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).