The explanation offered by Five Primates (Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and S. Cone) to a group of English Bishops for not attending the Lambeth Conference needs to be taken most seriously by all committed members of the Anglican Way. Its content tells us much as to how they understand the Church of God and the Anglican Way within it. In short, it may be said that they reflect a strong, generic Evangelical approach and show little of a traditional comprehensive and reformed Catholic approach; and that this regrettably suggests that division and schism are just around the corner.
We note that at the practical level they are not going because:
(a) The Conference is three weeks long and this is a very long time for them and their wives to be with other Bishops and spouses, with whom they have little in common;
(b) Present as Bishops will be the Bishops from the U.S.A. who supported and consecrated Gene Robinson as Bishop, contrary to the mind of the Global Communion;
(c) Members of their own Houses of Bishops have not been invited – i.e., their “Missionary Bishops” working in the U.S.A.;
(d) Their suggestions concerning the postponement of Lambeth 2008 in order for certain goals to be achieved before it met have not been heeded by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Convener of the Conference;
(e) There will likely be a major protest by supporters of Gene Robinson during the Conference and those who have opposed his consecration will be constantly harassed by active homosexual groups;
(f) The way that the Conference is organized—its “western-style process”—makes it difficult for them to get fully involved and to make their position heard and known (as Lambeth 1998 demonstrated) and, further, they have no confidence in the President, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, whom they see as not a friend of orthodoxy.
(g) They are putting their resources into a Conference, GAFCON, to be held before Lambeth 2008 in or near Jerusalem. Here they hope to make clear what the vocation and work of the Anglican Communion ought to be about.
We may agree that these together constitute a powerful reason for not attending a Conference; however, we need also to remember that this is not any Conference but the Lambeth Conference, a unique event starting in 1867, bringing together Anglican Bishops every ten years for consultation. To be absent from such a Gathering certainly needs stronger arguments than those above.
Now let us notice the underlying doctrinal reasons for not attending:
(1) Their view of Canterbury is skewed. That is, they conflate the See of Canterbury with the current Archbishop of Canterbury. No doubt this is easy to do, especially with the poor leadership shown by the present Incumbent. However, in terms of the Anglican doctrine of the Church the distinction is important. The See was there before the present Archbishop was enthroned and will be there after he is gone. To be in “communion” with the See is to be in communion with the Church of England, ecclesia anglicana, the mother Church of the Global Anglican Family. Thus to go to the Lambeth Conference 2008 is to identify with the Church of England both at its primary Cathedral, Canterbury, and in meeting with the Queen, the supreme Governor of the Church of England. Though there will be a measure of pain to bear in going (again, primarily through the mistakes of the Archbishop), the attendance of these Primates and their (invited) colleagues is a moral duty if they truly believe that they are in the Anglican Communion. Symbolically, not to go is to reject the Mother Church and all that It stands for, including the classic Anglican Formularies (to which these Primates and the Global South have stated its commitment).
(2) They do not allow for a certain and real comprehensiveness which has always been present in the Global Anglican Communion—a comprehensiveness that most certainly still fully exists, when the extreme liberal Bishops of North America are not counted. They are many Bishops in the Communion, who are genuinely committed to biblical Christianity in the Anglican Way, and of varied churchmanship, style and ethos, who do not see things in exactly the same way as do these Five—and these Bishops actually include members of the Global South. In particular, these Bishops think that the only way that a Covenant can be agreed and ratified is by a long and maybe tortuous route requiring much patience and pray with careful diplomacy—and a route that starts at Lambeth 08. And so they are ready to start there and be vigilant then and later. But the Five, coming out of a generic Evangelicalism, and desiring to proceed with all speed to deal with outstanding problems and to achieve missionary aims, neglect what may be called the Reformed Catholic dimension of the Anglican Way. The Five think of themselves as the ones to whom the Truth is clear and thus as those duty-bound to go with It, whatever disruption this causes in the Global Anglican Family. Because of the faults of the North Americans, they discount the global College of Bishops ,of which they are part, and with which they have a solemn duty to meet and confer, however difficult and humiliating this can be in the present circumstances (again caused by the failed leadership of the present A of C). They are in the College and ought to meet with the College when it meets!
(3) They do not appear to recognize that what they have each and all done in terms of crossing over into the “territory” of TEC to establish missions, to adopt churches and dioceses, and to treat the U.S.A. as virgin missionary territory, is truly and really innovatory and seen as very disruptive and schismatic in terms of received Anglican polity. If this type of activity were pursued by all 38 provinces then there would be anarchy and confusion everywhere! If Nigeria were invaded, how would it act? And such boundary crossing certainly needs to be explained in depth and detail to their Episcopal colleagues at Lambeth, for many of the latter cannot understand why it is necessary that FIVE provinces must invade TEC –perhaps one, they say, but five! The Five appear to work on the assumption that they are wholly justified in their entry into TEC territory and that anyone who questions this five-fold entry is against the Gospel itself. (We nay note that even some Provinces in the Global South think it wrong.)
(4) They seem not to recognize that in the New Testament (see John 17 & Ephesians), in the classic Formularies, and in the best Anglican teaching ,Truth and Unity belong together, and this Unity is much deeper than mere organizational. By pursuing Truth and opposing error (admirable activities) without paying sufficient heed to Unity, the Five are in the long road creating schism and distorting the Truth they seek to propagate. They are entirely justified in declaring themselves out of communion with the Presiding Bishop and others Bishops of TEC; but they can walk the fine line and maintain this while being in communion with Bishops of over Provinces. Going to Lambeth only requires them to be Christian in behavior to others, not to be in Eucharistic communion with everyone.
