Friday, February 23, 2007

Anglican Wrap... For Now

They say "Dar es Salaam" is Arabic for "House of Peace." Well, it didn't much look like it earlier in the week, as the Tanzanian metropolis played home to (more) war in the Anglican Communion....

The summit ended with the Episcopal church getting chastised.

And, maybe, kicked out.

In September.

If it doesn't meet a set of bolt-tightening criteria.

Or not, depending on who's interpreting the Primates' Communiqué.

Sorry, it's all just too confusing -- the Roman beat's more than enough for these pages, and trying to figure it all out is why the Good Lord gave us places like TA.

But as the interest is high in Catholic circles, here's the take from a Brit journo on-the-ground for the fireworks, writing in today's edition of The Tablet:
As is the way of these things in recent years, the latest biannual meeting of the leaders of the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces has been dominated by one issue: the place of homosexuals in its Churches and the power struggle for control within the American Episcopal Church between conservatives and liberals.

It is a cause of frustration to several of them, especially meeting in one of the poorest countries on earth, that the world leaders of Anglicanism should spend their time discussing what middle-aged American Christians get up to in bed rather than issues of poverty, disease and hunger, but that is what a number of the African primates themselves wanted, spurred on by American and English conservative evangelicals dancing attendance upon them from the fringes of the meeting.

In the old days - say a decade ago - the archbishops and presiding bishops of worldwide Anglicanism would meet in genteel seclusion, unbothered by the outside world, for prayer, Bible study, tentative theological discussion and a chance to get to know each other. Not any more: this week's meeting featured raw politics, power plays, tactics and boycotts.

When Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola, the leader of the conservative faction of developing world primates, emerged from the ring of steel, in full tribal costume complete with headdress, to consult his American advisers, he found himself pursued by journalists with microphones and at least one elderly reporter in swimming trunks trying desperately to cover himself with a towel as he trotted after His Grace shouting questions. Dignified, it was not....

At first it seemed Akinola's faction, largely consisting of other equatorial African primates, would object to the admission to the meeting of the new American Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman ever to lead a Christian denomination. There was even some consideration of giving her the cold shoulder. This was abandoned as a tactic, with the evangelicals fearing it would not play well even with their own supporters.

Instead they settled for attempting the disciplining of the American Church: setting its rules and timescales for meeting the rest of the Communion's demands that it should row back on the consecration of any more gay bishops or the adoption of blessing services for gay couples - something the Americans had already basically accepted to do.

The tactic was thrown into some disarray when a working party, led by Dr Williams, produced an unexpectedly favourable report on the Episcopal Church's attempt to fall into line. This scarcely gave the conservatives the ammunition they had been anticipating. Hence Akinola's hurried consultations in the hotel. His lobbyists eventually produced their own draft communiqué of demands, which in itself did not go down terribly well with the other African archbishops who had expected to be consulted before being asked to support it.

The conservatives wanted indefinite moratoriums on gay blessings and bishops, and sanctions against the Episcopalians. They did not get them. The drafting of a communiqué went on late into Sunday night, the church officials well aware of the need to provide a united document, for fear that otherwise the Communion would be depicted as falling apart.

At the last gasp, there was a settlement. It places unprecedented strictures on the Episcopalians, who essentially have seven months to comply if they are to be invited to next year's Lambeth Conference of all the world's Anglican bishops. So hurried was the cobbling together that it is by no means clear whether such mechanisms as a primatial vicar to oversee conservative dioceses in parallel to Jefferts Schori's oversight of liberal ones can be made to work. "It's an experiment," said Rowan Williams afterwards. "Pray for it."