Lambeth: no news may be good news

The long awaited Lambeth Conference has started. But for the moment it doesn’t seem to be very interesting, in terms of any real content. The blogging bishops, and even the usually irrepressible Dave Walker who has got himself a pass through the security fence, are keeping quiet about anything non-trivial. The real press have been reduced to talking about themselves and sneaking through the fence.

The most interesting news I have seen, with the possible exception of the contradictory Roman Catholic reactions, is that the bishops are saying what they think about the Church of England’s antiquated parish system by breaking its rules. They are meeting for their conference without the permission of the incumbent of the parish they are meeting in – as reported by that incumbent, who is also a blogger. But he doesn’t report that a bishop who is not at the Conference will this Sunday attend an open air service in his parish. Nor has the bishop in question yet reported it on his blog; this news was hinted at by Ruth Gledhill and confirmed here. Has the incumbent officially invited this bishop? Does he even know he is coming? Of course the bishop doesn’t need an invitation if he is just going to attend, but will he do more? The bishop I am referring to: none other than Gene Robinson!

What can we hope for from this conference? The press have gathered in the hope of picking over the bones of a deceased Anglican communion. But I doubt if they will find a corpse. I suspect that the whole thing is now being carefully enough stage managed that an appearance of unity will be kept up, even if everyone knows how superficial it is. In that case there will be no news to satisfy the reporters, so I hope the weather warms up so they can enjoy their swimming pool. Of course if the stage management breaks down and real fireworks start to go off among the mitres, that will be news. But I expect that even if the rain stays away Lambeth will be a damp squib, three expensive weeks which will do nothing to solve the terminal sickness of the Anglican Communion if not actually making things worse.

I am sure a lot of Anglicans are taking a “wait and see” approach to the GAFCON process until after Lambeth, and after their summer holidays. But by September they will be starting to realise that they have to make choices one way or another. Time will tell.

The problem with women bishops, and a new take on 1 Timothy 2:12

John Hartley’s take on Women Bishops Debate, from a clergy member of General Synod, is helpful. It explained to me one thing and gave me an interesting new insight on another.

John’s post explains why the opponents of women bishops will not accept a code of practice under which women bishops are required to appoint men to deputise for them when requested:

in saying that a woman bishop should/must delegate powers, it would implicitly admit that a woman bishop has powers to delegate and therefore that she is a bishop.

Well, I see the point, for those who have the legalistic mindset which many Christians seem to have inherited from the Pharisees rather than from our Lord. But then I would not have thought it impossible to come up with a wording to satisfy these people, in which the powers are technically delegated by one of the Archbishops rather than by the woman diocesan bishop. Of course that will work only as long as the Archbishop in question is male, but then I don’t see how these people could in any way remain within a Church of England headed by two female Archbishops!

In fact I don’t see how these people can remain within a church which appoints bishops who they don’t accept as being bishops. The only thing that could satisfy these people is a new province. General Synod isn’t offering them that, but then I doubt if it is within their power to do so. A new province is of course also what GAFCON is demanding, and proposing to set up unilaterally. Perhaps these opponents of women bishops will be welcome in that province – but then if it takes a permanent stand against women bishops it is less likely to be acceptable to others like me.

John Hartley also makes an interesting point about 1 Timothy 2:12:

As an evangelical I have still not given up hope of helping my evangelical opponents to see that 1 Tim 2:12 does not say “I do not permit a woman to teach a man”, but rather that it says “I do not permit a woman to teach at all”.  Because all evangelicals agree that some women nowadays do have teaching ministries – and therefore none of us live by the stricture of what it actually says – that women should keep silent.  Instead the verse is a statement of one particular person’s take (“I do not permit” – not “It should never be permitted”) in a particular place – which that same person did not take in other places (e.g. 1 Cor 11:5 which permits a woman to prophesy).  That same person had already admitted that there is a difference between his advice and the Lord’s word (1 Cor 7:10 & 12).

Good point! I can only agree that this verse must refer to a specific situation for which Paul lays down specific rules, not intended to be valid everywhere or for ever.

Wheat or weed?

