By Jim Naughton
The last morning of the Lambeth Conference was marked by low clouds, occasional rain and a subdued atmosphere on the University of Kent campus. We are to receive the final draft of the reflections on the indaba process at 2:30 p .m (9:30 a. m. , EDT) and a copy of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s third and final presidential address at 3:30. A press conference with the archbishop is scheduled to begin at 4:30, and the closing Eucharist at 6. I will be writing, rather than attending the Eucharist.
Some Episcopal bishops I spoke with last night were happy with their experience at the conference, which they described as a time of real engagement. To a person they felt they had established important relationships. They also felt that attitudes towards homosexuality had begun to soften, but perhaps only to the extent that people were now able to discuss the issue without shouting.
They praised the design of the conference, raved about the Bible study and the indaba groups and said they felt more closely connected to the other bishops of the Communion that they ever have before.
They were more pessimistic about the chances that the Episcopal Church will be able to move decisively toward full inclusion at our General Convention next summer. One can stress the provisional nature of the Reflections that will be published today, and take heart in the fact that some of the most ardent homophobes in the Communion feel that they are losing ground, yet the fact remains that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Communion Office and the majority of the bishops at this conference want us to maintain our de facto ban on the consecration of partnered gay candidates to the episcopacy, and to ban either the authorization of rites of same sex blessings, or to root out the practice of same sex blessings entirely –it isn’t clear which.
If we overturn, supersede or otherwise mess with Resolution B033 from General Convention 2006, or if we move toward authorizing texts to bless same-sex unions, we will, at a minimum, set off another round of recriminations and endless meetings; we will endure additional efforts aimed at pushing us out of the Communion, countered, no doubt, by our own elaborate, energy sapping campaign to preserve our membership.
Even bishops who favor full inclusion are reluctant to pick this fight right now. Yet there is strong support for challenging B033 in the House of Deputies, and I worry that without creative leadership we may find ourselves in a power struggle as the convention approaches.
The Reflections document that we will received this afternoon may, in some measure, influence the deliberations of the Windsor Continuation Group and the Covenant Design Group, but it is difficult for an Episcopalian to believe that our church will be treated fairly by either of these groups. The Continuation Group is composed entirely of people who disapprove of gay blessings or gay ordination, and both groups are led by men who have endorsed the call for a separate ideologically-based province in North America.
As one American bishop said to me yesterday, “The powers that be want those moratoria and a covenant in the worst way.”