2/16/2008

Why all the Bishops should be at Lambeth.

In Anglican Land the question of just who will or will not be at Lambeth continues. Invitation has been in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury and he has not invited several people – Bishops Gene Robinson (New Hampshire), Robinson Cavalcanti (deposed, Recife), Nolbert Kunonga (deposed Harare), and bishops of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya ordained for service in the jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church without its consent. Of that group only Bishop Robinson is a seated bishop of jurisdiction, that is as a bishop whose charge and license is granted by the Province in whose jurisdiction he exercises ministry. All the others are either deposed or exercise ministry without such license.

The Archbishop thought that perhaps by not inviting Bishop Robinson those who found his "manner of life" a source of scandal would be able to attend Lambeth. It now appears that a number of bishops find the source of scandal resides not in Bishop Robinson alone, but in a wider body of bishops – those who participated in his ordination as bishop. The fact that they will attend is the scandal. The fact that The Episcopal Church has not removed him is a scandal, and failing that the fact that the Archbishop even invited them (the ordaining bishops) is a scandal.

So it is that the Primates of Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and The Southern Cone have written evangelical bishops in England to say that they will not attend Lambeth so long asThe Episcopal Church bishops do so. The Letter can be read HERE.

They site these reasons:

  1. Lambeth is supposed to be a family gathering. "First, the Lambeth Conference is …three weeks in which we bishops and our wives are called to share together our lives, our prayer, our bible study, our meals, our worship and the Lord's Supper, to be a family together."
  2. We are not "family" with The Episcopal Church. "You will know that some of us have not been able to take communion with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church since February 2005 … The reason is that TEC took an action to consecrate Gene Robinson as Bishop in 2003 … an action of which they have not repented. The consecrators of Gene Robinson have all been invited to Lambeth…"
  3. TEC bishops are persecuting "orthodox" bishops and priests and are suing them. These are those "whom you wish us to share Christian family fellowship for three weeks."
  4. Going to Lambeth is hypocritical. To "...live with them at the Lambeth Conference as though nothing had happened… would be hypocrisy."
  5. Lambeth invitations have been determined by structure, not faith.
    "…the invitations suggest that institutional structures are superior to the content of the faith itself."
  6. We would not feel "at home."
    "We are also mindful of the press interest in the Conference, and in the presence in some form or other of Gene Robinson and his male partner, and of 30 gay activists. We would be the continual target of activist campaigners and media intrusion. In these circumstances we could not feel at home."
  7. We will not be championed at Lambeth 2008. "All of us have attended Lambeth before… In 1998, we had great difficulty in making our case heard … At that conference we were blessed with the leadership of Archbishop George Carey … that there is no serious space for those of an orthodox persuasion in the councils of the Communion to be themselves or to be taken seriously."
  8. Our requests are not honored: We requested "…the postponement of the conference, the calling of a Primates' meeting and work towards the conclusion and endorsement of the Anglican Covenant by individual provinces. Our request(s) (have) not been heeded."
  9. The Draft Covenant to be discussed at Lambeth is to weak to address our concerns.
    "We must address the issue of the Anglican Communion Covenant, particularly as a revised version has just been published. … The state of our broken Communion is not mended by the Covenant."

So it boils down to this: The Primates have disowned this family and disavowed communion with it, don't trust the family not to persecute or ostracize them, feel like they have no support in family, that their opinions are not taken seriously and that nothing including some new contract can turn this "family of origin" into a real family. These Primates are at best petulant, at worse willing to commit patricide in order to express their anger at their institutional family.

It is of some considerable interest that the Primates have cast their argument in family terms. Family and tribe and nation and indeed Christian affinity groups all grope toward some ideal that lies beyond themselves. We all fall short of being the family of the whole, the body catholic, the body of every race and nation…we all fall short of the Church of God.

This letter from these Primates to the twenty English Evangelical Bishops may in a sectarian sense be an evangelical response. But the letter fails completely to be a catholic and evangelical statement. It is written from the standpoint of fear and apprehension – they complain about not feeling at home, having to be with people who they can't stand, whose ideas they find wrong, who lash out at them, who don't pay attention to them. But if we are honest, that sounds precisely like the problems we all have living with and for the disorganized rabble that constitute the followers of Jesus Christ.

By odd happenstance I am preparing a talk to be given in the Philippines and found on the internet a wonderful sermon by Bishop Charles Brent, first Episcopal bishop in the Philippines. Bishop Brent was strongly opinionated and sometimes at odds with even his best friends. Some of his beliefs and ideas were entirely couched in his time, but some stand out as remarkable in their inclusive breadth. He was both catholic and evangelical in outlook.

