The 2008 Lambeth Conference, we have been told over and over again, was not designed to be a legislative or decision making body. Rather it was meant to be a reflective and engaging time for the bishops who gathered and for the church as a whole. That means, however, that the meat grinder that was at work from Lambeth 1998 and the Kuala Lumpur South to South meeting the previous year (1997) has continued to turn out supposedly "orthodox" sausage and is working to do so now.
The Windsor Report, touted as the new icon for the fix that was on in the Anglican Communion, has been widely rebuffed from the left and the right and yet now is reintroduced, moratoria intact, as the core of a fix for the future of the Communion. The Anglican Covenant, which for a short time seemed to be moving away from becoming a litmus test for Anglican identity, is now firmly back on track as the way by which Churches can self select in or out of formal full engagement with the Anglican Communion.
Ten years ago there was wringing of hands about the unwarranted criticism of Africans'
theological sophistication by some thinkers in the West. Just weeks ago there was the opportunity to pounce on an American bishop, a woman, who had the audacity to suggest that cultural standards that condone beating of women are pervasive and might also be present in the church. She too was viewed as insensitive and just a bit piggy. The bishop in question, Bishop Roskam of New York, has since taken the media and the bishops to task on how her words were mistaken, misquoted or misused. But meanwhile she is viewed has having bashed third world bishops and it recalls the last Conference.
In the midst of the fracas that ensued there was an interesting comment by Archbishop John Sentamu of York. Bishop Sentamu, you may remember pledged not to wear a clerical collar until President Mugabe was bounced. He also camped out in York Minster and parachuted from an airplane. By the way, he was wearing a collar on several occasions at Lambeth. Mugabe is still messing with peoples minds and bodies in Zimbabwe. Well, here is what he is reported to have said,
"As far as Africa is concerned, she needs to be wary of the damage that has been done by [Bishop] Spong and his twelve theses."
Ruth Gledhill, reporting for the London Times noted, "The retired Bishop Spong declared in his theses that Christianity must change or die, and that every central Christian doctrine, including theism, Christ's divinity, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, was impossible and must beforced to apologise at the last Lambeth Conference after implying that African religion was based on superstition." redefined. He was also
So, the Archbishop of York resurrected at the 2008 Lambeth Conference one of the primary theological concerns that was on the minds of bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. It was not about homosexuality, although the punch line of Bishop Spong's 12 theses was indeed about inclusion. It was about whether or not the American Episcopal Church was going to discipline Bishop Spong for the heretic he clearly was and, if not, who would.
The long trajectory of those days still gives us the dual targets: theological heterodoxy and lack of biblical values based on "the plain reading of Scripture."
Either way gay and lesbian people are screwed, but with them a huge number of the rest of those of us who are part of Anglican Churches. The targets are NOT gay and lesbian people alone, the targets are all of us when we believe that we can be faithful followers of Christ Jesus and still question biblically literal statements or worse yet consider them inadequate as statements of fact while considering them holy as statements that point to faith.
Lambeth 2008 did nothing to address these matters. These are still driven by the mechanics of the legislative work of Lambeth 1998 and the committee work of the "Instruments of Unity." More importantly the Archbishop of Canterbury has reaffirmed the basic work of those instruments and the legislative decisions of Lambeth 1998 as the moral stance of the Communion. So here we are in 2008 with no movement beyond the administration of the "mind of the Communion" as determined by Lambeth 1998 by way of the various committees and commissions authorized by the Archbishop and sometimes the Primates. Most of which, of course, is paid for by western monies.Well, who the hell cares? The realignment crowd thinks the Archbishop of Canterbury is a loser and the instruments of unity a joke. The progressive are given to shaking off all "interdependence" talk as a bit of conservative double speak whose purpose is to delay and delay until gay and lesbian people, and anyone else who things there might be some change in the way Scripture is handled just leave.
The trouble is, I care. And indeed I think many of us do.
No one "got rid" of Bishop Spong. He retired and went about with his writing. His most recent book (I think it is the most recent) is Jesus for the Non Religious. I'm about half way through it. I don't particularly like it, but Bishop Spong is doing two things that are very important: (i) he is putting something in the hands of non-believers that tries to make sense of being a follower of Jesus without accepting the "religious structure" that accompanies the telling of the Good News, (ii) he is asking again and again why it is that damn near everyone who has done serious theological work understands (for example) that the stories of the birth of Jesus are not factual but rather emblematic - told for purposes that are true even if the stories are more a fantasy. Why isn't biblical criticism taken seriously by so many Anglicans?
Now those who like Archbishop Sendamu remember the twelve theses of Bishop Spong remember them as outrageous, and as the basis for hauling him into ecclesiastical court and having his tongue cut out or whatever would shut him up. At least, it was argued, he ought to be deposed so that such naught thoughts would not be thought to be in any way related to regular paid up Anglican thinking.
