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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Who was at Lambeth?

Someone on HOB/D asked if there was a list of bishops who attended Lambeth. This was my answer which a few people have encouraged me to post here.

Riaza Butt, a religion reporter for the Guardian who happens to be Muslim, took the lead among others to get a list of those bishops who were in attendance. She defined 'persistence' and was rewarded with a list of those bishops who agreed to have their names published as being in attendance. If memory serves (and it does less and less these days), I think she got 650 but there were 'rumored' to be 670-something.

I suspect that list is available somewhere, but it will not necessarily be easy to find. And, to what purpose, it should be asked. Will that information be used for good or for ill - to celebrate or shame those who were in attendance or those who were not?

My sense is that the designers and coordinators of Lambeth Conference worked very hard to be in control of "the message". It has been argued that where we are in this turmoil is due, at least in part, because the church has not been in control of the message. The news media - and especially personal blogs - have fueled the fires of schism with speculation and innuendo. The Lambeth folk were very keen not to let this happen this time.

Oh, they did have their way on at least two occasions - the "statement" of the bishops of Sudan re: the "demand" for the resignation of the Bishop of NH was a comment during the press conference which (unfortunately) got more press than their actual (and very fine) Statement about the conditions in The Sudan.

The speculation of the Bishop Suffragan of NY about how many bishops at Lambeth are involved in domestic violence was another instance. That comment was harumphed by Ms. Butt in the Guardian as a statement of colonialism which it most certainly was not. It set off a firestorm which was much more damaging than anything Bishop Roskam actually said.

Those two incidences were enough to convince me, as frustrated as I was and we all were on the ground, that their tightly-controlled approach to the media was, perhaps an over-correction but an unfortunate necessity. It did not stop the wild speculation in some of the personal (not bishop's, for the most part) blogs, but that was not unexpected. I can only imagine what they'd have done with "real" news!

I, for one, think the design of the Conference had everything to do with the considerable lowering of the level of violence that I experienced in 1998. That was, in a word, dreadful. I, for one, am deeply grateful for the substantially lowered level of violence at Lambeth 2008.

One final note: I remember Martin Smith, formerly of SSJE, who, after Lambeth 1998, said something like what had happened there was like a negative picture on film (remember the old days, oh, about 5 years ago, before digital cameras were standard for everyone?), that needed to be developed once we got home.

I think Lambeth 2008 will be like that, too, but for very, very different reasons. It's still too soon to tell, but I think it's important to remember that Lambeth is a meeting for and by bishops in the WWAC. Much will be said in the religious press and personal blogs about what a waste of time and money it was. That's because THEY didn't get what they wanted out of it - which was sensational news that will sell their papers or boost their cause.

For my money, the most important aspect of the "fringe events" was the presence of the LGBT folk and their straight allies from Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda. Some of them risked personal harm when they return home because of their truth telling. You can read about one example - a printed statement by Rose Ngeri which she personally handed out to African bishops and their wives - on my blog.

When Rose was asked if she feared reprisals she said, with a chilling calm, "Oh, they will just rape me, but they will torture and kill my brothers. Do you not understand? They will torture and kill my brothers. I have to do this." And so, she did.

(Update: For those who have asked, Rose returned to say that every single one of the bishops and their wives took her leaflet graciously and with a kind smile. When asked how this would affect her when she got home, she simply said, "God will provide." How's THAT for faith?)

Even one of the uber-orthodox reporters was visibly shaken by their witness and testimony. You could almost see the top of his head blow off when one of the women, a lawyer from Nigeria (who wore a small gold cross on her neck) said, "Homosexuality has always been in Africa. That has never been the question. It is Christianity that was imported here. It is Christianity- the Anglican Church - that was 'the foreign thing' brought to Africa."

I think Lambeth will be judged by the bishops to have been the most important event of many of their episcopacies, in terms of clarifying their role as bishops in their dioceses as well as part of a greater whole.

I think the relationship building which came out of the three day retreat, the daily bible studies, the plenaries, their daily Eucharist and worship and formal and informal discussions will be hard to measure in terms of hard data like resolutions or 'statements' onto which a certain number of bishops voted up or down, or any other mark of 'productivity'.

Isn't that the way in our local communities of faith, as well?


Malcolm+ said...

"The speculation of the Bishop Suffragan of NY about how many bishops at Lambeth are involved in domestic violence . . ."

Part of the problem with the whole media storm was that it assumed this is what she had done. By framing it this way, you unwittingly play into their distortion.

What Bishop Catherine DID do was comment on the likelihood that such bishops existed - which may seem a small distnction, but it is important.

By referring to likelihood, she held open the hypothetical possibility that the number was, in fact, zero. Lord knows, we all hope it would be zero.

She also used the number 700, which indicates she was speaking in a general way about all the adult males present, not merely the 650ish male bishops.

She did not say that there "ARE" bishops at Lambeth who beat their wives. I know you didn't mean to say she did, but that is precisely the way that most of the secular media and virtually all of the "conservative" commentators played it.

And it was based on the distorted questions of secular media and "conservative" spinners that people like John Setamu, reasonably enough, asked if Bishop Catherine had proof for charges she never made.

Riazatt Butt was better than most of the secular media in that she agreed it was fatuous to argue that there were no perpetrators of domestic violence present. However she did share in the other distortion, which was the claim that Bishop Catherin had specifically targetted Africans and other Global South bishops as the most likely abusers. She didn't do that either.

June Butler said...

Elizabeth, this post and your preceding post are extraordinary. You've given me hope that good will flow from Lambeth 2008. Thanks be to God.

Prayers for you and your family continue.