Monday, May 23, 2022

Lambeth Expectations: Much or Not so much?

So, this is the year of the Lambeth Conference for this decade (26 July to 8 August, 2022). The last one was in 2008. There should have been one in 2018. Contretemps in the Communion postponed it to 2020. Covid postponed 2020 to 2022. It's been a big deal for bishops since the first one in 1867. It's been controversial, none more so than 1998 with its resolution 1.10 which at the time seemed to settle the Communion on the matter of homosexuality, but it turned out that was far from the case. (It is not the purpose of this post to review that particular historical narrative). 

Subsequently Lambeth 2008 assiduously turned itself away from the making of resolutions as far as possible and was a big talk fest (indaba) which my then bishop, Richard Ellena of the Diocese of Nelson, described in the following terms: "I believe (at this stage – and there are still two days to go) that this has been the most expensive exercise in futility that I have ever been to". (Again, it is not the purpose of this post to review the worthwhileness of that Lambeth Conference, but clearly not all found it a profitable exercise).

So, what are the prospects for this year's Conference? Will it not be an exercise in futility? What is the purpose of the Conference and does it have a "big thing" it is trying to achieve?

In the end, I can't offer a pre-Conference answer to these questions. There is a "big thing" inasmuch as there will be foci in the Conference in the troubles that beset our world today and what we as bishops might say in response to them - and presumably any formal Conference statement will encourage our dioceses to continuing engagement in the tackling of these troubles. The theme of the Conference is "God's church for God's world" and I like the note that the church is "for" the world.

On the main Conference webpage we read this:

"Convened by The Archbishop of Canterbury in 2022, the Lambeth Conference is a gathering of bishops from across the Anglican Communion for prayer and reflection, fellowship and dialogue on church and world affairs.

With the theme of ‘God’s Church for God’s World - walking, listening and witnessing together,’ the conference will explore what it means for the Anglican Communion to be responsive to the needs of a 21st Century world.

The journey to the conference starts during 2021, where there will be opportunities for prayer, dialogue and reflection, involving the conference community – and wider Anglican World."

It looks like our reflection and dialogue will focus on matters such as the conflictual nature of our world, and the threat of environmental disaster and the diminishment of life through poverty and inequality.

Mind you, a world faced with environmental disaster doesn't quite cut it for some bishops as a "big thing." Thus:

Three Afican Primates (Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda) have issued an open letter, reported by The Living Church, in which they explain why they are boycotting Lambeth:

"The Communique issued after the Primates’ Meeting of March 2022 in Lambeth Palace, London, was silent on the agenda of the proposed Lambeth 2022, which is a ploy to evade the crucial issue of human sexuality. The conclusions reached by the Primates suggest that the subject of human sexuality is not on the agenda at the next Lambeth Conference, as if the problems generated by the admission of homosexuality as a normal way of life as opposed to Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998 could be swept under the carpet. 

Instead, Lambeth 2022 is to focus on peripheral matters about the environment and difficulties experienced by disadvantaged communities. Their focus on the environment should be rooted in biblical theology within an authentic salvation message and must not abandon that for any social cause.

Human sexuality is not a moral issue to be wrapped in the garment of human rights which allows for distortion of fundamental biblical truth."

The planet is burning up, but that is "peripheral"!

Well, let's see what happens. I would be a bit surprised if nothing is said about human sexuality. Conversely, I have no personal desire to go to a conference which has nothing to talk about except the well worn conversational grooves of Anglican differences over homosexuality (1998-2022 edition).

I would love to find through the Conference how much we have in common as members of a global church when our globe is facing so many common challenges! That would be a "big thing" ...

In the meantime, apparently if we don't get Covid, or Covid-again, then monkeypox is spreading.


Peter Carrell said...

Just testing that the comment box does open for this post. Seems to. BW has posted a comment about this post on the comment thread for my previous post.

Mark Murphy said...

It seems beyond strange that the above mentioned church leaders consider climate change and poverty to be 'peripheral matters' in comparison to sexuality issues.

I thought it was the Northern churches that are usually portrayed as being obsessed with identity politics?

Mind you, just look how many posts That Topic produced here (many from me!). Climate change produces such an understandable sense of powerlessness, anxiety, and avoidance, and we're really haven't spent as much time discussing the theology of it.... maybe sexuality is safer.

Father Ron said...

