Lambeth II: Why many bishops did not come
By Chris Sugden
July 24th, 2008
In his opening sermon at the Lambeth Conference, the bishop of Colombo, the Right Reverend Duleep de Chickera, insisted that the Anglican tradition was to welcome everybody. It is, he said, "an inclusive communion, where there is space equally for everyone and anyone, regardless of color, gender, ability, sexual orientation. Unity in diversity is a cherished Anglican tradition."
Given this shared tradition, why did some 230 of the Communion's 800 plus bishops choose not to come? Because they hold that - above anything else - the unifying, formal commitment of the Anglican Church is to Scripture and its teaching, and that those who are endorsing blessing same-sex relationships and consecrating active gay men as bishops are innovators who are setting the teaching of the Bible aside. For these 230 bishops this is a matter of conscience - obedience to the Bible and the continuous teaching of the Church.
The innovators hold that these bishops may disapprove of same-sex behavior, but put this down to their conformity to the taboos of their culture. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the president of the conference, told the gathering: "We have it in us to be a Church that can manage to respond generously and flexibly to diverse cultural situations while holding fast to the knowledge that we can also be free from what can be the suffocating pressure of local demands and priorities because we are attentive and obedient to the liberating gift of God in Jesus and in the Scripture."
But the fact is that the bishops who declined to come to Canterbury this year represent over 30 million of the 55 million churchgoing Anglicans. Most of their congregations are in Africa and other parts of the global south. They are opposed outright to the ordination of practicing homosexuals, but have differing approaches to the ordination of women; some do and some do not.
The innovators argue that these differences should be set aside or overlooked because of our common faith and traditions of inclusiveness. But this misstates both the principles of our faith and our traditions.
The Anglican Communion is a family of 38 provinces around the world linked by a common confession of faith and historical antecedents that both preceded and followed British colonialism.
The first Anglicans insisted that Scripture be read and services be held in the language of the culture, English. But they did not require people to believe traditions or follow practices that were not required by Scripture or to forswear practices on which Scripture was silent. This led to a diversity of religious and cultural practices in the church, expressed in the maxim: "In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity."
This practice of "comprehensiveness" - allowing the Church to embrace the national culture where possible - was very appealing to people forming churches for the first time in African cultures, especially following the post-colonial period in the 1960s.
But the idea of comprehensiveness has now been erroneously expanded to mean that the church is inclusive of everyone. In the American branch, The Episcopal Church, USA, Holy Communion, a celebration that Jesus held with his disciples only, is now often offered to anyone of any faith on the grounds of inclusion. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, commented on the opening sermon at Lambeth on Sunday: "It's what the Church is today. It is inclusive - even those who don't agree with the message, it includes them too."
This means that you are included even if you do not want to be. Moreover, this liberal practice, laudable as it might appear in print, is highly selective, even illiberal.
In the United States, those who disagree with her have found themselves excluded: One hundred priests have been deposed and 200 congregations have been exiled from their church buildings for not accepting the liberal Episcopal Church's position.
For the 230 bishops who declined to attend the Lambeth Conference, the problem is that the American church has blessed people in their disobedience to God. In response to a plea by English evangelical bishops to attend the conference, representatives of these conservative bishops wrote that some of their co-religionists in the United States who had objected to the consecration of V. Gene Robinson "have been charged with abandonment of communion. Their congregations have either forfeited or are being sued for their properties by the very bishops with whom you wish us to share Christian family fellowship for three weeks."
"To do this is an assault on our consciences and our hearts. How can we explain to our church members that while we and they are formally out of communion" with the Episcopal Church, "we at the same time live with them at the Lambeth Conference as though nothing had happened? This would be hypocrisy."
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