But of course such thoughts are part of the thinking of almost anyone who does theological study in the twentieth or twenty first century. If there is anything wrong with Spong it is that he is fascinated with fundamentalism in his tirades against it. Many of us have simply taken the best of modern scholarship and tried to exercise some care in our telling of the Christimas message so that we don't mix up the celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation with the gobbly-gook story of Christmas. But at the core Spong's demands are that we try to live with the results of that scholarship and stop repeating the same old myths as if they were what the Truth was about.
But Lambeth's trajectory simply makes Spong's twelve theses the continued enemy, and Bishop Roskam's remarks on violence a new edition.
We need to be clear that the trajectory of Lambeth is to consider a way by which Bishop Spong could be shut up, if not in fact at least by rejection and anathema. And, if the going gets rough and the suggestion is made that treatment of women is excused at times because, after all, it is part of the culture, the person making such a radical and bitter comment, namely a woman bishop from the first world, could be shut up as well by saying, "see, she is just like Bishop Spong and his twelve theses."
Strike one for the Lambeth trajectory.
Then let us consider my mother. She is ninety years old and is dying. She knows it, we know it, there it is. She is doing it well and with grace. As an artist Anne has done a series of computer drawing collected as "Post Mortem Anne: A Fantasy." You can see the pictures HERE.
So far so good. It turns out that Anne has continued her fantasy, having lived, thank God, for a while longer. In one of her recent drawings she and Ed (her husband, our father) and Jesus are all in front of God, who is a woman who has her arms around all of them. You can tell Jesus because he has a halo. But Ed, Anne, and Jesus are naked and all before God. It turns out in the fantasy that Jesus brought Ed and Anne to God.
Now there is a name for that fantasy. It is a heresy, some form of Arianism I suppose. Jesus is not God, Jesus is different from Ed and Anne, but they are all before God, and God is welcoming.
If Anne were as important a figure in the Anglican world as she is in mine, the current Lambeth trajectory would have her shut up just as it would have Bishop Spong shut up. Heresy is heresy. But of course bishops get to be bigger targets for the arrows of Lambeth than my mother and after all who wants to pick on a woman who is dying and will have to face up to whatever wacko ideas she has sooner rather than later. Besides, she has only poisoned a few poor slobs, me for example. She is not worth the effort.
But of course you have to watch out about artists. Their work lives on and with it their message. Anne's message was given to her by her priest of many years ago. A Mister Cornish, who came to give her confirmation instruction, told her that Jesus is our guide to God. So it stuck. There it is. Anglicanism is rife with such little heresy. But the Lambeth tide is against such rubbish.
Still Anne's family and friends will remember.
Strike two for the Lambeth trajectory.
And then there is me. I write poetry. I am absolutely dead certain that if the Lambeth trajectory goes forward from Lambeth 1998 and Kuala Lampur and say the fundamentalist Niagara Creed of 1878 and the 1910 statement of the five fundamentals which are:
- Inerrancy of the Scriptures
- The virgin birth and the deity of Jesus (Isaiah 7:14)
- The doctrine of substitutionary atonement by God's grace and through human faith (Hebrews 9)
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28)
- The authenticity of Christ's miracles (or, alternatively, his pre-millennial second coming)
I suggest in one poem, The Fruit of the Vine, that God could not know the delights of life unless God became one of us. That is, part of the reason for the incarnation is so that God might understand us in our delights and sorrows. I wrote about the apostles that
" they knew the taste of cheese and fruit,
of bread and wine,
were all enhanced by the deliciousness
They knew that laying head on breast,
and washing feet,
and smiling at Mary's ankles
as she brought more wine,
and looking into young John's eyes
dark as olives,
deep as pools of water,
was as good as it gets,
particularly when the hangman was near by....
But God, who knows no moments
just as moments
must have been surprised
to find that this last supper
was so poignant,
so, let us say, in fleshed."
Few in Anglican land care much what my mother and I think. After all we are not bishops. They may think badly of me as a priest. They will let my mother go.
But we need to be clear: the trouble with the Anglican trajectory is that the target for its disciplinary arrows are all of us who thought that Anglican spirituality and practice had a place for us and that we were broadly speaking included in the fellowship of the church.
Strike three for the Lambeth trajectory.
Lambeth did not invite Bishop Robinson and in doing so they did not invite Bishop Spong, my mother and me. Perhaps they did not invite you. When the analysis of Lambeth 2008 is given it will, I hope, be noted that Lambeth's big tent was never big enough to protect the queer, the old and the poetic.
That is why what Lambeth does matters, even if it does little.