All together now, repeat after me (once again): “The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.”
It’s time for another episode of “As Canterbury Turns.” This time, the dateline is Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where the Anglican primates and some of their closest friends are gathered to try to decide what to do with the growing split between the conservatives in the growing churches in the Third World and the progressives in the small, aging and very wealthy churches of the First World. Small but vocal bands of First World traditionalists are caught in the middle.
The influential religion writer Ruth Gledhill of The Times of London has already decided that it’s time for the Anglican Communion to call it a day and formalize the split that has, theologically, already taken place. Click here for the online version of that news analysis piece. Gledhill almost always manages to make both sides furious during these Anglican media storms, so she is well worth watching. Here is the heart of her argument about the “dueling Luthers” in this event:
Advances in post-war secular society have taken the criminality out of sexual orientation, while at the same time the churches have been determined to ensure the sin remains. It is no surprise that it has now become an issue of such combustibility in the Anglican Church, which is no longer solely the child of its Western birthplace. Anglicans in the African and Asian provinces of the Global South outnumber those in the West, and are appalled at the Western Church’s accommodation of liberal ideals.
Nigeria’s Peter Akinola, leader of the Orthodox and a likely “primus inter pares” for a new Global South Church, is not going to compromise. Nor is the pro-gay new US Primate, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, who could end up leading a new Episcopal Catholic Church. Dr Akinola would see himself as in the Lutheran tradition: “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Dr Schori would see herself in exactly the same way. And so would the US Bishop whose consecration in 2003 triggered the crisis that was going to happen anyway, the openly gay Gene Robinson.
No Communion is big enough for these three Luthers, all equally sincere in their faith and convictions, all nailing opposing theses to their church doors.
Gledhill also had some news in a feature that she filed as the archbishops began arriving in Tanzania.
The key issue, it seems, is whether Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams can find an option other than clarity. He has to find ways to hide signs of division — especially with photographers and journalists present — and to pospone decisions about future gatherings. The British like to make the crucial compromises and write the pivotal resolutions on their home turf, behind familiar, locked doors.
The key questions remain: Will the Americans be pushed out? (Highly unlikely.) Will key Third World leaders walk out? (More likely, for reasons to be cited in a moment.)
However, Gledhill reports:
Dr Williams … has his own “nuclear option,” insiders said. In a recent document, The Road to Lambeth, the Global South Primates said that they will not attend the Lambeth Conference if the US Church’s gay bishop Gene Robinson and those who consecrated him are not disciplined and if they are invited to Lambeth.
The Lambeth Conference traditionally happens every ten years. But although the University of Kent has been booked, it is understood that Dr Williams is prepared to postpone the Lambeth Conference and hold a “covenantal assembly” instead.
Bishops, clergy and laity from around the communion would be invited to attend, to discuss whether they can continue to live together under the banner of the Anglican Covenant document to be revealed on Friday.
There you go. If the problem is who gets invited to Lambeth, and who does not, then the answer is to hold a gathering that is not called “Lambeth.”
After all, it is hard to oppose the Episcopal Church. It may be small in size, but it has other strengths. As Gledhill concludes her report:
One difficulty the entire church is having to come to terms with, though, is that if the US is expelled, the whole edifice could crumble. It is cash from the Episcopal Church that keeps the show on the road.
Which brings us back to that old saying: “The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.”
Here is my take: The meetings and the public pronouncements mean very little. What really matters is who gathers at the altar for Holy Eucharist — which is Communion with a Big C. Look for reporters to be given as little information as possible about these events and who attends. Will there, in fact, be First World Eucharists and Third World Eucharists?
That’s the story. Watch for it, amid the tight security and ecclesiastical fog.
For those watching these events online, I recommend these sites. On the establishment left, the new daily episcopalian blog operated by former New York Times and Washington Post reporter Jim Naughton, spokesman for the Diocese of Washington, D.C., and the ever candid gay activist Dr. Louie Crew of Rutgers University. On the right, check out Titus One Nine (Titus 1:9), operated by the Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon of South Carolina, and those busy, busy Canadian Anglican Web Elves (source of the graphic with this post). The conservative sites are often shut down due to heavy traffic, so here are some backup URLs for them — T19backup and, for Binky and the elves, try this one.
UPDATE: Gledhill is back with an appropriately confusing update of news from the Anglican front. It includes a note that the Episcopal Church now has an official blog with its side of the story. Check out epiScope.