Thursday, January 03, 2008

Rowan's Brilliant Dithering

a.k.a. The Break-Up of the Schismatics

There has been much bloggery in the last few days about the Christmas announcement from (some of) the Global South primates of the GaffeCon meeting to be held in Jerusalem shortly before the Lambeth Conference. I blogged about it here.

Mark Harris rightly dubbed it a meeting of the New Improved Neo-Fundamentalist Anglican Communion.

Despite the GaffeCon organizers' claims, it seems pretty clear to many of us that this meeting is not really going to be about mission and ministry, but will be a caucus in which the neo-fundamentalists will try to either plot a strategy for controlling the Lambeth Conference or will agree to boycott Lambeth en masse. That's not simply my interpretation nor that of progressive bloggers, but is all the buzz on the dissident and schismatic blogs; a certain site greeted this news jubilantly on Christmas as the manifestation of the long-awaited schism.

I was struck by a commentary posted today by Andrew Brown at the Guardian, who urges: "Dither on, Williams." He says:

Over the last few years, Dr Rowan Williams has sometimes looked criminally innocent ("The trouble with Rowan is that he's too damn Christian,") as one of his colleagues remarked; sometimes merely well-meaning but powerless; very occasionally he has looked as if he is working to an angelically cunning plan. This week has been a good week for the cunning plan interpretation. It is not that he has done anything - but his rigorous policy of inaction and delay has given his opponents an opportunity to fall apart which they have exploited to the full.

Plans for a gathering of his opponents in Jerusalem, reported yesterday by Riazat Butt, have imploded spectacularly with the announcement by the Bishop of Jerusalem that he does not want them to meet there. This isn't a trivial matter, because it reveals that Rowan has been right about at least one thing all along: it is not just homosexuality which divides the 50 or 60 million Anglicans around the world. They are also divided about whether women can be priests; some Anglicans doubt whether even men can be priests (the more extreme evangelicals believe in "ministers" or leaders instead); they are divided over whether marriage must be lifelong, and, if so, always to one woman (there are parts of Africa where the church welcomes polygamous converts); and they are also bitterly divided about Islam and Zionism.

The Anglican church in the Middle East has always been largely Arab, and has sometimes been strongly identified with Palestinian nationalism. The last bishop of Jerusalem, Riah Abu el-Assal, was fervent in his denunciations of the invasions of Lebanon and the siege of the Gaza strip. His successor, Bishop Suheil Darwani, is less completely identified with the Palestinian cause, but well aware that his people are a minority among Arabs, who really must not be identified with America or Zionism.

But this identity is precisely what some of the influential backers of the anti-gay movement also want. Much of their money comes from rightwing American Christians, for whom the political liberalism of the Episcopal church is at least as offensive as its theological latitude. They believe in something very like a crusade against Islam. So, it would appear, does the leader of the Nigerian church, Dr Peter Akinola, who has emerged as the leader of the global anti-gay movement.

Akinola has responded to Darwani with a letter that tells him, after several paragraphs of God flannel, to shut up and do what he is told: "Be assured that we considered your important arguments carefully as we met in Nairobi. But we came to the unanimous conclusion that we needed to proceed."

This style does much to explain why some of his followers are backing away from his confrontational tactics. The leaders of the church in south-east Asia are certainly anti-gay, and unenthusiastic about Muslims. But they don't like being pushed around, either, and the last straw came when one of their theologians received an angry email from Akinola which appeared to have been drafted by one of the Archbishop's conservative American advisers, whom he has rewarded with a bishopric.

The purpose of the Jerusalem meeting is to organise a formal rupture in the Anglican communion, which would leave the liberals isolated and cast out and someone very like Dr Akinola running a much more conservative, disciplined organisation. But there is no reason to believe that most Anglicans, conservative or not, want to belong to a disciplined global organisation.

The choice for them this summer may come down to one of Williams' painfully reluctant leadership or Akinola's enthusiastic alternative. If that is what happens, the events of this week make it look as though Williams will be the one to emerge with a global following - providing he doesn't try actually to lead them anywhere. Small danger of that.

It's interesting to me (from reading their sites) that the dissidents are fairly concerned about the fracture-lines that are being revealed in their ranks. Once they don't have "hating the queers" as their sole, unifying raison d'être, how much worse may it become?

I am struck by the fact that both of the bishops with jurisdiction in Jerusalem seem not to have been consulted. The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis, Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, has beseeched the conference organizers not to hold the conference in that venue, nor to hold it before Lambeth. The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, has poignantly asked them not to hold the conference in Jerusalem:

“I am deeply troubled that this meeting, of which we had no prior knowledge, will import inter-Anglican conflict into our diocese, which seeks to be a place of welcome for all Anglicans.

“It could also have serious consequences for our ongoing ministry of reconciliation in this divided land. Indeed, it could further inflame tensions here. We who minister here know only too well what happens when two sides cease talking to each other. We do not want to see any further dividing walls!"

