3 things you might have missed at #ACCLusaka

The 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council comes to a close in Lusaka, Zambia today. Many worthy topics have been discussed and there has been good coverage from a handful of Episcopal/Anglican news organizations. But it’s easy to let meetings like this slide by. I wasn’t there but here are a few things I noticed from afar that are worth highlighting.

You might have missed that the meeting happened at all. In stark contrast to the gathering in January of senior Anglican bishops, the ACC meeting has received almost no coverage in secular global press. It’s probably a safe bet that you won’t hear a report on the ACC on NPR or see it on the front page of the Guardian, as you could after the January meeting. No news editor will ever run the article, “Anglicans meet, read Bible, celebrate Eucharist, and discuss climate change, discipleship, and transitivity in Anglican-Lutheran agreements.” Plus, Lusaka is a lot harder for international media to get to than Canterbury.

This is a recurring problem in the Anglican Communion: our perceptions are formed by media coverage that is decidedly selective. Yet meetings such as the one in Lusaka have as a great a claim to represent the mind of the Communion as anything else does.

You might have missed the discussion of finances. In the past, there has been a curious divide in discussions about how the Anglican Communion Office is funded. On the one hand, conservative Anglicans claim it is funded by the Episcopal Church to spread its liberal influence around the world. But some Episcopalians say their church should not give any money so long as the Anglican Communion is unresolved on questions related to sexuality. This issue occasionally crops up at Episcopal General Conventions with proposals to cut back on the amount given to the ACO. Then there was the curious announcement a year or two back (with great fanfare) that the Episcopal church would give more—but still less than was being asked (there was less fanfare for that).

But in the middle of this, it’s never quite been clear just what the ACO is asking for from provinces. This year’s ACC had an open conversation about precisely this subject. It raised some good questions about reasonable expectations for contributions from churches. Above all, it raised the issue directly. That’s a good thing.

(Amidst all these debates in recent years, the staff of the ACO have continued to do important and innovative work that goes largely unnoticed by the rest of the Communion. But that’s a post for another day.)

You might have missed the steps taken on an Anglican archive. In a passing reference, we read of how the Standing Committee (meeting before the actual ACC meeting) “adopted objectives for the management of the Anglican Communion Office Archives.” Why does this matter? In the Anglican Communion, we lack a good historical narrative. Events, actions, and reports from even just a few years ago are forgotten, even as we talk through the same set of issues. Having consulted these archives myself in the past, I can attest that they are a valuable resource for the Communion if they could be made more widely available.

To take one example: there was considerable debate in the run-up to this ACC meeting whether the American church should even be present after actions taken in January at the Primates meeting. The debate turned on interpreting a sentence or two in the statement from that meeting. But few people in the debate looked to past precedent. In 2005, at a similar Primates meeting, the Primates requested that American (and Canadian) representatives withdraw from a forthcoming ACC—and they did. In 2016, it seems that if the Primates had wanted the Americans to stay away from the ACC in particular, they would have directly said so as they have in the past. History can help give some context and specificity to our conversations.

And another thing you might have missed: the guy who is taking a selfie during the group shot at the top of this post. Can you find him?

The Tengatenga-ing of Josiah Idowu-Fearon

ImageGenIn the last number of years, I’ve spent a significant amount of time traveling in the world church meeting, talking, and praying with Anglicans from a wide variety of backgrounds. Part of the impetus for this travel was to help other Anglicans understand how the American Episcopal church in which I was raised had reached decisions that seemed to them nonsensical, controversial, and unBiblical.

If there was one theme I kept returning to in so many of my conversations it was this: there is more to one’s Christian faith than one’s position on sex and sexuality. It may sound surprising that this has to be said. But for some African Anglicans I encountered, the only things they knew about the American Episcopal church was that it had a bishop (later two) who was openly gay and was making decisions that would allow weddings between two people of the same sex to take place in church. This information—and only this information—had been used by more than a few African Anglican leaders to loudly condemn the American church.

