96 days of travel, 14 trips, and 11 days in airplanes

The Archbishop of Canterbury today addressed General Synod, reporting on his travels in the last 18 months to visit with every primate (senior bishop) of the Anglican Communion.

It is a gooarticle-2230787-15EFE482000005DC-637_306x423d address and he highlights several central issues to the future of the Communion: the opportunity and threat of instantaneous communication, the suffering of the church, the important day-to-day work of the church, and, simply, that Anglican churches around the world are flourishing. It is impossible to contest any of these points.

Readers of my book Backpacking through the Anglican Communion will not be surprised that I particularly liked this section:

The future of the Communion requires sacrifice.  The biggest sacrifice is that we cannot only work with those we like, and hang out with those whose views are also ours.  Groups of like-minded individuals meeting to support and encourage each other may be necessary, indeed often are very necessary, but they are never sufficient.  Sufficiency is in loving those with whom we disagree.  What may be necessary in the way of party politics, is not sufficient in what might be called the polity of the Church.

Talking with people we disagree is an important spiritual discipline—Jesus did it all the time—and like all such disciplines it self-evidently involves sacrifice.

But there were two areas of the address where I wanted to hear more.

The first is the archbishop’s continued emphasis on episcopal—and particularly archiepiscopal—leadership. This is not surprising, given that he himself is an archbishop, that he is reporting on visits with other archbishops, and that the structures of governance in the Anglican Communion, such as they are, are dominated by bishops.

Given the last decade(s) of life in the Anglican Communion, might it not be time to ask how we might credibly lift up the voices of other Anglicans in conversations about our future together? The archbishop makes no mention of the flourishing work of many of the Anglican Communion’s networks or of the serious work done in diocese-to-diocese relationships and the Continuing Indaba program. Nor does he mention a recent call by some bishops and primates for another Anglican Congress, an event expressly designed to move beyond simply hearing bishops’ voices. It is precisely in these areas that we see the kind of flourishing and sacrifice that the archbishop rightly highlights.

Again, none of this is a surprise, given his position and his interlocutors. But surely there is a more exciting way to frame a future agenda than in terms of a potential Primates’ Meeting and a Lambeth Conference, two meetings which will be dominated by men and (of course) bishops.

The second concern is related to the first. In addition to highlighting the flourishing of the church, he repeatedly discusses the divisions in the church. I want to be very clear that I understand that there are divisions within the church, not only over sexuality but (as the archbishop rightly notes) over a host of other issues as well. I have experienced these divisions in many, personal ways, as have many Anglicans around the world.

But I also think we need to be clear that there is a great spirit in the Communion of relatedness and connection in spite of (and often because of) these apparent divisions. This is not often a message we hear from our purple-clad leadership but it is my experience—and I know that I am also not alone in this—that when we move past outspoken bishops, we find not agreement on divisive issues but a real effort at reconciliation. Part of the reason I wrote Backpacking was to highlight these very voices, those that don’t agree with me on every last issue but with whom I nonetheless found deep relationship based on our common baptism and commitment to the good news of Jesus Christ.

I think Justin Welby has lots of good things to say about the Anglican Communion. I think he places great value on this aspect of his role. But his position—as all positions do—places confines and constraints on him. I hope he can continue to see beyond them and lead us all into seeing beyond our own shortcomings.

Lambeth Conference? How about a Lambeth Congress instead?

Six primates of the Anglican Communion and a handful of other bishops recently met in New York City for several days and, at the end of their gathering, expressed their “fervent and urgent hope that another Anglican Congress might be held in the next two years.” (The full statement is here.)XIII-1_1

To which I say: hooray! I have been banging on for the last several years about the significance of the 1963 Anglican Congress and how we ignore it at our peril. That meeting, which drew together lay, clerical, and episcopal representatives from across the Anglican Communion produced a document known as Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, which, I have argued, is an important—but neglected—resource for Anglicans of our time. (These are arguments I’ve made at length in the Anglican Theological Review, the Church Times, and The Living Church.)

Actually, I have more than just “hooray” to say.

First, it’s worth noting that what these bishops are suggesting has been suggested before. In the run-up to the 2008 Lambeth Conference (of bishops), there was an effort to hold a parallel Anglican Congress in Cape Town. But, when it became apparent there wasn’t enough money to fund two major conferences, the Congress was abandoned and Lambeth went forward. (A telling sign, not incidentally, of whose voices are most valued in the Communion.)

Second, this suggestion comes at the same time as some (very spurious) speculation about the next Lambeth Conference. To call for an Anglican Congress in this context helpfully shifts the focus away from episcopal naval-gazing (which Anglicans are so good at) and broadens the conversation to include many more voices.

Third, as the conversation about the next Lambeth indicates, there’s some rather great dissatisfaction with the four “Instruments of Communion” in the Anglican Communion. The Primates have not gathered in over three years. The next Lambeth is open to question. The Anglican Consultative Council meets to apparently little notice. And it is now seriously suggested that one need not be in communion with the archbishop of Canterbury to be Anglican. The call for a Congress essentially recognizes this dissatisfaction and proposes a new way forward. Rather than concentrating our energy, time, and money on holding these meetings to apparently little end, perhaps there’s an alternative.

