Note: This is the 20th anniversary of the historic 1998 Lambeth Conference. I was present there, representing the American Anglican Council (AAC). In this capacity I filed a three-week “Diary” of the Conference. I am posting this diary without revision, except for the final week.
The first conference of 76 bishops was held at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Palace in London. This year’s conference, the largest ever with over 800 bishops and 600 “spouses” (all wives except for 4 husbands of female bishops), is being held on the campus of the University of Kent, located on a hill overlooking the town of Canterbury and its historic cathedral. The weather has been sunny and cool, easing the movement of the bishops who must walk from event to event as few of them have cars. The accommodations are spartan. Several of the buildings were designed by a mad geometric genius, and it is possible that some bishops are forever roaming the halls looking for their rooms. One gets the sense that the physical set-up impedes fellowship and organization among the bishops.
Even though the Western bishops are disproportionately represented (e.g., an average U.S. bishop may represent 5,000-10,000 laypeople, while the average Nigerian bishop represents 150,000-200,000) the predominance of non-white bishops here is striking. Sadly, this predominance is not matched in terms of the Conference leadership, which is largely white and largely liberal theologically.
Who’s In Charge
The agenda has been set by the Anglican Consultative Council Office, a London-based bureaucracy set up in 1968 to keep the Communion going between decennial conferences. In the eyes of many, the ACC Office (note not AAC!) has been inordinately influenced by the West and the Episcopal Church USA in particular. To give an example from the most contentious issue of the Conference, the pre-Lambeth sexuality report, written by appointment of the ACC, totally ignored and indeed contradicted the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality, which was a document that emerged from an official meeting of “Southern” (i.e., Third World) Anglicans.
Unhappiness with the ACC Office boiled over last weekend when the Bishops of the Province of South East Asia circulated a letter expressing “grave concern about the General Secretary of the ACC [the Rev. John Peterson] and the future of the Anglican Communion.” Speaking for the bishops, Archbishop Moses Tay of Singapore charged the ACC with bias in the firing of the Rev. Dr. Cyril Okorocha, an outspoken Evangelical who was fired this year as the coordinator of the Decade of Evangelism. This accusation has lead to a series of closed-door meetings and points to what may be a major political dynamic of the Conference: a revolt of the Third World bishops against the Western-dominated leadership.
The handling of the press reflects the top-down mindset of the ACC brass. The official news service is composed of Establishment church journalists, overseen by James Rosenthal of the ACC. There was a long delay in accrediting other reporters, including conservatives and representatives of “pressure groups.” Only the week before the Conference did they decide to issue credentials to all comers, warning the bishops privately to beware of people in pink nametags.
The daily press briefings would do Mike McCurry proud, as his counterpart, Father Bill Beaver, makes sure that no controversy breaks out. This tactic may have backfired on Friday. The press conference seemed like a pep rally for Christian Aid, a group promoting “Jubilee 2000” and damning the World Bank. There was no inkling of how controversial Christian Aid’s position truly is (see below).
Major Events of the First Week
The opening events felt like a convocation during the “Babylonian Captivity” in the 14th century, when there were two popes, one at Rome and one at Avignon. This time the rivals are the Archbishop George Carey in Canterbury and the Great Reformer (some would say Heresiarch) John Spong in London who were competing for headlines.
The Archbishop gave very proper opening addresses on Saturday and Monday, calling for unity and charity among parties. However, he also issued a veiled challenge to Spong’s denials of a personal God and the Resurrection of Jesus. The Archbishop spoke of the Resurrection as “the very heart of Anglicanism and concluded: “My brothers and sisters, be very sure of this, that if our faith is not based in the personal God who has made himself known to us in Jesus Christ and who has raised Jesus from the dead, we have nothing, absolutely nothing, to offer our world.” Ipso facto, Bishop Spong has nothing to offer the Christian faith and Anglicanism and should hie him hence to a Buddhist temple (if they will have him there).