I understood that part of my role in these conversations was to show that, in fact, there was a lot more going on in the Episcopal Church than these decisions about sexuality (important as they may be) and that these decisions about sexuality came from a full and whole understanding of the Christian Gospel. My conversation partners didn’t always agree with what I said but I was usually pretty confident that we parted ways agreeing that there was more to the Christian faith than one’s beliefs on sexuality.

But now I wonder if I made a mistake.

It has been striking how in recent years there is an increasing willingness among all parties in the church to evaluate other Christians entirely on their views about a handful of topics related to sexuality. Two years ago, the fine and able Malawian bishop, James Tengatenga, was appointed to a position at Dartmouth University. Within days, attention was drawn to comments he had made regarding sexuality, offense was taken, and demands were immediately made that the appointment be rescinded. As later conversation would reveal, the comments were made in a particular context. Divorced from that context, they made little sense. But it was too late. Tengatenga lost the position. The only qualification that mattered was his views on sexuality. When they—apparently—failed to measure up, his history of accomplishments became meaningless.

This week, it happened again. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, bishop of Kaduna in Nigeria, was appointed Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. I have never met Bishop Josiah but when I traveled in Nigeria a few years back, I heard much of him. I heard that he is a man of deep accomplishment who has endured significant setbacks and opprobrium within his church because he has consistently argued against divisive steps taken by leaders of the Nigerian church. I also knew his diocese has a long-standing relationship with a congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

Almost immediately, however, the Tengatenga-ing of Bishop Josiah got underway. Some comments of Idowu-Fearon’s about sexuality were found on a Nigerian news site. All of a sudden, the only thing that mattered about Idowu-Fearon was what he had said on one occasion. The loudest voices making these arguments appear to be those who had never met Bishop Josiah. Those who had met him were making significantly more nuanced and positive comments but were quickly drowned out.

There seemed to be little effort to understand the context of the remarks, a lesson I had hoped we had learned in the wake of Bishop Tengatenga’s situation. (The context of talk about sexuality in Nigeria is complex and maybe I’ll write a separate post about that when we’re not in the middle of the holiest days of the Christian year.) Nor was there any effort to think about how else Bishop Josiah has walked the Christian way in his life and how that might influence his performance as Secretary General.

Not only is it wrong to criminalize homosexuality (though we should understand the impetus for some of this), the church should be a place that welcomes all people regardless of sexual orientation into the transforming love of God. These are precisely the arguments I have made in these many conversations with Anglicans around the world.

Yet I also think that the depth of God’s love for the world cannot be summarized simply by talking about sex all day long. It is right that we should inquire about Bishop Josiah’s position on contentious issues before the Communion. (A similar inquiry took place when the previous Secretary General was appointed ten years ago, leading to upset among some Nigerian and other African Anglicans. But that was before Twitter was invented.) But it is also right that being in the church means we are called to encounter the whole person whom God has created and ask how we are to relate to them. In the end, we may conclude that the person is not fit for the role in question. But we would at least have a full sense of someone.

I’ve written in the past that the mission of the church can be understood, in part, to be helping the world deal with complexity. But in order to do that, we need to react to situations less along tribal lines and more along the lines of the baptismal relationships which undergird our life together. If we’re serious about reconciliation, it would be a useful place to begin.

UPDATE: Over the weekend, there was some more information released. Bishop Idowu-Fearon released a statement clarifying his views and James Tengatenga, in his capacity as chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, released a statement explaining some of the background to the appointment.

On Tilley hats and the Anglican Communion

4405hats_hdLast year, my father was going on a lengthy trip and asked to borrow my broad-brimmed hat. This is a Tilley hat so it was with some reluctance that I let him have it. It is “made with real Canadian persnicketiness,” after all.

My reluctance was justified. He lost it. Some months later for my birthday, my gift from him was… a new Tilley hat.

What a great idea! Take something away from someone, then get them a replacement but call it a gift. My Christmas shopping woes are solved!

I thought of that when I read the news this week that the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church approved an increase in the amount of money that the church gives to the Anglican Communion Office (ACO), the central coordinating body for the Communion in London.

