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DAR2007: The End of Anglican Fudge - by Gary L'Hommedieu

DAR2007: The End of Anglican Fudge

by Canon Gary L'Hommedieu (en route from Dar es Salaam)www.virtueonline.org

"Every time Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori dons her personalized vestments, there's a vision of sunrise." (USA Today, Feb. 5, 2007)

"It's a new dawn." (The Most Rev. Emmanuel Kolini, Archbishop of the Province of Rwanda, Feb. 20, 2007; at breakfast the morning after the Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

Well it looked like fudge; even smelled like fudge. I'm sitting on board a Boeing 777 somewhere between the Persian Gulf and New York with the taste of fudge still in my mouth. But Dar 2007 wasn't fudge after all. It was not what most people expected. It may not have been what anyone wanted. But whatever it was, the Primates' Meeting wasn't fudge.

Over the weekend one orthodox leader told my colleague, Dr. David Virtue, "Go home and tell all your people to abandon ship. Leave TEC. It's over. We lost." This morning at the cashier's window at the White Sands Hotel that same orthodox leader, who asked not to be named or quoted directly, said that the orthodox had won.

At breakfast Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini, Primate of Rwanda and head of the AMiA, said with a tired grin to a crowd of friendly inquirers, "It's a new dawn."

Was there a rabbit pulled out of a hat after all? If so, how did I miss it?

This past week at the White Sands Hotel in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it was like being on a roller coaster in a soundproofed room where you couldn't hear the clatter of your own wheels . You were blindfolded and shot full of Novocain, so you didn't know whether you were slowly inching your way up a hill or careening down on the edge of a precipice. We had our share of dull moments, gazing out at the Indian Ocean waiting for smoke signals to appear on the horizon, not knowing if we were looking in the right direction.

Our main task all week was to kill time between press briefings. One after another the briefings spelled fudge. On day one TEC seemed to get a complete "pass" on Windsor. The same Primates who railed against TEC's performance at General Convention last year now appeared to be more intent on good manners than on following through on their rhetoric.

The one bit of excitement we had all week was the sudden announcement that the Province of Nigeria had broken silence and issued a statement on its web site that Primate Peter Akinola and six other Primates would not receive communion with Katharine Jefferts Schori, the American Primate. This was a shock, because the Primates had agreed not to speak to anyone outside their immediate circle, and certainly not to publicize any news of the Primates' Meeting and its proceedings. Was this Akinola and company firing a salvo? If so what was the intent? Was it just mischief? Did it show a hint of anything to come?

The press fastened on the element of mystery and intrigue, but this was partly because there was nothing else to grab on to. No other hints had leaked out to place the incident in context. Ultimately it seemed random and ineffectual, like kicking sand.

Throughout the week came repeated reports that the final statement on TEC's Windsor compliance and the draft covenant for the Anglican Communion were still being hashed out. Saturday afternoon there was an impromptu briefing releasing the names of appointments to the Primates' standing committee, which would have special responsibilities during the interim before the next triennial Primates' Meeting. Schori was named to represent the Americas. This was a blow, because that ruled out any formal discipline of the American Church prior to Lambeth. In her navigation of diplomatic waters Schori seemed to have triumphed. The illusion of normalcy was intact. Now all prior conflicts and criticisms would be seen as minor technicalities, and the noisy conservatives would be marginalized once and for all.

Later that evening a second briefing was called with a report on theological education in the Anglican Communion, and a longer report on Millennium Goals. The report, such as it was, was presented by Archbishop Ndgunane, the Primate of Southern Africa,. Ndgunane, who brought with him a special guest, a lay woman who was to be commissioned the next morning as Anglican observer to the UN by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The so-called report was really an extended infomercial for an upcoming conference in Johannesburg next month on Millennium Goals. Archbishop Ndungane preached up the coming conference like he were saving souls, but still something didn't ring true. It was obviously a performance, and the press immediately wondered what the game was. The spin doctors were stalling. Archishop Ndungane was sent out to do a little political soft shoe to distract us. We felt like we were being taken for chumps.

Saturday night at dinner we were all resolved that the orthodox had lost in Dar es Salaam. The ACC and the TEC had pulled it off. They had dissipated another crisis through "process" and "listening". For all the statements since 2003 about restoring the integrity of Christian doctrine and holding false teachers accountable, in the end what appeared to matter was keeping the club together.

