Yesterday was the first really uncomfortable day in the Indaba groups for the bishops as their conversations turned to matters of human sexuality and the proper response of the Church to gay and lesbian Christians. Most the reports are that the discussions were frank and honest and mostly loving.
+David Rossdale, Grimsby, CofE, writes about his Indaba group discussion of sexuality and the graced conversation:
Those who have been supporting the process of Bible Study followed by an Indaba were vindicated this morning. I sat, listened and contributed as one of 40 bishops engaging with issues in human sexuality. As far as I could tell, everyone was able to make a contribution and the challenges facing us were clarified. There was no ‘grandstanding’ and people were able to make their contribution without having to run the gauntlet of a plenary of 660 bishops - which would have ensured that only a minority were heard.
Where is all this going? Well, the one thing which has become apparent is that there is no general appetite for a ‘winners and losers’ outcome about this issue. It may well be that the time is still not right for a clear way forward to be found. That will frustrate the press (who are back here again in large numbers now that we are on to sex) and those who want a clear resolution.
The Archbishop of Burundi started the day with a memorable sermon which ended with the words “…..before the Communion was, I am.” Whatever comes out of the Conference about these matters, in the end we have been Christ centred in all this and there has been no room for those who would wish to demonise those with whom they disagree.
+Alan Wilson, Buckingham, CofE, although still longing for a "decision" sees Indaba as working to build relationships which may last:
Yesterday afternoon’s meeting to share creative ways forward felt rather stuck, with three potential ideas nobody seemed to much want developed in detail. It was OK, but essentially consisted of the same old win/lose thinking from the same old people, the vast majority US or UK. It’s a grim thought but without the indaba process we could have been spending two weeks like this.
This experience does at least establish that we can’t make anything different without thinking different, which was pretty obvious, I suppose.
We’re not quite there yet I realise. Bad experience of old methods certainly vindicates the organisers’ decision not just to re-run the 1998 process. Another bishop said to me today that, actually, to get 650-odd incompatible people from 130 countries to listen to each other and communicate together, breaking bread as Christians, and praying through their problems without rancour or the smack of top-down authoritarianism, is in itself a reasonably unusual thing to happen in today’s world.
[in a later blog Bishop Alan writes on the distribution of a book by Bishop Nazir-Ali]
Someone at lunch said of it “Remaindered — already?” “No, no,” I said. “Very odd, then,” said my companion. “How extraordinary to sit twenty miles up the road, refusing to talk with the rest of us, but choosing instead to address us in print.” I understood, of course. I tried to explain that Love has many languages, and remote control bombing people with paperbacks from twenty miles away is just one of them.
Our conversation petered off the subject of +Michael, and into tales we all had of teenage children who had gone off in a sulk and could only be brought back into the family, sometimes after many years, by remaining open to them, whilst refusing to be carried away into angry responses by their childishness, lest any of us say things we would later regret.
+Larry Benfield, Arkansas, TEC, reports a variety of voices at his Indaba group discussion of sexuality as each bishop spoke of what he needed from the other to go forward in mission and ministry:
It may be that one old assumption that turned out to be wrong is that in some sense the Church of England was and would continue to be the hub for the Communion. That model may be breaking down, and a wheel with some new set of spokes and connectors might emerge. Or perhaps a totally new image will find its place as a way to describe how we are connected. The archbishop’s attempt to strengthen the hub may turn out to be an old solution to a new problem that requires a different architecture.
Perhaps the calm and centered Jesus character at this conference is not a person at all, but is instead the liturgy. Each day we are called on to say the Lord’s Prayer, to gather at the table to share bread and wine, to pray for the hungers of the church and world that all might be fed. If the church keeps it focus there, then the Communion can indeed offer much a world that needs the witness of unconditional love and seen in our story of death and resurrection.
+Chilton Knudsen, Maine, TEC, includes a video of her Bible study group and asks for prayers:
I'm continually reminded that we are a GLOBAL family in the Anglican Communion. This means that we must make a special effort to communicate across differences of culture and language. The earphones and transmitter are in my tote bag for every Lambeth event. God bless the translation team; they have been patient and skillful.
Our conversations together from now until the end of the conference are increasingly delicate and important. Our challenge is to hear one another, even when that is hard going. So far, we are receiving the Holy Spirit's gift of hearing one another (see the miracle of Pentecost!). Bless you all for your prayers. We feel them and appreciate your support.
+Nick Baines, Croydon, CofE, responds to the Times article by Abp Orombi, to the media who were disappointed by the lack of explosion over sex and chides them for the libelous treatment of +Catherine Roskam of New York.
Call me suspicious, but could we have a comment from someone somewhere about the timing of this article, the fact that Chris Sugden's daughter is here working for the Times and that we have come to expect this sort of thing? This is a question, not a statement. I will comment on the colonial stuff later, but Orombi might just ask if he is also being manipulated by a new form of 'colonialist'.
Anyway, Sex Day was a bit of a disappointment for the thrill-seekers. There were no fall-outs, no hissy fits and no demonstrations of outrageous behaviour on the part of bishops or their spouses. In other words, a media disaster.
