Saturday 2 August 2008

It is Balkanising

It seems that the invitation by the Archbishop of Canterbury of making a generous offer has not reached the non-GAFCON Global South. The Singapore theologian Michael Poon is unimpressed, and so is Terry Wong of South East Asia. Michael Poon says:

Archbishop Rowan Williams' second presidential address, delivered near the mid-point of the Lambeth Conference, is most disappointing and worrying.

He suggests that Rowan Williams himself has learnt nothing from the Indaba groups:

Canterbury's summary of the two positions could as well be read off web-blogs before the Conference. Nothing new is advanced; no fresh insight gained.

He asks:

...has the Archbishop - with his best intents - completely ignored the realities outside the familiar Anglo-American perceptions?

His problem is that:

I cannot identify myself with either side the Archbishop portrayed. It put me at a loss. What is the "generous initiative" am I supposed to take in the Communion?

Oh dear: if I say it myself Michael Poon sounds a little like Henry Orombi in writing of:

...the centre of a domineering Western framework that has proved ineffective and burdensome to the rest of the Communion.

Although Michael Poon statest that:

To receive love demands a new vision: in seeing the other as capable of independent actions.

He does not tell us what the Archbishop of Canterbury is missing; there is no fleshing out of the vision. So it sounds like sour grapes again from the sidelines - another set of sidelines.

Terry Wong, meanwhile, is still looking for closure of disciplinary action to bring this tear in the communion to a rest. And he does not see it happening, and is following on from Orombi's latest words:

Kyrie Eleison, repeating the closing words of our dear Archbishop of Uganda's latest public address. We can't help but ask, "If that Statement did not do much, what will these WCG observations accomplish?"

He also says:

...the Archbishop of Canterbury's Second Presidential Address is deeply disappointing.

Obviously referring to the end of the opening Eucharist's sermon by the Bishop of Ceylon he states:

We will need to continue to live with that tear (of the 2003 action) and tension (of relating to those of a 'different religion' - in Asia, we do this all the time being part of a minority religion...imagine having to face the same thing within the 'refuge' of the church!).

In narrowing those he would relate to, he states:

Wounded as we may be, there can be joy in linking with those with whom we can say what we mean, and mean what we say, where our different cultures have no major bearing on our shared orthodoxy.

So, obviously, Lambeth is having little impact there, outside the new friendliness bishops are apparently showing each other across the divides. It seems that the need for hard thinking has taken the shine off some of the optimism. For Bishop Alan Wilson, trying to think of actually something new as a way forward is where the ship became stuck: indeed it was people in the West again coming up with ideas that seemed to be win or lose.

It's a grim thought but without the indaba process we could have been spending two weeks like this. Bad experience of old methods certainly vindicates the organisers' decision not just to re-run the 1998 process.

He wants those on the left and right to take account of every voice via another way of decision making.

One might say that form is not the same as content and after all the Indaba form there is a lack of content. However, David Chillingworth is more optimistic that the process followed has led to more creativity. So what content does he envisage. It is this:

If we are going to have a Covenant, I remain attracted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' suggestion that it should be a Covenant of Faith predicated on difference.

Yes, but this won't satisfy the likes of Michael Poon and Terry Wong, or indeed Orombi and the walkers-off. Or, as became obvious in another one of those press conferences (see below), Mouneer Anis. Indeed, there is a lacking of actuality even according to David Chillingworth:

I heard no suggestions of any great value and, as a result, the meeting became tetchy. I still think that something can be done here - but there needs to be a roadmap of symbolic words and actions which allow the two groups to move towards one another.

So it is a dismal outcome for him (on Friday of course: this does run until Sunday).

My closest bishop (of Grimsby) David Rossdale also seems to be an optimist. He says:

Those who have been supporting the process of Bible Study followed by an Indaba were vindicated this morning. I sat, listened and contributed as one of 40 bishops engaging with issues in human sexuality. As far as I could tell, everyone was able to make a contribution and the challenges facing us were clarified. There was no 'grandstanding' and people were able to make their contribution without having to run the gauntlet of a plenary of 660 bishops - which would have ensured that only a minority were heard.

