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Analysis: The winners and losers from the Lambeth Conference: CEN 8.22.08 p 7. August 21, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Lambeth 2008.

The 14th Lambeth Conference was a triumph for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, in light of the criteria set forward for success by its organizers, but did not prevent the collapse of the Anglican Communion.

“The miracle hasn’t happened,” Presiding Bishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone said on Aug 2. “It was a good try,” he observed, but Lambeth had not worked, leaving division as the most likely option. “We have gotten this far without formally announcing our division, but we haven’t announced it,” he told the German Catholic New Agency.

“The division is over what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a church,” Bishop Venables said, and the conference did not bridge the gap.

For traditionalists, Lambeth 2008 let down the communion, leaving it millions in debt and with left and right further entrenched in their positions. The call for dialogue was not heeded, and the pleas for restraint on gay bishops and blessings, as well as cross-border episcopal incursions, were rejected out of hand before the close of the conference.

On its own terms, Lambeth 2008 was an institutional success. The oft foretold schism of the Anglican Communion did not appear to take place between July 16 and Aug 3 on the campus of the University of Kent in Canterbury, and the bishops were seen to be expressing mild statements of concern on global warming, poverty, disease, hunger, domestic violence and other generally bad things—while also affirming, in a non-controversial or provocative way, generally good things: peace, the brotherhood of mankind, and church unity.

The format of small group sessions were generally lauded in as much as bishops from across the communion were able to gather in small groups of eight to share experiences and make friends. Dr. Williams’ retreat lectures were universally praised, though at times not clearly comprehended, and the topics of several plenary sessions were of professional interest to a large number of bishops.

US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori exercised a strong whip hand over her bishops, rebuffing attempts by the progressive faction to bring up the issue of Bishop Gene Robinson’s exclusion, and avoiding any outright breach with Dr. Williams. Most American bishops kept to the script given them before the conference by a communications consulting firm, and during their daily briefings chanted the mantra of “unity” in “diversity.”

While the bishops at Lambeth knew Gene Robinson was in their midst, actually seeing him was a bit of a coup as the New Hampshire bishop was confined to a far corner of the campus and his public outings inconveniently scheduled.

By couching the single conference statement as a “reflection,” Lambeth 2008 found a way to avoid any one group or constituency amongst the bishops coming out the loser, with their views cast as the minority position. By asking the bishops whether they could hear their own voice amongst the chorus in the reflections document, the Lambeth Conference assured like the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland that “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”

No ecclesial missiles were fired, the Americans behaved, Gene Robinson was muted, and the more embarrassing bishops were far away—no impromptu exorcisms of gay activists as happened at the 98 conference before the cameras of the BBC this time.

For Dr. Williams, then, the conference was a success and his plan of staving off a confrontation until the completion of the Anglican Covenant, which would shift the onus of deciding whether one was “in or out” away from Canterbury onto the provinces, a sound one.

However, few of the bishops questioned by The Church of England Newspaper over the course of the conference and in the week after, saw themselves or the communion as “winners.” Liberals were aggrieved by Dr. Williams’ turn against them on the closing day, when he called for a moratorium on gay bishops and blessings—and singled out the Episcopal Church for opprobrium as the chief troublemaker in the communion.

Conservatives entered the conference discouraged by the absence of over 60 percent of the African diocesan bishops, and left frustrated that nothing substantive was accomplished. Fears Dr. Williams was “not on side” were not assuaged by his conservative-sounding closing presidential address on Aug 3, as a steady onslaught of progressive Bible studies, politically correct plenary sessions, and in the words of one American conservative bishop–“asinine” Indaba groups was a source of frustration and impatience.

The central failure of the conference, however, flowed from the decision not to confront the issues dividing the communion. During the 2003 primates meeting, Archbishop Peter Akinola and a small group of primates were persuaded by Dr. Williams to attend communion services with US Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, even though their scruples forbad them from doing so.

