There is currently a lot of questioning that we might phrase, “to Lambeth, or not to Lambeth?” Diocesan conventions in Utah and Olympia (the western area of Washington state) have recommended that our bishops not attend. Bishop Steven Charleston has had the same thought. It’s been a topic of discussion over at Fr. Jake’s place.
That discussion brought about this response from me. Having first raised that thought in a “Brainstorming” post, I thought I would go ahead and bring my response over here, and perhaps expand on it a bit.
Once upon a time, a humble chaplain floated the possible thought that American bishops not attend Lambeth. They would still pay for it (somebody important once said something about "heaping coals of fire on their heads"), but would choose themselves to stay home. They would also then return to full participation in the Anglican Consultative Council, so as to affirm our place in the Anglican Communion. It was thought then that it might be an expression of humility, and a choice not to participate in the climate of invective.
The humble chaplain has not forgotten the climate of invective that resulted. He might still be cleaning up the stains. (Okay, so I'm not so humble; but otherwise the recent history is accurate.)
But, things have changed a lot. First, it seems ever more clear to me that the definition of "Anglican Communion" will be determined by who shows up at Lambeth - thus my occasional reference to "cowboy poker."
Second, we have more detailed information that the Global South Steering Committee primates have a whole lot more bark than bite regarding opinions across the Communion. Between the report of the majority of the Joint Standing Committee and the subsequent responses of most provinces to questions from Canterbury, across the Communion the pluralities of those who think the Episcopal Church has done enough and those who think we've done enough to keep talking significantly outweighs those who want to throw us out.
Finally, the Canterbury has said time and again that this Lambeth is to return to "reflection and mutual consultation," and not fall into attempting to legislate. Of those provinces who would agree that these are the appropriate activities for Lambeth, we have the largest bloc. We are best prepared - possibly essential - for inhibiting this Lambeth from being hijacked, whoever shows up (acknowledging, too, that those who would most want to hijack Lambeth are also those who would least want to show up if we do). Lambeth 1998 was hijacked, and we may be able to take a significant role in preventing that happening again.
With these things in mind, I'm coming to believe that, with these new circumstances, our bishops, or at least most of them, should go.
I could add to the matters that have changed since my initial thought. For example, while remaining publicly ambivalent about Lambeth, the Church of Nigeria – Anglican has been creating new dioceses and bishops wholesale. I’m referring to new dioceses in Nigeria, and not to their divisive insertions into the United States. If they did choose to attend, nonattendance by so large a group as our bishops would leave them with a plurality, perhaps a dominant plurality, at Lambeth.
On the basis of the CAPA statement, “The Road to Lambeth,” the Ugandans have expressed their intent to decline Lambeth, and others may follow them. But leadership in CAPA is changing. The new Chairman of CAPA, Bishop Ian Ernest of Mauritius appears so far to be a moderate – a conservative moderate, no doubt, but not a reactionary. Watching the Province of Central Africa come apart at the seams may well give him and other CAPA leaders a different perspective on fragmentation within the Communion.
Retired bishops from both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada have been signing on with the Church of the Southern Cone to assist in what seems to be a new “Oklahoma race” to divide up territory in North America. The report of the Joint Standing Committee, cited above, highlights boundary violations for the violations of the Windsor Process that they are. One thing that Canterbury has stated clearly in the past couple of years is his belief that there really is a Windsor Process, that it is the way to discover new ways in which provinces might relate to one another, and that hasty action undermines it. To support him by attending Lambeth is to affirm his support for continued, measured discussion instead of overly hasty “clarity.”
So, yes, I did have the thought that our bishops might decline Lambeth, not in a spirit of pique but in one of humility. However, enough has changed that I think it not the best idea. We need to confirm our support for the process orientation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, whether or not we’re always excited about his statements. To do that, we need to join in the dance.