Fourth, the bishops say a Congress should be held in the next two years. That’s an awfully ambitious timeline. But it does seem that there is a vacant window in 2018 (the putative date of a next Lambeth Conference) that could be usefully taken advantage of.

So let’s put some flesh on the proposal. Instead of a Lambeth Conference, let’s have a Lambeth Congress, and instead of having it in London or Canterbury, let’s have it in Accra, Cape Town, or Dar es Salaam.

Last year, on the 50th anniversary of the Toronto Congress, I wrote this reflection:

In its fractures in the early 21st century, the Anglican Communion stands as a mirror-image of the divisions that stalk a world ever more divided by class, race, region, background, and so much else. “Frontiers” abound, in parishes, dioceses, and the worldwide Church. The body of Christ seems not a reality, but an ideal hardly to be grasped.

Fifty years on from MRI, it is worth returning to the manifesto and the period that produced it. In its emphasis on the patient work of building genuine relationships across lines of difference, the importance of genuinely coming to know one another in the context in which each lives, and above all in its recognition that God is always calling us to something greater than ourselves, MRI has much to teach us.

It is risky to reach out to those who are different from us, and daring to ask what we might learn from someone from a different background. But it is precisely these things that are at the heart of what it means to be God’s people in the world – a fact that is no less true today than it was in August 1963.

UPDATE: I just saw this comment posted on the Episcopal News Service version of this story. It says much about Toronto’s important—but forgotten—legacy.


Well, that was fast… or, how Anglican communiques become cudgels

John+Sentamu+Justin+Welby+Annual+Church+England+PakUd_nqZ32lOn Wednesday, the archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote a letter in which they “recalled the common mind” of the Primates of the Anglican Communion to say that it wasn’t right to support anti-gay legislation in places like Nigeria and Uganda.

It’s hard to argue with the message, but it is interesting how they chose to phrase it—pointing back to a communique from a meeting of the leaders of the Anglican Communion in 2005. In the years immediately after the consecration of Gene Robinson, there were a fair number of these communiques. When I read the letter from the archbishops on Wednesday, I wondered on Twitter how long it would be before someone quoted from another one of those communiques or some other “common mind” Anglican document to make a different argument.

Not long, it turns out.

Yesterday, the archbishop of Uganda, Stanley Ntagali, responded to the Wednesday letter by reaching for the granddaddy of them all, Resolution 1.10 from Lambeth 1998:

We would further like to remind them, as they lead their own church through the “facilitated conversations” recommended by the Pilling Report, that the teaching of the Anglican Communion from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, from Resolution 1.10, still stands. It states that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture,” and the conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”

It was the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada’s violations of Lambeth 1.10 which caused the Church of Uganda to break communion with those Provinces more than ten years ago. We sincerely hope the Archbishops and governing bodies of the Church of England will step back from the path they have set themselves on so the Church of Uganda will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church.

Then today, the archbishop of Kenya responded by quoting Lambeth 1.10 and a different Primates’ communique, this one from 2007. You can read his whole text here.

It’s worthwhile looking back at the history here for just a minute. The 1998 Lambeth Conference was a fraught affair—one bishop publicly tried to exorcise a gay activist—and Resolution 1.10 was one result of that atmosphere. The resolution says a number of things, though the phrase that is most commonly quoted is “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.” (Then again, so is eating a cheeseburger.) Throughout its history, the Anglican Communion has had trouble figuring out what weight to accord to the voice of bishops assembled in Lambeth. So some Anglicans point to 1.10 as the final, definitive answer; others do not.

You might note that Archbishop Ntagali slightly misquotes the resolution. The actual text is “rejecting homosexual practice as” and not “is incompatible.” I point this out because it means that this most-commonly quoted phrase is actually a subordinate clause in a larger sentence. And that larger sentence? I’m so glad you asked:

[This Conference] while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;

The “irrational fear of homosexuals”: does that sound familiar to anyone? Oddly, it is not mentioned in any letter I have yet seen.

We are quickly getting lost in the weeds here. Resolutions and communiques, rather than serving as unifying documents that express a common mind, quickly become cudgels which we start selectively (mis-)quoting to beat our opponents over the head with. Frankly, it’s not very fun.

A couple of conclusions, then:

First, responding by saying, “Yeah, but they did it first” is not very effective.

Second, perhaps it is actually time for Anglicans to think seriously about the weight we accord the voices of our bishops and how we integrate that voice into our life of faith. In this context, it is no surprise that the conversation is between (arch)bishops quoting documents written solely by (arch)bishops.

Third, rather than reaching for the nearest cudgel, maybe in the future we can reach for a slightly more constructive instrument and come back to the verb that is at the centre of Resolution 1.10: listen

We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.