Gerry O’Brien looks ahead to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and wonders as an Evangelical whether there is any rationale behind the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation policy
The invitations to Lambeth 2008 have been issued. The Archbishop of Canterbury has summoned the bishops of the Anglican Communion to come together for their ten yearly gathering, and make no mistake about it – there is something special about a Lambeth Conference.
Bishops love to come to Lambeth. It is international and it is historic. Many bishops have deferred their retirement to ensure they will be able to attend. However, even a casual reader of the church press is aware that not all Anglican bishops have been invited. It is less well known that the Archbishops letter carried a caveat that the Archbishop of Canterbury may withdraw his invitation. So as things stand, who is invited and who is not invited? Is there some rationale for the Archbishops choice of invitees?
It is significant that the only bishop from The Episcopal Church who has not received an invitation is the Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson. What has Mr Robinson done to turn himself into a pariah? He allowed his name to go forward for election. He was elected by the electors of the Diocese of New Hampshire, and consecrated by sixty TEC bishops who with other TEC bishops at the General Convention of 2003 had ratified his appointment. It may be that the Archbishop of Canterbury regards Mr Robinson as unfit to hold office, as many Anglicans may do, but if this is the case, why does the Archbishop single out Mr Robinson for the pariah treatment rather than the sixty bishops who are responsible for putting him in the position he now holds?
TEC bishops have disregarded Tanzania, Dromantine, Lambeth and Windsor. Whether or not they adhere to the Lambeth 1.10 Resolution, they have all received their invitations, but Mr Robinson is singled out.
It is possible that a number of bishops in the United States of America have not been invited because they are members of the House of Bishops in Rwanda or Nigeria. Clearly, territorial integrity remains a cornerstone of Anglican doctrine even if TEC has installed one of its own bishops in a Church of England diocese (Diocese in Europe).
However, the same argument still applies. Why should a godly bishop like Martyn Minns be denied an invitation to Lambeth when the Archbishop of Nigeria and the Nigerian bishops who were involved in his consecration and installation have received theirs?
Why should the six bishops of the Anglican Mission in America, which is part of the Church of Rwanda, not receive an invitation, when the Archbishop of Rwanda and the Rwandan bishops who were involved in their consecration and installation have received theirs?
Why is Robinson Cavalcanti, the Bishop of Recife in Brazil, who is now under the primatial oversight of the Southern Cone, excluded? His treatment by the TEC-dominated Province of Brazil was little short of scandalous, yet the Brazilian bishops responsible have received their invitations.
This is the kind of rough justice that is meted out in the playground. The school bully is seen pummelling his victim, but both boys are sent to the headmaster. He decides to be even-handed and suspends them both, while those who egged the bully on get away scot-free. The bully is then reinstated because the headmaster fears trouble if he doesn’t do so.
The Archbishops advisers are clearly playing for high stakes. On the face of it, if Gene Robinson does not get an invitation there could be a boycott of Lambeth by most of the TEC bishops and possibly up to fifteen English bishops. Perhaps offering him observer status will be enough to defuse this one, but the CAPA paper The Road to Lambeth applies their concerns to bishops either as participants or observers.
On the other hand, if some Nigerian and Rwandan bishops are not invited, there could be some sort of boycott by the Global South. The Archbishop of Uganda has already made clear that, as matters stand, the Ugandan House of Bishops will not be coming. Together with Nigeria they represent 26 million Anglicans worshipping on a Sunday. The Church of England and TEC, between them, can muster two million Anglicans worshipping on a Sunday.
In reality, there is likely to be a determined attempt at Lambeth 2008 to over-
turn or at least dilute the Resolution 1.10 often years ago on sexuality. How would the Global South react to a pro-gay resolution being passed simply because they were not there to vote against it? There again, given the cachet of a Lambeth Conference, would American and English bishops who had been invited actually boycott the conference because of the absence of one of their number?
As Archbishop Peter Akinola observed, ‘Since only the first set of invitations has been sent, it is premature to conclude who will be present or absent at the conference.’ The point seems to be that the Archbishop of Canterbury could have decided to call the bluff of the TEC bishops and withhold invitations from those who seem intent on thumbing their noses at the whole Windsor process, but he has chosen not to do so for the time being. On the contrary, he has chosen to call the bluff of the Global South, who are committed to the Windsor process, and deliver a snub to those whom Rwanda and Nigeria have appointed to do exactly what Windsor requires TEC to do, but which TEC appears to have no intention of doing.
The Windsor process looks dead in the water along with Tanzania, Dromantine and Lambeth 1998. What is clear, though, is that the Archbishop is in danger of losing his ability to call all Anglican bishops together. This may be inevitable now that we appear to have two competing religions, one revealed and the other synthesized, living alongside each other in the Anglican Communion. But if a choice has to be made, with which of the two will the Church of England choose to align itself?