Just because some of our hierarchs seem unable to dare even to offer us the sort of Eucharistic space which is our baptismal new-birthright doesn’t mean that our consciences need be bowed down by, bound by, all that heaviness of decline management, that defensive bureaucratic inability to negotiate as adults with adults. For that heaviness and inability says something about them, and need say nothing about us. (On Being Liked, p. 111)I think that sums up how I feel about Archbishop Williams' decision to deny an invitation to Bishop Gene Robinson to attend the Lambeth Conference of Bishops next summer. Williams continues to manage the demise of the Anglican Communion with a peculiar combination of ineptitude and hardball politics. His refusal to invite Bishop Robinson, and his veiled threat to reserve the right to withdraw invitations to those who don't tow the Windsor line, indicate an inability to negotiate as adults with adults.
As Bishop Marc Andrus points out, isolation and exclusion are hardly Christian ways to deal with conflict. Bishop Marc poignantly observes that
The tactic of exile and isolation has been among [the] strongest tools of oppression against the human spirit. We were created to be in communion, and there is a deep-seated intuition on the part of those who wish to hem in human freedom that the best way to do this is to separate us, one from another.
The ground-breaking work of Rene Girard has revealed the mechanism of scapegoating. Girard teaches that Jesus and the Hebrew prophets began loosening the chains of scapegoating. This action of isolating Bishop Robinson is retrogressive, taking us backwards to a shadowy, scary place from which we have already been delivered by Christ and the Prophets. (The Most Noxious Point of the Windsor Report Becomes Reality)
Archbishop Williams tactics are diabolic: they seek to break apart where God intends unity. Moreover, he seeks to maintain unity based on some notion of purity, rather than on the astonishing grace of God that brings into communion all sorts and conditions of people. Jesus repeatedly rejected communion with God based on purity codes that define insiders over against outsiders. Access to God and human community is based on nothing other than our free response to God's loving invitation. Communion is defined by our "yes" to God and to each other; not by our "no" to Gene Robinson or anyone else.
So where do we find the symbolic, the signs of unity and of communion, when some of our hierarchs seem unable to offer these to us? Here again, Bishop Marc points us in the right direction:
I cannot overemphasize how important it is to meet this action on our Archbishop's part with the weapons of the spirit. I will be praying that my response and our response will be in solidarity with Bishop Robinson, mindful of our relatedness worldwide, full of shalom, and creative, in the manner of Jesus Christ.Here, I think it is serendipitous that the Gospel appointed for yesterday, when news of Bishop Gene's exclusion became known, was Luke 10:1-17, which describes the commissioning of the seventy disciples and their mission. The disciples are sent on ahead of Jesus "to every town and place where he himself intended to go." Their mission is defined in terms of the offering of peace, healing, and good news that God's kingdom has come near.
What is striking to me is the sense in which the disciples are to show up regardless of the response they receive, detached from outcomes, non-anxious and relaxed.
Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you ... But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. (Luke 10:5-6, 10-12)My sense is that our bishops, including Bishop Robinson, whether as guest or interloper, should show up at the Lambeth Conference, since Jesus intends to go there. They should offer peace to the house of bishops gathered and see who shares in peace with them. At issue here is not homosexuality, but hospitality; the great sin of Sodom was to do violence to strangers rather than to receive them as guests.
For Archbishops Williams, Akinola, et al to refuse the signs of peace, of unity, and of communion offered by our bishops is as intolerable as the sin of Sodom. My prayer is that our bishops will find a way to be symbolic in the face of the diabolic, that they will go ahead of Jesus to Lambeth and prepare his way there, and that they will find creative ways to witness to the communion that God is giving us; even if they end up shaking the dust off their feet in protest.