I hope, Bishop Peter, and I believe that you will personally elect to be present at your first Lambeth Conference, as both a representative of our diocese and ACANZP here in the South Pacific, where some of the Islands are already disappearing under the ocean's rising - due to the urgent problems of Climate Change. It may be that most of the inhabitants of the countries represented by GAFCON/ACNA (who have stated they will not attend Lambeth because of its 'preoccupation' with Climate Change and other matters affecting the real world) do not have the same problems as other members of the Anglican Communion Provinces. However, anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear can readily recognise the priorities that should occupy the next Lambeth Conference.

Human Sexuality, though, is also an important part of theological understanding, especially now that the scientific world - which has already identified the climate emergency - has also discovered that human sexual identity is no longer deemed solely bound up with a purely binary understanding of male and female, such as might have been deemed 'de rigeur' in the esoteric world of Sola Scriptura legalists. The is a distinct category of human beings - members of the Body of Christ, some of them - whose gender/sexuality happens to be different from the 'binary norm', but no less loved by God than the majority who are secure in their own binary identification. As a minority, LGBTQI people need to be respected and accepted by the Church - to at least the degree with which they are accepted by the society in which we all live and move and have our being, and which the Church exists to pastor.

If the Body of Christ needs more time to free itself from institutional homophobia, racism and misogyny, then we who are followers of Christ ought, surely, to redeem that time! The Lambeth Conference is charged with helping the world to enter into a time of Peace, Truth and Justice - all qualities called forth in the Scriptures; whose deepest meaning we humans sometimes misinterpret, in our thirst for moralistic human judgement, rather than the more kindly exercise of the divine mercy intrinsic to our salvation

Mark Murphy said...

“God is infinitely one and infinitely diverse...diversity, when it is rooted in unity, is enriching...When there isn’t a unity, then diversity is experienced as divisive.” (Thomas Keating)

“When you see the deeper unity, you’re not threatened by the outer diversity. But if you don’t see the deeper unity, every outer diversity is something that’s got to be changed.” (Richard Rohr)

Anonymous said...

"The comment box under this week's OP will not open for me."

Mark has shown that the bug was a feature of the software on my phone.

"If the upcoming Lambeth Conference advances nothing more than the continuity of the Communion, that is sufficient."

This still seems sufficient. If some miss the Conference, God is their judge, and we have the ideas of those who do attend to think about.

"7:54 PM"


Abortion? Noise, but as yet no news.

Here up yonder, the conflict between proponents of rival theories of democracy and constitutions of knowledge will continue to absorb chatter on culture wars topics, including that one. On the ground, pastors already face more or less pressure to choose between a liberal polity with empirical expertise and some illiberal one expressing popular sentiment. Political theology is top of mind, but few have ever explored it, and all large churches without exception are divided over it.


Anonymous said...

Jacinda Ardern on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (5/25)--


Peter Carrell said...

It is lovely to see our PM looking relaxed and happy.

Also, quite brilliantly plugging away on a popular US show about all that makes us the Blessed Isles.

We need some tourists!

And some purchases of our food an drink.


Father Ron said...

And meanwhile, Moore College, Sydney, has just hosted a podcast on the subject of LUST _ seemingly the most important subject for Sydney Anglicans (and at least 3 Gafcon Primates) at this time! Priorities?

Anonymous said...

The centre speaks up--


Mark Murphy said...

One contemplative reading of Genesis 2 and 3 sees the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as symbolizing the birth of dualistic thinking…

Innocently, we see this is the child’s pattern of understanding the world in terms of contrasting or opposing qualities. One of my children’s favourite books was The Book of Opposites (according to Winnie the Pooh): light versus heavy, up versus down, night versus day, empty honeypot versus full... We learn – we pursue becoming wise – through the ‘law of two-s’.

You would imagine that we would eventually learn that this way of thinking is too clumsy for the infinite variations of creation. But rather than becoming updated, our adolescent and young adult search for autonomy, security, power, and esteem seems to involve the repetition and *committed identification with* dualistic thought forms….Me versus not-Me, My tribe versus Yours, Us versus Them, Jew versus Greek, Spirit versus Matter, Human versus nature (especially pronounced in Genesis 3) etc. Spiritually, this gives rise to biggest problem of all: the idea, and persistent existential sense, that we are separate from God (contemplatives call this the false self, ego, or separate-self sense).

Evangelical OT scholar, John Walton, argues that Genesis 3 should be emphasized less as the birth of original sin and more as an explanation of how humankind lost direct access to God’s presence.

Jesus’s kingdom of heaven was so hard to hear or see because it represents a radical shattering (or upgrading) of the dualistic mind: in the Beatitudes, parables, in the mystical trinitarianism of John’s Jesus, in Christ's Passion and Easter-tide, ‘the ruler of this world is condemned’.

