Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lambeth Log Day Two

Yesterday, my second at the Lambeth Conference, I felt mostly consumed with my own anxiety and excitement about my impending evening presentation (which went well--phew). I woke up early to work out some of the last details and to rehearse a bit. My hosts, the LGCM, played up the comedy part of my presentation referring to it as a cabaret. I think that serves as a good approach as Lambeth fatigue seems to have set in on many of those gathered here. I can't believe they have been at this for two weeks. I am already exhausted after two days.

After my prep time and breakfast, I attended a Bible study organized by Integrity and Changing Attitude. We explored John chapter 9, an intriguing account outlining the healing of a man born blind. What struck me most was how Jesus only appears at the beginning and end of the long narrative. Much of the action has to do with the man (and his family) dealing with the religious leaders who simply will not listen to this man's story.
24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this,[b] because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”

26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

These clergy members eventually chuck the man out of the synagogue after taking issue with him and with Jesus' authority. I see plenty of transgression here by both the man and Jesus--transgression against religious authority. Jesus broke the Sabbath rule as interpreted by these religious leaders when he healed on the holy day, and the man had the audacity to stand up to his religious leaders and not back down.

Each day the bishops and some other delegates meet for a daily Bible study/listening sessions in groups of about 40. One delegate (not a bishop) said that a woman in their circle takes notes of what happens. She turned to him after one of the sessions and said, "You are not a bishop." He asked how she could tell. She replied, "Because you listen to other people."

This is one group of many and the bishops in it represent a small part of the 666 bishops in attendance (what a Biblically ironic number of primates to gather for this event). But this incident reflects part of a chronic problem in many (most?) churches. The clergy do not listen. The hierarchy of many churches is such that most people don't have a say in how the church operates.

I learned a little bit more about the Anglican worldwide community yesterday in speaking with a BBC journalist. One of the big problems is that the church leadership in each country technically stands alone with its own autonomy. Sure the Archbishop or a resolution at Lambeth can state You Must/Must Not Do XYZ, but no central authority exists to enforce the mandate. So you have diocese ordaining a gay bishop or women against the mandate handed down at previous meetings.

One corrective measure may be to create a more centralized body with the authority necessary to make the member churches comply with church teaching. The Roman Catholic Church wields this sort of control from Rome. It serves to keep renegades in order. It also limits the freedom of the people (and even God.)

The Quakers (in the unprogrammed tradition that I know) are not perfect. We have a decentralized system without clergy. We hold meeting for worship with attention to business where any member or attender can weigh in and must be heard. We seek to move forward with consensus among all the members who choose to be part of the process. It takes forever to make decisions and to work out controversies. But everyone has a voice in the process without a select group calling the shots for the others. That means that some Quaker meetings in the US will not perform marriages between people of the same-sex while others will. Each meeting needs to work this out for themselves.

I come to Lambeth for only a few days without access to most of the "important" meetings. But then most of the people in the Worldwide Anglican Community cannot attend or participate in most of the important meetings. The clergy can run the risk of living apart from the people, talking theory without practicing pastoral care.

End of Sermon :-)

I spent much of the day yesterday relaxing with Auntie Doris, Tractor Girl (from the Ship of Fools), and William Crawley. The best moment was a nap on the law of Canterbury Cathedral while the other three went inside.

As I said above, I felt my presentation went well. I had lots of competition for audience with at least three other LGBT-affirming events going on simultaneously, but we still had a good crowd and I believe I made the right choices. I appreciated the time of silent worship before the presentation. One member of the local Quaker meeting joined us for that.

Today I have an interview with BBC Worldwide Service's Reporting Religion program (which will air over the weekend) and then I do my presentation again tonight. Off to London tomorrow then home on Saturday (for a day before I head off to Baltimore Yearly Meeting).

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At 3:47 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Wow. I've heard so many times about how "Jesus made a blind man see," but I don't know if I've ever really read those verses and seen how the beggar was treated by the Pharisees. It sounds like it was a very rewarding bible study.

At 7:18 AM , Blogger Joe G. said...

Glad that things are going well including getting more media attention.

At 11:21 AM , Blogger Rob said...

I think the way the Anglican Church works is good. Each Church in different Countries can do their own thing....The real concern with things running like the Catholic Church would be the more Conservative Anglicans, like the ones in Africa getting to decide what we do here in the United States. Which would mean the elimination of Women and Gay Priest and Bishops.

At 3:52 PM , Blogger KJ said...

Other than the moving of the Spirit through her church, a strong centralized form of church structure is an anathema to much of the western Anglican church, particularly The Episcopal Church (USA) and Canada and those with similar vision (e.g., South Africa). It is primarily detractors of glbt, including those in America, that want a central authority that in one, swift, fell swoop could exclude the "undesirables." No thank you!

The different national churches vary in their form of government. Some are more "Catholic" in that "primates" select and bishops beget bishops with little need to listen to those they are overseeing. They have difficulty understanding the polity of the American church where, not surprisingly, the structure is much more representative in that bishops are elected by parishioners in their diocese. So, for example, +Gene Robinson was elected by those to whom he is responsible. The national church government is also representative in that there is a House of Bishops in addition to a House of Deputies which consists of elected clergy and laity.

Of course, no form of self-governing is perfect and there is plenty of opportunity to respond in grace toward those who might disagree with us on any given issue. However, I much prefer the messiness of working together to follow the leading of the Spirit than being told by an empowered leader what is what. History seems to reveal that's not a great option.

Sorry. I'll stop now. I'm boring myself.