My commenter Daron Medway has brought up the parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13 and how it relates to the issues concerning The Donatists, GAFCON, and the Todd Bentley critics. I refuse to use the traditional name “the wheat and the tares” for this parable because I have never heard the word “tares” used in any other context. Anyway, my preferred title “wheat and weeds” is not only alliterative but, by a happy chance of the modern English language, illustrates within itself one of the main points of the parable, that “wheat” and “weed” are indistinguishable except at the end, and even then only slightly distinct.

I was a bit reluctant to apply this parable to the situation in question because I am aware of a popular misunderstanding of the parable, going back I think to Augustine, in which the field is not the world, as Jesus clearly states in Matthew 13:38, but the visible church. The parable is not teaching, as Augustine misinterpreted it, that false believers should be allowed to remain alongside true ones in the church. At this point I think I am agreeing with Daron. The point is rather that Christians, the servants in the parable, should not be trying to judge the world around them now, but leaving it to God to sort out the mess at the end of time. This might be a lesson for the US government to stop interfering in other countries’ problems, but it is not one for the GAFCON leaders or the critics of Todd Bentley.

But there is a message for this situation from the parable of the wheat and the weeds. That message is that wheat and weeds, at least some kinds of weeds, look very much the same until wheat sprouts and forms ears (verse 26); it was only then that the servants could distinguish them. That is, the difference between the two could be discerned only when the fruit became visible. This is of course the same teaching as Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Matthew 7:15-18 (TNIV)

No one can tell the difference from the outward appearance, for both sheep and wolves look like sheep. The only way to distinguish between the two groups is to wait for the fruit to appear.

This implies that it is still rather early to make definitive judgments about Todd Bentley. I think there has been good fruit, but there have also been reports of bad fruit. We will have to wait and see.

As for making judgments about errant Anglicans, there has been much more time to assess their fruit. I am not in a position to make personal judgments, but if I can trust what others say there has been plenty of bad fruit produced in certain areas and not much good. So we can be rather sure that there are false prophets around. What to do about them, when they are in positions of authority in the church, is another issue. Does the principle of the parable apply, to leave them be until God sorts things out at the end of time? I’m not sure.

Primates and Packer live from All Souls

John Richardson, the Ugley Vicar, is live blogging from All Souls Langham Place, in London, where a day conference is in session with some of the leaders who were recently at the GAFCON conference, also with J.I. Packer. John has already posted summaries of talks by Archbishop Hebry Orombi of Uganda and Archbishop Greg Venables of the Southern Cone, followed by a summary of an interview with Rev Dr Packer. This summary ends as follows:

Interviewer: What would be your wisdom about carrying on the GAFCON process in England?

JP: At the heart of the Statement is the Jerusalem Declaration. I would like to see PCCs and, where possible, Diocesan Synod, or even central bodies, committing themselves to this as their own guiding star. I would like to see the Primates who were leaders at GAFCON meeting in a public way in January 2009, casting the Jerusalem Statement into the form of a covenantal commitment, publicly subscribing to it on the part of their provinces, and also seeing diocesans subscribe to it. I would like to see it presented to new bishops appointed in the Church of England to subscribe to it, and I would like to see it established as a basis for orthodoxy and missionary action.

The goal of the Covenant Process begun in the Windsor Report would thus be achieved in essence. Anglican provinces who didn’t come along with this would be in the outer circle of limited communion for not identifying with Anglican orthodoxy.

This would be a first step in getting Anglicanism back into proper shape.

Interviewer: Thank you for letting us look into your ‘crystal ball’.

(A standing ovation was given to Dr Packer, who also stood to acknowledge it.)

It is an interesting idea to get PCCs and Synods to endorse the Jerusalem Declaration. Most of it is uncontroversial among conservative Anglicans. But the likely sticking point is this clause:

13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.

Before the statement can be generally accepted there needs to be some clarification, as I discussed earlier today, about how this clause is not Donatism and not in conflict with Article XXVI.

UPDATE: John Richardson has added a summary of a panel discussion, which touches on many interesting issues. Peter Jensen confirmed that ordination of women was considered a secondary issue on which opinions could differ. Greg Venables noted that he is going to Lambeth, but said:

I have very little hope for Lambeth. It is not going to be a place where we can sit people down and see what we are going to do.

The discussion summary ends as follows:

Q: Could the panel comment about how people in the CofE may most helpfully respond to GAFCON and the Jerusalem Declaration?