Forgive this potted history: for some of you, an inexcusable simplification, for others, a short lesson in how to suck eggs. I’m wanting to provide another sort of context for current church tensions…

Notwithstanding the clear need for reform, Richard Rohr has gone as far as to say that the Reformation period brought about the death of the contemplative mind in western Christianity. After the reformation, we see a hyper-development of argumentativeness, dualistic identity formation, schism, tribalism, and ideological violence within the Body of Christ.

Maybe we’ve never recovered...or are only just beginning to recover?

Are we witnessing a resurgence of dualistic, tribal, egoic Christianity (divide, defend, argue, schism) in the present debates over sexuality and church relations? Could this even be a hopeful sign? That the ruler of this world, under present existential threat, is fighting hard to keep his ancient grip on our hearts and minds?

Anonymous said...

Lambeth Conferences cost money and virtue-signals help to raise that. So this, or any Conference, is inclined to say safe and obvious things about causes already dear to likely donors, whether the Communion needs to hear them or not. Lambeth is worth a message.

Big church meetings have never been free. Bear in mind that this is not nearly so onerous as say persuading the Most Christian King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor to permit the Council of Trent. Some of the most consequential pronouncements have been incidental to more urgent occasions.

An archbishop invited bishops to come dedicate a new cathedral at Orange and then sprang a list of theses on grace and free will on those who came. Ever since, the West has treated this tiny "council" as ecumenical and its theses as dogma. The East flatly denies both, which suggests that a grander assembly with imperial support could not have met and would not have approved them. The idea that a council could be, not an occasional event, but a permanent institution was modern.

The first Lambeth Conference was both. There was a concrete and churchly problem that could be solved by bishops voting in a room. In a few churches-- for the most part, neither TEC nor the CoE-- there was also desire for a permanent higher authority. One can view the result as a friendly tension between those who belong to a loose alliance of the willing and those who yearn for a counterpart to the North Atlantic Council of NATO. Hence the old standoff over Gene Robinson.

Those of us who see the Holy Spirit at work in situated problems have expected very little from most Lambeth Conferences, are very happy simply that the bishops meet, and think it's superstitious and counterproductive to fret about rude guests who do not show up to parties. Hardly anybody showed up to the venerated Council of Orange, but a millennium and a half later, it is still unpleasant to be called a Pelagian.

Understandably, the ACO takes the institutionalist side and officially expects that asteroids will alter their paths through space if the right resolutions pass with everyone present. Conversely, if the wise and the good come to dedicate + Peter's new/old cathedral, the Holy Spirit cannot say anything to Anglicans through them because the ACO did not invite them.

Here, a counterplan. From time to time, institutionalists fidget that there still aren't enough permanent structures to satisfy... something. It has not been enough to meet every ten years; there have needed to be congresses, a consultative council, primates' meetings, the ACO itself. Lately there has been niggling about the selection of the ABC and even a desire to replace him or her with a new nonpapal, yet still papal archbishop of everywhere.

(It was ever thus. At Nicaea and Constantinople, some fathers wanted to get the creed about God right, but others wanted to arrange the major sees in an agreeable order of precedence. In 381, angry Egyptians could only see the elevation of Constantinople itself and Jerusalem as a cosmic injustice to the pope in Alexandria. Point at the moon and a dog will bark at your hand.)

The Communion was fine as it was in the mid-C20, so if anything I would to return from elborate ptolemaic epicycles of epicycles to elegant heliocentrism. But one novel experiment might be worth considering: convening a Lambeth Conference somewhere outside the British Isles. San Francisco, Johannesburg, Melbourne, Varanasi. The ABC would still be the ABC, and the precedents would still be the precedents, but the host see would be near more Anglicans and the Conference might possibly benefit from having new donors and local planners.


Father Ron said...

Thank you, Mark, for your thoughts on the continuance of the problems of dualistic thinking in the Church. Unity has aye been celebrated in the Eucharist. When we gather for Mass today at SMAA in Christchurch, we will be acknowledging the Ascension to the Father of the Christ in whom, alone, our unity with God and one another is secured. 'God has gone up withe trumpet sound, Alleluia!'

Anonymous said...

"I’m wanting to provide another sort of context for current church tensions…"

Well, there's the chronicle of what has happened, one thing after another.

And then there's the biblical narrative in which we are somewhere in the unwritten chapters of the Book of Acts.

On the level of chronicle, Richard Rohr mentions things that did not quite happen and misses relevant things that did. Like the rest of us, he is right in what he understands with empathy, wrong in what is over his horizon. Protestant spirituality is far over his horizon.

But do keep trying to get a factual chronicle undistorted by *motivated reasoning*. That does make broad ecumenical empathy much easier. And then you don't have to hate some groups to love the others as the happy warriors do.

