Lambeth Conference

Archbishop Rowan Williams has chosen not to invited Bishop Gene Robinson to the upcoming Lambeth conference. No doubt, he knows there would be a number of bishops from other parts of the world who would not attend if Bishop Robinson did attend. Likewise, Williams has not invited Marty Minns to Lambeth; Akinola recently consecrated Minns to serve as his “missionary bishop” in the USA. Doubtless, a number of American Bishops would boycott if Minns attended. I wouldn’t want to be Williams.

The Lambeth Conference had its beginning in controversy. The archbishop of Cape Town in the 1860’s had deposed and excommunicated Thomas Colenso, the bishop of Natal. Colenso, who had been appointed as a missionary bishop, appealed his deposition to the Privy Council in England, which overturned it and maintained his status as bishop of Natal because his letter of installation predated the letter installing the current archbishop of Capetown (ah, the constitutional weirdness of being an established Church!). Colenso was teaching biblical criticism which was considered heresy at the time. There were also moral matters involved. A number of American Bishops signed a document to the Archbishop of Canterbury upholding Colenso’s excommunication — seemed to them like his current archbishop had the right to make that call, not a secular court in London. The Canadian bishop pushed the Archbishop of Canterbury to call a conference to settle the matter, which convened in 1867. Fewer than half the British bishops attended, not knowing exactly what the conference was trying to achieve — it looked to them like outside interference in their own business. Even getting the Colenso affair on the agenda was difficult. The real meat of the conference didn’t happen until the last day, when, in private session, a number of bishops from provinces outside of England signed a document pledging to respect the Archbishop of Capetown’s decision to excommunicate Colenso. Without a formal vote, the deal was done.

I think it’s a shame Rowan doesn’t have the spine to invite Robinson, the duly elected, approved and consecrated bishop of New Hampshire. I understand what he is trying to do, but the Lambeth Conference has never been a very successful venture, even from its first meeting, attended by fewer than half the bishops of Britain (who didn’t have far to travel!). I only hope when he meets with our House of Bishops in September, they can express our position to him with appropriate force. Seems like it has taken bishops of provinces outside the Church of England to wag the dog more than once before now.

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