Although it has been rightly lamented that few of the Lambeth Conference events are open to the public (or even to anyone other than bishops), it was my singular privilege to present a short paper at one of the bishops-only workshops, or “self-select sessions,” on Tuesday afternoon.
The invitation came from Canon Philip Groves from the Anglican Communion Office. Canon Groves is responsible for monitoring the Communion’s listening process (such as it is) and for providing resources to equip Anglicans to listen and dialogue on issues of sexuality. It is hoped that the just-published book, The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality, will be a major contribution to this effort.
The third chapter of the book includes a lengthy discussion on Anglican methods of biblical interpretation. To illustrate how people who share a commitment to the authority of scripture and who use a similar method of interpretation might nevertheless come to different conclusions, the book includes a summary statement of the traditional understanding of the “witness of scripture” on the topic of homosexuality, as well as an alternative view, which is my contribution to the book (and re-published in the current Integrator here).
This was also to be the substance of Tuesday’s workshop and the reason for my invitation to this closed event.
Unfortunately, the workshop did not go as smoothly as we had hoped. About 40 bishops had settled in after a last minute room change, but after several minutes of introduction, some voiced frustration with the organization of the session and asked to hear more from Dr. Richard Burridge, Dean of King’s College (London) and the session’s named “subject matter expert.” Eventually the guest assigned to present the traditional view was invited to speak – though his material was interesting, it was considerably off-topic and added to the confusion. The facilitator improvised the missing material, and as I was approaching the lectern to present the alternative view, he quickly introduced me as being from Canada, a graduate of Regent College, and gay.
The “g-word” immediately prompted a snort from the back row and one of the bishops noisily gathered his things and left the room.
I paused, then nervously began my presentation, making it through without further interruption. Dr. Burridge then tried to bring the pieces together. The questions that ended the session, however, suggested that the point of the exercise had been largely lost in the confusion, frustration, and tension of the previous 90 minutes.
Even so, in a redeeming expression of pastoral care, at least six bishops approached me individually – or stopped me as I left the building – to thank me and apologize for their colleague who, ironically, had demonstrated how far the listening process has yet to go.
These bishops also demonstrated how far we have already come. Obviously the listening process has been engaged unevenly across the Communion, and some are ill-equipped for the task. But where we listen, respect, and care for one another – even, or especially, when we disagree – then we are becoming a church worthy of Him who demonstrated His great love for us and who calls us to love one another.