He has to this days admirers across the spectrum of modern Anglicanism and in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina recently gave a fine presentation on Bishop Brent. I reviewed it HERE. I believe Bishop Brent has given good reason why all bishops of jurisdiction ought to be invited to Lambeth, reasons growing from catholic thinking in an evangelical framework.

From his sermon, "The Authority of Christ" preached at the consecration of Dr. E. M. Stires as Bishop of Long Island, held in St. Thomas's Church, New York City. -

"Again it is the part of a Christian leader today to accept his position and to teach and preach as one commissioned by and for the whole Church—"a Priest in the Church of God," "a Bishop in the Church of God." He cannot be anything less or look upon himself as anything else. The seat of sectarianism and of catholicity is within the soul. It is neither boastful nor presumptuous for one to insist on the broadest possible relationship with the whole Church of God. No thoughtful man today can consciously submit to ordination or consecration of life and service that is not as wide as human contacts permit. Who would be satisfied with being a Bishop in a church which contains a couple of million members or less than two per cent of the total population of the United States—this and nothing more? A true man wishes to lend himself to the largest possible ends, at least to reach his own nation, which is but a fragment of his whole duty, by his service. I admire the quiet assumption by which the Pope proclaims himself to be the "servant of the servants of God," and considers the moral and spiritual well-being of the race as being in his keeping. I would emulate it and spur others on to emulate it in the spirit of love. "Whosoever would become great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever would be first among you, shall be bondservant of all." (Mk. 10: 43, 44.) What difference does it make if there are those who do not wish your service? They cannot help it if contrary to their wishes you watch for and seize opportunities to serve. Let your heart beat with theirs. They cannot prevent that. We must act as if there was unity and unity will come in the doing. We must relate our Christianity to that of others by whatever means will best bring about an understanding and a fellowship, without ignoring or injuring the special gift we enjoy and which it is our business to make available for the whole fellowship. Our light is a light to be set on a candlestick that it may light the whole house. It is not to be kept safe under a cover where it will be protected from the wind. It must be put within the gaze of all men. The more catholic a church claims to be, the more should it be found in the thick of things, playing its catholicity on those who do not have it. Aloofness and service are not friends. Catholicity is fearless, never afraid of being snuffed out by contacts with that which is less catholic. Indeed, catholicity, like freedom, lives and retains its power by living perilously. Never is any person so safe as when trying to seize an opportunity which leads into danger. The man and the church who practice catholicity will do more to bring about understanding and cooperation between the churches than anyone else, as well as learn the meaning of the glorious liberty of the children of God."

"You and I, brother, are but as little specks, tinier than the motes that dance in the sunbeam, tossed about for a moment on the sea of time. Were this all, however, life would be a tragedy unbearable. But it is not so. Greatness consists neither in length of days nor in bulk or mass. In the compass of an abbreviated life-time Jesus Christ, with naked hand, lifted each successive generation from the dust by making His personality an ever-living tongue of flame, leaping behind and before to distinguish and immortalize His every follower. A follower or disciple is one who, linking fortunes with Him, leans not on the risky scaffolding of official position or the flimsy tinsel of wealth or the tricky voice of fame or anything transitory, but who stands unembarrassed, free, erect, radiant, self-forgetful, invincible in the greatness of a servant of the servants of God."

In previous blogs I suggested that the Archbishop of Canterbury would be well served in inviting all bishops of jurisdiction and then let the games begin. In not doing so he was untrusting of time, which like an ever flowing stream will indeed wash things out a bit. In not doing so he confused matters greatly. Would it have been less than catholic to invite all bishops of jurisdiction? Bishop Robinson would be difficult for some. Bishop Cavalcanti (deposed, Recife) would not be considered a bishop of jurisdiction. Bishop Kunonga would have been invited but later would no longer have jurisdiction anywhere. The bishops of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya ordained for service in the jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church without its consent would be at best irregular and at worse without jurisdiction.

But if Bishop Robinson and even the "irregular" bishops of the various Provinces of GAFCON (The Global Anglican Future Conference) were invited the Primates have said they and their bishops would still not come – since they would not feel at home. And since all the irregular bishops are bishops in the Provinces that have indicated they would not come we would be left with Bishop Robinson only in attendance. The end of all this strange struggle about who would be invited and who would accept the invitation to Lambeth ends up thusly: Had the ABC invited everyone, the famous Five provinces would not come, yet even though he has tried to cut the baby up with the wisdom of Solomon they still will not come. They would not come even if their precious intrusive and usurping bishops were invited.

Perhaps he would have done better to let things take their course. Invite the whole gang with catholic zeal, and let the invitees say yes or no. Invite with evangelical hope, and let those who cannot hear the cry for unity that is always greater than the constraints of our hearts say no. And let those whose response is yes, no matter how feebly or with hesitation, come.