I felt a bit sorry for the media people. They have built today up into the day the explosion would happen and the Anglican Communion would collapse in on itself under a weight of sexual tension. But it didn't and we didn't. Mind you, this might have been an appropriate and just reward to the Daily Telegraph for its scandalous, misrepresentative and deliberately sensationalist article about wife-beating by bishops. The American bishop who had been interviewed was horrified to see what the press had done and explained herself to the assembled bishops in the afternoon session. Welcome to the British media! She should sue the journalist concerned. And the journalist should ask whether this sort of story really satisfies any sense of professional integrity.
Back to the conference proper. The most arresting comment from our Indaba Group (sexuality and the covenant) was to with what I have called the greatest gift of Evangelicalism (and Protestantism) to the world: we know how to split. Fragmentation and division is a dominant feature of our time - an immature inability to live with messiness and the unresolved.
+Marc Andrus, California, TEC, believes there are some common hopes about some issues but not much good news for gays and lesbians in most places:
We will I believe make important statements that reflect a newly discovered, common commitment to the relief of global suffering, including the urgency to address the environmental crisis. This is what we should do from my point of view, and I have heard the same from bishops representing every part of the Communion.
This will not be enough for those who wish to have either a strong rebuke of The Episcopal Church and Canada over human sexuality on one side, and I also doubt that something I think incredibly important, a Communion-wide commitment to safeguarding the civil rights and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people will be affirmed.
But we will remain committed to one another. So my hope is genuine hope, in the theological sense – I do not know how it will finally look to live in the Communion, nor what the Communion itself will look like, but I believe in a good outcome for this.
+Cathy Roskam, suffragan NY, TEC, who was widely criticized for remarks she made that were interpreted to be an insult to third-world bishops at Lambeth. In her post she writes:
Imagine my horror to read in an English newspaper this morning a headline that screamed Woman Bishop Says Third World Clergy Beat Their Wives over a picture of yours truly. The article went on to quote very selectively from an interview I had given as one of the press briefers a couple of days ago when the theme of our day was Equal in God's Sight: When Power is Abused.
[...]Afterward a couple of bishops had a few questions for clarification, but many bishops from both near and far came over to express their understanding and support, for which I am very grateful. ENS will also issue a statement I am told and I will continue to do what I can to clear the air about this matter.
I have to say it is very disheartening after all these years of building relationships around the globe to think of these lies going out over the internet to people who don't know me and who will believe what was said. At the same time, I also need to reiterate that violence against women remains a problem the world over, and all of us within the church and in the larger society must do all we can to prevent it.
+Sue Moxley, Nova Scotia and PEI, ACoC writes of the discussions in her Indaba group:
Bible Study was John 13:31-14:17. We very dutifully did the first question, “How has John’s radical paradox, that God’s glory is most visible at moments of apparent weakness and vulnerability, been part of your church’s story?” There were some profound examples. However the Indaba coming up would be “The Bishop and Human Sexuality”. We agreed that it would be easier to speak among ourselves about our views than in the bigger group of 40 people. As you might expect, among the nine of us there was the usual range of views on sexuality, but there was no bitterness or any accusations. There was agreement that spreading of misinformation had caused damage to the Communion. Campaigns on behalf of one party or another were not appreciated by anyone and mainly create backlash. (There is a constant barrage of information on Gay and Lesbian people here including a demonstration as we exited from the hearing on the Scripture.)
The Indaba Group was also very honest. The biggest concern is about the ordination of actively homosexual people, with the blessings of same sex couples a long way behind. It is clear that sexual sins (which were listed by many to include divorce, promiscuity, adultery, same sex unions) are far more important to people than any other sins (like violence within family, greed, unethical business practice). In many places, a divorced person can not be ordained or be a catechist. Those in polygamous relationships can not receive communion. The punishment for sexual deviation is severe in many places in our Communion. Many people feel that the ordination of a gay bishop been has forced on them and has created the great rift in the Communion. The Episcopal Church has been almost silent in response so far.
+Kirk Smith, Arizona, TEC also reports on the tenor of the discussions in his Indaba group and reports on some of the broadly held views he is finding amongst his fellow bishops:
I was amazed about how well this morning's session went. You may be reading in the press about how fragmented we are. But this is due to the fact that a few hot heads are are quick to cozy up to any reporter they can find. There are two or three American bishops here who would like nothing better than to see the Conference fail. The truth is that there is an (dare I say it?) almost miraculous cooperative and respectful spirit at work here. This morning for example, there was no mention of punishing the Americans. The word "accountability" was not even mentioned. Instead, we talked a lot about the example of a marriage covenant which is based not on punishment but on a spirit of the parties "loving each other no matter what." It was pointed out that the current proposed Covenant with all its provisions for kicking people out of the Communion sounds more like a pre-nuptial agreement than a marriage covenant!
If my group is typical, and from what I can tell, it is, there are some pretty clear themes: 1. There is a desire to stay together, no matter what. Relationships are more important that doctrine. 2. Most want a covenant that is an affirming rather than a disciplinary doctrine. 3. People have little regard for the Primates. 4. We want to meet together more often and work together more closely.
+Marc Andrus, California, TEC provides a video of the Melanesians: