Theological Reflection: Stepping back from full inclusion

Published September 2, 2008

A FRIEND WHO is deeply read in Anglican history and theology predicted that Lambeth 2008 would give a negative response to gay and lesbian people on the matter of their full inclusion in the life and orders of the church and that at Lambeth 2018 the discussion would be about banning women priests and bishops.  So far his prediction has come fairly accurately true.  On this most perplexing matter dividing our communion, the Lambeth’s Reflections do not even clearly call for continuing dialogue and listening to gay and lesbian people-despite the resolutions of Lambeth 1998.

From a theological perspective, the finest documents to emerge from this Lambeth Conference were the Archbishop of Canterbury’s presidential addresses, but it is also clear that many of the other addresses were rich in theological content (eg. the Chief Rabbi’s lecture on Covenant). From an ecclesiological perspective, his decision to make this Lambeth a conference has been, in my view, a major step forward.  The Reflections document issued at the end is by its very nature vague, and reflective of the multiplicity of positions on most of the questions that perplex us.  This may be a healthy stage of conversation; it offers us all a clearer picture of the range of diversity and contexts in which we seek to live our mission.

[pullquote]More depressing, in my view, is that despite all protestations to the contrary and arguments about confrontation with Islam in Africa and elsewhere, the evangelical side of Anglicanism is leading us more and more toward a form of Christianity which is simply another variant of fundamentalist Islam.  This is most evident in the insistence on treating the scriptures as the centre of faith rather than the living Lord Jesus Christ (book as authority rather than the uniquely Christian revelation of God), and on the inability to articulate Christian moral positions that may be distinctly different from the taboos of Islamic and animist culture.  

On the other side, it is increasingly clear that our Catholic side is held captive by the desire to reunite with Rome.  This is manifesting itself in the continuing denigration and deletion of the authority of all communion bodies such as the Anglican Consultative Council which includes lay people and clergy, and in the increasing desire for more Lambeth gatherings and for more authority over doctrine to be given to primates and other foreign prelates.  It becomes clearer and clear why Queen Elizabeth I gave the authority over the prayer book and the church in emergent Anglicanism to Parliament and deliberately bypassed the bishops in many of her crucial decisions.  

Lambeth costs nearly $11 million, and one of the proposals is to hold a Lambeth Conference every five years.  Surely there are better uses for $11 million in our communion, and if the money must be spent on strengthening our Instruments of Communion then it would be much better spent enabling the Anglican Consultative Council to meet and bring together lay people, clergy, and bishops from every province in the communion to meet once each year rather than on the infrequent basis it now meets.

All this said, it’s clear that at this Lambeth the experience and process was more important than documents, and it will be important to weigh what our bishops have to say about their experience as part of determining how our Canadian church should participate in the changing form of our Anglican Communion.


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