The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Design Group, as they planned Lambeth 2008, made the decision that this time around, the Conference would not deal with any resolutions. Archbishop Rowan made it clear that Lambeth I.10 remains the mind of the Communion on the subject of human sexuality and would not be re-visited in 2008; nor, in the process, would we take up any other subjects in a legislative mode. We would instead have a season of “fasting” in which we listen to each other, take counsel, pray and reflect together, but avoid any definitive actions that would further exacerbate the conflict that has engulfed the Anglican Communion particularly since the actions of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2003. The decision to “fast” from resolutions was a controversial one, but in the end I’m convinced that it was wise, prudent, and courageous.
That means that “Lambeth Indaba” isn’t an authoritative teaching document; it doesn’t intend to be. Rather, it is a report of our conversations, a snapshot of the bishops in the midst of a long and ultimately productive time together. The document seeks to be faithful to the Gospel, faithful to the Indaba process, faithful to the bishops and their context, and faithful to the Communion (pp. 7-8). It goes on to describe conversations on mission and evangelism, the environment, ecumenism, relations with world religions, Anglican bishops and Anglican identity, human sexuality, the Bible, the Anglican Covenant, and the Windsor process. Necessarily, the document contains contradictory material. After all, it simply reports what we said to one another; and since we sometimes (often!) didn’t agree, “Lambeth Indaba” allows us a glimpse at the theological and pastoral diversity that characterizes the Anglican Communion. Don’t read the document looking for an authoritative pronouncement. You won’t find it; and I think it’s safe to say that this Lambeth Conference probably couldn’t have found a consensus on some of the difficult matters that continue to divide us. Yet, as I mentioned at the beginning of these reflections, the search for unity in the midst of significant conflict was a kind of subtext that permeated the whole Conference, from start to finish; you’ll find echoes of that yearning throughout “Lambeth Indaba”. I encourage you to download the document and to read it prayerfully and carefully, and in that way to pray with and for the bishops who spend nearly three weeks in Canterbury.
I should add a bittersweet footnote to the preceding paragraph. We weren’t all there. Four provinces (Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya) declined the Archbishop’s invitation to come to Lambeth (though in the end several Kenyan bishops did attend); several Australian and British bishops were also missing, as were a couple of Americans. Those who chose to say away did so in large part to protest the presence of the Episcopal Church, and in part as well because they disapproved of Lambeth’s non-legislative format. Many, though not all, of these bishops had attended a meeting in Jerusalem entitled “Global Anglican Futures Conference” at the end of June, though some bishops were present both at Lambeth and at GAFCON. (Note the GAFCON website.) The absence of so many Christian friends from the Lambeth Conference was a grievous loss indeed. We needed their strong voices. The Conference was less robustly representative because of their absence.
Archbishop Rowan’s concluding presidential address summarized our time together and gave what I believe to be an authoritative interpretation of the Lambeth Conference and its long-term effects.
Read it all.