Now the clock was running out. Seasoned observers of the Anglican spin machine commented that Dar looked just like the Dromantine meeting three years earlier. Williams and his operatives kept putting off and putting off important statements and decisions. Finally they were saved by the bell. Here again it looked like the meeting would end with no official statement and no official action, except to plan the next meeting, maybe at the next Lambeth.

Sunday we all went to the island of Zanzibar for a change of scene, and got to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury preach. Many of us participated in the Eucharist, and all of us tried to get an exact count of how many Primates did not participate in the Eucharist. The precise number was in dispute throughout the day until late that night.

At the end of the service each of the Primates came forward to be awarded a gift of hospitality and be given the opportunity to introduce him or herself and name their jurisdiction. Katharine Jefferts Schori introduced herself as representing "the Episcopal Church in the United States and in fifteen other countries." Those who had followed the recent General Convention recalled the oddity of TEC changing its name from ECUSA, and hanging flags at the altar from all the nations where a branch of the Episcopal Church was located. Right away it triggered speculation that TEC was presenting itself as a mini-communion, perhaps in anticipation of being thrown out of the Anglican Communion. On this particular Sunday Schori's introduction was just weird. It was an eerie sort of triumphalism, and again we couldn't put it in context.

On the way home on the boat one Anglican Consultative Council insider hinted for the first time that Lambeth was not definitely on the schedule for 2008 and it would not be before the final briefing Monday night. This to my knowledge was the first indication that the Anglican spin machine was veering out of control.

The final briefing was scheduled for 6:45 on Monday, the usual time. At 4:45 some of us strolled through the lobby and noticed a press briefing going on at that moment. ACC Communications Director Jim Rosenthal shared a few housekeeping items, apologized for still not having the text of the Primates' Communiqué prior to the final briefing when we might ask informed questions. He announced that the final briefing would take place at 11 PM, following the formal close of the Primates' Meeting.

Members of the press gathered early, expecting to hear that the meeting was postponed till midnight. But at 11:05 Rosenthal walked into the briefing room accompanied by Archbishop Gomez (West Indies). He hurriedly distributed copies of the long awaited Primates' Communiqué summarizing the actions of the week's meeting. Journalists scoured the document in search of potential hot spots to bring up in the question and answer session to follow. There had been no real news all week up until this, the last moment.

Cameras and microphones were hurried into readiness. One group of journalists formed a circle in the lobby to film the dignitaries as they entered the lobby. The rest stayed in the briefing room. Tape recorders were strewn along the top of the podium.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and three other Primates entered the room. Archbishop Aspinall of Australia, who had been the master of ceremonies in our briefing sessions all week, gave a perfunctory introduction. The meeting was then handed over to the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr. Williams summarized the still unfamiliar Communiqué we all held in our hands. The text was couched in the familiar language of diplomacy, but for the first time the press was hearing diplomatic language minus spin. We were all taken off guard.

We waited for the fudge, and at first it appeared to come. There was to be no formal discipline of TEC for precipitating the catastrophe of 2003 in approving the election of V. Gene Robinson. Further, no clear picture emerged of the upcoming Anglican covenant document. There were no breathlessly awaited anecdotes of archiepiscopal histrionics -- no primates storming out the door, or barring the door from others seeking to claw their way in. There was no announcement that Lambeth had been canceled or that a second "Lambeth South" was being planned in a rival Anglican Communion next year.

In short, not one of the prewritten scripts we had all arrived with was put into effect. The Communion had held together. The Anglican glacier glided on in its sublime indifference to controversy like the very picture of eternity.

To bloodhound reporters it was a huge anticlimax. The default response of the press was sounds business as usual. In other words, more fudge.

Early in his remarks Dr. Williams stressed that it was not "business as usual" in the Anglican Communion. TEC had not passed Windsor after all, but were summoned to clarify their response. The conservative Primates had not been captivated by the Lady Primate's charm and finesse. They had rather been polite in keeping with the protocols of their own cultures.

More significantly, the American dissidents in the AMiA, CANA, the Anglican Communion Network, along with their overseas allies and sponsors, were vindicated. The purported notion of a parity between sexual sin and canonical irregularity was blasted by the Primates directly. Then in a shocking reversal the blame for the crossings and the chaos of the defecting parishes and clergy was laid at the feet of TEC. They are the ones who had torn the net in 2003, and in the years since then they had torn it even further. The border crossing by foreign Primates was viewed as a problem demanding a solution, but at the same time it was viewed as a compassionate and appropriate response to an intolerable burden placed upon the orthodox minority in the American Church.

