February 22, 2007

Lambeth 1998 1.10

I have been feeling guilty for not having written more analysis of the communiqué that emerged from the primates’ meeting in Tanzania earlier this week. I have been reading gratefully analyses by others (e.g., Father Jake, Inclusive Church, Integrity, and Mark Harris), and particularly by some of our bishops (e.g., Mark Sisk, James Jelinek, and Marc Andrus). I feel completely overwhelmed by the list of blogs, press releases, and newspaper stories I want to read in the wake of the meeting of the primates.

I have, of course, read the communiqué and the report from the Covenant Design Group that was issued in the course of the meeting. It is fair to say that I am not happy with any of it, although I must admit, reluctantly, that it all could have been worse. (Of course, there are few times in life where we cannot make that statement!) We have, I think, reached a point where the response of The Episcopal Church will determine its trajectory and that of the Anglican Communion for decades, perhaps forever. Tempting as it is to do so at such a time, I have decided not simply to shoot from the hip. I need to reflect more on what has been demanded of us and on what is possible before saying much more.

I did participate in the writing of the 2/20/2007 press release for Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, which some may find especially restrained. PEP and I are in the special position of being in a diocese that the primates are trying to “help,” although my parish and many others in the Diocese of Pittsburgh are looking only for help in escaping the misguided diocesan leadership we endure here.

My detailed analysis of the work done in Tanzania will have to wait, though it will be forthcoming eventually. For now, I will content myself with making some small observations on which I can later elaborate.

How could the Tanzania meeting have turned out as it did? Why is The Episcopal Church being scolded and disciplined like a disobedient puppy? One major reason is the elevation of a particular Lambeth Conference resolution to a status just above the Windsor Report and just below Scripture itself. Lambeth 1998 1.10 (or I.10, as originally rendered), “Human Sexuality,” with its infamous, if somewhat ambiguous, declaration of “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture,” has become, in the communiqué and elsewhere, the “standard of teaching” of the Anglican Communion. “Resolution 1.10” occurs five times in the communiqué, and “standard of teaching” occurs six times!

Lambeth Conference resolutions have always been accorded serious consideration, of course, but the Conference has never been granted the power to enact canons for the Anglican provinces, nor have the primates been granted the power to enforce them, particularly in the obtrusive manner we see in the “Schedule” appended to the communiqué. I suspect that most of the bishops who voted for Lambeth 1998 1.10 did not believe that they were passing an inviolable “law” for all the provinces, although I do suspect that the American Anglican Council and its allies who lobbied for the resolution anticipated its use as a big stick in the future against The Episcopal Church.

There are many reasons why the Lambeth Conference is not a good legislative body for the Communion, even if one believes that such a body might be desirable. Most significantly, however, the gathering—it used to be referred to dismissively as a “tea party”—is attended only by bishops, and therefore lacks the perspective of priests, deacons, and, especially, laypeople. Although many in the communion would argue that teaching is a unique duty of bishops, this is clearly not the view in The Episcopal Church, in which bishops are selected more for their pastoral and administrative gifts than for their theological or scholarly ones, and all orders of ministers participate in making major, church-wide decisions.

Lambeth has a checkered record of legislative wisdom—of consistency, anyway—as can be seen in its pronouncements over the years on birth control or the ordination of women. Not only are the primates arrogating the power to enforce Lambeth resolutions, but, in the communiqué, they articulate the notion that “a change in the formal teaching of any one Province would indicate a departure from the standard upheld by the Communion as a whole” (¶11), hardly a idea supportive of the notion of Anglican diversity. There are many problems with such a statement, not the least of which is the matter of what constitutes a “formal teaching” of The Episcopal Church, which, frankly, is a fuzzy concept in a non-confessional church. Moreover, the position of the primates seems to be that no one can be right unless we’re all right; it’s fine to be wrong, as long as we’re all wrong together. (An aside: Did you know that the word “arrogate” is related to the word “arrogant”? Even without investigating etymology, one should be able to see the connection.)

The notion that Lambeth 1998 1.10 is some kind of official “teaching” or manditory canon of the Communion has been especially pernicious, particularly when combined with the concept that the Anglican primates have powers over the Anglican provinces beyond anything officially granted to them, simply because these princes of the church have assumed them. (Americans used to call this “tyranny,” but, in recent days, we seem to have gotten used to it.) Whatever the response of The Episcopal Church is to be to the demands emanating from the Tanzania meeting, the church should dispute aggressively the whole notion that Lambeth resolutions are, in any sense, mandatory.

Actually, Lambeth 1998 1.10 goes no further than saying that the Conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.” The phrase “cannot advise,” however one imagines the Anglican Communion should operate, hardly seems an adequate mandate to threaten The Episcopal Church with expulsion and destruction of its autonomy for having declared, for example, “[t]hat we recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.” Not even the General Convention has actually “advised” the blessing of same-sex unions.

Just as aggressively, we should dispute the proposition that the primates have any substantive power over The Episcopal Church or any other Anglican province. Perhaps, given their arrogant behavior, we should dispute that they have any moral authority, either.

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