By Jason S. Patterson
Special to Virtueonline
A new strategy for this year's Lambeth Conference entails the daily morning gathering of all the bishops in what has been named an Indaba Group. The appearance of these groups on the Lambeth schedule is the brainchild of Lambeth Conference Design Group member Archbishop Makgoba (of Cape Town). In the booklet entitled "Worship and Indaba Group Resources", published by the Lambeth Conference, the word Indaba is defined as "a Zulu word for a gathering for purposeful discussion. It is both a process and a method.
An Indaba first and foremost acknowledges that there are issues that need to be addressed effectively to foster on-going communal living. [. . .] In Indaba, we must be aware of these challenges (issues) without immediately trying to resolve them one way or the other."
The issues at hand are identified as being "questions related to the way we handle the Bible, sexuality, post colonialism, autonomy concerns and the many missional challenges. It is these issues that need to be brought to the 'table'."
It seems clear that the purpose of the groups is not to work through difficult issues but rather simply to talk. The word on the street is that a general strategy of the planners of this conference is that "if bishops simply get to know each other, if they pray together, if they hear each other's stories, they will leave with a renewed sense of respect and acceptance for each other's positions on the divisive issues."
There have been some criticisms leveled at the Indaba Groups. Apparently some bishops feel that these small group meetings are not effective means by which to deal with the challenges facing the Anglican Communion. They grow frustrated that their time is not being spent in more productive ways. Archbishop Williams acknowledged these criticisms and even tacitly agreed with them during a press conference held July 21st. He said: "The indaba process has been criticized as not leading to any decisions or resolutions, that it is not effective. This may be so, but the other methods have not appeared to very effective either. At Lambeth, there are resources to deal more directly with the divisive issues. These are the Windsor continuation group and the covenant resource group. I seek unity by consent, not coercion. This is a challenge for us all."
Though the terms "indaba" clearly has a lexical connection with an African means of conflict resolution, the Lambeth's version of Indaba groups have some significant points of discontinuity with the manner in which the groups are said to function in Africa. As just one example, let us note that in Africa an Indaba group often lasts for numerous days, focusing on the same issue until a resolution is reached. At Lambeth, however, it seems that the subjects addressed by Indaba groups will change daily. With such complicated issues facing the Communion it goes without saying that there seems little reason to suppose that the discussions pursued by these numerous small groups (of about 40 people each) will amount to much.
But this is, perhaps, by design. As indicated by his statement above, the Archbishop is not looking to the Indaba groups to be places in which issues of a divisive nature are entertained. The emphasis is upon prayer, fellowship and mutual understanding - not upon repentance and change.
Already, at the end of the conference's first full official day, conservative African bishops have expressed their wonderment at what their presence here will accomplish. Is it really supposed that they are so ignorant as to not know the positions that they oppose? Is it really thought that after a time of mutual sharing and prayer, they will agree to indefinitely table the issues about which they are most deeply concerned simply out of affection for those of a different opinion? Contra these suppositions, it is their opinion that it is exactly owing to their affection for those that they oppose, not to mention their commitment to Christ's gospel as the Church has received it, that necessitates action (not endless dialogue). For them, the struggle in which they find themselves is a struggle for the integrity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a struggle centered on being faithful to their calling to accept, defend, teach and preach that gospel.
----The Rev'd Jason S. S. Patterson is the newly appointed assistant rector of the Church of the Redeemer in Greensboro, NC. He is a board member of the Prayer Book