Over the succeeding five years, the inability of Anglican bishops to worship round a common altar has not been addressed, and even with a boycott of over 200 bishops the opening eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral saw three primates and a number of bishops refrain from receiving communion due to their theological difficulties with the American church. These positions were not softened during the three weeks at Lambeth, but hardened with some bishops convinced that dialogue in the terms proposed by Dr. Williams was now fruitless.

Up until now, the Anglican Communion has held together “by appealing to diversity,” Bishop Venables said.

However, he asked “Can we sacrifice what we believe for unity? I don’t think we can make that decision on the spur of the moment. It is unfair to ask people to sacrifice their convictions for the sake of a unity that is by no means certain.”

The attempts at conversation had not worked. “I hoped we would be able to talk about very serious things, we tried to but were unable to,” he said. The small group process helped “but there wasn’t enough trust. The level of conflict, fear, mistrust, frustration hasn’t allowed it.”

The problem of authority within Anglicanism was not being addressed, he argued. “Anglicanism has always said we were not a vertical church, but now it would help to have a council of cardinals to help us.”

“You have authority in the local church, authority in the diocese, authority in the province, why not have it in the whole church?” he asked. However, there are “no ground rules to define the Anglican Church. No ground rules outside the province. Now we have no way of avoiding the division,” Bishop Venables said.

“We talk but nothing is decided. People are frustrated,” and Lambeth 2008 did not address these needs, Bishop Venables said.


1. Anglican Mainstream » Blog Archive » https://geoconger.wordpress.com/ - August 22, 2008

[…] Read HERE. […]

2. Robert L. Burns - August 22, 2008

So it is. “We talk but nothing is decided.” And so it has been. Perhaps ABC really believes that he is maintaining unity, but he is wrong. He does not lead, and his position should be one of a leader. But the responsibility for the cancer in the worldwide communion is with us all. Even the orthodox, of which I am one, are to blame as we have gone for decades allowing the readical liberals their way to the point that the PB of ECUSA cannot recite the Creed and mean more than small bits of it if she were honest (and if pressed to it, ABC may be only slightly more Anglican, minimally Christian as most of us define it).

So now again we are told to wait–to be patient–to discuss–to tolerate–thereby to preserve a unity that has not existed for most of my adult life. Like so much of society, the Anglican Communion has tossed aside what used to be the exceptional education of our clergy, has diluted both written and performed litergy claiming to open the doors to a public that doesn’t really care and so shutting those doors to those who do care, and has rushed to be a model for a relativism that is a scandal to its history.

Too many of us have just trailed along, perhaps refusing to support a feckless (or worse) bishop here or there, but not seriously standing for what we believe. So parishes, at best, become social service agencies or community activity centers for the very young or the very old, perhaps of use to those needing babysitting services during the day or nutrition on the weekends. But they have failed as centers of Christian Faith because they have failed to require it.

In earlier times the pamphlet racks at the doors of our churches held little blue covered booklets titled “What Is An Episcopalian?” I don’t see them any more, but it is just as well. We no longer have anything important to write in them, even if there were people interested in the question.

3. James - August 22, 2008

Billions of Christians around the world actually believe what the Bible says – that sex is meant for life-long marriage between man and woman, and for bringing new human life into this world.

Telling our children that depraved and filthy acts like homorectal sodomy amongst men are good and Godly is simply evil.

The Anglican Communion will tear, as one part of it has drenched itself in evil.

Billions of Christians can see and understand that, and will simply not be part of it.

4. The winners and losers from the Lambeth Conference « A Blogspotting Anglican Episcopalian - August 22, 2008

[…] Read: Analysis: The winners and losers from the Lambeth Conference: CEN 8.22.08 p 7. « Conger […]

5. Leonardo Ricardo, San Juan, Puerto Rico - August 22, 2008

LGBT Millions of Christians out of the “billions” use common sense, refuse to steal from fellow Christians and quietly understand that like SLAVERY, intepretations of the Bible change…we’re not going anywhere…got it, we will stand on the ground of our own integrity…try it, it’s hard but being responsible/accountable is achieveable if you follow Christ and let your fear/hate drop away.