I’ve written about this before but a brief recap: at General Convention in 2012, the budget for the church allotted far less to the ACO than the church was asked to give. Since then, given what is apparently an improving budget picture, Executive Council has gradually added some of that money back. As it is, however, the amount the Episcopal Church will give the ACO in this three-year budget cycle is still far less than the ACO asked for. (How much less is not quite clear.)

When I read the news about Executive Council this week, I felt about the same as I did when I opened up my replacement Tilley hat—wait, shouldn’t I already have this? It’s made worse by the fact that the presiding bishop apparently framed the move as being “in recognition of greatly improved relations with the Communion, but also as a gesture of support for some very beneficial work, such as the continuing Indaba project and reconciliation work.” (At least my father had the good grace to apologize to me.) Many dioceses of the Episcopal Church have argued something similar, only in the negative: they won’t give money to the national church because they don’t support its projects. To be meaningful, financial support can’t be contingent.

I should note that our news for this move comes from indefatigable executive council member Susan Snook. And her report of the presiding bishop’s framing has sparked an interesting interpretation from several conservative Anglicans—interesting for being totally wrong. Kendall Harmon claims that these are “large sums” of money (hardly) that the Episcopal Church is using to buy influence. (The presiding bishop’s framing of this as a contingent decision does—with a real long stretch—lend itself to this interpretation.) Commenters compare this to Judas’ 30 pieces of silver. Another blogger speculates that this is why Justin Welby praised the presiding bishop when she was recently granted a honorary doctorate from Oxford: a quid pro quo.

Hardly. The sad, sorry truth is that the Episcopal Church is behind in its payments to the ACO. By attempting to put a positive spin on this debt, the presiding bishop gave conservative bloggers—who will twist any piece of information to suit their purposes—further ammunition to attack the church.

And in all this, the importance of the work of the ACO is lost. At least since the late 1950s, Anglicans have believed that they need some sort of central body to coordinate their life together. This is not some giant bureaucratic apparatus. The ACO and its predecessors has never been much more than a smallish group of people led by a secretary-general, who bring us things like the Continuing Indaba Project, the Bible in the Life of the Church, companion diocese relationships, the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, and much, much more. They are a good and important group of people and I believe their work is significant for the Communion as a whole.

It sets a poor example when the church fails to adequately fund this work. Parishes give a portion of their money to their diocese. Dioceses give a portion of their money to the national church. For a church that takes as central to its identity its membership in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, I can’t see why this flow of small amounts of money should stop “at the water’s edge,” as it were.

But at least I can conclude by noting that I am very happy with my replacement hat!

The Episcopal Church: The Diocese of Texas of the Anglican Communion

Without much surprise, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention today passed its budget for the next three years. And, as presented on Tuesday, the budget sharply cuts funding for the church’s connection to the Anglican Communion.

While I find the decision disappointing—as I have noted here and here—it was not surprising. What was heartening was that the cuts to funding the Anglican Communion Office were so notably criticized on the floor of the House of Deputies. (I missed the budget debate in the House of Bishops.) I heard one delegate make the point I have made before, namely that how can we expect dioceses to give the full asking to the churchwide budget, when the church doesn’t give the full asking to the Anglican Communion Office?

I’ve heard a couple of figures on this but it seems like the Episcopal Church is currently giving between a third and a half of the asking to the ACO. That puts the church in Diocese of Texas territory: wealthy, well-resourced (comparatively) but unwilling to share any of those resources with the other institutions of the church to which it belongs. There’s been a lot of talk at Convention about the hierarchical nature of the church: as far as General Convention is concerned, the hierarchy stops with it. You give us your money, it says to the dioceses, but we’ll keep it for ourselves. Can you blame other dioceses for saying the same thing to the church?

When we start squabbling over resources like this—pointing out how much some dioceses give but not others, arguing over apportionments, etc.—it’s a sure sign of an institution in decline. If we can no longer meet our commitments, something needs to change. I, for one, am hopeful that the new structure super-committee that has been created by this Convention can discern ways for the church to remain a full, active, and engaged member of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church around the world to which we belong.