SHOULD THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH BISHOPS BOYCOTT LAMBETH?
Should the bishops of the U.S. Episcopal Church stay away from the Lambeth Conference of 2020? This would be in protest of the actions of the host, the Archbishop of Canterbury. At first, the archbishop said, in a prominently posted video, all Anglican Communion bishops and their spouses would be invited to the conference. Then, he pointedly dis-invited the same-sex spouses. The secretary general of the Communion announced the news of this on the Internet, on 15 February. To defend this action, the secretary general cited a resolution passed by the 1998 Lambeth Conference that condemned homosexuality. So, under the new arrangement, the archbishop is inviting openly gay bishops, while very publicly dis-inviting their legal spouses. In addition to the problems of glaring hypocrisy and illogic, there is the bigger issue of moral failing involved in this, from the archbishop of Canterbury no less. No one has spoken about this more eloquently than Gay Jennings, the president of TEC's House of Deputies. Find her statement here .
If you have been following this thread lately, you know the Internet is lit up with commentary about the archbishop's action. Some social media commentators are calling for the American bishops to boycott Lambeth in protest. I disagree with them. Let me tell you why.
Now, do not get me wrong. What the archbishop has done is morally reprehensible. It is a failing on his part. I have added my little voice in criticism of him. However, I still do not think the bishops should boycott.
The Anglican Communion is in a sort of state of war. The fight is over whether open ("practicing") homosexual persons should have equal rights and full inclusion in our form of religion which is that of the Anglican tradition. On one side, the American Episcopal Church led a great revolutionary movement for rights and inclusion which was clarified and enacted institutionally in the 1990's and early 2000s. The Anglican Church of Canada moved along at the same time. Soon thereafter other western provinces began moving along the same track, most notably the Scottish Episcopal Church. On the other side, in the 1990s, a counter-revolutionary movement sprang up in an alliance of anti-gay rights American Episcopalians and equatorial African bishops. In time, this union formed GAFCON, explicitly created to condemn gay rights in the church and to replace the American and Canadian branches of the Anglican Communion with a new church specifically created to oppose rights for homosexuals in the church (Anglican Church in North America). Thus, GAFCON declared war on the pro-gay rights western provinces. In an effort to appease GAFCON, the archbishop of Canterbury refused to invite the openly gay American bishop, Gene Robinson, to the Lambeth Conference of 2008. Since then, the battle lines have hardened. The Episcopal Church moved on to the blessings of same-sex unions and adoption of same-sex marriage. GAFCON stepped up its counter-attack on the Americans-Canadians-Scots. GAFCON is threatening to break up the old Anglican Communion into two parts along the fault line of homosexuality. It would get the majority and leave the minority under the old Anglican Communion headed by the archbishop of Canterbury. Three equatorial African primates have already said they will boycott next year's Lambeth Conference and the bishops of two of those provinces have said they will boycott as groups. The war is heating up. The archbishop of Canterbury is trying to keep the Anglican Communion intact.
In a situation like this, we should keep in mind the big picture and the little. We have to weight the two and choose our battles. One cannot fight every battle. One has to choose and should choose on which battles gain more for the ultimate goal. Off the top of my head, I can think of numerous examples in history where leaders had to balance the big and small picture. The great ones knew this and succeeded at it.
A couple of examples. In the Civil War, as Sherman was making his march through Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah, he made some hard choices. Thousands of former slaves, who did not know what to do or where to go, began tagging along behind the Union army. Sherman cut them off every time. If the army crossed a river, he had the crossings destroyed leaving the desperate blacks on the opposite bank. He also learned of a prison camp of unimaginably bad conditions, not far south of Macon. Walking skeletons were stumbling in. Instead of diverting the army to free the thousands of dying Union prisoners at Andersonville, he pressed on to Savannah. Thousands of sick and starving men died in the few months to come before the end of the war. Sherman made his choices because he kept the big picture in mind. He knew that ending the war as early as possible would be best overall.
In another example, in the Second World War, the British had the secret German code machine, "Engima." They deciphered the German secret messages throughout the war. The Germans did not know this. Churchill went to great lengths to protect this secret often having to refuse actions that would have saved lives. There is a story that one time, early on, a message came over the machine for the bombing of Coventry. Churchill had to decide whether or not to save Coventry. If he did, the German would know he was intercepting their secret messages and would destroy the machine. Churchill decided to do nothing. The Germans bombed the daylights out of Coventry. Some historians have denied this story but even if untrue there were other cases when Enigma had to be protected. In the big picture, Churchill was right to preserve Enigma's secrecy because the machine proved to be incredibly invaluable later on in the war, as in D-Day. The British and American authorities knew exactly what the Germans were thinking and doing. The Normandy invasion was hard enough. It would have been much, much harder, perhaps impossible, without Enigma. Churchill made hard choices that turned out to be right. He kept the big picture in mind.
I could go on, but my point is: when one is at war, one should always keep the big picture in mind and judge the trees in terms of the forest. Sometimes, trees have to be sacrificed for the sake of the greater good of the forest. Yes, what the archbishop did to the spouses was despicable. But, there is a much greater wrong bearing down in the impending destruction of the Anglican Communion at the hands of GAFCON.
So, here is my unsolicited, and humble, advice to the American, Canadian, and Scots bishops: go to the Lambeth Conference. Make your voices heard. Speak out loudly and continually against the immorality of prejudice and discrimination. Respect the person-hood of those who have declared war on you but witness to them the errors of their judgments. You will be far more effective for your positions than you would be by staying home and silent.
Bishops, pick you battles wisely. Keep the big picture in mind. Keep the Anglican Communion intact.