In the aftermath of the most recent Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church, Albert Mohler interviewed Rev. Canon George Conger. He is an Episcopalian Priest with the Diocese of Central Florida and the Chief Correspondent of “The Church of England Newspaper.”
Albert Mohler: Every 10 years the bishops of the Anglican Communion gather for what is known as the Lambeth Conference named for the palace across the Thames River from Central London which is the traditional and historic home of the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the leader of the Anglican movement worldwide. The Archbishop of Canterbury is now Rowan Williams. As the bishops gathered, there was much controversy that had been boiling for some years, but the focus of the controversy is the issue of local authority. The specific exploding point here—or the fuse on this bomb—is the issue of human sexuality and homosexuality, and the catalyst for all of this was what happened five years ago.
Five years ago in Minneapolis, the Episcopal Church, U.S. confirmed Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop of any Anglican Communion—and that set the stage for what happened and didn’t happen in London at the Lambeth Conference. What didn’t happen is that all the bishops attended. Gene Robinson was there and he was not invited to participate in the conference. There were others who were not invited. Over 200 conservative bishops met earlier and then boycotted, more or less, the Lambeth meeting out of their frustration with the fact that pro-homosexual bishops, especially of North America, would be attending.
The Archbishop of Canterbury decided before the meeting began, and made the announcement, that there would be no resolutions and no votes to avoid division, but rather discussion groups. As the Lambeth Conference came to an end it released a document—I hold that document in my hand—entitled, “Reflections Upon the Lambeth Conference 2008.” It calls for what is described as a “season of gracious restraint.” Included in this are three moratoria: the first moratorium most significantly is a moratorium on Episcopal ordinations of partnered homosexual people and also the elections of bishops included within that.
We are very glad to have today as our guest, the Rev. Canon George Conger…. Can you tell us what in the world happened at the Lambeth Conference?
George Conger: Well, there was about three weeks of talk and talk and talk, and that’s all that happened. No decisions were taken, no actions were taken. Nothing authoritative or prescriptive was done at this meeting.
Mohler: Now, let me ask you. As you look at this particular document …. It says the moratoria covers three separate issues: the Episcopal ordinations of partnered homosexual people, the blessing of same-sex unions, cross-border incursions by bishops. It goes on to say there is widespread support for the moratoria. The Archbishop of Canterbury has conceded that if the North American churches, in particular the Episcopal Church, U.S., continues with these movements towards the normalization of homosexuality, that the communion is likely to break apart. Do you see the North American churches, do you see the Episcopal Church, U.S. adopting and accepting this moratorium?
Conger: No, I do not. I think one thing needs to be kept in mind. The “Reflections” document is designed to capture all the points of view expressed at the conference. It does not—it is not a document that speaks to what the bishops want to do. Rather the bishops were asked at the end, “Do you see your voice in this document?”
So, it’s not—the moratorium is just a suggestion by some of the bishops. It has no force it has no authority. It is just a request.
Mohler: And it is a request that is very personal isn’t it? I’m looking at especially the coverage in the British Press, and it looks like at least the British Press is suggesting that it was more or less the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams himself, who said, “Just please do this.”
Conger: Yes, because that’s all there is. It’s a gentlemen’s agreement that not everybody—the bishops didn’t vote on it, they were not asked to sign up to it. It’s just as it is described—a reflection of views at the conference. It has no force. It has no authority. And because of that, bishops in Los Angeles and San Francisco have already said … Well, they’re going to continue what they’re going to—continue allowing clergy to bless same-sex unions, to support gay clergy becoming bishops in the Episcopal Church if that should arise. They’re not going to back away.
Mohler: I’m looking here at an article from the Times of London that has to do with the bishop, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C., John Bryson Chane, in which he condemns the conservatives as demonic and says they are going in the wrong direction, and that his church, his diocese, will not be going in that direction.
Conger: Yes, for the conference Bishop Chane took great exception to attacks from African leaders, especially the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, for demonizing the American church. Bishop Chane believes that God has given a special mission to the Episcopal Church to lead on this particular issue of justice for gays and lesbians in the church. The attacks by those who hold a more traditional, biblical view Bishop Chane has dismissed as demonizing attacks upon the American exceptionalism on this issue—that America has a charge to lead the world in normalizing or removing homosexuality from the sin column moving it to a blessing column.
