The Lambeth Conference, the worldwide Anglican Communion’s decennial conference of bishops, has ended with 5 million pounds spent and no resolution on the sexuality issue that is supposedly dividing the church. I say “supposedly” because we Christians seem to have lost a common vocabulary to discuss our more fundamental theological differences — issues such as, What is the Anglican Biblical hermeneutic, and should there be one or many? Should our denomination move toward an Anglo-Catholic centralization of authority, or continue its trajectory toward a Congregationalist model? It’s possible that the Anglican compromise, which held together a diverse church by politely avoiding discussion of these issues whenever possible, is a relic of a more reticent age and can no longer withstand the harsh partisanship of modern identity politics.
As both sides become more committed to a pick-and-choose attitude toward the authority of bishops — with liberals saying they will flout the Archbishop of Canterbury’s requested moratorium on same-sex weddings and ordinations, and conservatives vowing to continue to claim oversight of sympathetic parishes outside their geographical jurisdiction — it’s time to ask whether Anglicanism as a whole is dead. What seems clear is that in a world where millions lack food and shelter, Jesus would not want the church to spend vast sums on empty bureaucratic conclaves. The UK’s Daily Telegraph puts it best:
Lambeth Conference branded ‘exercise in futility’
The Lambeth Conference was denounced as an “expensive exercise in futility” as it ended with both sides in the battle over homosexuality refusing to compromise.
By Martin Beckford, Religious Affairs Correspondent
In his final address, the Archbishop of Canterbury urged the 670 Anglican bishops to put an end to their divisive actions that have driven the Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.
In a tacit admission that the problems may never be solved, Dr Rowan Williams pleaded with the American church to halt its liberal agenda of electing gay clergy and blessing same-sex unions, and told conservatives to stop “poaching” bishops from other provinces.
But both sides insisted they would not abide by the ceasefire.
The Rev Susan Russell, the head of the pro-gay Integrity USA group, said: “It’s not going to change anything on the ground in California.
“We bless same-sex unions and will continue to do so.”
The head of the Anglican province that covers much of South America, The Most Rev Gregory Venables, also pledged to carry on taking conservative North American parishes into his church.
Traditionalist church leaders from the developing world also complained once more that they felt patronised and ignored by those in the West during the conference.
As Lambeth ended with the Communion no nearer to solving its problems, one bishop branded the 20-day meeting, which cost £5 million to stage and which is facing a £2 million shortfall, as a waste of time and money….
Read the whole article here. But I’ll give the last word to the invaluable cultural critic Garret Keizer, who wrote in the June issue of Harper’s Magazine:
Some will find the idea of American conservatives using foreign bishops to support the interests of a white male hegemony in the Episcopal Church altogether preposterous, though it is perhaps no more preposterous—or less effective—than using the votes and tax dollars of working-class Americans to further the interests of the corporations that take away their jobs. It’s the old drill of building a network, capitalizing on the most divisive issues, and locating the funds.
What would be preposterous, I think, is to see the strategic maneuvers of conservatives as motivated by anything less than the absolute sincerity of their beliefs. That a bishop would risk his church pension or that a congregation would risk losing its buildings and assets in order to retain some vague sense of “patriarchal power” seems like too little bang for the buck. For me, it is the methods more than the motives that invite scrutiny, and the similarity of these methods to those of corporate culture that has the most to say to readers outside the church. What is “provincial realignment,” at bottom, if not the ecclesiastical version of a corporate merger? What is “alternative oversight,” if not church talk for a hostile takeover? For that matter, how far is “hostile takeover” from the sort of church talk that makes frequent reference to the mission statement, the growth chart, and evangelism’s “market share”? Martyn Minns, Peter Akinola’s irregularly consecrated missionary bishop to the breakaway churches of the conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America, told me that he had learned more during his years at Mobil Oil Corporation than he’d ever learned in seminary. I suspect that is a much less exceptional statement than either Bishop Minns or the rest of us would care to admit.
I was more surprised, when I asked Minns what writers in the Anglican tradition had most influenced him, to have him cite Philip Jenkins’s The Next Christianity and Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat. Friedman’s status as an Anglican aside, this is a ways from Richard Hooker. This is sola scriptura with a weird appendix, Matthew, Mark, and Mega-trends—and it is this aspect of the “global crisis” in Anglicanism and of the cant attending it that one would expect to be of greatest concern to any person marching under the flag of orthodoxy: this reverential awe for the “global forces” that we ourselves animate, the idols that speak with our voice. The global dynamics of Anglican realignment work in a manner not unlike the global dynamics of outsourcing and extraordinary rendition: the Galilean carpenter (or the Kabuli cabdriver) has his part to play and his cross to bear, but it’s the little Caesars calling the shots.
It would be misleading to imply that every knowledgeable member of the Anglican Communion interprets the newsworthy events of its recent past in terms of a crisis. For church scholar Ian Douglas, the situation in the Anglican Communion and beyond represents “a new Pentecost,” one in which marginalized countries and marginalized groups of people are both rising and converging, with plenty of friction in the process, but with an ultimate outcome in which “the Ian Douglases of the world: straight, white, male, clerical, overly educated, financially secure, English-speaking, well-pensioned, professionally established,” will move to the margins while people previously marginalized will come to the center. “So my salvation is caught up in the full voicing of those who have historically been marginalized. What we’re seeing in a lot of these church antics is an attempt at a reimposition of an old order.” Douglas is among those who see the rise of religious fundamentalism not as a reaction to modernity but as modernity’s “last vestiges,” the remains of a binary worldview of us and them, black and white, orthodox and heretic.
This all sounds compelling to me, though, as I tell Douglas, I remain an unreconstructed binary thinker, my view of the world being pretty much divided between people who have a pot to piss in and people who don’t. My tendency—perhaps my temptation—is to see the church crisis, at least in America, as I see most other political disputes between bourgeois conservatives and bourgeois liberals: as cosmetically differentiated versions of the same earnest quest for moral rectitude in the face of one’s collusion in an economic system of gross inequality. It goes without saying that by touting this stark binary, I, too, am seeking to establish my rectitude. Still the question remains: How does a Christian population implicated in militarism, usury, sweatshop labor, and environmental rape find a way to sleep at night? Apparently, by making a very big deal out of not sleeping with Gene Robinson. Or, on the flip side, by making approval of Gene Robinson the litmus test of progressive integrity, a stance that I have good reason to believe would impress no one so little as Gene Robinson himself. Says he:
“I don’t believe there is any topic addressed more often and more deeply in Scripture than our treatment of the poor, the distribution of wealth, of resources, and the danger of wealth to our souls. One third of all the parables and one sixth of all the words Jesus is recorded to have uttered have to do with this topic, and yet we don’t hear the biblical literalists making arguments about that.” If this is sodomy, sign me up.
Read the whole article here, and then go out and buy Keizer’s books The Enigma of Anger and Help: The Original Human Dilemma. Buy a few copies, actually, because you’ll love them so much that you’ll want to share them with a friend.