Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Andrew Brown on the Lambeth Invitations

Andrew Brown of the Guardian gives his take on the Lambeth 2008 invitations--and more importantly, the consequences if the Archbishop changes his mind:

Since almost everyone in these struggles hates to see their opponents get anything they want, giving something to everyone, as Dr Williams as done, is a sure way to unite them, briefly, in hatred for the archbishop. The liberal Americans point out that Gene Robinson was a properly elected and consecrated bishop so he should come to Lambeth; Martyn Minns is certainly a properly consecrated bishop, as the Nigerians claim. Why can't he come? Even Nolbert Kunonga is being defended, improbably enough, by some liberals, on the grounds that once you start rejecting bishops merely because they are repulsive, it is difficult to know where to stop. This is an argument that has more force than at first appears.

Yet from the confusion of this hissing snake pit, one demand has already emerged quite clearly. Dr Akinola, the leader of the Nigerian church, has let it be announced that: "The withholding of invitation to a Nigerian bishop, elected and consecrated by other Nigerian bishops, will be viewed as withholding invitation to the entire house of bishops of the church of Nigeria."

Taken at face value, this suggests that he and all his bishops will boycott the whole conference unless their invasion of the US is ratified by Dr Williams. There is no doubt that Akinola thinks of himself as the true leader of the Anglican communion, and Dr Williams as a pathetic post-colonial relic. Although Dr Akinola has several times trembled on the brink of marching right out of the Anglican communion, he has not so far had to choose whether this is what he really wants. "He [Williams] will do whatever we tell him to", he was overheard telling one of his advisers at an earlier meeting; but this arrogance is what Dr Williams is banking on. If there is a long-term plan to hold the Anglican churches more or less together, it is based on the belief that most of them would much rather not be led by Dr Williams than by whipped about by Dr Akinola.

But is there such a plan at all? Or is the simple explanation for this subtle man the right one? This is the question the Nigerian boycott threat will answer. Now that the threat has been made, it can't be withdrawn without someone backing down; in Dr Akinola's eyes, the obvious someone will be Dr Williams. There are 14 months before the conference; 14 months in which every effort possible will be made to bully him out of his original decision.

Once before, at the beginning of his term as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams made a decision that exposed him to bullying, when he approved the appointment of Dr Jeffrey John, a celibate gay, as suffragan bishop of Reading. After six weeks of increasing pressure, he cracked and withdrew his approval. The shadow of that failure has lain over everything he has done since. Perhaps he should not have picked the fight at all, but to have started it and then surrendered was the worst of all possible outcomes. Dr Williams caved in over Jeffrey John in July 2003, nearly four years ago; we will find out soon enough if he has learned anything from the experience. If he has not, and if he caves in once more, no one will ever listen to him again. Why should we care what he believes about anything if we know he won't stand up for it?

Read it all.

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