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LAMBETH: Archbishop pleads for compromise

LAMBETH: Archbishop pleads for compromise

By Hans Zeiger and David W. Virtue in Canterbury
July 29, 2008

CANTERBURY-The Archbishop of Canterbury has delivered a major call to the Anglican Communion for compromise. In a pre-dinner address Tuesday to the bishops gathered at the University of Kent for the decennial Lambeth Conference, Archbishop Dr. Rowan Williams suggested that the preservation of the Communion requires "that we speak from the center."

Archbishop Williams said that "speaking from the center requires habits and practices and disciplines that make some demands upon everyone....checking the natural instinct on all sides to cling to one dimension of the truth revealed."

Summarizing the main arguments of both sides in the Anglican divide, the Archbishop then asked the opposing parties whether they might reflect on ways to set aside their differences. "To the innovator, can we say, 'Don't isolate yourself; don't create facts on the ground that make the invitation to debate ring a bit hollow'? Can we say to the traditionalist, 'Don't invest everything in a church of pure and likeminded souls; try to understand the pastoral and human and theological issues that are urgent for those you are opposing, even if you think them deeply wrong'?"

The ultimate goal, said the Archbishop, is "to speak life to each other," but for now, "we seem often to be threatening death to each other." The Archbishop said that the Lambeth Conference was designed to bring together bishops from various perspectives so that they could discover "what the other person or group really means and really needs....so that when we do address divisive issues, we have created enough of a community for an intelligent generosity to be born." The Archbishop said that this generosity can be expressed through adoption of a proposed Anglican Covenant.

The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles, told VirtueOnline after the Archbishop's address, "I think that the Bishop has chosen to walk a very narrow blade and did a good job of encouraging us to Christian unity." Bruno was the first diocesan bishop to officiate at a homosexual civil union, in 2004. He has been one of the most outspoken advocates for full inclusion of gays and lesbians in The Episcopal Church.

The Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, Bishop Coadjutor of Virginia, said that he was "very impressed" with the Archbishop's address. "It was a risk, as he said. And it was most successfully achieved. He let both sides know that he gets it. He has heard both sides and the substance of their concerns."

Johnston said that the Archbishop's approach is "the best kind of leadership in a time like this. It's also clear that he believes it, personally and passionately, and not simply some sort of mechanism for political settlement."

Sharing Johnston's high appraisal of the Archbishop's leadership, the Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan, Suffragan Bishop of Alabama, said that the address was "the courageous thing for the Archbishop to say. It calls both sides to step toward the middle."

"I do think that we need to make the middle wider," said Sloan. "Don't think that one side can expect the other to step toward the middle unless they're willing to. So I'm hopeful."

New Westminster Bishop Michael Ingham said at a Windsor Continuation Group Hearing that he came to this conference hoping to take back to the Diocese he served "something of value with respect to the difficulties facing our Communion. Unfortunately, the document handed out today is a non-starter where I live."

He gave four reasons.

"The Windsor Report is just that a report. It is not yet an agreed policy within the Communion. It is not yet a doctrine. Some of our Provinces have responded to it, some have not, and many of the responses raise critical questions that have not so far been addressed. And yet the Windsor Report is being introduced today as an agreed benchmark from which it is assumed we can move forward. This is not so.

"Secondly, the document we have today is punitive in tone, setting out penalties and the like, instead of inviting us into deeper communion with one another through mutual understanding in the Body of Christ. Furthermore, it entrenches the principle of outside interventions. The suggestion of a Pastoral Forum in fact institutionalizes external incursions into the life of our churches.

"Thirdly, it seeks to impose a singular uniformity upon the complex diversity of our Communion. I quite understand that in some parts of the Anglican Communion homosexuality is subject to criminal law and cultural prohibition. However, I live in a country where homosexual people enjoy the same rights and responsibilities under the law as every other citizen. To discriminate against homosexual people, as this document suggests, is no more acceptable in Canada than to discriminate against women, black people or Jews. If this becomes the position of the Communion, it will put the Anglican Church of Canada in the position of having to support and defend irrational prejudice and bigotry in the eyes of our nation.

"We already live with a good deal of diverse practice across the Anglican Communion ˆ in the ordination of women, the re-marriage of divorced persons, and the admission of the baptized and unconfirmed to Communion. Why can we not live with a similar diversity in this matter too?

"Fourthly, it ignores reality. Whatever this document says, illegal incursions will continue. We have heard already how they continue to happen even in places that maintain the traditional position of the Church on homosexuality. And furthermore, gay and lesbian people will not go away, nor will they be healed, because they are not sick. It is the church that is suffering from blindness and prejudice, and it is we who need to repent and be healed.

"This document will not invite us into mutual dialogue and a search for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is an old-world institutional response to a new-world reality in which people are being set free from hatred and violence. It will not do to impose a rigid uniformity on a body so diverse as this Communion. The document will further divide us if it attempts to do so."

Tom Wright Bishop of Durham said in an interview with Christian Today that there are no ways forward taking the two polar opposites with us but it isn't a case of 'either you are all the way there' or 'you are all the way here'. Nor is it a soggy, fuzzy compromise in the middle. There are some definite things that have to be said and done and the Archbishop has said Windsor and the Covenant are the way to go and that's why he's invited us to Lambeth, to help him take that path.

Said Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno, Williams is walking "a very narrow blade."


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