Why the Lambeth agenda is just right

Stephen Bates has written a great précis of the Anglican Communion’s present difficulties. Bates has also got the dynamics of Anglican meetings, money, and men (yes, the trouble-makers are all men) just right:

Thus, gatherings of Anglican leaders have become highly politicised events. What were once opportunities for prayer, reflection and an opportunity to meet, have become international gatherings reported by media and surrounded by lobbyists. Third world bishops are given mobile phones so conservatives can keep track of them, even if they are sequestered in private, and leaders such as Peter Akinola, the primate of Nigeria, slip out for regular consultations. In the February 2007 primates’ meeting in Tanzania, such furtive meetings could not be hidden and the archbishop, inconspicuous in full tribal costume, could regularly be seen to be making his way to an upper room to take advice from the conservative lobbyists gathered there. One senior Anglican engaged in the primates’ talks said that it was noticeable how much firmer and less willing to compromise the archbishop always was on his return. Two of those he was consulting: Martyn Minns, evangelical, British-born rector of one of the breakaway churches in Virginia, and David Anderson of the American Anglican Council, have become bishops in the African church. When the rest of the world’s archbishops gathered in Zanzibar for Sunday eucharist in the cathedral, built on the old slave market, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, Akinola and his contacts stayed away.

Such an insurgency could not have been achieved without money and there is some evidence that the American conservative factions and, through them, the Africans, have been supported financially by wealthy American conservatives, who have also supported other campaigns against what they see as the wicked forces of liberalism. The amount of international travel the conservative lobbyists and their primatial contacts are able to undertake is quite considerable: Akinola seems to pop up almost as regularly in America as Abuja. British conservative organisations, such as Anglican Mainstream receive American money and the Rev. Anderson of the AAC was formerly the vicar of Howard Ahmanson, the Californian Real Estate heir, and his wife Roberta, who have funded a number of fundamentalist causes and organised courses for conservatives.

This is why Archbishop Rowan’s strategy is about right. Two weeks of secluded conversation, with no “TV moments” means that the bishops can focus on their work of reconciliation and study. It means that the Akinolites won’t have much hope of making petulant demands to alter legislation. Instead, it will all about be about prayer, conversation, conversion, and mission. Media types will be frustrated, and that’s OK. I’d rather have no coverage than the daily “how-soon-will-the-Communion-divide” articles we saw in Dar es Salaam at the 2007 Primates Meeting.

Thanks, Rowan and the Anglican Communion Office, for giving us a chance of unity. The vast majority of Anglican bishops will be at Lambeth. And the vast majority of the time can be spent doing the work of the Gospel. There’s at least the hope that the cycle Stephen Bates has accurately identified could end.

Bates’s piece originally appeared in the LGCM Anglican Matters newsletter (PDF). The photo, taken by yours truly, shows Archbishop Peter Akinola stomping through the press area on one of his visits to the conservative “war room” in Dar es Salaam.

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