The opening service on Sunday was held in Canterbury Cathedral, the central seat of the Anglican Communion. Much pageantry, with bishops all dressed in purple (rather clashing shades, one must confess). The music and liturgy reflected the multi-ethnic character of the communion, mixing “O For a Thousand Tongues” with “Sizohamba naye” translated “We are on the Lord’s Road.” What was strikingly missing from the service were the cadences of the traditional English Book of Common Prayer, which has been one hallmark uniting Anglicans worldwide.
Meanwhile back in Avignon… Bishop Spong had kicked off his triumphal tour the week before by referring to African Christians as “superstitious and fundamentalist.” “They’ve moved out of animism into a very superstitious kind of Christianity.” (Later on, in a rare admission, he asked that this statement not be taken literally.)
Then on Saturday, just as the Archbishop was speaking, the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, one of Spong’s 30-strong cadre of gay/lesbian clergy, celebrated the Eucharist at the chapel of King’s College in London, the first time a lesbian has openly presided in England. According to a press report in The Guardian, “Mrs Kaeton has been living ‘monogamously’ with her partner Barbara, a nurse, for 22 years. They were both previously married and knew each other’s families. After they fell in love and their marriages broke up, they lost custody of the four children from their marriages. Five years later the couple regained custody, adopted another child and had another through in vitro fertilisation.”
The report went on to note: “Mrs Kaeton’s licence to celebrate the sacraments as a priest outside the Church of England was approved by officials of the Diocese of London, who were apparently unaware of her background.” From the Philadelphia Eleven (1974) to Ellen Barrett (1977), to Robert Williams and Barry Stopfel (1989-90), to you-name-it, the tactics of the revisers continue unabated. It is just possible, however, that the Third World bishops, who have experienced their share of bullying over the years, will not be cowed by this approach.
On Sunday, Bishop Spong preached in Southwark Cathedral in what he had earlier billed as an “alternative opening” to the Conference. Few if any bishops hearkened to his call. At the same time, two bishops and a few gay activists picketed outside the cathedral in Canterbury. One of them was Otis Charles, former Bishop of Utah and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, who a few years ago abandoned his wife of thirty years for a gay lover in San Francisco.
Bishop Spong appeared at the Conference Monday and has been strangely silent since. Since nothing he does is apolitical, one may opine either he is biding his time for a grand blast or that he realizes that he may drive centrist Western bishops to support a conservative sexuality statement from the Third World. He admitted that conservatives could well succeed: “If they choose to move in that direction, they have the power to do so,” he said to his loyal coterie in London and promised a minority report if that were the case.
On Monday, the Conference officially began with bishops attending plenary addresses and sections on the four assigned topics of the Conference. But the most newsworthy event of the day came at Vespers where Cardinal Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity warned obliquely that “the commitment to unity is relativised if diversity and differences that cannot be reconciled with the Gospel are at the same time being embraced and exalted.”
The spin doctors at the ACC Office tried to blunt the point by noting that “he did not specify any particular situations difficult to the Roman Catholic Church.” This is a bit hard to reconcile with his actual words: “Are we not experiencing in fact new and deep divisions among Christians as a result of contrasting approaches to human sexuality for instance? When such attitudes are in the ascendant, disunity between Christians will remain unresolved. Moreover, disunity becomes an increasingly grave matter within the still separated Churches as well. Authoritative proclamation of the Gospel is diminished.”
The Cardinal was making a salient point. Not only does the sexuality issue doom any further ecumenical progress, but it threatens the Anglican Communion with internal disunity. It is therefore ironic indeed that following the address, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who has spent many years in Anglican-Roman talks, introduced the ecumenical representatives from the Roman Catholic Church. Bishop Griswold, one would think, must be awfully torn knowing that his support of the gay agenda and mandatory women’s ordination has driven a stake into the heart of any unity between Rome and Canterbury.
Tuesday and Wednesday included plenary addresses on the Bible and moral decision-making that made some good points but seemed designed to suggest that using the Bible to determine matters of faith and morals was a terribly complex matter and that “diversity in communion” (the in-word for conference organizers) was the best way ahead for the Anglican Communion.