On the biblical plane, you and I are connecting the same dots and have read the same people about them.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Jacinda Ardern, Commencement Address, Harvard University (5/26)--


Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding us on the Eucharist in this context, Father Ron. A dangerous meal indeed. Should come with a health warning:
Warning, non-duality ahead!

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say to this, Bowman.

I don't think we get to the kingdom of God by compiling and studying a chronicle of facts.

You and I might be interested in different ways of knowing, here, hence my comments on different forms of consciousness as offering another context to present debates.

Peter Carrell said...

The SBC story is bad, very bad.

Jacinda Ardern is our Great Communicator!

Unknown said...

Or we may be interested in the same ways of knowing, but I've never found just so stories about other people's religions helpful to reaching those ways.


Unknown said...

Mark, there is also this: the peacemakers are blessed because they are on the Way of the Son, whilst those who only know themselves in oppositional identities have other lords or they would not be fight-heads.

Which, Peter, may be the lesson of the ghastly story of the SBC. The happy warriors took power and were further corrupted.


Anonymous said...

Hey Bowman

I think you might be responding to Rohr's comment about the reformation. I heard this *spoken* by him, with no rancour or judgement - nothing 'just so'. But, of course, full of provocative wit, as befitting the role of a prophet.

I've always experienced Rohr as very open to those beyond Catholic boundaries. In fact, he often angers Catholics for being this way.

That said, he seems to be very helpful to a lot of my Protestant (non-Anglican) friends, who perhaps read him more than I. And he often introduces them to something which they've never heard before, or not spoken of publically.

That 'something' is not Richard Rohr's to be sure; but without it I think we (I!) end up like Apollos in Acts 18 - 'eloquent', speaking with 'burning enthusiasm', 'well versed in the scriptures', and missing 'the Way'.

Father Ron said...

Looking back, Bowman, on your comment about the uselessness of Church Councils (Lambeth?) On May 27 @ 07.32. How would you rate the usefulness of meetings of the Gafcon sodality - apparently financed, largely, by Sydney and U.S. Con/Evo interested parties?

Unknown said...

Richard Rohr is neither a reliable historian of the advent of modernity, nor an empathetic interpreter of Protestant spirituality. Nor, back in the day, was Thomas Merton, who was helpful to similar people in similar ways.

There cannot be churches without meetings, but it is best not to expect too much of them Lambeth Conferences are valuable if they decide nothing at all. And sometimes they deliver more than was expected. GAFCON's meetings have delivered less than was promised.


Anonymous said...

Since not many at ADU speak fluent Rohr (or Wilbur), Mark, allusions to *non-duality* here may not be moving your freight down the track. Let's try more traditional language.

When all regenerate souls are in the immediate Presence experiencing the beatific vision, they will not be disunited, and will broadly agree, but they will nevertheless not be uniform clones. Differences that arise from *idolatry* will have been left behind or they could not be regenerate, and defects in their capacity for spiritual insight will have been corrected or they could not be changed from glory to glory, but the image-bearers will have identities. A unitive experience of God will not have removed all the differences among souls that result from their temperament, their emergence from diverse places and times, or their life experiences. Not to put too fine a point on it, they will not all belong to any thought-tribe of the present day.

Now it is dogmatically clear that a disagreement causing schism is not in the mind of Christ by which souls are regenerated toward, among other things, unity in him. So something has been faulty in the consciousness of those who have divided the Body, and that something cannot withstand a deeper union with him. Moreover progress in that union is marked by a deeper charity that is able to recognise those faults and desire the illumination of those who are confused by them. This charity is a participation in the will of God as the Creator without which none will be saved.

So where we have seen disagreement in that charity, we seem to be seeing, not a defect of consciousness, but the mere diversity of souls. Some people, for example, change their opinions on the basis of evidence or reasoning with little or no change of consciousness. On the other hand, where we have seen disagreement without that charity, we seem to be seeing resistance to the regeneration that we must expect in those who serve only the Lord.

Again, from the perspective given by charity, our concern is less for the opinions of souls than for their progress. In this context, it may indeed be interesting to discuss duality, non-duality, etc here.


Anonymous said...


There is a way to be crazy without being ill.

When scraps of thought jolt you, you can make them the centre of your own thinking. Early in life, it is hard to do anything else.

But if the scraps are the downstream sediment of distant headwaters, then you don't quite know what they mean. Treating the sand as a spring will be perplexing. Doubling down on this will lead to disordered thought.

This is not unusual in postmodern churches.


Anonymous said...

Can there be identity without memory?