which the sense of the meeting comes to a resolution, then the question becomes who does take the sense of the meeting and carries it on? There is going to be, for example, a Covenant Continuation Group carrying on what happened at Lambeth. How is it to know the sense of the meeting? What if it takes one view rather than another? Arguably for someone else to interpret a meeting's outcome is against the whole point of Indaba: the meeting must own its outcome.

Then there is the question of the Anglican Communion as a community. Is it a community? Or is it a diverse association, where indeed there is no need for any resolution at this level, because the effective units are decentralised at the level of the Churches? This is the implication of the TEC presentation: thus there are Churches and these Indaba groups are face to face encounters without resolutions.

My own view is that The Episcopal Church has found the Indaba structure and intent very useful. Indaba does not mean an absence of resolution (never minds resolutions) but this one at Lambeth 2008 seems to imply that either there is no resolution, or that resolution takes place elsewhere in other committees. This does not seem right.

Also, just because an agenda and method is set up does not mean that participants cannot stage a revolution. I once chaired a meeting when a rule was that we did not comment on internal Church affairs given the nature of the conference and society. Someone among the number was dismissed by a Church. I pointed out the rule, but a speaker said if we cannot comment on this then the meeting is worse than useless. So I said OK - who was I to stop it (and why should I?). And the meeting went against its own rule. So it there is pressure for an outcome, for a resolution, then it is quite possible for the method to be overturned by the participants. Who is it that enforces the agenda and method over the participants and what some may want to force over the others?

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