Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Theo Hobson on Lambeth

I found these comments by Theo Hobson on the Lambeth Conference quite interesting:

Of course it makes perfect sense to avoid resolutions and just talk. This is what should have happened 10 years ago. Instead, the Lambeth Conference passed the divisive resolution condemning homosexuality. It had been on the fence on sexuality, and it fell off. Can it get back on, and resume its drift to a liberal position? Can it move away from its official discriminatory policy, and affirm the right of each province to make its own rules on sexuality? Is this what most bishops want? It's hard to say.

I arrived at the conference with a rough typology of Anglican opinion in mind. The basic division of evangelical and liberal can be sub-divided: there are evangelicals who accept Williams' leadership, and those who don't. Those who don't, of course, have mostly stayed away. And there are liberals who fully support Williams' approach, and those who worry that it's a sell-out. So both the evangelicals and the liberals can be divided into the loyalists, and those who want a new, sharper approach – let's call them the itchy.

Despite the boycott, there are plenty of itchy evangelicals here. Yesterday the Sudanese archbishop urged the Americans and Canadians to repent of their liberalism, and other African bishops are bound to give the hacks similar not-very-new news stories in the coming days. Yet the majority of evangelicals fall into the loyalist camp. They believe the conference will strengthen the communion around the existing orthodoxy.

The majority of the English bishops seem to be loyal liberals. They want a liberalisation of the communion's position on sexuality in the long run, but are wary of pressing the issue – unity comes first. What about the itchy liberals, those who aren't so philosophical about the continuing exclusion of gays, and consider the non-participation of Gene Robinson to be an offence against traditional Anglican tolerance? They hardly seem to exist. You won't find an English bishop wanting to criticise Williams for a failure of liberal leadership.

So why aren't the liberals itchier? This is the big question. Is it because they are too weak to form a protest lobby? No: the answer is more complex. The reason is that the liberals have a deep trust that the communion's position on sexuality will liberalise, given time. Of course they cannot say this – because it contravenes the existing orthodoxy, and also because it would sound colonial – "let's wait for the developing nations to catch up". In other words, they follow their leader's example: bite your tongue and wait for the Holy Spirit to enlighten the communion.

. . .

This is the "unofficial official" line of the conference: reform must come, but slowly-slowly, so that the cause of global evangelism is not harmed, and Anglican unity not further broken. In theory of course, the conference has no "line" at all – bishops will listen to each other, and then a "reflection" statement will be produced that affirms the existing orthodoxy. This is why so many evangelicals have boycotted: they knew that this tacit reformist agenda would be present.

So the whole event is an incredibly delicate exercise in long-distance liberalism. Luckily for Williams, there seems to be a majority view in favour of this. (The Gafcon boycott is actually a Godsend.) Yes, of course there will be evangelical demands that the Americans and Canadians are excommunicated, but these demands will spur the rest into defending unity, and praising the efforts of their leader. You have to marvel at Williams' careful cunning, which of course entails a sort of holy hypocrisy.

Read it all here.


Gary said...

"wait for the Holy Spirit to enlighten the communion."

They have their spirits confused: it is the unholy spirit(devil) that "enlightens" the wicked to accept the abomination of homosexuality.

There are going to be a lot of surprised people in Hell.

The Wayward Episcopalian said...

I would suggest that if the words are taken literally, +Gene Robinson is himself what you might call an "itchy evangelical." He is rooted in Scripture, wants to share his knowledge of God and bring Him to people who have not met Him before, and speaks often of concepts like grace. That's been one of the personal aspects of his ministry for me - he has shown that I am actually in fact an evangelical, a thought I'm still getting used to.