Peter Jensen: This affects everyone in the UK. Os Guinness compared it to a nuclear explosion where the fallout will happen around the world. Your presence here suggests you are deeply concerned about that fallout. GAFCON is a spiritual movement. Many of you will want to be part of it and to apply it to your local situation. There will be no vote here, but if you are convinced of this you signal so by writing in to the GAFCON website, indicating you support for the GAFCON movement.

FURTHER UPDATE: John RIchardson is blogging almost as fast as I can keep up with him! He has now blogged on the session with Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney. In this Jensen takes further the point he started on at the end of the panel discussion. He explains why he considers it important for orthodox Anglicans to make a stand on this issue, not just to keep their heads down in their parishes. He answers Rowan Williams’ criticism that GAFCON is self-appointed:

GAFCON is a very Anglican answer — a new set of instruments of unity! They were not ‘self-appointed’, they were God-appointed, from looking at the Word of God and seeing what they needed to do. …

The last two weeks have been two of the most extraordinary in my life. What we are dealing with here is not a split, but a movement possibly as significant as the Evangelical Revival, or even the Anglo-Catholic movement if you prefer, and it may bring Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics together [applause].

The day conference apparently ended with these words from Jensen:

Henry Orombi, Greg Venables, Jim Packer have all spoken about the situation. It is not for me to tell you what you must do here, apart from saying you must stand for the gospel and the Bible. We are looking to you. We need you to be strong and brave and true. We will help you. And together we will resist the forces of evil and secularism which seek to extinguish the gospel and are using the Church to do that. Stand firm.

The Donatists, GAFCON, and the Todd Bentley critics

The Donatists were a schismatic group in the early church, mainly in North Africa, who, to put things simply, broke away from the mainstream church because they rejected the authority of leaders, such as bishops, who had sinned. The specific problem was with Christian leaders who had compromised during a period of persecution:

The Donatists refused to accept the sacraments and spiritual authority of the priests and bishops who had fallen away from the faith during the persecution.

They refused to accept the repentance of these traditors and held that sacraments performed by them were invalid.

This is known as: ex opere operantis — Latin for from the work of the one doing the working, that is, that the validity of the sacrament depends upon the worthiness and holiness of the minister confecting it. The Catholic position was (and is): ex opere operato — from the work having been worked, in other words, that the validity of the sacrament depends upon the holiness of God, the minister being a mere instrument of God’s work, so that any priest or bishop, even one in a state of mortal sin, who speaks the formula of the sacrament with valid matter and the intent of causing the sacrament to occur acts validly.

At the Reformation, although some of the radicals may have taken the Donatist position, the majority continued to hold that it was wrong. Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England condemns Donatism, and extends the ex opere operato principle to preaching as well as sacraments:

Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving of the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

Doug Chaplin calls this The least believed article, and he may be right. It certainly seems to be the least believed by the GAFCON participants, who in their Final Statement, the same one I reported and commented on here, write:

4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.

How do they reconcile their affirmation of Article XXVI with the following part of their statement?:

13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed.

It seems that Donatism is still alive and well in Africa, and the other homes of the GAFCON participants.

Another place where Donatism seems to be alive and well is among the critics of Todd Bentley. The Internet, including comments on this blog, is full of savage statements which imply that because Todd allegedly did something wrong, or which might be understood as wrong, this invalidates his whole ministry. It does not. The accusations brought range from his pre-conversion criminal offence, through his tattoos, some questionable teaching about angels several years ago and his occasional use of violent methods while ministering, to his allegedly wrong fundraising methods at Lakeland. Now to those who reject Donatism these charges are of little relevance. Even if all are true and about genuine wrongdoing, this does not invalidate Todd’s preaching except when explicitly in error, nor his other ministry at least to the extent that it is sacramental. And I would hold that Todd’s ministry of healing and of impartation is genuinely sacramental, an outward sign performed by Todd of an inward work which is of the Holy Spirit.

But then could all these Donatists have it right? The anti-Donatist position clearly opens the dangerous way to the church leadership being taken over by those who compromise their faith. Indeed this happened within a generation or so of the original rejection of the Donatist position, as the anti-Donatists quickly made friends with the secular powers led by the new emperor Constantine, leading to an age in which the secular powers had authority over the church. So, if Donatism is rejected, is there any safeguard against the church lapsing into compromise?