Still no sound bites, no explosions, no splattered body parts, no resignations or expulsions. A Reuters journalist commented on the Communiqué after the briefing: "Sounds like a document without any teeth." At the time we all agreed. But the Communiqué had teeth, just not the kind we were looking for.

I made a similar comment to Archbishop Kolini the next morning regarding the Communiqué: "It sounds like the biblical concept of 'discipline' is not there." He smiled and said, "It's there. You have to look for it."

I read the Communiqué a little more carefully a few minutes later. If there weren't teeth, there were certainly teeth marks. The language about the failure of TEC to live up to Windsor was noted in no uncertain terms, albeit without the stylized indignation we and our readers had expected - even demanded.

The teeth are in the closing section, "On Clarifying the Response to Windsor", which puts the American Presiding Bishop in an excruciating position. It falls to her to convene the American House of Bishops and draft an "unequivocal common covenant" indicating conformity to the recommendations of the Primates Communiqué. As far as Windsor goes, it falls to Schori to draw from her bishops a credible pledge that a) no rites of blessing of same sex union will be approved; and b) any gay candidate nominated for the episcopate will be refused confirmation. The Communiqué voices its understanding that such pledges will be made credible only by consistent action which will be subject to close and constant scrutiny.

Schori has till September 30 to report back to the Primates and to assure them that the Episcopal Church will comply. Further "if the reassurances requested...cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the [Episcopal] Church in the life of the Communion." Perhaps this is an example of biblical discipline Archbishop Kolini assured us was "in there".

The only fudge factor is that there was no explicit detailing of the consequences that the Presiding Bishop and her Church will face if they cannot, or will not, submit to the concluding judgment of the Windsor Process. If they fail or refuse to comply, perhaps nothing will happen.

Many say it still sounds like the classic recipe for Anglican fudge. Here's the difference. In the course of this past week the moral center of gravity has shifted to the Global South, not in the wishful thinking of Western spin doctors, but in word and deed. Ironically, it has also shifted to the orphaned minority in the US. There is no foreseeable way that can change, regardless of what havoc Katharine Schori and her cabal of legal experts can summon up. If Schori pushes more people out of the church, she simply builds the AMiA or CANA or whatever entity she is now obligated to create under the name of the Primatial Vicar. Not only does she add to their numbers but she strengthens their legitimacy, adding to her own recriminations for tearing the net still more.

Even that's nothing compared to the wild political scramble she faces among her colleagues in the House of Bishops, many of whom in local diocesan conventions have publically committed themselves to denouncing Windsor. The TEC "justice" machine is still rolling at full tilt, and it will take an immense effort of corporate will to halt and reverse it. It will require more fudging and outright duplicity than mere mortals have, even in the House of Bishops, to make rebellion and nonconformity look like conformity and the restoration of the bonds of affection.

As I sat aboard the Emirates jet on my way home, a BBC newsflash came on the tiny screens hung throughout the cabin: Anglican Primates give the Episcopal Church till September 30 to change its policy on homosexuality." The BBC is not known for spinning news to the advantage of Christian conservatism. Even they were seeing writing on the wall.

As we reflect in these early days after the Primates' Meeting, let's not be put off by our own disappointment, but rather let's acknowledge what we're disappointed about. We're disappointed because no one was excommunicated or refused communion or had a door slammed in their face. We're disappointed because Katharine Schori was not publically humiliated. We're disappointed because there was no symbolic bloodletting to assuage our long years of outraged grief and offended justice.

That's our business. In all fairness, that wasn't the Primates' business.

I only know two things coming out of Dar es Salaam. The first is that I'm happy to be an Anglican, in fellowship with that odd consortium of decent folk that I met this week in the Anglican First World. I'm more at ease than I was a week ago, even though all I see is dust beginning to settle. No doubt it will be settling for years. This too may be evidence of a new dawn.

The second thing I know is this: I wouldn't want to be Katharine Schori for the next six months. Now it's her turn to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

David Virtue contributed to this report.


---The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for VirtueOnline. He can be reached at gary[at]virtueonline[dot]org

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