Sunday, December 30, 2007

Lambeth Diaries

The Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll, Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University has posted his "Lambeth Diaries" written during the last Lambeth Conference in 1998. Week One, Week Two, and Week Three make for extraordinary historical and informative reading, especially as we head into 2008.

Here's the opening paragraph to Week Three:

"This has been an historic session," announced the moderator Archbishop Robin Eames as he announced that Resolution 1.10 [or A 31] on Human Sexuality had passed by the margin of 526 for, 70 against, and 45 abstaining.

Indeed it was. And the outcome was hardly assured until the day itself, Wednesday, August 5. Despite pronouncements of "a spirit of unity descending" by the Lambeth Daily, there had been frantic backroom dealing, which was brought to a halt at the eleventh hour by George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose "intervention" led to a landmark Resolution on Human Sexuality.

You know what is sort of interesting about that paragraph, besides, well, the obvious? It's the date: August 5. Exactly five years - to the day - later, The Episcopal Church would officially defy Lambeth 1.10.

Here is more from the Lambeth Diaries, August 5, 1998. It does indeed make for fascinating reading - this is not amateur hour, friends.

The Turning Point
Integrity supporters arrived on Wednesday with smiles on their faces. The sexuality debate seemed doomed to deadlock. The revisionists had two things going for them. First, the printed "section" Resolution 1.10 was so bland that it could be easily spun as a signal to go ahead with the gay agenda. Secondly, the entire debate had been allotted two hours and there were six Resolutions.

Four of these Resolutions were "regional." To be sure, all the Resolutions were orthodox, and the two African ones were very strong, calling revisionists to repentance and speaking of the gay agenda as "evangelical suicide." Many of the Third World bishops were saying, "Let's pass them all." This was not likely to happen in a two hour Western-style debate. More likely, none would get a majority. Anticipating this possibility, the revisionists entered an Amendment (not printed and therefore something of a sleeper) that would have referred all the Resolutions to the Primates and the ACC. In effect, the Lambeth Conference, on a major matter of principle, would have abdicated responsibility in favor of a study commission. And we Americans know from "Continuing the Dialogue" how that works.

One further sidelight. The debate had originally been scheduled for 2:30 pm Wednesday but was then postponed until 3:30. This rattled conservatives because it was known that up to 90 Church Army bishops were leaving for London at 4 pm to see the Queen Mum, who turned 99 that day. Since most Church Army bishops are conservative, this looked like just one more ploy. As it turned out, the Church Army bishops stayed for the debate.

What happened next is only known in bare outline. Apparently, the Archbishop of Canterbury became aware of the switcheroo made by the Steering Committee. He also began to heed reports that African bishops were determined to pass a clear Resolution or else - and that the "or else" might include a walkout. Up to that point, the Archbishop had not been active in the debate. He has made it clear that he holds to traditional Christian teaching on sexuality and is deeply concerned for the unity of the Anglican Communion. These concerns apparently coalesced in such a way that by the Wednesday afternoon of the debate the Integrity folks were no longer smiling. The Archbishop had apparently insisted that the process should be set up so that the Conference might express its mind. This is what happened.

The Rout
The sexuality debate was solemn and orderly. With a few exceptions. One Pakistani bishop went over the top suggesting that Lambeth 2008 would be asked to approve blessing of cat lovers and their pets. A Nigerian bishop afterward tried to lay hands on Richard Kirker, a homosexual advocate, to cure him of his addiction. The media of course picked up on these excesses. But the vast majority of speakers, such as Bishop Eustace Kaminyire of Uganda and Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania, were measured and articulate. Bishop John Sentamu was particularly delightful as he extolled "the glories of abstinence." Archbishop Robin Eames conducted the session with clarity and dignity.

Delegates upon arrival received a clearly spelled out "Notice Paper," outlining their choices among Resolutions. In fact, the major shape of the final Resolution had already been crafted by a compromise among evangelical Westerners and the Africans. The printed Resolution was quickly replaced by A 31, which became the base point for a series of amendments.

The bellwether amendment came from Archbishop Mtetelema, which added the phrase "while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture." This amendment focused the concerns of the Africans about the whole issue. As they have said repeatedly, homosexuality is not their problem and they do not want to waste time talking about it. But they do care passionately for the authority of Scripture, and they saw the West, and the American Church in particular, as endangering this core principle.

To be honest, I was not sure, before I began to meet them in numbers this past year, whether the Third World bishops had the will to stand up and fight on the sexuality question. Some people feared, totally without warrant as it turns out, that they might be pressured into acquiescence out of financial dependence on the West. Just the opposite is true. They saw the issue threatening the Communion clearly, and they never wavered in their determination to speak to it. One of the African Resolutions, in my opinion, was the best of the lot because it saw the issue in biblical terms as involving sin and repentance.

And they were of one mind. The speakers for Resolution A 31 and the amendments to it were multi-cultural, whereas the speakers against were very white and hailed exclusively from the Western provinces. They later accused us American conservatives of buying votes with chicken barbecues. This is a demeaning accusation against the Third Word delegates, many of whom have put their lives on the line for the Gospel. Opponents who said this are not, in my opinion, racists, but they are cultural imperialists. They cannot believe that someone who holds to a straightforward biblical morality is either not "superstitious" (a la animism) or "fundamentalistic" (a la Islamic jihad).

Mtetemela's key amendment passed 390 to 190. After that, conservatives got two more victories. They amended "chastity" to "abstinence" in order to close the linguistic loophole. They also changed the condemnation of "homophobia" to a condemnation of "the irrational fear of homosexuals." I thought this was a particularly nice touch, suggested by the Africans. Finally, Bishop Richard Harries of Oxford spoke eloquently on behalf of the Kuala Lumpur Statement, and reference to it was added.

Those who opposed the amended Reolution never addressed the core principles of Scripture, or God's purposes for male and female. Their main arguments were that the Resolution threatened the unity of the Communion and sent negative signals to gays and lesbians. They did pass an amendment calling for the Church to listen to the experience of homosexual people (I assume this will include celibate and ex-gay people). When it came to a vote, there was remarkable unity - 526 for and only 70 against - to constitute what Archbishop Carey later called the "mind of the Church."

Read the whole thing here.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this diary of Lambeth.
It was very interesting to read what actually transpired back then and to see how it all happened rather than the snippets we normally see about this conference.

Bill C said...

And of course, we would like to say that, with passage by such an overwhelming majority, ever since that vote, every province has taken all necessary steps to ensure that every bishop supported this decision by his own actions and those of all his clergy. But...