So again the process has been a good one: form again was good, but then regarding the content:

In my Indaba, one thing about which there was unanimity was that our attitude to homosexual people must be positive, generous and full of Christian love. There, however, the unanimity ended.

In fact it seems it was worse that that:

By the time we came to the Indaba I detected the underlying presumption that a 'real Christian' is essentially fundamentalist when it comes to using the Bible.

Oops; oh dear. Biblical criticism and theological study take another knock then; Bible bashing that is done ever so nicely. I like the way he puts the problem:

We need to remember however that the Church is still trying to accommodate the theological implications of a Sun-centered theory of the universe which Galileo posed in about 1610, of Darwin's theory of evolution from the 1840s, of the double helix in the 1950s and of LemaƮtre's Big Bang theory from the 1920/30s. Perhaps we need to just allow ourselves the time needed to find a balanced way to accommodate issues in human sexuality...

How very depressing this must be. Meanwhile, if the South East Asians are worried about being ignored, so are the Canadians. We know that The Episcopal Church came to Lambeth to get involved, and have been prepared, but Canada seems to be getting it in the neck. This retrospective clawing back of same sex blessings presumably means past ones made null and void as well (I don't know how that would work) - this while Gene Robinson stays as a bishop. Surely the Canadians cannot agree to this. Fred Hiltz said:

"I think what we're running into is a kind of difficult rubbing between the indaba process which has been in large measure very conversational, very relational" and the work of the WCG, which is "seeking to find structures and procedures whereby we can remain in communion with one another," said Archbishop Hiltz. "How the two can interface for the well-being is a huge challenge at this moment."

The Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) would not listen to Fred Hiltz or his Church: echoing what Jenny Te Pau has said about this rather different body from the one she participated in. Just as on one side there is an issue of doctrine that is the general matter for which homosexuality is a key issue, so on the other side honesty becomes the general issue for which homosexuality is the specific duplicity. Fred Hiltz also said:

"If we're going to call ourselves a family of churches - let's have all the members of the family be honest. My understanding is that blessings of same sex unions take place in the Church of England frequently. Let's be honest about that. How did they arrive at those decisions or are they happening but are described as non-official, not really recognized by the church. What I'm calling for is honesty."

It seems that more is required of Canada in terms of clawing back simply because it did not pass what was happening into Canon Law. It did not do this because it was receptive to wider communion concerns - for which it would seem some sort of punishment not reward is being offered:

the house of bishops agreed "neither to encourage nor initiate" same-sex blessings until General Synod decided on the matter.

The answer of course is to go and do it properly. Yet on the Covenant, Drexel Gomez said it will be future directed, and will deal with future disputes not present ones.

Our document is future-directed. This is how the Communion should deal with events as they unfold in the future."

It is the present/ past events that are causing the impasse! And the fact that he claims support of a Covenant in the Global South, including areas that have since gone into GAFCON, only illustrates the balkanising of the Anglican Communion, as shown by the responses of Poon and Wong and indeed Anis.

Meanwhile, Jim Naughton at The Lead points out that the Americans may not take a definitive vote by General Convention on the Covenant until 2012 or 2015. Here is the timetable:

The covenant design group reconvenes in September in Singapore, and will synthesize these [Lambeth bishops'] reflections. Provinces have been asked to respond to the St. Andrew's Draft by March. A third draft will then be submitted to the Anglican Consultative Council which meets in Jamaica next May, Cameron said.

The ACC can accept the covenant and pass it on for approval to the provinces, reject it, or request revisions.

If the ACC passes the covenant on to the provinces, it is unlikely the Episcopal Church could move quickly enough to consider the covenant at its General Convention in early July. A binding vote could not be taken until 2012, at the earliest, and perhaps 2015 if accepting the covenant required constitutional changes.

