I want to dispel two memes beginning to be manufactured about the Lambeth conference, one by Lambeth organizers, the other by TEC revisionists.
The first is that the Lambeth conference was a success. The second is that it held any kind of line, or was a setback for the Episcopal Church.
Before the Lambeth Conference even ended, there began the efforts to cast it as a success because, after all, “the communion didn’t split,” and “no one walked out,” and no decisions that were made caused further division among the opposing factions.
Ruth Gledhill mentioned that a poll of bishops in attendance revealed widespread support for Rowan Williams, noting that among those attending, three-quarters of them approved of his leadership during the conference.
No doubt this will be part of the spin coming from TEC bishops in the days and weeks to come, as they return to their dioceses and report on their experiences at the conference, but let’s take a moment to remind ourselves why this is nonsense.
The first, and most glaring, is that one-fourth of the Anglican Communion’s bishops, representing half the world’s worshiping Anglicans, were not present at all. Their opinions weren’t solicited or recorded in the poll. Your numbers can look great when you lop off 25% of those who are so dissatisfied with you that they don’t even show up.
The second is that, with the 25% most unsatisfied of your constituents not present, an approval rating of 75% of the ones that remain is nothing to crow about.
The third is that a walkout was never in the cards, not even by the most conservative bishops who decided to attend. The gravity and meaning of protest actions such as walkouts are directly proportional to the gravity and meaning of the event or setting out of which one walks. For example, imagine a national debate that had gone on for years, which prompted legislation to be passed by the U.S. House and handed over to the Senate. Debate in the Senate rages for days, and finally, late one night, it all comes down to one vote that will have major and lasting consequences for the whole country. A protest action at that moment has meaning, because of the gravity of the situation in which it is made.
Now imagine that instead of debating the bill and taking a vote on it, the senators had decided to gather not in the Senate chambers for a vote, but in the Senate cafeteria, in small groups around tables, to talk about how great it is to be a U.S. Senator and part of this elite club. Walking out - indeed, any kind of protest action at all - is by definition meaningless, because you’re not participating in anything worth protesting. Protests make sense only when Body A is faced with Issue B, and is committed to making Decision C or D, at some point in the very near future.
The Lambeth Conference was designed specifically to resemble senators gathering around tables for lunch, the goal being some warm-fuzzy strengthening of “collegiality,” more than it was to resemble senators debating and voting on bills that become law and affect the people in their care. In other words, it was designed to be meaningless, and to say the least, it accomplished its goal. This is not to say that Lambeth will not have any meaning in the history of Anglicanism; it most definitely will, but it won’t be what the planners intended, or what it has historically had.
This should illustrate the importance of yardsticks in evaluating the success or failure of almost any such event, but especially meetings of so-called Instruments of Unity in the Anglican Communion: If your measure of success is a meeting that results in no decisions being made, and as little comment as possible made about the current crisis, despite the fact that one-fourth of your bishops declined even to show up, then sure - this Lambeth Conference has been a success. The question then turns from the value of your conference, to that of your yardstick.
This brings us to the next point - the hang-dog look and droopy mood of some revisionist commentators.
Rowan Williams did a very clever job of designing a conference that gave him everything he wanted - no resolutions, bishops who felt “closer” to one another, and - on the last day when they had been lulled into a sense of trust—a total smackdown of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
The process may have been easier on the bishops than the brutal Lambeth of 1998, but the outcome is just as brutal for LGBT Anglicans.
I’m still waiting for a better explanation than Williams was able to give me at the final press conference about what the theological and scriptural grounding is for asking an entire group of Christians to sacrifice their vocations and relationship on your behalf. Simply saying that sacrifice has to be voluntary and that the Communion is worth that sacrifice doesn’t do the job.
As a priest in the US said, “When I climb up on the cross, it’s sacrifice. When you put me up there, it’s murder.’
So here we are with another Lambeth behind us. What parts of this will be used to beat up on LGBT Anglicans? Which parts will be raised to the status of Holy Writ, much as the Windsor Report and resolution 1.10 have been?
My, my, my… the drama. One would think the Episcopal Church has really been “slapped” down,” that things are actually going to change for the worse for Episcopal revisionists. Nothing could further from the truth.
Numerous Episcopal dioceses permit the blessing of same-sex relationships, but without a rite.
Bishops Jon Bruno of Los Angeles and Marc Andrus of California, which includes the San Francisco Bay area, have already said that they would not attempt to stop the blessing of gay relationships in their diocese. Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Diocese of Washington has also said he would not attempt to stop same-sex blessings.
“I can only say that inclusion is a reality in our diocese and will continue to be,” Bruno said. “For people who think that this is going to lead us to disenfranchise any gay or lesbian person, they are sadly mistaken.”
Susan Russell has even constructed a little altar to this statement.
So you see, there’s no possibility at all that any Lambeth “moratoria” will be followed, because they’re not moratoria at all. They’re simply - as the revisionists will continually remind us - “requests,” and requests, of course, can be denied. And even if they were elevated to the realm of “moratoria,” they would have been issued - again, as the revisionists will continually remind us - by a body with no power to enforce anything, especially if impinges on TEC’s sacred “polity.”
At any rate, Lambeth’s decision not to decide is a huge victory for American revisionists, because while some of their more earnest foot-soldiers may believe that anything less than bishops processing into Canterbury Cathedral in buttless chaps and blue eye shadow is a “slapdown,” the more savvy among them understand full well than every time the gay question is put to the Anglican Communion, and the answer is, “let’s keep talking,” it is in fact a victory for them. It is one more day of dry heat that allows their cement to set.
So where does that leave us, especially those of us here in America?
In some ways, nothing has changed. We knew Rowan Williams was a weak, indecisive leader. We knew that revisionist TEC bishops and gay activists would never assent to anything that slowed - much less halted - their push to bless same-sex unions and ordain and consecrate partnered homosexuals. We knew that Lambeth would be a silly, childish get-together which serious men like Jack Iker and Keith Ackerman attended almost solely for the purpose of bearing witness to the Gospel the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion leadership are gleefully abandoning.
In other ways, much has changed. At the very least, we have as a community passed through the mental intersection of Lambeth, and we can now turn our attention to the road ahead having had all our questions answered about exactly what Lambeth would “mean” to our future.
If you are new to this site and to this debate, I suspect you are overwhelmed at what’s happening in your church, and overwhelmed by the amount of information there is (just on this site, and we’re one of many) to digest. We’ve been at this for years, and a lot has happened and been documented. My hope is that you’re primed for a fight, because that’s what we’re in, and that’s what you need to resign yourself to if you want to do anything other than leave, or be assimilated into the Episcopal Church’s Great Gay Borg.
If you’re a veteran, my hope is that you can take a deep breath and re-commit yourself to the fight, and prepare for a church future unlike anything you’ve encountered in the past. We’re going to be talking a lot more in the coming weeks about what this means, and what we do next.