6. Joy - August 22, 2008

The true Church is defined by spiritual unity, not institutional unity.

7. Elizabeth - August 23, 2008

You wrote: “US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori exercised a strong whip hand over her bishops, rebuffing attempts by the progressive faction to bring up the issue of Bishop Gene Robinson’s exclusion, and avoiding any outright breach with Dr. Williams. Most American bishops kept to the script given them before the conference by a communications consulting firm, and during their daily briefings chanted the mantra of “unity” in “diversity.””

C’mon George! “A strong whip hand over her bishops”?????

Could you be more revealing in the use of this stereotype of a woman in authority and power? This says much more about your prejudices than it says about the reality of the leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori.

Bishop Katharine is quoted as having said to Bishop Gene: “Your job is not to make my job easy.”

Now, that’s the leadership style of the Presiding Bishop I know – and I know YOU know.

And, if all you’ve got is an old, angry prelate to comment on “the winners and losers of Lambeth,” well, let’s face it – you’re enough of a professional religious journalist to know that you haven’t got much of a story at all. It’s really embarrassing to see you stoop to the level of Mr. Virtue’s understanding of professional religious journalism.

How pathetic. I expect much more of you, Mr. Conger. Give us some real analysis – even at the risk of disagreement from the Progressive constituency of the the Church. You are certainly up to the task.

But this? This is not worthy of your innate intelligence, obvious educational background, and analytical ability.

Even your adversaries expect more of you – a worthy opponent.

8. geoconger - August 23, 2008

I am unsure what you understand “whip hand” to mean. Your subsequent comments indicate you may not have divined the meaning of the phrase as I have used it. “Whip hand” is an idiomatic phrase that means the same as “upper hand” or the controlling or dominant position in a setting. I selected “whip hand” as it combined both the sense of “upper hand” as well as exercising a “party line whip”, meaning the Presiding Bishop kept the American bishops in line—against their personal or private inclinations.

“Whip hand,” meaning the right hand—the left hand being the “bridle hand” originated as a riding or coaching term. Over time it assumed its current meaning of “upper” hand.

The connotation that you appear to be reading into the phrase is foreign to its meaning, both in the context of the quotation and in the history of English literature.

We can see this in Samuel Johnson’s commentary on Coriolanus …. In explaining the phrase “Wert though the Hector, That was the whip of your bragg’d progeny”, Johnson writes, “The Romans boasted themselves descended of the Trojans. How then was Hector the whip of their progeny? It must mean the whip with which the Trojans scoured the Greeks, which cannot but be a very unusual expression, or the author must have forgotten the original of the Romans; unless whip has some meaning which includes advantage or superiority, as we say he has the whip hand, for he has the advantage.”

If Samuel Johnson doesn’t work for you, try Trotsky. In describing the relationship of the Tsarina to the Tsar in 1916 Leon Davidovich wrote, “And it was in just this way that she always had the whip hand over the continually vacillating tsar.” (History of the Russian Revolution, Vol 1, Chap 2).

Two books I have read recently, where I remember the phrase. Perhaps it is used in the stereotypical phrase you understand it to be, but my reading hasn’t come across this negative meaning.

I am not persuaded that my analysis of the situation is in error, either.

George Conger

9. Elizabeth - August 23, 2008

Okay, I’ll reluctantly give you “whip hand” but raise the question as to why I’ve never heard this term applied to Akinola or Duncan or Iker or any of the other “whip hands” of their movement.

It’s not your analysis that’s in error, George, just in question.

10. Analysis of Lambeth ‘08 « Father Hosea’s Concerns - August 26, 2008

[…] 2008 — dpc+ A great analysis of the Lambeth conference by Canon George Conger may be found here. I am impressed with how even handed he is and how faithfully (wasn’t there, but I’ve […]

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