Monday, August 4, 2008

Old School Religion rears its head at Lambeth

There were, apparently, two Lambeth Conferences taking place over the last few weeks - one about establishing relationships, seeking common ground, and listening; the other about insensitivity, political judgment, pompous paternalism, institutionalism, and, in the end, appeasement.

What is odd is that the former conference was actually planned by some of those who sought to impose the latter paradigm of conference on them. One has to wonder how this might be so.

This has been clear throughout Lambeth. The only conclusion I have come to is that skilled individuals were involved in the planning but they were under the thumb of Institutional leaders and, in particular, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Of course, this is reminiscent of oft-repeated 'bifocal' vision of Church that holds in tension the Body of Christ and Institutional Religion. Usually, in that view, the Body of Christ is held up as, well, God's vision of who we should be, while Institutional Religion is portrayed as a necessary evil to be ignored if possible and reformed if feasible.

It is ironic, but perhaps not surprising, that this Archbishop of Canterbury should find himself on the side of Institutional Religion and against the Body of Christ, and one has to wonder exactly what Rowan Williams - a scholar without parallel - had to do to twist his former theological perspective into the one on display at the last day of Lambeth.

Amid the experience of the Indaba groups - which almost every bishop who has spoken or blogged has described in glowing terms - there have been institutional presentations that violate the Indaba/bible study model - on the proposed "Covenant", the pastoral forum, the Windsor continuation process, and, now, the Archbishop of Canterbury's final summation of what has to happen for the Communion to survive (survive, at least, in the way he thinks it should survive).

To say that Williams comments were paternalistic is like saying that John Wilkes Booth's action in assassinating Abraham Lincoln was not "helpful" to post-war America - it was, in other words, a gross understatement.

But it was to be expected.

Conservatives will rejoice - though most likely they will ignore the call to withdraw from their incursion into the North American Provinces, and will likely also not back off of proposed incursions in England. Some have already left in all but name. No doubt their plans for a new Communion will continue unabated. The North American conservatives show no indication that they will back down and are, in fact, ramping up their attempts to alienate not just parishes but in some cases whole dioceses from their North American provinces.

Progressives - with much hand-wringing - will likely also ignore the call for permanent moratoria. Most likely this will first - and most immediately - be seen over the blessing of same-sex couples, which will continue in the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and in some of the British provinces - ironically, most likely in England (though probably not publicly). The self-imposed moratorium on the consecration of those people whose "manner of life" represents a challenge to "some of" the Communion will probably last a little longer, but will go the way of all flesh in Anaheim at the 2009 General Convention (the Episcopal Church is nothing if not a democratic Church).

And what about the Anglican Communion? I expect it will continue to muddle along, uncomfortable about the "P.D.A"s - public displays of anger - and name-calling (so unlike the genteel model of relationship bequeathed to the Communion by our English cousins), wishing that we could re-focus on the really important issues - world hunger, global warming, the distribution of resources, violence and dictatorships, freedom and justice.

And stop worrying about trying to figure out who God thinks should love who.