Mohler: It is fascinating to watch this. But as a non-Episcopalian Christian observing this I just have to believe this is a moratorium that doesn’t really mean anything and will not restrain anyone from doing what they intend to do.
Conger: Yes, that’s perfectly clear. You don’t have to be a non-Episcopalian to see that. Before the ink was dry, those whom it would apply to—the liberals in the United States, and African bishops who support American conservatives—both said that they are not going to stand back from the course they’ve taken.
Mohler: Let me ask you to rewind. Ten years ago, in 1998 the Lambeth Conference made a very clear statement about the essential sinfulness of homosexuality.
Conger: Yes … Sexual relations in a Christian understanding were confined to that between of a married man and a woman, husband and wife. Outside of that, including adultery, fornication and homosexuality was contrary to God’s will, and specifically homosexuality could not be reconciled with the scriptures as being a good or morally positively thing. Therefore, the church could not bless it, the church could not support it, it could not put forward men or women who had same-sex attractions and who acted upon them as leaders of the church.
Mohler: Now that was 10 years ago…
Conger: That was quite clear in 1998.
Mohler: Yes, and it was voted on. In fact I just looked that up to be sure and I find out that wasn’t binding either.
Conger: It wasn’t binding either—in a legal, juridical sense, no, it’s not binding. But it did speak to the position of the communion—and it had the force of moral authority. But it was not a legal document.
Mohler: It is very interesting to look at what is going on here. I’m looking at Times magazine’s coverage. It has here a statement from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, U.S., Katharine Jefferts Schori. She said the Anglican Communion “Is suffering the birth pangs of something new.” Now, I’m familiar with her. I’ve covered her for some time. This is the presiding bishop who clearly believes that history is in the direction of normalizing all homosexuality, and that eventually the Church is just going to have to go along.
Conger: Yes, that’s how she thinks. She believes that the science—the revelation is unfolding, and that the Church in this day and age has a new revelation conditioned by scientific discoveries, and new moral insights that allow the Episcopal Church and other denominations to affirm homosexuality as being a morally good thing.
Mohler: You also have bishops who would just as clearly make absolutely transparent their opposition to homosexuality based upon the clear teachings of scripture. So I ask you to fast forward to 2018. Let’s imagine the Anglican Communion meeting together, the bishops in the Lambeth Conference of 2018, is there going to be an Anglican Communion to be represented together at a conference like that 10 years from now?
Conger: No, and I don’t think there will be one within a year’s time. Right now the Anglican Communion is already broken—it’s fractured. And the clearest sign of that is that its leaders will not sit down and receive Holy Communion together. They are unable to receive the Eucharist—or the sacraments—at the same service, because they do not hold the same beliefs. Some believe that Jesus is a way, that there are many ways to salvation, that theirs is Christianity, Christianity is their way and that’s good. But they believe that other faiths may lead to salvation. Well, the vast majority of bishops say that Jesus is the only way to salvation.
That is just one issue, but there is a tremendous division on all sorts of issues—Christology and moral issues, and doctrinal issues, and the basic words of the Nicene Creed that are not commonly shared. The Communion is already broken and this meeting did nothing to fix that. And in fact, it just solidified the position of the two sides.
Mohler: Where do you see this leaving the Episcopal Church, U.S.?
Conger: I see it in the law courts over the next 10 years, frankly, as Evangelical parishes or Anglo-Catholic parishes who are the traditionally-minded members of the Episcopal Church either pull out and join new denominations, or take shelter and refuge under the leadership of bishops from overseas churches.
This is going to spark litigations over property, and who gets to call themselves an Episcopalian, who’s an Anglican. It’s a mess, and there is no short-term solution that I see to fix this problem save for one side giving up and going away.
Mohler: Now you are affiliated with and a priest of the Diocese of Central Florida, that’s known as more of the conservative of the regions of the Episcopal Church. I would compare that to San Francisco, or Washington, or Los Angeles. In what sense are you really part of one church at this point?
Conger: We’re not part of one church in the sense that I could not function… A priest from, say, San Francisco who was a gay man or had been divorced and remarried, for example, could not come to where I am near Orlando and function as an Episcopal Priest. I could not get a job or license because of my theological views in many parts of the Episcopal Church. There is no interchangeability of clergy. It’s become Balkanized along doctrinal and theological views.
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