What did these bishops receive back from Archbishop Akinola, who seems to be the primary force behind the conference? A smack-down.

Mind you, both those bishops are firmly against the Episcopal Church's actions in consecrating a gay bishop and in exploring the blessing of same-sex unions. So this is not a battle between "progressives" and "conservatives." They are not "friends of TEC" by any stretch of the imagination. But both have been ignored and dismissed by the GaffeCon organizers. And, of course, GaffeCon has Archbishop Akinola's pawprints all over it.

It seems to me that the principles of interdependence and conciliarism only matter to Archbishop Akinola when the dependents and counselors are already in his hip pocket.


If you haven't been keeping up with this story, here's some background for you.

Several blogs have been posting news and analysis about the GaffeCon meeting. Among the best is Father Jake's summary (with links) at "
Sorting out the GAFCON gaffes." Mark Harris first noted the meeting of the New Improved Neo-Fundamentalist Anglican Communion here (12/26), commented on the shrinking numbers in the "Global South" dissents here (12/27), noted some of the internal dissension here (12/29), and offers his latest analysis here (01/02).

Also see the summaries at the
Episcopal Café, such as this (December 27), this (December 29), and this (December 31).

Yesterday, ELO carried this
story about the Jerusalem bishop's reservations


Blogger Ann said...

Now the news is that Jensen and Akinola are going to Jerusalem to "talk" to the bishop. Don't these bishops have jobs at home to do?

1/03/2008 7:56 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Yes, Ann. They have one job to do. I think you know what it is. {sigh}

1/03/2008 8:01 PM  
Blogger Brian F said...

Actually Anne, I've been wondering the same thing about Vicki Gene ever since he became bishop of NH for the amount of traveling he has been doing outside his diocese promoting the gay agenda even though he promised he would not be the "gay bishop" before the confirmation of his election at GC2003. Has anyone held him accountable to that promise BTW, or would that be a homophobic thing to do? I suspect that Jensen spends a lot more time in his much larger diocese than Robinson does in his - so I wonder what your concern really is.

1/04/2008 9:06 AM  
Blogger Malcolm+ said...

Curious. The bishops getting all the press for their globetrotting are the handful of "conservatives" - even on the "conservative" and conservative blogs.

I've seen reports of one or perhaps two occasions where +New Hampshire has been off speaking somewhere else. He certainly hasn't been consecrating new bishops or otherwise insinuating himself in other jurisdictions. Of course, Gene isn't a schismatic.

Yet here we have a "conservative" apologist offering up the odd trip by VGR as a justification for the constant globetrotting (and scandalous carbon footprint) of the schismatic in chief.

Regarding the visit of Abuja and Sydney to Jerusalem, I wonder which will be playing "good cop" and which "bad cop" as they put the boots to the Bishop In Jerusalem. I don't doubt it will be every bit as arrogant a slapdown as the pair of them offered to Dr. Poon for daring to challenge their inflated sense of entitlement.

1/04/2008 11:26 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Brian F, I see you're having fun trolling the progressive blogsites since getting your Blogger account last month. You've done your best at Mark's and Jake's, and now you've decided to go slumming here. You're welcome here as long as you exercise decent manners. [God knows, we Episcopalians are all about manners! ;-)]

Referring to Bishop Robinson as "Vicki Gene" is not good manners. We all know that use of his name is meant as a slam. And, especially when used by men, it's a very transparent attempt to question his "manliness." It's the same kind of meanness that leads people on your preferred site to refer to a friend of mine as "Lizzie" or "Lezzie," when it's well known she goes by Elizabeth. Bishop Robinson goes by "Gene," as +Duncan goes by "Bob." This is your one and only warning; use that term again, and I will delete your comment, no matter whether it has any other value.

The rest of your post is a canard. Apparently, Bishop Robinson does travel outside the bounds of New Hampshire. Hon, if this is a shocking revelation to you, then you really need to get out more. Our diocesan convention last month included a visit from a Tennessee bishop who preached at the Eucharist; do you reckon he was spreading his heterosexual agenda, or was he simply exercising the collegiality that bishops do? I assumed it was the latter.

Now, Brian, how 'bout this? Give me a list of the headline-grabbing visits +Gene has made outside NH and the "statements to the world" that he has issued in the last 6 months. (I can only think of the NOVA University lecture, which was first blogged at the "conservative" sites). Then I'll give you my list of Akinola's headline-grabbing travels and pronouncements. Then we can compare notes on who seems to be paying attention to his own diocese.

One last word of counsel: Really, Brian. You need to get over this obsession with homosexuals. It's not good for your mental health.

1/04/2008 6:55 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Amen, Malcolm+. You managed to say it in many fewer words than I. Thank you.

1/04/2008 6:56 PM  
Blogger Brian F said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/04/2008 11:26 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Oops! Too bad. How sad. Brian is now banned from my little blog forever. I told him where the third rail was, and he just had to come back and jump on it.

He now has to find another "godless progressive blog" in which to troll.

1/04/2008 11:35 PM  

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