Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lambeth 3 - Indababble

In my last post, I touched on the fact that the ABC seems to take Lambeth so very very seriously. It seems to be his cornerstone for a coherent Anglican future.

Attendance at Lambeth seems to be how he measures a "desire for unity":
In spite of the painful controversies... there remains... a very strong loyalty to each other and a desire to stay together. The fact that about 70% of bishops worldwide have already formally registered for the Conference, with a number of others who have signalled that they will attend, shows something of this desire.
(I've noted elsewhere fact that this 70% of bishops represents roughly only a third of the Communion and he has been dis-inviting bishops right up to the last minute.)

Moreover, the challenges facing this oh-so-important Lambeth are great... though he tries to downplay them somewhat in his opening remarks, Williams must still admit, in his presidential address, that "we all know that we stand in the middle of one of the most severe challenges to have faced the Anglican family in its history" -- though he hastens to reassure us that "we shouldn't assume that this is the worst of times."

Thus, in the face of this crisis, he has announced that one of the two key goals of the Conference is to "strength[en] the sense of a shared Anglican identity among the bishops from around the world." Indeed, he describes recussitating the Communion as something of a divine mandate:
God has not only entrusted to us the task of sharing in his mission; he has also entrusted to us one particular way embodying and serving this mission. He has entrusted to us this extraordinary thing called the Anglican Communion. And in our time together he is asking us, more sharply than ever before, perhaps, what we want to make of it -- how we use the legacy we have been given for his glory and for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Serious words indeed!

And yet, having outlined in such stark terms what the challenges for Lambeth are, he also makes sure to remind us how powerless Lambeth is.
The Conference has never been a lawmaking body in the strict sense and it wasn't designed to be one: every local Anglican province around the world has its own independent system of church law and there is no supreme court.
And, indeed, the archbishop rejects as undesirable any attempts to create a "a centralized and homogenized Communion" which "becomes a confessional church in a way it never has been before."

(Oddly, his choices to exclude not just the CANA, AMiA and other such bishops, as well as acting to undermine the Windsor Report and primates council in a way guaranteed to alienate nearly all the "conservative" bishops within the Anglican Communion from attending seems to fly in the face of this supposed reluctance -- everything Williams has done, and failed to do, over the last several years seems designed precisely to create a "homogenized" Lambeth... but I've touched on this already.)

So, given the real difficulties facing Lambeth, both in the magnitude of the challenge and the inadequacy of the tools, what has Williams brought us? Indababble and the Covenant. In this post, let's take another look at the indababble groups and what Williams claims they will accomplish.

If you think the indababble process is about getting answers, think again.

Of course, that's apparently what the real indabas do. They make sure all voices are heard -- but, more importantly (for this is why people are there to be heard in the first place) -- they reach a conclusion. "In African society, tribal leaders will converse until they come to a type of consensus... they have come to a point of agreement on the substance; the core issue and the potential of a way forward." Yes, there are still differences, but a common mind has emerged to provide a working solution. And, to do this, they take all the time required: "local Indaba groups meet for hours, and if needed, several days." Moreover, they do this starting from a point of already holding a great deal in common: "indaba is a group of people who speak the same language, live in the same village, share the same culture, and have known each other perhaps for decades."

This is not the case with Lambeth's indababbble. We have bishops there from very different cultures, with vastly differing theological views (even though most of the conservatives have been dis-invited, one way or another), and, in many quarters, very little trust.

Nor will they bishops be talking and listening for days to reach a consensus, or even a common understanding. Various people have pointed out that -- with each indaba session being 2 hours long among 40 participants, each bishop will have a mere 3 minutes to express his views. Probably more like 2 in practice. And each of these 2 hour sessions is supposed to cover topics like Biblical interpretation & Hermeneutics, Anglican identity: the role of bishops, Evangelism and Mission, and so forth. Gender and Sexuality is only one of the 2 hour sessions. (In fact, the only topic on that list that could reasonably be done in such a 2 hour session is the MDGs! Let me save you some time, bishops -- read this statement, then move on to more pressing matters: "These are laudable goals, and Christians should be encouraged to support them where sensible, but they are not the primary mission of the Church, which is to preach the Gospel and nurture the spiritual and sacramental life of its members. As bishops, let's focus on those ecclesiastical and episcopal rather than on those "secular" ministries and missions -- which are far more effectively addressed by secular charitable groups and organizations anyway. We should support the laity's participation in such social work, but let's make sure we stay focused on guarding and nurturing their participation in Christ, which is our special charge.")

Already reports from Lambeth tell us that
Many of the Africans are saying, "This isn't 'Indaba' at all! First of all, we are not a village, and we don't know each other. And secondly, we are not attempting to solve a problem; we are talking in small groups about minor issues of little consequence."
And even Williams doesn't pretend that the indababble is actually going to produce a substantive outcome: "The indaba process is meant to clarify what the real questions and concerns are, so that everyone comes to have some sort of shared perspective on things, even if they don't yet agree."

