The behavior of conservative primates and advocacy groups at the recently-concluded Primates Meeting in Alexandria, Egypt and the comments of Bishop Gregory Venables in this interview with George Conger suggest a change in the strategy of the anti-gay faction in the Anglican Communion.
As always, with Venables, it is necessary to sift through the many unsupported assertions he presents as facts, but in this instance, that is worth the effort. To wit:
“Something like the freshness of the Holy Spirit” descended upon the meeting, Bishop Venables explained. There was “something different here, something special,” he said. “Without a doubt there was a lot of anger and tension,” he added, but the “orthodox had a calmness and peace” that Bishop Venables attributed to divine intervention.
If the Holy Spirit descended, she showed up well before the meeting. Conservatives coordinate their strategy for these meetings. In this instance, they decided to change their approach, abandoning the pressure tactics, and ostentatious rudeness of past meetings in favor of a gentler approach.
All the usual suspects stayed away. No Martyn Minns, no Bob Duncan, only the recently hired- CANA missioner Julian Dobbs was on hand to advise Archbishop Peter Akinola, and he kept a low profile. For the first time in three meetings, conservative prelates apparently participated in worship with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Some also posed for a group picture with her. There were no rumors of plans to shun Bishop Jefferts Schori, and by all accounts, the Primates who stayed away from Lambeth participated fully in this meeting.
Why? Perhaps conservatives have decided that their confrontational approach wasn't working. But my guess is that they are playing possum and hoping that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church will take some action that can be portrayed as a rejection of the moratoria urged upon us by the Primates and the Lambeth Conference. Then, rather than playing the angry partisans--a performance that may be reaping diminishing returns--they can feign disappointment, express their sad solidarity with the Archbishop of Canterbury (whom they had previously pilloried) and call for discipline of TEC and recognition of the breakaway.
Some conservative tactics haven't changed. It seems that they must reflexively claim victory after every meeting. In this case, those claims are even less compelling than usual. Compare the post-meeting statements of Venables, Minns and others to the lede of yesterday's story by the disinterested Daniel Burke of Relilgion News Service:
Leaders of the Anglican Communion said Thursday (Feb. 5) that they, not dissident conservatives, will decide what role a newly formed traditionalist North American church will have in their worldwide fellowship.
Concluding their weeklong meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, the Anglican leaders also said a new North American church should not "seek to recruit or expand their membership" by attempting to convert others.
Conservatives angered by the liberal drift of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Anglican Church of Canada set up a rival church in December. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), led by Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, aims to be recognized as the official Anglican franchise in North America.
But the 30-odd Anglican primates, or archbishops, meeting this week (Feb. 1-5) essentially put a damper on those plans. While acknowledging that "there is no consensus among us how this new (church) is to be regarded," the primates unanimously agreed that "it is not for individual groups to claim the terms on which they will relate to the communion."
This triumphalist tic aside, the conservative strategy seems well-chosen, even if Venables' portrayal of a new spirit is transparently insincere. The Episcopal Church is going to have to make a decision this summer on whether to remove impediments to the consecration of gay bishops put in place at our last General Convention. If we move forward, we play into their hands. If we don't move forward... we do their bidding.
“Christ calls us to practice both compassion and justice. We reject the false choice suggested by the Primates communiqué that God asks Episcopalians to deny either faithful mission with the worldwide Anglican Communion or full inclusion of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers,” said the Rev. Ruth Meyers, who is professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.