Practicing what we preach at Lambeth

Rowan Williams addressing General SynodNext summer, lots of Anglican bishops will converge on Canterbury for the confusingly-named Lambeth Conference. Of course, a few bishops will absent themselves, believing that that reconciliation can only happen if people don’t talk with one another. Go figure.

In his address to General Synod, Archbishop Rowan Williams said this:

Some critics have complained that Lambeth is too focused on prayer and reflection and not enough on decision-making; but I am bound to say that I regard this as an extraordinary thing to say about any Christian gathering – as if we could make any decision worthy of the gospel without the utmost attention to listening together to God. I partly understand that some feel there may be an attempt to appeal to the need for prayer and reflection as an alibi for not grasping the nettles; but I would gently but firmly say that it is also possible to use a rhetoric about needing decisive action as an alibi for waiting on God. I simply pray that we’ll get the balance as right as we can.

Yes, that’s right. People have complained that there’s too much conversation and prayer, and not enough parliamentary-style debate. And these are our bishops. I’m glad Rowan is calling like he sees it — to say that anything other than prayer and conversation is our path to reconciliation is, well, an alibi. The schismatics want a punitive legislative meeting, and nothing less will satisfy them. Others — fortunately — believe that reconciliation and grace are real concepts, and the Lambeth planners are seeking to leave room (and silence, one hopes) for the still, small voice of God.

Rowan goes on:

I respect the consciences of those who have said they do not feel able to attend because there will be those present who have in their view acted against the disciplinary and doctrinal consensus of the communion. Needless to say, I regret such a decision, since I believe we should be seeking God’s mind for the Communion in prayer and study together; but it simply reminds us that even the most ‘successful’ Lambeth Conference leaves us with work still to be done in rebuilding relationships.

Again, I find it hard to fathom how anyone could believe that staying away from Lambeth is the path to reconciliation of what ails our Communion. Americans desperately need to hear the spirit-filled testimony of their African counterparts — and the pain which American actions have caused. Africans, on the other hand, could benefit from learning that Americans are not all reckless heretics hellbent on ruining traditional patterns of family life in Africa.

It’s time someone went a bit further in describing this behavior than Rowan. The refusal to sit down and talk with those with whom one disagrees is nothing less than petulant, self-absorbed behavior. The desire to talk with those who differ from us — and to be prepared to admit that we could be wrong — is…Christian.

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