Benediction Online

Friday, February 16, 2007

Avoid Foolish Controversies
Thursday in Dar es Salaam

If it could get hotter, today it did, and journalists without immediate deadlines wilted gently under fans in the lobby while those with deadlines sweated and struggled to find ways to get their (sparse) information back home. Meanwhile in an upstairs room the leaders of the conservative coalition watched and prayed (I imagine). Archbishop Akinola made a couple of dramatic entrances and exits across the hotel lobby causing our languid pulses to race with excitement for a few fleeting moments. What was the paper he was carrying? Was he shielding his face with it or waving it triumphantly? Perhaps it was the statement that appeared on the Church of Nigeria website, or a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury? Could we enlarge a photo enough to see the words?

Meanwhile inquiring reporters were hard at work, and the human faces of the gay and lesbian community (Colin Coward, Davis Mac-Iyalla and myself) were in frequent demand. One young Tanzanian was determined to get to the bottom of things – how do gay people have sex? and is it satisfying? he wondered. Was that the oddest conversation of the day, or was it the cheerful banter shared by ultra-conservative David Virtue of Virtuosity Online, Davis and Colin following a joint interview with BBC Radio 4, or perhaps my own interesting and quite deep time of sharing spiritual experiences with Mrs. Angela Minns?

Alas, the Primates missed all of this by staying stubbornly in their own quarters where they spent the morning in a private meeting characterized by Archbishop Aspinall as moving from ‘intense listening’ to a ‘free and frank expression of views’ with ‘areas of tension’ to be worked through ‘as discussions mature’. They were still discussing The Episcopal Church’s report card, a conversation that will continue tomorrow. The Presiding Bishop, we are told, continues to listen carefully to her colleagues and will honor the commitment they have all made not to comment on the process until the end of the meeting.

This commitment was somewhat breached when a statement appeared on the Church of Nigeria website declaring that seven Primates had declined to participate in the Eucharist alongside Bishop Katharine. Observant commentators have already noted that this is half the number who declined at the last Primates Meeting in Dromatine, Ireland - which would appear to be a step forward in communion.

This sense of greater unity was underlined by the report we received from Archbishop Gomez who chaired the Covenant Design Group. They met in January in Nassau and within four days produced both a proposed covenant and a report. These were considered earlier in the week by the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council who commended them to the Primates. The Primates apparently liked what they saw but want to distribute both proposed covenant and the report to bishops throughout the Anglican Communion before releasing them to the hoi polloi. We may get to see them on Monday together with the final meeting Communiqué.

Provinces are to consider the Covenant and bring changes to the Lambeth Conference next year for a final revision, after which it will go back to the provinces for ratification. Asked about its position on human sexuality, Gomez said that it does not deal with subjects but with faith and commitments. Its purpose is to ‘provide a mechanism for mutual accountability’ and a ‘means for dealing with difficult situations’, in the absence of a central authority. He described it as ‘a statement of classical Anglicanism’ and ‘faithful to our tradition’.

The Panel of Reference reported on the difficulties they have faced, which included the effort required to establish the facts of disputes, especially given the large volume of paperwork produced by the aggrieved; constraints caused by legal action; and the difficulties of getting timely responses. The Primates noted that there has to be a will for reconciliation between the parties for the Panel’s work to be useful, and that there needs to be a mechanism for feedback when the Panel does not fully understand the facts of the situation. The Archbishop of Canterbury will address these questions with the Panel after this meeting is over.

The Primates also listened to a report on The Listening Process. Canon Philip Groves is compiling reports on the action provinces are taking to listen to gay and lesbian people. He reported that there is increased awareness around the Communion but that in order for gay and lesbian people to be able to speak there has to be ‘safe ground’ (Duh!) and ‘it has not always been possible to develop such safe ground’. Apparently Groves also shared preliminary proposals for Lambeth which include the preparation of high-quality materials covering the experience of lgbt folk, what science has to offer on the subject, reflections on scripture and tradition, legal and cultural considerations and training materials on listening and facilitation. I understand that about two thirds of the provinces have responded to requests for information about their listening activities, though some reports have been only a paragraph or two long.

Bishop Katharine read the lesson at Evening Prayer (from her laptop Bible). It was Titus Chapter 3. I finish my remarks this evening with some classic words from verses 9-11.
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.


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