This ideal of diversity was shattered on Wednesday afternoon. Bishop Duncan Buchanan of Johannesburg, who had been appointed over the contentious sexuality section, had unilaterally promised gay rights activists that they could “tell their stories” to the bishops in his group. Bishop James Stanton, it is reported, objected to importing outside advocates to an internal discussion and argued that if the gay lobby was admitted, ex-gays and celibate gays must also be invited to speak. This objection led to an hour-long brouhaha and a 2-to-1 vote to overturn Bishop Buchanan’s decision.
So the gay lobby was disinvited. Bishop Buchanan was later described as “shell-shocked and traumatized” by the “strength and ferocity of feelings and the dynamic of the group.” The next day he said he was committed to the decision and the process as expressing the will of God. (The next evening, Archbishop Carey and 28 other bishops, apparently responding to the event, paid a visit to a cheese and wine reception by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and agreed to further face-to-face meetings.)
This rejection of gay testimony, plus a vote in the House of Lords blocking the lowering of the age of consent for homosexuals from 18 to 16, cast a dark cloud over “Rainbow Day” on Thursday. Richard Holloway, Primus of Scotland, who is resigning his post in order to run for Parliament, spoke to a bishop-less assembly of about 50 lamenting that the Lords’ decision would be “perceived by the gay and lesbian community, especially among the young, as yet another rejection.” Excuse my asking, but I thought the gay lobby favored only para-marital sexual relationships between mature adults. Does this suggest they favor genital acts between 16-year-olds or between 30-year-olds and 16-year-olds? Better that the Primus favor the raising of the age of consent for heterosexuals!
After his speech, the Rev. Earle Fox asked Holloway whether his mind on homosexuality might be changed by incontrovertible evidence. Holloway replied: “If, incontrovertibly, you brought me a personally signed fax from God, it might, but that’s not likely.” To which one is tempted to reply to him: “You don’t need a FAX. You have Moses and the prophets; listen to them” (Luke 16:29).
Friday was International Debt day. Christian Aid, an advocacy group calling for the complete remission of the $215 billion in Third World debt, was given a place of privilege at all events. (No mention was made, for instance, of the “Five Talents” proposal, sponsored by the AAC.) This promotion, however, became problematic in the afternoon plenary session. The program began with a video from Christian Aid, highlighting the plight of the poor and criticizing the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for placing too many conditions and restrictions in its loan reduction programs.
Archbishop Carey followed with an introduction that seemed to commit himself personally to the approach of the next speaker, James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank. “He is,” said the Archbishop, “a man of high principle and broad sympathy. His own undeniable vision for a better, fairer world is challenging to all who claim for themselves the moral high ground on this complex issue. He too wants to get things done, but he more than most knows the economic realities which challenge simplistic solutions.”
What followed was, it seems, not anticipated by anyone, including perhaps the speaker himself. Apparently, abandoning his notes, Mr. Wolfensohn began: “I believe I have never before been preceded by two such diverse introductions,” referring to the film and the Archbishop. He proceeded into a spirited defense of the World Bank and attacked the data and spirit of the film. “I yield the moral superiority to nobody.”
Wolfensohn has been responsible for a major policy change at the World Bank called the Highly Indebted Poor Countries”(HIPC) debt initiative, which provides for restructuring of loans and actual forgiveness of some debt. What has offended proponents of total debt forgiveness is HIPC’s requirement that countries make political and economic reforms in order to qualify for debt reduction. Jubilee 2000 calls for total remission of debt, while HIPC retains the requirement that countries honor their financial commitments.
Wolfensohn by no means minimized the seriousness of the debt crisis, though he pointed out that there was a difference between “a debt you can live with,” which everyone carries, and unsustainable debt. But, he said, “if someone comes to you and asks for $10,000 and is a gambler and a womanizer, will you likely to loan them your money. Countries are the same.” He pointed out that even if the World Bank committed itself to total forgiveness, it would have only $23 billion at its disposal. The remaining assets of 150 billion belong to investors (like pension funds). “There is a limit to the extent to which we (the World Bank) and they (investors) are willing to forgive debt.”
After Wolfensohn’s blast, Bishop Ndungane of Cape Town got the program back on course by calling for an “international mediation council” or bankruptcy court. HIPC, he said, was dominated by the creditors, who serve as plaintiff, judge and jury. Bishop Ndungane’s proposal may represent a moderation of the Jubilee demand for total remission, but it was clear that he expected the mediation council to side, more often than not, with the debtor nations. “I have a dream,” he perorated in a weak imitation of Martin Luther King, “cancellation of debt by the year 2000.”
