Hope at the Lambeth Conference

I am very hopeful about the outcome of this Lambeth Conference. While some people would view “success” as either the expulsion of ECUSA from the Communion or the endorsement of ECUSA’s practices related to human sexuality, I think those are the wrong markers. Archbishop Rowan Williams got it right when he spoke Wednesday evening as bishops and spouses were welcomed. He said that reconciliation of the Communion might not be possible now, but that it is possible to make space for healing to take place. (That’s my paraphrase; he was much more eloquent.)

My sense has long been that the vast majority of Anglicans simply want to be the church. They do not want to engage in theological debates. They do not expect to agree with every other Anglican. They are willing to converse on important subjects. The present “crisis” is driven primarily by a few anxious clergy, I think.

Here at the Lambeth Conference, there is a growing sense that in Jesus Christ there is a truth much deeper than whatever threatens to divide is. There is a sense that if we all gaze together at the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we will find ourselves walking together — even as we work through painful disagreements.

It is rare for the English to be direct. Americans are good (often too good) at diving right into the center of disagreement. English people are often too keen to be circumspect. I was grateful today for Archbishop Rowan’s Presidential Address to the bishops. I give you a few quotes:

Quite a few people have said that the new ways we’re suggesting of doing our business are an attempt to avoid tough decisions and have the effect of replacing substance with process. To such people, I’d simply say, ‘How effective have the old methods really been?’

And this:

First, as you have heard, they recognised, with the help of those members who came from outside Europe and North America, that the methods we had got used to were very much tied to Western ways — and not only Western ways, but the habits that developed in the later twentieth century, with tight procedural rules, great quantities of paper, close timetables and yes-or-no decisions. All these still have their attractions, but, as I’ve said, it isn’t clear that they actually help things happen any more effectively when you’re dealing with a large and very varied group. What’s more, this sort of method guaranteed that the voices most often heard would be the voices of people who were comfortable with this way of doing things; but what would it take to guarantee that everyone’s voice has a chance of being heard?

Finally, this:

Remember that learning is just that — not necessarily agreeing, but making sure that you have done all that is humanly possible in order to understand. If you have not had the chance to hear directly of the experience of gay and lesbian people in the Communion, the opportunity is there. If you do not grasp why many traditionalist believers in various provinces feel harassed and marginalised, go and listen. If you need some time and space to think through the Covenant proposals outside the opportunities in the main timetable, including hearing strong arguments for and against, the doors are open. No-one’s interests are best served by avoiding the hard encounters and the fresh insights.

The address was brilliant. Just before Rowan began, he said off-handedly, in a self-deprecating way, “You have heard a lot from me these last few days.” I think he was expecting a laugh. Instead he received a warm standing ovation from the bishops. Curious, I looked for bishops who might be applauding. Every bishop I could see was joining in the plaudits for Rowan’s leadership and wisdom these last few days. This is a very good way to begin the Conference.

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