The Archbishop as Vintner, Judge and Host.

After a good bit of reflection on the matter of the Archbishop's decisions about who to invite and who not to invite to Lambeth, announced Tuesday, May 22nd, and after listening to first reactions (and writing one my own) this is what I believe has occurred:

One image (using purple grapes): Like any good vintner, the Archbishop is choosing the grapes for the harvest. In doing so he is primarily interested in the taste of the wine. He is also interested in volume, so he would like to include all the grapes, but he knows better than to be indiscriminate. So he chooses.

Another image: The Archbishop is mirroring Solomon, who is reported to have been a great judge. (1 Kings 3:20-28) By not inviting some to attend he is attempting a Solomon-like judgment, now waiting to see whose objection will continue even if it leads to the division of the baby. Which party (supporters of the uninvited) will walk away and leave Lambeth?

Neither image works all that well. Still, it is somewhere in there: the work of making wine or making judgments.

For a long time now a number of us have been hoping that:

  1. The Archbishop of Canterbury would make it clear that he invites who he wills to Lambeth, and that it is his wish to invite every bishop with a legitimate cure in the Anglican Communion.
  2. The Archbishop would make it clear that Lambeth still is not a Synod and invitation says nothing about the moral or theological state of those invited.
  3. And that the Archbishop would state clearly that he can refuse to invite, or withdraw invitations as he wishes.

He did that, in part. Had he invited Bishop Robinson (who has a legitimate cure) and not Bishop Minns (who does not) that might have been more coherent, but actually if he had invited them both and let it shake out at Lambeth it might have been better for us all. As it is we will never know if the Nigerians and Global South folk would have stayed away because of the Bishop of New Hampshire. Now they can bemoan one of their own. Of course they can also object to the ABC inviting Bishop Robinson as a guest. But the deed is done: The Archbishop has proclaimed his privilege to invite who he wills, on whatever basis he wills, to his house. It is at least part of what we hoped would happen.

Why did we hope that? Because The Lambeth Conference, called these days an "instrument of communion or unity" is nothing of the sort. It is an occasion for the bishops of the Anglican Communion to spend time together. Communion or Unity is a product not of those three weeks once every ten years. Communion and unity is a product of genuine engagement with the lives and ministries of one another. That is, communion and unity are a product of missionary engagement, dare we say, a product of God's purpose and mission. The Lambeth Conference is an occasion primarily to reflect rather than to initiate. That is why it is also important to state that Lambeth is not a Synod. That is why it is an invitational gathering, not a gathering of those with legislative privilege or rights.

The Archbishop puts the conference in perspective when he states, "It (the Lambeth Conference) is an occasion when the Archbishop of Canterbury exercises his privilege of calling his colleagues together, not to legislate but to discover and define something more about our common identity through prayer, listening to God's Word and shared reflection. It is an occasion to rediscover the reality of the Church itself as a worldwide community united by the call and grace of Christ."

He gets to exercise the privilege as host to invite who he wills; it is an occasion to reflect on common life; it is an occasion to take stock of what we are called to be as church.

Some of us hoped the Archbishop would simply invite everyone with a legitimate cure. He has come close. If he had done so bishops could self select not to come to Lambeth and it would be on their heads.

As it is, the Archbishop of Canterbury has changed the dynamics considerably. Now bishops can (and many will) react not to the presence of someone they don't like, but the absence of someone they do like. It is unclear as to whether or not the Church of Nigeria bishops will come without one of their newest members, Bishop Minns. Perhaps the Global South will take the occasion to have another quite separate conference. So be it.

Bishop Minns, and the bishops of the Anglican Mission in America (Murphy, Barnum, Green, Johnson Jr.) have not been invited because their "appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion." These bishops are by appointment and action engaged in the serious division and scandal of egregious intervention in the life of a Province not their own. It is perhaps too much to hope for that their primates might be excluded as well for welcoming and in some cases actively encouraging such interventions. But not inviting Archbishops Akinola and Kolini might be too much to hope for. So, Bishop Minns is out and I think will not be invited at a later point.

It appears that several other bishops, notably Bishop Kunonga of Zimbabwe, might not be invited because of a manner of life that includes complicity in crimes in Zimbabwe. We hope that this list might also extend to the anti - bishop of Recife, who is held under the wing of the Province of the Southern Cone.