Living in America one cannot fail to notice that the American Supermarket of Religions stands as a symbol of what happens when any one group seeks to follow Truth and minimizes the duty of unity; when each of us follows out insulated private judgment and does our own thing then there is chaos. There is an abundance of religious energy in the Supermarket but it is 99 per cent centrifugal! What is needed from the Five now is not the creation of powerful centrifugal forces in the Global Family, but, in contrast, gracious centripetal forces which heal and sanctify across the board.
I pray that they will go to the Lambeth Conference 2008 as members of the global Anglican College of Bishops seeking to maintain truth in unity and unity in truth; and that the Father of all mercies will do wonderful things for his pastors there assembled—and do so despite the plans and schemes of the present Incumbent of the See.
Dr Peter Toon Lent 2 2008 firstname.lastname@example.org & www.pbsusa.org
Letter from the Five
To Bishop David James and colleagues in C of E
We have received your letter encouraging us to attend the Lambeth Conference with you.
We trust that we are united in faithful obedience to the Scriptures and also to the Anglican Formularies. We understand your desire to continue to support the efforts of the Archbishop of Canterbury. As GAFCON Bishops and primates, we share with you a commitment to the communion and its future. We ask you to understand that we have reached a different conclusion and request you to understand our decision.
We think it is important to let you know our reasons for not acceding to your request, and also to make them public since your letter is public. We have a number of concerns.
First, the Lambeth Conference is not a two hour seminar discussing a contentious issue. It is three weeks in which we bishops and our wives are called to share together our lives, our prayer, our bible study, our meals, our worship and the Lord's Supper, to be a family together.
You will know that some of us have not been able to take communion with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church since February 2005, - a period of about three years. The reason is that TEC took an action to consecrate Gene Robinson as Bishop in 2003 contrary to the resolution of the Lambeth Conference, an action of which they have not repented. The consecrators of Gene Robinson have all been invited to Lambeth, contrary to the statement of the Windsor Report (para 134) that members of the Episcopal Church should "consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion".
You will know that some of those who objected to this consecration in the United States and have made arrangements for orthodox oversight from other provinces including ours have been charged with abandonment of communion. Their congregations have either forfeited or are being sued for their properties by the very bishops with whom you wish us to share Christian family fellowship for three weeks.
To do this is an assault on our consciences and our hearts. Further, how can we explain to our church members, that while we and they are formally out of communion with TEC, and provide oversight to these orthodox colleagues, we at the same time live with them at the Lambeth Conference as though nothing had happened? This would be hypocrisy.
We are also concerned that the invitation list reflects a great imbalance. It fails to address fundamental departures from historic faith that have triggered this crisis and yet excludes bishops of our own provinces, of Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda who teach and practice Biblical faith. As constituted, the invitations suggest that institutional structures are superior to the content of the faith itself.
We are also mindful of the press interest in the Conference, and in the presence in some form or other of Gene Robinson and his male partner, and of 30 gay activists. We would be the continual target of activist campaigners and media intrusion. In these circumstances we could not feel at home.
All of us have attended Lambeth before. As far as we are aware, only a few of you have been to a Lambeth Conference. In 1998, we had great difficulty in making our case heard in the face of the process of the conference. At that conference we were blessed with the leadership of Archbishop George Carey who has always been a champion of orthodox biblical teaching on sexuality. We have come to the conclusion, from the failure of the instruments of the Communion to take action either to discipline the Episcopal Church or to protect those who have asked the Communion for protection, that there is no serious space for those of an orthodox persuasion in the councils of the Communion to be themselves or to be taken seriously.
We are therefore not persuaded by your arguments to attend. We have looked at all the facts for some time. To find a solution we have proposed the postponement of the conference, the calling of a Primates' meeting and work towards the conclusion and endorsement of the Anglican Covenant by individual provinces. Our request has not been heeded. We must attend to the care of our bishops, clergy and people.
We must address the issue of the Anglican Communion Covenant, particularly as a revised version has just been published. Many of you are concerned about the need to attend Lambeth to contribute to and influence the debate on the Anglican Communion Covenant to help the working of our Communion for future reference. Currently the prospects do not seem good for what is proposed in any way to engage with our current difficulties or relate to the facts on the ground. The state of our broken Communion is not mended by the Covenant. The Lambeth Conference will only be a place to offer reflections on it. That is why some of us recommended that Lambeth be postponed in order to give space for the reconciling process to take place, a Covenant to be agreed, and Lambeth to be held for those who signed up to the Covenant. This proposal was rejected.
Even if you have decided to go to the Lambeth Conference, we hope that you will respond positively to our invitation to attend GAFCON. You will bring your rich experience of mission and we believe that you will also be enriched by the experience of Anglican bishops and Christians from around the world who are keen to share what God is doing in their midst and what He is teaching them.
We emphasise that this action is not intended to signal that we are walking out of the Communion. We are responding to a need of people committed to and continuing in the apostolic faith to meet and consider how they will walk together in mission and mutual support, and to meet in the one place which is spiritually significant for all of us.
Yours in Christ,
Archbishop Peter Akinola (Nigeria)
Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini (Rwanda)
Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi (Kenya)
Archbishop Henry Orombi (Uganda)
Archbishop Gregory Venables (Southern Cone)