The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, showed one of his more decisive moments on Tuesday by announcing that he would not invite two bishops — Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire and Martyn Minns of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America — to the Lambeth Conference next year in England. The significance of his decision is captured well in reports by Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, Julia Duin of The Washington Times and Rachel Zoll of The Associated Press.
Each reporter brings illuminating details to the story. Duin makes the connection that Williams has declined to invite not only Minns, the U.S.-based bishop consecrated by the Church of Nigeria, but also the bishops of the Anglican Mission in the Americas. Williams’ predecessor, George Carey, repudiated the consecration of AMIA’s first two bishops, but AMIA has continued under the care of the Archbishop of Rwanda.
All three reporters have background remarks from the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, the Anglican Communion’s secretary-general, who stresses that neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor Kearon’s office recognizes CANA as a member church of the Anglican Communion. Goodstein writes:
[Kearon] said there was “no parallel” between Bishop Robinson and Bishop Minns, a rector who was installed as a bishop in Virginia this month by Archbishop Akinola, a crossing of boundaries that the archbishop of Canterbury criticized.
Bishop Minns heads a consortium of churches that have left the Episcopal Church, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Canon Kearon said the convocation was not a recognized body of the Anglican Communion.
Zoll does a fine job of reviewing the recent history that brings the archbishop to this decision, and of the next scenes in this drama:
Anglican leaders have given the U.S. denomination until Sept. 30 to step back from its support of gays or risk losing its full membership in the communion. The Episcopal bishops will meet next on Sept. 20 in New Orleans.
“This decision places the vast majority of American bishops along with others throughout the world in an embarrassing position,” said the Rev. Martin Reynolds of Britain’s Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. “If they accept their Lambeth invitations this might appear to support bishop Robinson’s victimization, while if they reject the invitation they will abandon our communion to the homophobes.”
Activists on both the left and the right have trash-talked the Archbishop of Canterbury with astonishing frequency in recent years. It seems that both sides are all for being part of the Anglican Communion, except when it requires sacrifice for the sake of their theological counterparts. Both sides invest time and money in sending activists, lobbyists and writers to the Lambeth Conference, although one of the most constant refrains about Lambeth is that its role is advisory rather than legislative. (Like any good Anglican meeting the Lambeth Conference plows through reams and reams of paper and the bishops vote on many resolutions — or at least they have in recent decades. That may change in 2008.)
With his action this week, Archbishop Williams has demonstrated that he’s able to play as good a round of Anglican chess as any American. He has shown resolve. He has shown, above all, that groups of Anglicans cannot always expect their actions to be free of consequences. All three reports mention the response of both the left and the right that a lot can change in the 14 months between now and Lambeth. Whether it will change for the better now depends in large part on whether they respond to Williams’ well-played hand with wisdom and charity or simply with more demands.