Bishop Ndungane received a half-standing ovation from the assembly. Afterward some were angry at Wolfensohn’s defensiveness and felt he had spoiled the day. Others appreciated the directness and realism of his speech after much utopian rhetoric. One senses that many bishops, while applauding total debt forgiveness publicly, realize that it is impractical. I pointed out the reason for this in the June/July Encompass editorial:
Creditors know how to “make friends with unrighteous mammon” (Luke 16:9). If we have learned anything in the last 25 years, it is that no-strings-attached welfare does not work at home or abroad. Programs like the HIPC Initiative of the World Bank combine market incentives with debt forgiveness. Why should we disparage their work by lofty proclamations that we cannot possibly carry out?
The week ended quietly in terms of plenary sessions, but the four section groups are moving toward final reports. From these reports, each section will send 3 resolutions to a Resolutions Committee. In addition, each of 9 regional meetings (regions are groups of provinces, which are themselves composed of dioceses) will submit 2 resolutions. The Resolutions Committee, which is one-sidedly weighted with liberals, will screen the resolutions that actually come before the whole assembly. Lambeth Conferences have always passed resolutions that have moral if not legal force throughout the Communion.
The AAC’s Role at Lambeth
There were two big events sponsored this first week by the Oxford Centre/AAC. The first was the distribution of the Lambeth Directory on Monday. The Lambeth Directory is a complete listing, beautifully bound, of every bishop in the Communion, with a photograph and basic statistics. The book was researched by George Conger (amazingly the ACC Executive in London had only sketchy information), and it was paid for by the Bishop of Dallas and published by the Oxford Center and the AAC. Our staff fanned out across the campus to hand-deliver these directories. The directory makes it possible for bishops to identify each other and have more polite and accurate conversation. Archbishop Carey was ecstatic. “This is the Anglican Communion,” he said. Many others, of all different political stripe, agreed that this was a wonderful gift. We see it as representing our primary mission to the Conference, to serve the bishops in their important work.
The second major event was a reception Thursday night to explain and celebrate the Five Talents project. The Five Talents idea emerged out of the Dallas Conference last fall, where we heard the concerns of the Third World bishops about poverty and debt. The project was researched and worked into a formal proposal by Robert Miclean of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, an AAC affiliate, whose director Diane Knippers raised the funding for Robert’s work.
The term “Five Talents” is taken from Jesus’ parable about stewards who used their money wisely in order to earn yet more (Matthew 25:16). It proposes a micro-enterprise development (MED) plan for the churches of the Anglican Communion. Five Talents would link up with Opportunity International, a Christian-based MED group that has 28 years of experience all over the world. The basic idea is that Five Talents would arrange to make small loans ($100) to villagers who would use the money to enhance their business. When they repay the money (and over 90% do), they qualify for further loans. This creates a revolving fund that can be expanded to others.
We hand-delivered invitations to each bishop’s dorm room on Monday and began receiving RSVP’s in large numbers. About 150 bishops attended the Thursday reception at the Franciscan Centre, which featured a tasty spread of pies and cheeses. Considering that we were competing with a production of Murder in the Cathedral at the Canterbury Cathedral and the Jubilee 2000 reception, the turnout was remarkable. The large preponderance of bishops was African, but there were several Western bishops, such as Michael Peers, Archbishop of Canada, and Rowan Williams, Bishop of Monmouth (Wales).
Bishop Simon Chiwanga, who is the head of the ACC (and much more sympathetic to our work than the bureaucrats in London), chaired the reception. “What we would like to see,” he said, “is a resolution at Lambeth which endorses and commends to the Church the Five Talents Project initiative.” He urged that the proposal be pushed forward in several sections, concluding: “As the Church implements Five Talents the world will see our concrete response to poverty. They will see the love of Christ and the tangible way in which we minister to ‘the least of these our brethren’ and God will be glorified.”
