Saturday, May 26, 2007

Lambeth-ology (Woodward)

by the Rev. Thomas B. Woodward

There are several directions blogs can take in times of crisis. One is to advocate for a position against what one sees as threat. Another is to provide information about who really did say what and about what relevant documents show. In Lambeth-ology, I want to explore some of the issues involved in the invitations and lack thereof to the upcoming Lambeth Conference and to make some suggestions that are in, outside, and under the box.


I believe it is wise to throw our weight behind our Presiding Bishop and our President of the House of Deputies. They have shown in their recent statements and in their statesmanship in recent months that they understand the issues, the moral imperatives and the necessity that the Episcopal Church remain fully committed to the vision I and others have held before the church. I trust their work with our own bishops and with the Anglican Communion.


Bishop Gene Robinson has recently reiterated his suggestion to the Archbishop of Canterbury that he be given guest status at this Lambeth Conference rather than receive an invitation that would further divide the Communion. His words mirror the graciousness, generosity, and compassion for those who oppose and even vilify him. At a time when some people are hurling reckless charges about biblical standards, I am inspired by +Gene’s Christ-like response at this difficult time.

A Time for Circumspection on the Right

Network, Windsor-compliant, Camp Allen bishops have an unnoticed but important stake in the full inclusion of Bishop Robinson in the deliberations and attendance at Lambeth. Why? It is because once the precedent has been set that those who cause discomfort for significant blocks of bishops may be excluded, that precedent may fall back on those who might least expect it. For instance, many of our Anglo-Catholic bishops have been the most involved in matters of social justice. What if their stance was so clear and so compelling as to alienate the powerful bishops of other provinces? Would not they expect the support of their House of Bishops regarding Lambeth? Of course they would. Of course they should. Do conservative bishops want an Episcopal Church that will stand up for its bishops when they find themselves taking a stand against a significant part of the Anglican Communion? While that support should come free, there is a price to pay – and now is the time to pay it. This is the time to assert the full collegiality of our House of Bishops, affirming that significant differences will always be a part of the life of that body. The alternative, in Pastor Niemoeller’s words, will be the ecclesiastical version of

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.

A Time for Solidarity

As several have suggested, all bishops should be encouraged to wear a pink triangle, a rainbow pin, one of those "Ask me about Gene" buttons from the 2003 General Convention, or something similar – if for no other reason than that the attacks on Bishop Robinson have involved an attack on our own polity and the integrity of the Episcopal Church and our dioceses to follow our own constitution and canons.

When I was Episcopal chaplain at the University of Wisconsin, a local evangelist threatened to expose all the gay members of the state legislature and the Madison city council. Several legislators and city council members gathered with the campus clergy and others to plan a response. I was chosen to work directly with those involved. The following week, local newspapers reported that the mayor and the entire city council had passed a resolution which stated: “In response to the charges of the Rev. Wayne Dillabaugh that there are gay people in the city council, we hereby affirm that we, the mayor and all city council members are gay.”

We, as a community and House of Bishops, should do no less.

Not to Invite is to Invite – or “Beyond the Box”

The whole matter can be dealt with by logic. The argument that first surfaces against the consecration of Gene Robinson was that he was consecrated, not just as the Bishop of New Hampshire, but as a “bishop in the church of God.” So, the argument went, he was also a bishop in Nigeria, Bolivia, and West Texas. However, by not inviting him to Lambeth, the Archbishop of Canterbury is acknowledging that Bishop Robinson is merely a bishop in New Hampshire – and not centrally “a bishop in the church of God.” However, if that is so, the argument by Archbishop Akinola and part of the Windsor Report is moot. Therefore, since Bishop Robinson is not primarily a bishop in the church of God, but only a bishop in New Hampshire, he can and should be invited. Put in a way that Johnny Cochran would approve: “not to invite is to invite.”

As a footnote, while much has been made in denigrating Bishop Robinson’s consecration that bishops are primarily “bishops in the church of God,” it is true in our polity as well as from the early years of the Christian church (the Council of Nicaea) that no bishop can perform an ecclesiastical act in another diocese without the express permission of that bishop.

"Let Those Who Have Ears to Hear . . .” (Jesus of Nazareth)

As Bruce Garner, member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has noted, there is something seriously out of whack in the reasoning attached to excluding Bishop Robinson. Says Bruce: “We constantly hear the call to engage in dialogue with lesbians and gays as part of the 'Windsor Process' among other notions and processes. Yet the Archbishop of Canterbury essentially squelches that possibility by not including +Gene in the next Lambeth gathering.”

Most of us know by name several bishops who have received their invitations to Lambeth and have chosen not to be open and candid about their homosexuality. What insight they could provide to the other bishops at Lambeth! That probably will not happen, because those who have lived in that kind of fear for so long are not easily moved to a life of openness and candor – and because +Gene Robinson and others have the kind of integrity that will not allow them to expose those who have chosen to remain silent – even when it would be to their own advantage to do so.

It is obvious that our vocation as a Communion is to listen to one another – and we can’t do that by proxy. This Lambeth Conference, still in the planning process, provides an opportunity for repentance and renewal for our bishops and for us as a church.


Anonymous John-Julian, OJN said...

Go! Everybody!

And rainbows for all!

Thanks, Tom.

5/26/2007 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and Guest badges for all!
Let's face it, a Guest badge is now a pink triangle.

5/27/2007 1:54 AM  

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