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LAMBETH: The Real Indaba

LAMBETH: The Real Indaba

By Cherie Wetzel
Anglicans United

Today the Bishops will begin Indaba groups.

What is Indaba?

Indaba was described for us at the press conference today as a process that South African villages use as a method of engagement for problems that face a set group of people. The word is from the Zulu, and means "business." Traditionally, the elder men of the community meet and deal especially with an issue that affects the entire community. The discussion begins on a quite superficial level and then goes deeper and deeper into the gist of the problem, with the sharing ideas and information.

Indaba is not a debate format. There are not opposing sides, a pro- and a con- set of arguments. It is a series of discussions. Originally in the Zulu context, this would include any issue that affects the whole village. In African society, tribal leaders will converse until they come to a type of consensus. They meet regularly and some topics will come up again and again, like theft. Months of discussion can produce creative ways to deal with common problems. In this way, Indaba creates a type of solution that is particular and unique to that village and their situation.

The goal of Indaba is not to problem-solve, but to find ways to hold people together in their differences. I think the easiest way for Americans to understand Indaba is to remember those times when you were in a group of people or perhaps a family meeting, discussing a problem or issue and you came to consensus about the nature of that problem. Consensus? Yes, a like-minded understanding by all the people in the group. Can individuals hold different opinions about the issue? Yes. But they have come to a point of agreement on the substance; the core issue and the potential of a way forward.

What does the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Lambeth Design Group expect to come out of this process? I think they want to deal with some of the substantive problems in the Communion in any other manner than making resolutions and taking votes. They want to have the luxury of time to discuss and come to consensus. They do not want this conference to determine a set way forward on any issue. No protocols. I believe they are hoping to have a thorough discussion of substantive issues without creating winners and losers. No more resolution I.10's with a vast majority of bishops voting for and a small minority voting no.

But, realistically speaking, we have to talk about the peculiarities of Indaba that the Lambeth Conference cannot hope to uphold. South Africans understand the concept. Here, in Canterbury, we have people that don't even know the word, let alone the concept of discussion without reaching a conclusion; of problem solving without a solution.

Local Indaba groups meet for hours, and if needed, several days. They meet regularly, with the same format. They learn how the others think. They discuss and chew over the topic until everyone comes to a common understanding of the nature of the problem, as viewed by each person in the group.

Under normal circumstances, Indaba is a group of people who speak the same language, live in the same village, share the same culture, and have known each other perhaps for decades. Can we expect that this format will be easily translated to Lambeth?

Our bishops come from many different countries on many different continents. They do not speak the same language. Effective language translation is an art and the best people are here, doing this work. But words have particular meanings in different cultures and contexts. Two weeks is not enough time to develop a global language.

Two weeks, actually 12 days. That is how much time Indaba will be given. Every day, the groups will meet for two hours. Given that there are 40 people in a group, that doesn't give each person much talking time. Granted some conversations will begin at Morning Prayer and end at Compline. But they are still lacking the length and breadth of time that communal living over the decades provides.

Our bishops do not know each other. They do not share a mutual level of trust and understanding. Our bishops come from radically different cultures. Most of these bishops are university trained in criticism, analysis and problem solving - the backbone of Western education. Imagine, a discussion that is not intended to come to a conclusion and agree on a course of action? It doesn't happen very often in my world.

Indaba is intended to reach consensus. Will the outcome be affected if several different majority opinions come to the fore, but no consensus? My biggest concern is that these groups will become the depository of personal experience over any creed or value system, especially a Christian creedal or value system.

On the third day of Indaba, a listener will be selected from each group to report that group's discussion for a narrative. That narrative will be instrumental in the final report of this Lambeth Conference. So, a great deal is at risk here, with the possibility of a time-honored method, new to western people, being the hero of the day. Can this Lambeth come to an essential and mutual understanding of the major problems facing them? Can the participants free themselves from "business as usual" and give Indaba a real try? Speculation is futile. But the Indaba process will be closely observed. We will all have a more definitive answer in 12 days.


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