As Susan Russell said over at An Inch at a Time, "It's never too late to do the right thing."

9 comments:

  1. Oh, for God's sake, I am only a member of the laity, but can't people of good faith meet together and talk.

    I am appalled that Gene Robinson is not invited.

    Where is the leadership??

    Members of the clergy, deacons, bishops, what are you about in this world? Many of the people in the pews await your responses to cureent situations, and expect you to be involved at Lambeth. The choices that you make form you and affect the people who look to you for leadership.
    I do not think anyone who goes into the field of priesthood is about popularity or PR. So show us what you are about. In this short life we live on earth, are you about values, Christianity? If that is really what you are about, you will make a concerted effort to support the body of Christ as it is represented in the Episcopal Church of the USA.

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  2. obadiahslope17/2/08 7:04 AM

    What is missing from this analysis is the legendary "excluded middle". TEC and the five provinces represented by these five primates are only six of thirty eight provinces.
    It is likely that the Archbisop's thinking is influenced by a desire to minimise attenence at GAFCON and possible absences from Lambeth.
    I realise that the force of your argument, Mark, is not affected by whether five or ten primates are involved. But it might be part of the overall calculus by those less convinced that right is all on one side.

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  3. Thanks, Mark! (Welcome back, BTW! And thanks for all ya'lls good work in Quito!)

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  4. The Anglican Primates who refuse to attend Lambeth remind me of the older brother's response in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. They've (the older brother and these Anglican Leaders) have been good. They've honored the Law. And now, their father seems willing to permit the brother who has gone astray to come home. He's done more than that form of reconciliation. He's prepared to "sell the farm" in order to embrace the child that was lost.

    The parallel between the current situation and the Lukan passage falls apart a bit there in terms of the Archbishop of Canterbury's refusal to invite +V. Gene Robinson. Nevertheless, the principle Christian instruction remains the same. The teaching of the Prodigal Son is a teaching of radical hospitality - a Father who is willing to forgive and forget, even at the expense of the perceived rights of the privileged older brother. We don't know in the parable whether or not the older brother attended the banquet his father set out for him and his younger brother. It seems that the Anglican Bishops who refuse to attend the '08 Lambeth Conference have chosen to "leave home."

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  5. Mark - but TEC has caused this.....by bending to the ABC's political will (BO33)and accepting the fact that he has not invited +NH

    TEC's leadership is complicit....sorry, we can criticise Akinola but he was clear that if Minns was not invited, he and his bishops were definitely not going. Big contrast with the weasel words of TEC's leadership.....don't just blame the ABC. TEC's leadership can also ..... lead (that is, if they choose to do so rather than contorting any which way the ABC asks....)

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  6. jim strader....you do notice that the "younger brother" repented....and VGR+TEC have not, have they?

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  7. Nom de Plume18/2/08 9:01 AM

    It seems to me that Bishop Brent's comments as quoted provide an excellent argument against the provision of alternative episcopal oversight. The source of this practice is the ecclesiological innovation of "Flying Bishops" introduced by the CofE. It seems to me that the introduction of this innovation was done without adequate consultation with the other Provinces of the Communion, nor with proper exploration of the ecclesiological consequences, which are to institutionalize schism and fatally to undermine the catholicity of the Church. All such schemes should be rescinded immediately.

    Yes, all bishops with proper jurisdiction should be at Lambeth. Those who refuse to come are repudiating and undermining the catholicity of the Church just as surely as those who refuse the ministry of their "tainted" bishop and make demands for an alternative. They are not acting like the guardians of unity that they are ordained to be.

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  8. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't the biblical injunction to refrain from communion directed at those who have sinned and might receive it "unworthily"? It seems like refusing to receive communion alongside others because of a sin or deficiency that one has perceived in them makes little sense and has zero biblical basis. The host (i.e., in this case the ABC) can invite or withhold invitations from whom he will. Given that trying to thread the needle hasn't worked, I agree that inviting +VGR and all other "bishops with jurisdiction" makes sense.

    P.S. It is a little disquieting to me that we have posters who are not readily identified (anonymous, nom de plume, and even obadiahslope). If you are not willing be identified, perhaps it would be wise to think twice about posting!

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  9. Tom Sramek.... bible reading 101, you have to read the bible in the context of the bible.

    Yes, people ought to examine themselves at communion.

    BUT...I trust you are also familiar with the many verses about who is fit to be a leader...and that some people are not fit.....and the bible does not say, " Hey, accept all as long as they are sincere"

    Have a read -
    http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=1+Corinthians+5%3A11

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