For the last three weeks, my work for Claiming the Blessing, a coalition that works for full inclusion of LGBT people in the Episcopal Church (TEC), has been to monitor the press coverage of a conference of Anglican bishops in England. This wingding, which comes along every 10 years, is called "Lambeth" after the official residence (palace) of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The conference is not held at Lambeth Palace as the 800 or so Anglican bishops wouldn't fit in the place, but that's the name. That bit of explanation will give you some sense of the obscure cultural byway this event inhabits, significant as it is to the 77 million members worldwide of this brand of Christians. Good history here.
In a substantive sense, little happened at Lambeth. Bishops talked and perhaps listened. Nobody declared a schism -- except perhaps among the 200 or so bishops who had already created a schism by ostentatiously not attending. LGBT people were not thrown out of the church, though the only gay bishop who cops to being gay, Gene Robinson, was excluded. Lots of bishops, probably most, wish those pesky gay people would go back in the closet -- but since we are here (in every country and continent) and queer and Christian, that's not going to happen. Eventually the absurdity of trying to proclaim a Good News that lifts up the lowly and sets captives free while tamping down pious gay folk will overwhelm even the councils of Anglican-organized Christianity. Bishop Michael Ingham from Canada nailed it:
I can't manage to get fearful about this.
But digging through all the press coverage, I did learn some things that seem worth raising up here.
- In the United Kingdom, and maybe elsewhere around the world, Anglicans seem to take a lot more seriously what the Roman Catholic hierarchy thinks of them than any Episcopalians I ever was around. Maybe Episcopal indifference to the RCs in the U.S. is because the denomination used to call itself "Protestant." Maybe it is because in the U.S. context, the Roman hierarchy (though certainly not all Catholics in the pews) has vigorously positioned itself as the enemy of women's and gay civil equality. TEC has a decent if spotty record on these matters. Heck, in this country, the Roman Church is right in there with the Mormons, fighting for reaction. I say this in sorrow, since I learned my Christian activism in the context of Roman Catholicism from the Catholic Worker and Latin American liberation theology.
- Maybe the fact that we have a powerful right wing in the United States that thrives on encouraging gay bashing makes the Episcopal Church more sensitive to gay inclusion issues than folks in the United Kingdom where gays live under the protection of the European Charter of Rights, as well as national law. Being gay in the U.K. isn't a political issue -- except in the church. That doesn't explain the Anglican liberalism of Canada though, a nation where gay marriage arrived years ago as a consequence of constitutional interpretation.
- More happily, I learned there's a guy, an "emerging church" non-denominational evangelical, named Brian McLaren, that I'd like to know more about. In general I'm a little allergic to attempts to create sweeping historical categories (except when I indulge myself) but he tweaked my interest with this as reported by ENS.
- Headlines about Lambeth tended to read like this: "Gay bishop led to ridicule for Anglicans." Oh I thought -- some of these bishops come from patriarchal societies where being a man who is thought to be receptive like a woman dishonors himself and his clan. And that may be true. But mostly, reading the stories, I discovered the headline writers had been inaccurate and patronizing. The complaint about gays characterized in this language actually was more like [my paraphrase from several articles]: "we live among Muslims who condemn homosexual people as sexually decadent. We lose our reputation for being moral people when you approve this license." The stigma here is at least partially about undisciplined promiscuity in societies where the community trumps the individual, not only about approximating femininity. This doesn't exactly make me feel sympathy with those holding these views, but I shouldn't mischaracterize them either.
- In a conversation with a Fr. Kelvin Holdsworth in Glasgow, Scotland, Bishop Robinson offered some interesting reflections on how the speed of global communications is changing the material reality in which religious bodies must function: