02 August 2008

Lambeth's aftermath -- the collateral damage

Lambeth 2008 is over. Monday the big-tent will be taken down, folded, and put away. The foreign bishops will pack their bags, bid the Anglia adieu, and head back to their respective dioceses. There will be a few more drinks parties before the last rochet is packed away, but as they say in the Deep South, “it’s all over but the shouting’” unless Rowan does something remarkably stupid, which I very much doubt.

For all of the fear and press’ spin, this has probably been the most “boring” of all the Lambeth conferences. Although we'll know the rest of the story about 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time when the big press conferences start. What we do know is that as this week has progressed the indaba groups have become more tension filled thanks to certain bishops taking orders from the grand pooh-bah of the Gacfonites.

Ten years ago, the Primate of All England railroaded an unpopular (and dead-on-arrival) document though the conference. It did not reflect “the mind of the Communion” and one tiny portion of it took on a monolithic status. This bigotry set the stage for a major migraine. This year there have been no resolutions, as it should be. There have been pontificating and many behind-the-scene conclaves with primates who said they would not be at Lambeth. However, the plans have not come to fruition as they had hoped. But, again, we await this morning press conference when the final draft of the recommendation is released. There will be no surprises there. All five member of the committee are opposed to the ordination of GLBT people. One member of the group has even supported the formation of an alternative Communion.

Ten years ago, a large group of bishops arrived looking for a fight. This year a very small number of bishops arrived with that agenda. It is true that many bishops arrived with less than charitable feelings towards other bishops, but the majority came with the desire to keep the communion intact. The pervasive spirit has been one of collegiality, despite some sabre rattling.

For the most part, the U.S. and Canadian bishops have made a herculean effort to heal and to promote understanding. They have succeeded beyond most people’s expectations to the vexation of a few bishops.

The star of this Lambeth was Bishop Robinson, the best possible ambassador for the U.S. and Canadian churches. Everyone who took the time to meet him came away with a different perspective of Robinson. They might still disagree with his consecration, but at least they know Gene Robinson and not “that gay bishop.”

Robinson was also the favourite bishop for the Communion’s youth gathered to assist with the conference. In forty years, when the names of all the “players” in the current drama are mere footnotes in history, these young people will still revere the name of Gene Robinson. I’ll go out on a limb and say he will be in Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Too bad I won’t be around to say, “I told you so!”

I believe that the real success of this conference is that the bishops now see people with whom they disagree, and not groups of “them” and “us.” They know one another as individuals struggling to come to grips with biblical exegesis, changing attitudes, science, and justice; people who need certainty in uncertain times. But there is a danger in such familiarity; the justice issue becomes blurred. Do our bishops do what is righteous, or do they try to avoid "offending" new friends who have differing opinions.

I have to give credit where credit is due – Rowan has managed to have a peaceful conference despite the terminal prognosis. Yes, Rowan and his team can tell each other, “jolly well done.” But, the lion’s share of the credit goes to the participants themselves. The bishops came to Lambeth with one overriding desire – to preserve the Anglican Communion. Too bad the schism was a done deal before the opening event at Lambeth.

I will wager that Sunday night Rowan rings downstairs and asks for the largest gin and tonic in history to be delivered to his drawing room. I can see him slumped in his chair, his shoeless feet up on the ottoman, drink in hand, head leaning back, thanking God that this conference was over and it didn’t blow up like the fireworks on Guy Fawkes’ Day.

What remains now is what the bishops and primates will do once they return home -- the price tag for this conference and a false sense of Communion. I believe the cost will be dear, and it is not good. TEC's bishops have inbibled the Lambeth Kool-Aide with the tea and biscuits.

We can ignore the split issue. That is a done deal, nothing this conference could have done would satisfy the biblical literalists who chose emotion rather than exegesis. They want power not Communion. They are gone. The only person who truly does not realise this is Rowan Williams.

As an Episcopalian, I am concerned that the majority of our bishops will choose the more conservative way forward – no honest gay bishops will received consent and a “with all deliberate speed” move toward blessing legal same-gender marriages. I hope you all understand the "all deliberate speed" reference. Google it if you don't.

I was dismayed to hear a report that some of our bishops are apologizing for Robinson’s consecration. According to a very reliable soruce (known to me personally) The Rt. Rev’d. Barry Beisner (Northern California) a thrice-married openly heterosexual serial polygamist was apologizing for TEC’s actions. Beisner evidently feels his adultery is completely acceptable and is willing to call Robinson’s consecration wrong. Well, he has radical bishops of years past to thank for his consent. Had bishops over the past 30 years not questioned the literal interpretation of Jesus’ teaching on divorce, Beisner would be an obscure cleric in some out of way mission. I will gladly give +Beisner a space to refute the information here, if he so desires.

I’m concerned that my bishop, the Rt. Rev’d. Mary Grey-Reeves, will deeply disappoint us. Her pastoral letter on same-gender blessings was not pastoral. She has called for a time of waiting. Waiting for what? The bigots to agree to bless loving relationship? That is not going to happen – their train left the station.

Then there is the bishop of San Diego, the Rt. Rev’d. James Mathes. He’s been a man true to his conviction heretofore [that means he has been very supportive of the GLBT community], but he’s going to back off from what he believes to be right. Read his letter to the diocese from Lambeth and tell me what you think it means. [After I wrote this article Episcopal Life published this.]

I do not see justice flowing down like rivers (Amos 5.24) for the GLBT members of our church. That's wrong. Dr. King Jr said "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Fortunately, we have general convention just months away. That is when the rubber will meet the road. This time the deputies are not going to be manipulated and duped. The Genie Robinson is out of the bottle and it is never going back in again.

The bishops can, and for the foreseeable future will, withhold consent to any qualified gay/lesbian who is out and partnered/married. The bishops will drag their feet about marital blessings for all members of the church and forbid clergy to officiate at GLB weddings but continue to officiate for hetrosexual weddings (most of whom are, according the bible, foricators). Bishops will find "other reasons" to nix qualified candidates from holy orders because of orientation.

And all of this because of fear. FDR told us all we need to know about fear – “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” As a whole, the college of bishops doesn’t seem to understand that. They can't seem to remember that Jesus goes before us: "Go tell the disciples -- and Peter -- that I go before them into [the unknown]. (Mk 16)

The Communion still stands for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. The question is whom will it forsake?

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m sorry to say, I don’t think I am. What do you think?

While you're thinking, go over and read a great wee "play" at Padre Mickey's Dance Party. You'll be glad you did.

UPDATE: Go read the Scotsman; you'll be glad you did. It's nice to know TEC received its first bishop from the hands of the Scottish Episcopal Church.