What happened at Lambeth 2008

THE 2008 LAMBETH CONFERENCE of Anglican bishops in Canterbury July 16-August 3 was a milestone in this march of relativism. While nothing extraordinary happened – no fist fights or beatific visions – a number of prelates came away from Lambeth realizing the Anglican Communion no longer worked. Its structures were not a place for holy men, but for hollow men: bishops who knew in their hollow hearts they were stuffed with straw, trapped in a purposeless whirl of apathy and spiritual torpor called "dialogue." The Anglican Communion had finally broken, coming to an end "not with a bang but a whimper."

While past Lambeth Conferences have endeavored to speak clearly on matters of common concern as a guide to the global church, Lambeth 2008 was designed to, and did, decline to draw the line between the irreconcilable claims of the left and right. Gene Robinson's cry that "God is doing a new thing," and that the affirmation of his election as Bishop of New Hampshire showed that "God has once again brought an Easter out of Good Friday," was left to stand alongside the claims of traditionalists like Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker, who argued that the standard the church must use in moving forward with change was the rule of Vincent of Lerins: a once-for-all received faith, witnessed everywhere and by all. Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.

While the liberal juggernaut has ground through The Episcopal Church (TEC) over the past generation, carrying prayer book revision and women's ordination with it across the 38-province Anglican Communion, Vincent's 5th century rule had been consistently applied to questions of sexual ethics. At the 13th Lambeth Conference in 1998, bishops of the Communion affirmed by a 7 to 1 margin the church's traditional teaching on human sexuality, as informed by Scripture and the church's unbroken teaching of 2,000 years.

The onus lies with those who seek change to convince the church of the need for it, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, explained after Lambeth '98. Listening to proponents of change acknowledges their honorable motives, he told the clergy of the Diocese of Central Florida in 2003, but entering into a conversation with them does not validate their arguments.

"Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent," George Orwell once wrote of Gandhi, and the same standard applies in the development of doctrine, Lord Carey argued. However, the 14th Lambeth Conference under the presidency of Archbishop Rowan Williams said goodbye to all that.

AT LAMBETH '08, Dr. Williams lost the confidence of his fellow archbishops, and left the Communion millions in debt, and on the same trajectory as before the Conference began. Left and right have rejected his pleas for restraint, vitiating the renewed call in Canterbury for moratoria on gay bishops and blessings and cross-border episcopal actions, pending putative rescue by an Anglican Covenant at some uncertain date. New layers of bureaucracy suggested at Lambeth (e.g. a "Pastoral Forum" and "Faith and Order Commission") remain to be developed at a time when many saw stronger measures to restore order as overdue. Meanwhile, Roman Catholic and Orthodox representatives announced the effective end of talks aimed at corporate reunion and the recognition of Anglican orders.

Philosophically, the Lambeth Conference witnessed the retirement of the historic Anglican guides of Scripture, Tradition and reason in divining truth. Scripture was subordinated to experience and culture, reason rejected in favor of political power, and Tradition debased into equal parts antiquarianism and haberdashery.

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