Of course, the ABC has been confronted on this fact. And his reply is a non-reply:
Quite a few people have said that the new ways we're suggesting of doing our business are an attempt to avoid tough decisions and have the effect of replacing substance with process. To such people, I'd simply say, 'How effective have the old methods really been?'
In other words, when asked "won't this be ineffective" his reply has been "well, other things are ineffective too". (Frankly, this makes me think of Senator Obama's campaign -- propose some new (often incoherent) change or idea -- one often untested or even irrational -- whose only merit is that it represents "change". Never mind that there can be change for the better OR change for the worse! And with indaba, like with Obama, you're getting the latter!)

After all, what has been the problem with past Lambeth Conferences? It's true, they haven't been effective. The ABC himself points out that
at the very first Lambeth Conference, the assembled bishops passed a resolution asking for some kind of supreme canonical court in the Communion which could settle points of dispute in provinces
reflecting their desire to
make sure that Anglicans around the world acted in a responsible way towards each other and stayed faithful to the common inheritance of biblical and doctrinal faith.
Well, obviously that didn't work... given that it is precisely the Communion's failure to ensure such fidelity which has led to its disintegration today.

But does this failure of past Lambeth Conferences mean that -- as Williams seems to have concluded -- the whole process of making resolutions and upholding standards is fundamentally flawed and must be replaced? No. Because the fault doesn't lie in the process by which consensus was reached and expressed, but in the fact that nobody is accountable to it. The Sudanese archbishop, the Most Rev. Dr. Daniel Deng Bul, makes an impassioned plea that these past resolutions and consensus be respected:
Out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we appeal to the Anglican Church in the USA and Canada to demonstrate real commitment to the requests arising from the Windsor process. In particular: To refrain from ordaining practicing homosexuals to bishops or priests; To refrain from approving rites of blessing for same-sex relationships; To cease court actions with immediate effect; To comply with Resolution 1:10 of the 1998 Lambeth conference; To respect the authority of the Bible.
THIS is what needs changing -- not diddling and indabbling about with process, but having some sort of follow through, so that the hard-won and much-discussed resolutions already in place can have an effect. Why even the chair of the Windsor Continuation group (hardly a radically traditionalist group), bishop Clive Handford, "painted a grim picture of deteriorating relationships in the Anglican Communion" precisely because "the gap between promise and follow through seems unbridgeable."

But don't expect any support or help from Williams on this score. Indeed, not only did he actively destroy the effect and credibility of the whole Windsor process, but he seems to completely dismiss any weight or force to that last Lambeth resolution as well, saying that we have now "a new doctrine and policy about same-sex relations, one that is not the same as that of the vast majority at the last Lambeth Conference". The resolutions of the past Lambeth aren't normative, aren't relevant, aren't even to be enforced... they're simply baggage which is causing pain because they conflict with the new doctrine and polity coming into force today... despite the fact that the new doctrine and polity (like so many of PEcUSA's innovations and revisionisms) are the exact opposite of the norms of the Christian and Anglican tradition!

Nor is any of that past consensus or the seemingly infinite numbers of meetings, consultations and statements of any weight either... because, apparently, we still don't know "what the real questions and concerns are", which is why we need indababble.

So what is all this indababble supposed to accomplish from Williams' perspective? It isn't giving anywhere near enough time to any issue. It isn't reaching a consensus. It isn't honoring past resolutions or consensus. It manifestly isn't going to produce a common mind, not without total conversion of the apostates to Christianity or the apostasy of the remaining Christians at Lambeth. What's the point, then?

Apparently, it's all about being heard. (Even if only for 2 minutes). Williams defends the indababble saying it will help "to guarantee that everyone's voice has a chance of being heard" so that, regardless of what is or isn't agreed or done, they "can still be confident that they haven't been sidelined or silenced." (Of course, the un-invited, dis-invited and actively repelled two-thirds of the Communion which isn't represented at Lambeth has been sidelined and silenced, but that's another issue.)

And, through this Lambeth indababble -- a far cry from any real indaba and a doomed and impotent enterprise from the get-go -- "the greatest need of the Communion" will be met... "transformed relationships...in responsible agreement and search for the common mind, in constant active involvement in the life of other parts of the family." (I know what PEcUSA means by "transformed relationships" and "other parts")

So the whole philosophical underpinning of William's Lambeth philosophy -- the way in which he intends to take on the divine task of preserving the Anglican Communion -- is a notion that if you just get everyone talking long enough, no matter how diametrically opposed their theologies are, transformed relationships will emerge to ensure that a miraculous new way forward is found that allows everyone to live together in one harmonious communion, feeling that there is a "deeper seriousness about how we consult each other" and "recogniz[ing] and accept[ing] each other's ministries in the conviction that we are ordaining men and women to one ministry in one Body." (Goodbye all traditional Christians objecting to the heretical ordination of women and of practicing homosexuals!)

Somehow... I don't think you're going to get there through indababble. If that's really where you want to get, then you do need the "preparatory books and many resolutions," as Williams put it in a clear side-swipe at GAFCon. Whatever its flaws or failings, at least GAFCon is an attempt to solve the problem in an effective way -- change for the better, not an Obama change for the worse! -- by articulating standards and devising mechanisms to hold people accountable to them. For it was in accountability -- not in coming to and articulating consensus -- that former Lambeth Conferences have failed.

But Williams has rejected those options.. and continues to labor to build his Tower of Indababel.