At 11:13 PM , Blogger Kody Gabriel said...

I'm so glad it's going well-- thanks for filling us in!

In an odd coincidence, I have also napped on the Canterbury Cathedral lawn. I found it remarkably comfortable. :P

At 4:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Peterson,

You probably don´t remember me, but I have commented on your blog before...when you posted a German newspaper article...I am German but currently living in Luxembourg...I was surprised (a good surprised) when I picked up a complimentary newspaper this morning when going to work and they wrote about the Lambeth conference and how Gene Robinson wasn´t invited but went there anyways (sadly with a bodyguard...). Anyhow, I was just wondering if you know about any good resources concerning his whole story?!
For those who know French, here is the article:

Thought the newspaper is just a daily "give away" and thus not influential or anything (I guess), tons of people read it every morning when going to the article, right on top of the picture, the newspaper staff asks how impiortant you think the topic is. If you want to help, click the "4" button, meaning "very important". Maybe that will help to make them publish more stuff on GLBT issues.
Thanks for reading this and greetings from tiny LUX.

At 5:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot - in case you want a translation to know what you´re agreeing with when clicking on that 4, let me know, I can do it.

At 5:12 AM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

Mel, thanks for writing. You can get a load of stories about Gene Robinson here:

His presence has been felt deeply here, and has created conflict, not simply because of the gay thing, but also with the thought that perhaps this is a form of American imperialism--acting on our own and not within the body.

I see the whole thing as more complicated than simply standing up for LGBT inclusion. The question is how do we do that without acting like the American government so often does? How do we do it in a way that invites dialog?

I have heard great things though about Gene Robinson meeting one on one with bishops and hopefully we will see good fruit from all of this.

At 5:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peterson. I hope for fruitful dialogue, too...interesting point you raise about "American Imperialism". Will have to think about that. Thanks for the link...but I was thinking more of what the church officially states about him. I don´t know as much about Anglican doctrine...but I guess I´ll find enough information on the Internet.

Be well today!


At 6:02 AM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

Mel, not sure about an "official" statement. I think Rowan Williams may have been quoted at some point about the whole thing, but I doubt anything more official than that has gone out.

Be well too!

At 10:26 PM , Blogger KJ said...


You can find all kinds of information regarding the Episcopal Church's discussion regarding homosexuality in general, and +Gene Robinson specifically, at the website of the Episcopal Church ( The Episcopal Church (TEC) is the American "branch" of the Anglican Communion, though it has a presence around the world. Of course, Gene's story in his own words can be read in his book "In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God."

The charge of "imperialism", in this situation, and in my humble opinion, does not fit, and is typically made by those within the Communion who are opponents of not only full inclusion of the glbt believer in the church, but many who support laws restricting the civil rights of glbt individuals. Subsequently, I feel compelled to add to the discussion here.

As has been discussed in other threads, each national church within the Anglican Communion (AC) has an autonomous church government. TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, and others who support the full inclusion of glbt believers cannot impose such inclusion upon others in the Communion. Many opposed to "the Gay Gene," and in fact, the full inclusion of glbt believers at all levels of the chruch, have chosen to distance themselves from TEC. That is their choice, and not one imposed upon them. While we would regret their aversion to welcoming all in the name of the Gospel, to call the situation "imperialistic" would be like blaming a homeowner for having something worth stealing in their home that enticed someone to break in and steal it. The charge just doesn't fit.

TEC structure utilizes a very representative form of church governance. Bishops are elected by dioceses, and approved by the national body. +Gene was duly elected through the canons governing the Diocese of New Hampshire and TEC. If a charge of "American imperialism" is to be made, then it has to be made of the clergy and laity of the Diocese of New Hampshire, and one would have to believe that the diocese elected +Gene in order to "spit in the eye" of the rest of the AC. This was not the case. The diocese elected +Gene through a very deliberate process in an attempt to elect the one candidate most suited for the job. To their credit, sexuality was irrelevant.

A huge tragedy in this process is the lack of actual "listening." By all reports, there have been great opportunities for good dialogue at the Lambeth Conference. However, bishops speaking to bishops is not likely to change hearts and minds. Unfortunately, in many of the provinces opposed to inclusion of glbt individuals, no safe place of sharing their stories has been provided, thus requiring glbt believers to create discussions on the "fringe." It has been left to glbt supporters across the communion to point out this "listening vacuum."

Finally, when it comes to matters of social justice, charging those who support such efforts in the face of opposition as being "imperialistic" seems to lose sight of the spiritual and political harm to which victims of injustice are being subjected. Was America's support for the end of apartheid in South Africa "imperialism?" Calling for justice in the face of political, and ecclesiastical, oppression is simply, in my humble opinion, what we are called to do. Where burdens are being place on others, we must take them off. To avoid that charge because we are afraid the establishment might be offended is just not the Way of the Cross. Those in the AC who are supportive of the actions of TEC and the church in Canada do not wish to see us excluded from the AC, since at that point, these supporters will have a greatly weakened presence in the Communion, and progress on the issues will be significantly hindered. In the words of our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, it has become our "vocation."

I apologize for going long. Three years ago, I emigrated to TEC, finding an amazing new faith home, so I feel pretty strongly about these matters.

At 3:55 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi kj,

Thanks for your explanations and insights, they mean a lot. I don´t have much time this morning, but will definitely look more into what this is all about. And while I don´t yet know all the details, I totally agree that this is indeed about social justice. If you are interested in sharing more thoughts, I would be thrilled to hear/share more.


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