Andrew Plus (Gerns) does a fine job unfolding the whole matter of who is included in and out. Go there and read that. Elizabeth Kaeton gets it so right about the invitation to Bishop Robinson that even Stand Firm says so. She notes that being a guest in a meeting that does not take votes might not be much different than being a 'regular' member of the meeting. I don't know if I have anything to say on this matter, since it appears I have privileged status (barring of course being a bishop) thus making anything I might say on this have the feel of being somewhat academic. I will take my lead from Elizabeth, Susan, Louie, Bruce and others who will be guides on this. Of course her comment will befuddle many. But the point is well taken: provided guests have voice, maybe there will be occasions for others in purple to listen to gay and lesbian members of the purple gang even under these conditions.

(A side note to be skipped over if desired.) On one occasion I was subject to the "guest without vote" category. While on the Church Center staff in the late 1980's I was invited to join the advisory committee to the Stanway Institute at Trinity School for Ministry. I accepted and then was told I had to sign the TSM Covenant. I wrote back and said I believed my recitation of the Nicene Creed was a full and sufficient covenant affirmation and I would not sign an additional one. This, of course, presented a problem, solved when the director or the dean or somebody suggested that I could attend essentially as a guest with voice but no vote. This decision was relayed to me by phone with the comment, "things are done by consensus anyway, we don't take votes." So I was invited. That invitation died out, however, when it was realized that I was a theological burden and when I realized how uncomfortable I felt there. Unlike God's house, in which there are many rooms, most of them quite comfortable, TSM was not, after all, a house in which there was finally room for me. That was too bad, for I have some fond memories of the place, the only Seminary in the Episcopal Church built in a slum.

One of the problems with Bishop Robinson being a "guest" is that that means he is there by sufferance only. Of course all bishops invited are guests, but most of them will feel they are at home: "Me casa es su casa." But for Bishop Robinson, this is guest worker status. The welcome for him, whatever it looks like, will be less effusive than for ecumenical guests, less comfortable than for the other 800+ guests.

Bishop Robinson is not getting the full invitation from his host, I presume, because his "manner of life" has caused "exceptional division or scandal." I am very glad to hear that he is being invited on some level or another, but wonder exactly how branding him as someone with a scandalous or divisive manner of life is a prelude to anything except a highly uncomfortable dinner. Bishop Robinson's initial response to the lack of invitation was measured, polite and honest. His is a difficult vocation, a fact he knows. I find it amazing that he lives into this with considerable grace.

I hope Bishop Robinson takes up the offer to go, but if he does so he needs the overwhelming support of bishops from The Episcopal Church and worldwide. Support taking the form of a promise that they will in some way share his discomfort and his status as guest. I think it is important that he go and that all the other bishops go. Not to go is to relieve the realignment crowd from having to decide if to go or not themselves.

A suggestion: That all those bishops who feel that Bishop Robinson should be invited without reservation, as any other bishop, join with him in being guests on whatever level of reduced status that entails. If he can speak, they can. If he is enjoined to silence, they are too. If this means that there is a lot of silence around the sharing, prayer and reflection tables, so be it. If he is consigned to the press room and caf├ęs for conversation, so will they. Perhaps then the real Lambeth Conference will take place in the pubs and cafes and not in the reflective and non-legislative halls of the University where the conference is held.

Last observations (for the moment):

  1. CANA and AMiA bishops are not invited, meaning that their place in the Anglican Communion is more tenuous than they have previously claimed.
  2. If their bishops are not invited this reduces their claim to be legitimate agents of the Anglican Communion and therefore having claim on property and / or jurisdiction in the US.
  3. The Archbishop has directly informed us all that Lambeth is as it was intended, not a synod but an opportunity for reflection. This makes resolutions of Lambeth objects for reflection not items in a doctrinal set piece. This includes Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10.
  4. His letter of invitation speaks of "covenant proposals," allowing for the possibility that more than one will be on the table for discussion. This, combined with the reflective nature of the meeting, negates the suggestion of the Report of the Covenant Design Group which proposes that the discussion of a covenant take place with the assumption of a 'two track' approach, in which the Primates were asked "to recognise in the general substance of the preliminary draft set forth by the CDG a concise expression of what may be considered as authentic Anglicanism." The form and character of a covenant is not in any way locked in.


  1. Looking back at statements made over the past few years about Lambeth by Global South Primate, either as a group ("The Road to Lambeth") or as individuals (Akinola and Orombi), they may still find it hard to participate themselves, even without appropriate official recognition of Bishop Robinson. There will still be too many other "unacceptable" bishops there.

    Of course, we have a model from the Primates' Meetings: Bishop Robinson can be in the vicinity "on vacation." He could even have extensive conversations with participants, and influence written statements. That sort of thing happens all the time, doesn't it?