One feels that the Global South will be doing its own thing by then. So it is that this blog by Bishop David Walker, who's left before the end, is surely a little optimistic:

Whilst nothing will satisfy Orombi and Akinola, nor the shady figures from North American behind them, there's been good solid evidence on campus that archiepiscopal bullying has its limits and that there is a more representative voice of southern conservatism which will listen to those of its neighbours who have been at Lambeth and are able to share the seriousness with which we are working at our unity and respond to such visible signs of progress as can be signed off by Sunday night.

The Archbishop of Canterbury himself, interviewed by Cindy Kent of Premier Christian Radio, accepts that content differs but the form might have made a difference:

I think a number of people will go away saying "I still disagree". The question at the moment is whether they go away saying "I disagree and frankly I don't think it's worth investing in the relationship" or whether they go away saying "I disagree and that means we've got an awful lot of work to do."

Unfortunately for the Archbishop and David Chillingworth, it is not the latter. In a press conference organised by the ever stirring it non-bishop Chris Sugden, Mouneer Anis (who had been verbally roughed up for his decision to go to Lambeth but not GAFCON) showed that he is now singing from the Chris Sugden and others' hymnsheet. The smell of 1998 is returning:

Everywhere we go here, we meet gay & lesbian activists, receive their news letters or read about their many events. Many seem to be supported by North American churches. They are intent to push their agenda on us. ...they push all these sexuality issues so intensively into the conference and then blame us for talking about them too much!

He is now turning on the process or form too:

From my experience of the Bible studies and of the Indaba discussions I see a great wall being put up by revisionists against those orthodox who believe in the authority of Scripture. The revisionists among us push upon us the view that current secular culture and not the Bible should shape our mission and morals. In this we are not divided by mere trivialities, or issues on the periphery of faith but on essentials. I am shocked to say that we are finding it very hard to come together on even the essentials of the faith we once received from the Apostles.

This one has been heard before in GAFCON land:

Through the advocacy of unscriptural practices, I would say they are inviting the church into a new form of slavery: a slavery to modern secular culture and to immoral desires and lusts.

He demands the retrospective moratoria, a fully implemented Pastoral Forum, and a restrictive Covenant, and if no Covenant on the North Americans then they should withdraw from Communion bodies.

Anis noted to the journalists that these views were his own and his colleagues may disagree:

(Please note that these are my own personal views and I am aware that my colleagues in the other dioceses of the province of Jerusalem and the Middle East may have different views.)

Yes, one was Bishop Sulheil Dawani who did not want Chris Sugden and his merry men in Jerusalem causing strife either to the region or to Anglicanism. For some daft reason, he is at Lambeth with a press pass (says Jim Naughton) (and those African bishops aren't!) and this could upset the weeks of form that might leave the disagreeing bishops friendlier towards one another for the future.

However, when the Lambeth Conference is over, these bishops will not be relating to one another in this still ongoing high intensity manner, and the frustration that nothing happened will get to those present who keep wanting something to happen, never mind those not there. The Global South outside of GAFCON may decide to do its own acting, but the Covenant for others will probably stagger on to a collapse of rejection by Western Churches.

The situation was outlined by the Chief Rabbi that Covenants of faith are failing (even though he wanted the Anglican Communion to stay together: he has fond memories of Church of England influences in his upbringing); it is in the (unwritten) Covenant of Fate that brings different people together in their practical works. The Archbishop of Canterbury thinks that the Chief Rabbi's speech was one of two highlights of Lambeth 2008 (the other being their walk, when they listened to Gordon Brown overdoing it), and he may be right - but for the wrong reason.

No Covenant of Faith here is possible and the other retrospective demands are ridiculous: such can only happen within sections of the Anglican Communion, and the Covenant they want won't be like the St. Andrew's Covenant. Once again, a Covenant that restricts is unacceptable to some, and a Covenant that does not restrict is unacceptable to some. For all the form in the world, that content divide cannot be overcome.

(There is no relevance of my drawing to this summary piece. Too many pumped up males are written about: she illustrated is in the world, possibly reading some theology. Or not.)

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