This is the headline of a new BBC article, headed by a picture looking rather like Rowan Williams keeping his mouth shut, which starts:
A global review of the world’s primates says 48% of species face extinction, an outlook described as “depressing” by conservationists.
“Conservationists”, not “conservatives”? This is the first clue that this article is actually about monkeys and apes, not the archbishops of the Anglican Communion. But at least according to some press pundits the outlook for Primates of the episcopal kind, in the wake of the recently finished Lambeth Conference, is just as depressing.
So what did the allegedly 666 bishops at the conference achieve? And what now are the prospects for the Anglican Communion?
The main output from the conference was a long and rambling document called Lambeth Indaba Reflections. I have not attempted to read all of this. The most controversial part is in Section K, paragraph 145:
145. The moratoria cover three separate but related issues: ordinations of persons living in a same gender union to the episcopate; the blessing of same-sex unions; cross-border incursions by bishops. There is widespread support for moratoria across the Communion, building on those that are already being honoured. The moratoria can be taken as a sign of the bishops’ affection, trust and goodwill towards the Archbishop of Canterbury and one another. The moratoria will be difficult to uphold, although there is a desire to do so from all quarters. There are questions to be clarified in relation to how long the moratoria are intended to serve. Perhaps the moratoria could be seen as a “season of gracious restraint”. In relation to moratorium 2 (the blessing of same-sex unions) there is a desire to clarify precisely what is proscribed. Many differentiate between authorised public rites, rather than pastoral support. If the Windsor process is to be honoured, all three moratoria must be applied consistently.
John Richardson, who quoted the words “Episcopal ordinations of partnered homosexual people” apparently from an earlier version of this document (or perhaps from the Church Times blog), has misunderstood the first moratorium as referring to ordinations by bishops. The current version has clarified that the moratorium is restricted to ordination or consecration as bishops, of practising homosexuals. This justifies John’s response to my comment that he may have understood the words he quoted:
If it now means ‘ordinations of’ bishops, then the Lambeth 2008 has been an unnoticed disaster for the traditionalists there, as they have now accepted what Lambeth 1998 1.10 said ought not to happen.
Indeed, section H of the Reflections, on Human Sexuality, while referring to Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, mentions only that ordination of homosexual bishops goes against this resolution. The document has nothing to say about ordination of practising homosexuals as priests, which in practice now seems to be considered acceptable.
Actually these three moratoria are nothing new. They go back to the 2004 Windsor Report, paragraph 134:
the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges;
public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions … Because of the serious repercussions in the Communion, we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites …;
and paragraph 155:
We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own … to effect a moratorium on any further interventions.
So will these moratoria now provide a basis for healing the rifts within the Communion? They might just do if they were observed. But for four years the second and third of them have been widely ignored. It seems highly unlikely that the North American churches will now start observing the second one. Indeed Susan Russell of the gay lobby group Integrity has already invoked the Boston Tea Party and said:
It is not going to change anything on the ground in California. We bless same-sex relationships and will continue to do so.
And there is no way that the conservatives are going to abide by the third moratorium if the first two are simply ignored. The best that can be hoped for here is a breathing space, nothing more than a “season of gracious restraint” which will in fact not be accepted graciously by many.
So where does this take the Anglican Communion? Ruth Gledhill quotes George Conger, writing on Sunday:
While a blow up is not expected on the final day of the July 16 to Aug 3 gathering of bishops in Canterbury, the prospects for a united Anglican Communion appear less likely now than at the start of the conference.
Is this journalistic pessimism, or, from the point of view of those looking for stories to report, optimism? Well, there are those who claim to be optimistic, like Tim Chesterton who writes:
I’m cautiously optimistic. I suspect that the extremists on both sides will not heed the call for moratoria and will not sign on to any covenant. But I think the majority will, and if that means that we have a smaller communion, based on humility, prayer, a willingness to admit that each of us ‘sees through a glass darkly’ and a determination to seek the will of God together without automatically dismissing those with whom we disagree – well, so be it.
Well, if even an optimist expects “the extremists on both sides” to leave, what does that mean? If “the extremists” on one side are the North American churches and on the other side are those who boycotted the Lambeth Conference, then, according to statistics from Anglican Mainstream, we are talking about 17.5 million (or 25 million) Anglicans in Nigeria, 9.6 million in Uganda, 2.4 million (or 800,000) in the USA, and 740,000 (or 640,000) in Canada. As the total number of Anglicans is variously reported to be between 50 and 75 million, if these “extremists” are in fact a minority they are only just so. Of course not everyone in each of these provinces is an “extremist”, but there are many other provinces with large numbers of “extremists”, in some cases on both sides, as here in England.
So perhaps the BBC’s estimate of 48% is a good one, that 48% not of Primates but of the Anglican provinces and dioceses they serve “face extinction”. The amazing thing is that a conservationist, I mean a conservative, like Tim Chesterton does not find this outlook “depressing” but is still “cautiously optimistic”.