  2. if we are to take the archbishop's party as simply a private party to which, of course, some are invited and others are not (as with all private parties), then the absolutely inescapable conclusion is that he has proclaimed, to all and sundry, that his exclusion of +Robinson is precisely and only because Robinson is gay, and that gay people are simply not welcome at his table.

    in other words, if he said, "this is really a public affair, and so i can't allow Robinson in" then that would be craven complicity. he has chosen as an alternative, outright personal bigotry. surely that makes it worse, not better.

  3. If Bishop Robinson isn't given a full invitation, then going to Lambeth in any capacity will be an act of extreme cowardice by TEC.

    No matter how it's justified ("we're just going to stop akinola") it's still a sellout and everybody will know it.

    TEC will just become a variation of the old Churchill story:

    Rowan Williams: TEC, would you ditch Bishop Robinson if I gave the rest of you a full invitation and didn't invite Minns?
    TEC: It'll be difficult, but yes...
    Rowan Williams: Well would you ditch Bishop Robinson if I gave the rest of you a full invitation but also invited Minns and gave Akinola everything else he wants?
    TEC: What kind of church do you think we are?
    Rowan Williams: We've already established that; now we're just haggling about the price.

  4. I have always been interested in two biblical verbs: Christ either ROSE from the dead, or he was RAISED from the dead - and I've always meant to put in some study time on that unusual distinction.

    There is a parallel: Gene Robinson has DONE nothing to become a bishop; rather, he has been DONE TO by the NH Search Committee, the NH Diocesan Convention, and the General Convention of TEC and dozens of Consecrators. He is the innocent OBJECT, not the active SUBJECT. It is not his fault that he's a bishop....

    That is why this personal punishment and alienization of +Gene is so massively unjust. He has initiated nothing, but only responded when called by others - indeed, by the whole Church (at GC). If "punishment" is to be meted out, it should not be on Bishop Robinson.

    If progressive bishops go to Lambeth, it had better be under serious and heavy-weight protest, whatever form that might take. But protest they must, for the sake of our entire Episcopal Church.

    I like Mark's idea of Episcopal bishops staying in solidarity with +Gene in some way...

  5. You suggestion of other bishops going in a sign of solidarity is excellent. Pink triangles or not, such solidarity is what the church is about.

  6. It is fairly clear to me that a meeting to which straight people are invited, but gay people are not, is a long way from any sort of Christian idea. And this from an archbishop who speaks about "Christian friendship." (Cf. His address to the "global South" bishops in Egypt not long ago.

    It is equally clear that defining the meeting as an event that does not legislate flies in the face of the Nigerian expectation.

    And it is clear that that the REC, AMIA, gak) CANA, et al non-invitations clearly make any claim that the event is welcoming,and ecumenical (in the contemporary usage of the word) farscical.

    I think the American bishops should go, and take only their rose sunday vestments, refuse any invitation to meet the queen, and generally act up. Civil dissobeidiance is what unjust governments deserve.


  7. Who will walk the extra mile?

    Such is the question I think Rowan is presenting the Communion -and particularly its bishops, since we're talking about Lambeth and all- with.

    Akinola won't. Let us hope that TEC bishops will.

  8. Two points

    First, Lambeth Conference (and the ACC, and the Primates meeting) appear to be intended to foster voluntary unity by providing opportunities for people to talk to and better understand other people from very different parts of the world. It is probably worth noting that while such unity isn't legislatively imposed, it does take lots of hard work and may even require sacrifices to avoid immediately running into fights and misunderstandings.

    Second, it isn't clear to me where the archbishop's actions indicate the problem lies between Bishop Robinson and those who are scandalized by his way of life. It could be, as the conservatives claim, that the problem lies with him, paralleling the situation with Bishop Kunonga, or, on the other hand, it could lie with those who are scandalized, paralleling the situation of the weaker brethren Paul mentions in Romans. If it is the first it is clear why Bishop Robinson ought to not be invited. If it is the second, it still might be appropriate for Bishop Robinson to stay at one remove from the conference at least until the weaker brethren have finished doing the spiritual strength training they need to do. The Church isn't the Marines, after all, that it should always say "suck it up or get out." Somehow I don't think Archbishop Williams will let them put off that strength training any longer, thanks in part to TEC and Bishop Robinson.


  9. Let TEC's bishops ALL go, as they should, if this meeting is still to have any meaning at all as an opportunity for global, Anglican dialogue (at least among bishops).

    As some suggest very wisely, however, let no bishop from this province claim or exercise any privilege that Bishop Robinson is not also afforded. To do otherwise - to attend but not behave in full solidarity with another duly elected and consecrated bishop of this province treated differently just because he is gay, partnered and honest about it - would be unconscionable.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.