We were ecstatic about the response. There seems to be momentum for the Communion to endorse Five Talents. We received notice on Saturday that Archbishop George Carey is the first contributor to the fund, donating £1000. Praise God! If all goes well, our work will be to raise the minimum $500,000 needed to begin the project. With God all things are possible, and we believe that this program will be ready to roll within a year.
Five Talents is not meant to compete directly with Jubilee 2000. The Conference may endorse both. But there are divergent principles at work. Jubilee 2000 aims at governments with the hope they will use money for the poor; Five Talents begins at the grass roots and hopes that strengthening families and villages will enhance the overall quality of life. Jubilee 2000 speaks of a “a moral obligation to forgive debt.” Five Talents assumes that people will repay their debts when they contract them freely and that “to those who are faithful in a little, more will be entrusted.” Jubilee 2000, like the original biblical Jubilee, is more a dream than a reality. MED’s like Five Talents are already being successfully employed around the world.
Meet the AAC Team
There is a team of volunteers, working for the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and AAC. Most of these workers are operating out of the Franciscan Study Center, just off the Kent University campus, and are living together at Riverdale House, a dormitory of the Kent School of Art and Design. Meet some of the foot soldiers in our all-volunteer army.
Truro Episcopal Church has made a signal effort to help the AAC work at Lambeth. The Rector Martyn Minns and his wife Angela and their daughter Rachel have given up three precious weeks of sabbatical time to be here. Martyn leads devotions every morning at 8 am in the dormitory and is organizing various events, such as the upcoming meeting on sexuality to be held next Wednesday. Angela has become house-mother to all the team. She says she actually enjoys doing laundry and has kept us all in clean attire. Rachel interjects good-humored comments into our meetings just when things are getting too heavy.
Bruce Mason is Martyn’s Executive Assistant at Truro. A young man with great organizational gifts, Bruce has helped organize the team, produced the nine-day cycle of prayer, and has worked on the Five Talents project. On Friday night he heard that a gunman had broken into the Whip’s office in Congress where his wife Shay works. We gave thanks that she was not present at that time, even as we grieve with the families of the guards who were killed. Bruce is returning to the States and Truro this weekend.
Paul Julienne, a Truro parishioner, is an atomic physicst with the Bureau of Standards who believes in the power of prayer. He recruited one Episcopalian to pray for every diocesan bishop at Lambeth. On Friday, when my computer crashed, I sought Paul’s technical support. The computer immediately booted up. “You really know what your are doing,” I said. “Actually,” Paul replied gently, “I think my prayer helped.”
Warren Thrasher, another Truroite, took an early separation package from AT&T where he had been a vice-president. Finding himself between jobs, Warren decided to take the opportunity it afforded to serve. He has been ubiquitous during the week, setting up the office, overseeing the mail distributions, and equipping the team with cell phones (he has worked for AT&T no less) and keeping us theological types in touch with the layman’s point of view (Warren’s word or Bishop Spong is not heresiarch but hypocrite).
Marietta Julienne and Emily Thrasher are Truro parishioners who have been librarians in schools and churches. So naturally they began setting up the small but helpful OCMS library at the Study Center. This library provides resources to our team and to bishops who need to write position papers or news reports.
Looking Ahead to Lambeth, Week Two
Several main events are planned for next week. Two of these will seek to bring together bishops from particular regions. The first begins on Saturday, July 25. It will be a celebration of the East African revival, with worship and fellowship.
The second, on Wednesday July 29, will include bishops from India and Pakistan, many of whom have encountered discrimination and persecution from the Hindu and Muslim majorities in their countries.
The third event will be a forum of bishops and advisors to discuss the biblical understanding of sex and marriage, and to talk about the nature of homosexuality and how they may deal with and overcome this disorder. A letter of invitation, signed by 7 archbishops and 68 other bishops, is going out Saturday. We hope that out of this event, all those who share a commitment to biblical morality will be brought together, edified, and unified in their approach to this issue facing the conference.
Please pray for these events, along with our prayer team, which meets from 9am to 10 pm each day. While it is hard to gauge exactly how the conference is moving, we are, all in all, encouraged. We have experienced great encouragement working together and great encouragement from the many godly bishops here. Above all, we are encouraged by “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:1).