On this point, in my opinion, the safest principle to follow is that of the wise Jewish leader Gamaliel, who advised:

Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.

Acts 5:38-39 (TNIV)

In other words, let the bad churches and ministries grow alongside the good ones, without trying to root them out, and let God provide the vindication of those which are good and the judgment on those which are not.

It should be clear how to apply this to Todd Bentley, but perhaps not to the situation GAFCON is addressing. Here in the Church of England there is room for a variety of local congregations and for the Gamaliel principle to be used to separate the good from the bad – although this is threatened by the way in which successful congregations are in effect taxed, through the Parish Share system, to subsidise those which are failing. The real problem is in North America, where Anglican church authorities are making life very difficult for orthodox congregations. My own solution to that kind of situation would not be to set up a new structure, but instead for each orthodox congregation to branch out on its own – if necessary leaving behind the assets which are now being legally disputed, and which can be a burden rather than a help to a faithful congregation. If the Anglican authorities in a certain area do not allow the faithful preaching of the Word of God, then faithful believers should wash their hands of Anglicanism and minister in other structures.

Rowan Williams and NT Wright respond to GAFCON

On Saturday I linked to Ruth Gledhill’s report of the final communiqué from GAFCON, with its veiled plans for schism in the Anglican Communion. She has now reported some interesting episcopal reactions, from Archbishop Rowan Williams and from “+THOMAS DUNELM:”, who for those unfamiliar with Anglican-speak is none other than the infamous NT Wright, Bishop of Durham.

The response from Williams (UPDATE: taken from here) surprises me. A large part of it focuses on the practical difficulties of schism rather than on the principles, almost suggesting that Williams is saying that the GAFCON leaders should make sure they do the schism properly. But he also claims that

The ‘tenets of orthodoxy’ spelled out in the [GAFCON] document will be acceptable to and shared by the vast majority of Anglicans in every province, even if there may be differences of emphasis and perspective on some issues.

Well, if that is true, why not present the document to the Lambeth Conference? If every province accepts it by a large majority as Rowan imagines, the schism is over. But is does Rowan really think that every province will endorse the following, even with “differences of emphasis and perspective”?:

8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.

If so, he is clearly even more out of touch than I had thought. And even more seriously, would there really be near universal acceptance of the following?:

5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.

In the end all that Rowan can do is to quote completely out of context

the words of the Apostle in I Cor.11.33: ‘wait for one another’.

But how long are people to wait? There needs to be a willingness to wait on both sides. The North American churches were not prepared to wait before ordaining a gay bishop etc. Why should others wait?

Then, after some negative comments by Bishop Chane, presumably of Washington DC, Ruth moves on to quote “+THOMAS DUNELM:”, NT Wright. Wright’s comments (UPDATE: taken from here) are long, and generally very positive about the GAFCON process. This part is interesting:

I fully agree with the GAFCON statement – and with Archbishop Rowan – that the Communion instruments have not been able to deal with the problems, and that we need to find better ways of going about it.

He also puts paid to any suggestion that he has a colonialist attitude:

What’s more, it is enormously exciting to live at a time when new leadership is arising from places completely outside the north Atlantic axis. Africa was one of the great cradles of early Christianity, producing such towering minds as Tertullian and Augustine. Most of us have long ago moved away from any idea that Christianity, or even Anglicanism, somehow ‘belongs’ to England or northern Europe. … I would have hoped, actually, that all this would now go without saying: that we have long moved beyond the sterile stand-off between ‘colonialism’ and ‘post-colonialism’. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s what matters.

Interestingly, he says that he was not invited to GAFCON. But then that may be because he attacked it in the Church Times perhaps before the invitation list was drawn up. In fact now he seems less critical than he was before, but in the end he rejects the whole GAFCON process:

In particular, though, there is something very odd about the proposal to form a ‘Council’ and then to ask such a body to ‘authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations’ – and then, as an addition, ‘to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith’. Many Anglicans around the world intend to do that in any case, and will not understand why they need to be ‘recognised’ or ‘authenticated’ by a new, self-selected and non-representative body to which they were not invited and which will not itself, it seems be accountable to anyone else.

