There is this old
saying that wits have long used to describe life in the modern Anglican
Communion: "The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the
resolutions." Readers will also see
variations on that final clause such as, "the British make/set
(all) the rules."
But you get the
point. Of course, the archbishop of Canterbury is also supposed to be the
person – as the first among equals – who gets to call the most important
meetings (while setting the rules for what goes on).
But what if (a) the
Americans were to face an incredible budget crunch, in an age
of imploding membership demographics, and (b) the Africans were
no longer willing to pray (or more importantly, share the Sacraments) with
Western progressives who have an evolving view of key elements of the Creed and
centuries of Christian moral theology?
At that point, there
could be a big – actually, "historic" is the operative word – story
in the world's third largest Christian communion. Here is Godbeat
veteran Ruth Gledhill, writing at ChristianToday.com:
The next Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly gathering of more than 600
Anglican bishops from around the world, is in jeopardy because of the row over
homosexuality that is dividing the Church.
The Anglican Communion, the body that represents the episcopal
leadership of millions of Anglicans worldwide led by the Archbishop of
Canterbury Justin Welby, is split by the battle between its conservative and
liberal wings over gay relationships and gay ordination.
The last meeting in Canterbury in 2008 was marred by boycotts by African
and other Global South bishops who objected to the consecration of the openly
gay bishop Gene Robinson in the United States. Other bishops and archbishops
who did attend however were incensed that Bishop Gene was not himself invited
out of an attempt to appease the conservative wing.
The origin of this
report is somewhat awkward for your GetReligionistas, since the news reached
the mainstream press through the work
of our Media Project colleague, the Rev. George Conger – acting in
his long-standing role as a commentator on Anglican news and trends.
The news was, in a
way, hiding in plain sight in recent remarks – posted
online by Episcopal News Service – made by U.S. Presiding Bishop
Katharine Jefferts Schori. Lambeth Palace immediately denied her bombshell.
Thus, the media plot thickens.
Well, it thickens
everywhere except in the United States, where this story is getting very little
coverage. Religion News Service columnist David Gibson did, in this week's Wednesday
edition of the digital digest from that wire service, point toward
in The Irish Times, a short news story that
basically echoed Gledhill's work (but without a hat-tip to Conger).
Here's a key
development in Gledhill's story, one combining sexual politics and red ink.
Once again, the presiding bishop is speaking:
Whenever the next Lambeth Conference occurs "it will have a rather
different format," she predicted. For instance, it is likely that spouses
will not attend "simply because of scale issues and regional contextual
issues. Bishops' spouses fill very different roles in different parts of the
communion and the feedback from the last one was that it did not serve the
spouses particularly well."
Removing the popular bishops' spouses agenda would at least resolve the
"issue" of married gay bishops. The Church of England bishops along
with the majority of Anglican bishops worldwide remain resolutely opposed to
allowing gay clergy to marry, even though gay marriage is now legal in secular
law in Britain and elsewhere. In his new book the Bishop of Buckingham Alan
Wilson claims that one in ten of Church of England bishops are secretly gay.
The campaigner Peter Tatchell told Christian Today this week that he
intends to out some of these if they do not out themselves.
Will the Africans
come to Lambeth to pray? Don't count on it.
Stay tuned. And let
us know if you see reporting in mainstream American media (think New York
Times) on this truly global story, which has an obvious hook in New