He fears that the document

offers a blank cheque to anyone who wants to defy a bishop for whatever reasons, even if the bishop in question is scrupulously orthodox, and then to claim the right to alternative jurisdictional oversight. This cannot be the way forward; nor do I think most of those at GAFCON intended such a thing. …

… if GAFCON is to join up with the great majority of faithful, joyful Anglicans around the world, rather than to invite them to leave their present allegiance and sign up to a movement which is as yet – to put it mildly – strange in form and uncertain in destination, it is not so much that GAFCON needs to invite others to sign up and join in. Bishops, clergy and congregations should think very carefully before taking such a step, which will have enormous and confusing consequences. Rather, GAFCON itself needs to bring its rich experience and gospel-driven exuberance to the larger party where the rest of us are working day and night for the same gospel, the same biblical wisdom, the same Lord.

Indeed it would be wonderful if GAFCON could bring its experience and exuberance to the larger party. But the problem is that some of those at the party seem not to be working for the same gospel, some might wonder if even for the same Lord. If the people working together cannot even agree on their goals, there is little point in them working together as they will simply undo one another’s work. Williams and Wright claim that this is not what will happen, but Williams has failed to reassure the GAFCON primates of this. Again, Williams is saying too little, too late. Unfortunately the result is a momentum towards schism which he seems powerless to stop.

A schism or not a schism?

Ruth Gledhill writes:

When is a schism not a schism? When it is done by Anglicans.

This is the introduction to her post of the final statement from the GAFCON conference of conservative Anglicans, which has been held in Jerusalem this week. The 1148 participants, including 291 bishops, write the following, extracted from the statement:

We cherish our Anglican heritage and the Anglican Communion and have no intention of departing from it.

GAFCON is not just a moment in time, but a movement in the Spirit, and we hereby:
• launch the GAFCON movement as a fellowship of confessing Anglicans
• publish the Jerusalem Declaration as the basis of the fellowship
• Encourage GAFCON Primates’ Council.

While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This leads into what they publish as “The Jerusalem Declaration”, which is “the basis of our fellowship”. Most of this is an unremarkable statement of orthodox Anglicanism. It does contain an explicit reference to “the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman”. There is no mention of issues controversial among orthodox Anglicans such as the ordination of women. But the Declaration does include the following:

We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration. … We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed.

So there is to be a continuing GAFCON movement, with no other name given to it. The leaders are encouraging other orthodox Anglicans to join them, and to reject the authority of unorthodox leaders. If this is not schism, what is it?

The next step is to be a Primates’ Council of the leaders of the GAFCON movement, which is expected to recognise as a province the Common Cause Partnership in North America. This of course implies rejection of the authority of the existing Anglican churches in the USA and Canada, whose leaders are largely unorthodox by these GAFCON standards. But it leaves entirely open the question of what might happen in provinces, such as those of the Church of England, whose leadership is much more miixed.

The statement finishes with the following:

The meeting in Jerusalem this week was called in a sense of urgency that a false gospel has so paralysed the Anglican Communion that this crisis must be addressed. The chief threat of this dispute involves the compromising of the integrity of the church’s worldwide mission. The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ. It is our hope that this Statement on the Global Anglican Future will be received with comfort and joy by many Anglicans around the world who have been distressed about the direction of the Communion. We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed around the biblical gospel and mandate to go into all the world and present Christ to the nations.

Do I receive this with comfort and joy? Do I expect my fellow evangelical Anglicans here in England to do so? I’m not sure yet, because there is so far no way of knowing what the consequences of this may be for the Church of England. Perhaps things will become more clear at this meeting in London next Tuesday, which I am sadly not eligible to attend – I could attend the evening meeting and just might do so.

As for the final sentence of the statement, “We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed …”, I can certainly agree with “should”. But we will need to wait and see about the “will”. After all, what is in all but name a declaration of schism is hardly the best way to promote reform. It may well be that the Anglican Communion can be “reformed” only in the etymological sense “re-formed”, as a new parallel Communion of orthodox Anglicans.

Chelmsford parishes to break away?

I have been catching up on news about GAFCON, especially through John Richardson’s Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream blog and the Church Times Blog run by another Essex Anglican, Dave Walker. The latest news is a denial that GAFCON will cause schism in the Anglican Communion.

But there is one important news report, by Ruth Gledhill in the Times, whose significance for Essex Anglicans neither of these bloggers seems to have noticed; John ignores it completely, while Dave links to it by title without mention of the relevant part. Here is that relevant part of what Ruth writes, concerning an international conservative Anglican Fellowship which may be set up in the aftermath of GAFCON:

Members of the fellowship could attempt to opt out of the pastoral care of their diocesan bishop and seek oversight from a more conservative archbishop, either from their own country or abroad.

The success of the fellowship in averting schism will depend on the response of the local leadership.

It is understood that hundreds of parishes in England could be interested in joining such a fellowship, if it did not mean schism from the Church of England.

The dioceses most affected by parishes looking for more conservative leadership are understood to include Chelmsford, St Albans and Southwark.

Graham Kings reports this on the Fulcrum GAFCON forum, “Monday 23 June 2008 – 09:12am”, but has little to add himself.

So we are talking about hundreds of parishes in England, and Chelmsford as one of the most affected dioceses. That means, I suppose, dozens of parishes in Essex and east London expected to join such a Fellowship and possibly “attempt to opt out of the pastoral care of their diocesan bishop”. If this happens, it will indeed be big news. But if so, why is it being announced in hints by Ruth Gledhill, and why is John Richardson, who as spokesman for Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream is certain to be close to the heart of this, making no mention of this story?

But then perhaps John was alluding to intentions of this kind when, on his personal blog The Ugley Vicar, he quoted with apparent approval the following words of Nigel Atkinson:

What will we have then achieved? We will have formed ourselves into a coherent ecclesial body. We will have our bishops, our clergy, our parishes, our people and our money welded together.

This was outwardly in a different context, that of women bishops. But could there be a plan to bring the two aspects together, to set up, formally within the Anglican Communion, “a coherent ecclesial body” with its own bishops, clergy and parishes, united not only by opposition to women bishops but also by a broader opposition to liberal trends in the Church of England?

The problem with that plan is, where would it leave the large number of us Anglicans who support ordination of women but reject what really is creeping liberalism?

Bishop Broadbent to stay away from Lambeth

A few months ago I was writing a lot about the Lambeth Conference, and about the “alternative” GAFCON conference. Well, GAFCON is already here (but I have not yet kept up to date with reports from it), and Lambeth is coming up very soon.

One of the things which I did write was about Bishop Pete Broadbent of Willesden (still the only genuine Church of England bishop to comment on this blog):

I would be surprised if Broadbent stays away from Lambeth, although he might also attend GAFCON.

But now the Telegraph reports (thanks to the Church TImes blog for the link, also for linking to this blog on another matter) that Broadbent will be absent from Lambeth, along with Bishops Nazir-Ali and Benn whose absence has long been announced. This is confirmed in this Fulcrum forum thread, in a post written “Sunday 22 June 2008 – 03:41pm”, in which Graham Kings writes that Broadbent

is not going to make a public statement about his reasons for not going to Lambeth, which are complex.

This is of course clear confirmation that Broadbent is not going. On the same thread this morning, “Monday 23 June 2008 – 09:23am”, Broadbent himself gives a public statement, not “about his reasons for not going to Lambeth” but about his reasons for not making a public statement about his reasons. I don’t think that is being inconsistent, but I’m not sure. He writes:

1. Because there isn’t a party line. There is a conference. There are invitations. You can accept an invitation or decline it. It’s not a matter for third parties.

2. Because you may feel that explaining your reasons publicly would not be helpful to the conference host, whom you may not wish to undermine.

3. Becasue non-attendance is of course saving money, rather than expending it, and allows the Anglican Communion to spend more on cheese.

No wonder “Liddon” calls Broadbent “a politician”! But I have my own interesting points to make here:

  1. Broadbent apparently does not want to undermine Archbishop Rowan Williams, who he considers “a good man”.
  2. He is avoiding both conferences, saving money for both sets of organisers!
  3. Nevertheless he has his reasons for not attending, and explaining them publicly would not be helpful to Williams – which implies that the reasons are not purely personal.

One might wonder if Broadbent is trying to keep a foot in both camps, not upsetting his evangelical friends by attending Lambeth, but also not upsetting Williams and his associates by attending GAFCON or going public with any criticism. I don’t want to suggest that Broadbent’s position is anything less than honourable, but I do see it as a political decision, a compromise. Sadly the Anglican Communion has got into its current bad state because of a series of compromises. I don’t think it is helpful to anyone to continue to compromise.

Sitting on fences is uncomfortable, and remaining on this one will surely become even more so. Some time quite soon Bishop Broadbent will have to jump down on one side or the other.

Could this one be the Wright letter?

About a month ago, as I reported, Bishop NT Wright referred to a letter which Archbishop Rowan Williams was supposed to have already sent to Anglican bishops, supposedly in an attempt to dissuade from attending the Lambeth Conference those who were not committed to the Windsor Process and the Anglican Covenant. But, it seems, no such letters arrived. What was sent out at about this time was a video message. Ruth Gledhill suggested that this video was in fact what Bishop Wright was referring to. But, as I wrote at the time, the content of the video was nothing like the message which Wright described.

Now, a month later and only just over two months before the Lambeth Conference begins, another message from Archbishop Rowan has arrived in bishops’ letter boxes. Ruth Gledhill gives the full text and again speculates that this is the message that Wright was talking about. And indeed the content seems to fit what Wright had to say. Well, given the current state of the British postal service it is believable that these letters have been in the post for a month. But as the message is explicitly linked to the feast of Pentecost, yesterday, surely Wright was misinformed about it being in the post, even if it was already being drafted a month ago.

Actually it is a really good letter. I am impressed with the seasonal appeals to the Holy Spirit:

The Feast of Pentecost … is a good moment to look forward prayerfully to the Lambeth Conference, asking God to pour out the Spirit on all of us as we make ready for this time together, so that we shall indeed be given grace to speak boldly in his Name. …

We are asking for the fire of the Spirit to come upon us and deepen our sense that we are answerable to and for each other and answerable to God for the faithful proclamation of his grace uniquely offered in Jesus. That deepening may be painful in all kinds of ways. The Spirit does not show us a way to by-pass the Cross. But only in this way shall we truly appear in the world as Christ’s Body as a sign of God’s Kingdom which challenges a world scarred by poverty, violence and injustice. …

And our ambition is nothing less than renewal and revival for us all in the Name of Jesus and the power of his Spirit.

Todd Bentley would give an “Amen!” to that, even though his style is entirely different.

The “indaba” discussion groups Archbishop Rowan describes seem a helpful model for this kind of conference. But as for Wright’s suggestion that Williams was trying to persuade certain bishops not to attend, Williams writes that something (I’m not quite sure what)

makes it all the more essential that those who come to Lambeth will arrive genuinely willing to engage fully in that growth towards closer unity that the Windsor Report and the Covenant Process envisage. We hope that people will not come so wedded to their own agenda and their local priorities that they cannot listen to those from other cultural backgrounds. As you may have gathered, in circumstances where there has been divisive or controversial action, I have been discussing privately with some bishops the need to be wholeheartedly part of a shared vision and process in our time together.

Will this actually stop any bishops coming? I doubt it, unless “discussing privately … the need” is a euphemism for “ordering”.

Will the letter persuade any to come who were not planning to? Well, it might win over some who were wavering, and increase the number attending both the Lambeth Conference and Gafcon. The latter, the alternative conference in late June in Jordan and Israel, arranged by conservatives, is currently expecting 280 bishops, compared with the total of about 800 invited to Lambeth.

But a letter like this will not go far towards healing the deep divisions in the Anglican Communion. A month ago I wrote, actually quoting Wright’s words, that the letter he was referring to

is far too little, far too late.

The letter which has now arrived is still far too little, and it is even later.

Meanwhile Dave Walker suggests to me, with a cartoon to illustrate it, another way in which Archbishop Rowan might be discouraging Lambeth attendance. He will not be flying anywhere this summer. But of course he is the only bishop who can reasonably walk from his cathedral to the Lambeth Conference. The next nearest diocesan bishop, Nazir-Ali of Rochester, could just about walk the 30 miles or so to Canterbury, but is not expected to attend. So, by giving up flying, is Rowan giving an example which he doesn’t expect any other bishops to follow, or is he giving a subtle message to those from outside Europe not to bother to travel to Lambeth?