Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Taking an appreciative path at Lambeth

The conventional wisdom is wrong. At least about the Lambeth Conference.

I watched the video news-conference by The Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas and the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori yesterday. I had these big ideas about live-blogging it, but that wasn't practical. I am glad I didn't. In attempting to draw immediate conclusions, I would have missed the heart of the story.

My gut feeling was very positive...that the attempt is to build a basis for resolution of thorny issues by building on relationships. But I was still perplexed, at a time when Anglican divisions are at their highest and most can we move forward? And when everyone is itching for a solution (theirs) how can consensus be reached?

One of the most perplexing things about Lambeth is that there will be no legislation, no plenary reports from which resolutions will be drawn, no voting and no Big Reports. This has driven many people a little crazy. If they aren't going to Say Something Definitive, then what's the point?

The conventional wisdom is that Lambeth will attempt to paper over differences. There is plenty of precedent.

This is why Archbishop Akinola is not going and is not sending his Bishops because he says he doesn't want to waste time at a "pep rally." Well, our brother Peter is certainly not adverse to pep-rallies of his own.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that GAFCON will be the anti-Lambeth in almost every way. GAFCON calls what they are doing a "pilgrimage" but GAFCON will certainly be both a pep-rally for the troops and a conference where strategy will be laid out for a future of their own design and determination.

The designers of GAFCON have made it clear that their future will happen regardless of what anyone else thinks or wants or needs: witness the blatant disregard for the Bishop of Jerusalem and their disinterest in the local situation. For the GAFCONites, Jerusalem is not a place where real people live but it is an historical and religious theme-park to be viewed from bus windows, hotel conference rooms and through guided tours. It is a backdrop that makes a political statement.

GAFCON represents one way of creating change. Gather people around you who agree with you. Get them good and steamed up about something they hate. Separate from people who are you think are "bad." Create a new structure. Go your own way.

A tried and true approach. And for what it is, it works. But does it really address the things that make them the most uncomfortable? Does it move them towards actual Gospel mandates? Does it make them a better church?

On the other hand, many in my own church and elsewhere are sad and angry that whatever happens at Lambeth will occur with Bishop Gene Robinson standing on the outside. We are angry that he has been excluded and fearful that Anglican unity will once again come at the expense of gay and lesbian people, and many are angry at the willingness of an otherwise supportive leadership to quickly throw good people aside (or under the bus).

We have undertaken our own approaches to change. Lobbying and legislating. Raising consciousness and prophetic actions. We have seen change in our culture and in our church, but we have left people behind who do not understand, and we are very impatient with those who don't get it. We have created opportunity, but have we created the conditions for that to make a difference? Or have we simply rearranged the social deck chairs?

Back to Lambeth, the nagging question is this, without the presence of +Gene or of a large portion of the evangelical right, how can true "conversation" take place?

Conservatives, like BabyBlueOnline, and progressives, like the Pluralist, are cynical. Mary Ailes calls this a "hippie be-in." The Pluralist agrees and says he is being a realist.

None of this bodes well, except....

After seeing (and reviewing again) the video, I think the conventional wisdom on both sides is wrong.

The basis for the design of the Lambeth Conference is Appreciative Inquiry. I know enough about AI to be truly dangerous, to I will let Wikipedia explain:

Appreciative Inquiry is a particular way of asking questions and envisioning the future that fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, a situation, or an organization. In so doing, it enhances a system's capacity for collaboration and change.[1] Appreciative Inquiry utilizes a 4-stage process focusing on:

  1. DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
  2. DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
  3. DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
  4. DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.[2] [3]

The basic idea is to build organizations around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn't. It is the opposite of problem solving. Instead of focusing your energy on fixing the 0.0001% that's wrong, AI focuses on how to create more of what's already working. The approach acknowledges the contribution of individuals, in order to increase trust and organizational alignment. The method aims to create meaning by drawing from stories of concrete successes and lends itself to cross-industrial social activities. It can be enjoyable and natural to many managers, who are often sociable people.

Since 2003, the Anglican Communion, and all the Instruments of Unity together and separately have shown us that we cannot legislate our way out of this, and that diplomatic solutions are at best provisional. The Windsor Report is a disaster precisely because it attempts to solve a problem structurally that is at heart a theological problem. But it did not spring out of nowhere.

Progressives have tended to go about solving problems by way of organizing and creating legislative and judicial solutions to theological and moral problems. And, in my view, the reasserters have gone wrong because they have attempted to impose a competing, conciliar (structural and political) solution to solve what they fundamentally see as a theological problem.

In other words, we have a legitimate series of problems and impasses, that need to be addressed concretely. But instead of building on what we do best as a Communion, and in the Episcopal Church, we have tended to focus on fixing specific symptoms through the use of interest group politics. That is building solutions based on our weakness.

What is it that Anglicans do best?

We worship. We know how to find God in beauty and in the rhythm of day, week, and year. We meet Jesus in word, sacrament .
We are comprehensive. We are tolerant of a certain variety of approaches. We experience the personal costs and spiritual power that being comprehensive brings.
We think. Prayer Book spirituality requires us to be thoughtful because it is not given to handing out snappy answers to complex questions.
We are incarnational. We know that God's whole self in found in the whole person Jesus, and that he lives, and we take seriously the images of being the vine of Christ, the body of Christ and take seriously being ambassadors of reconciliation.
We are mission oriented. The other thing that Anglicans do well besides worship is that we work. We are very effective at organizing and raising money to address real problems ranging from AIDS to alcoholism to homeless to hunger to disaster relief.
We create partnerships. Even with all the division, invasions and upset, there have never been more Anglican partnerships between dioceses than there are today.
We are Biblical. We are not Biblicists, but we delve deeply into what God teaches us in Scripture and we attempt to live that out.
We are traditional. We know that we stand on a past that has been both rich and imperfect, both a blessing and sinful. In bringing forward what the Church has taught and experienced, and in attempting to make that tradition live in the present, we bring forward the teachings of Christ and his redeeming to the present and into the future.

I could go on. But here is what I think our opportunity is:

If the gathered Bishops can build on the positive core, what binds us and draws us together as Anglican Christians; if they can use the stage that Williams and the design team have set for them and allow themselves to appreciate what we have, imagine what we might become, and proclaim what we should be, and then go home and help the rest of us do what must be done, then perhaps, perhaps, this conference next month could be quite revolutionary.

Will it solve all our problems? No. Will it "fix" every pinch? Probably not. Will it prevent those who want to go their own way and form their own Anglican future from doing so? Not if they are determined to make their solution their problem.

But for the rest of us, if we want to build on who we are, what we do best, and stay focused on what Christ is calling us to be, there is always hope.

Lambeth's design is not perfect. The Windsor Report and the need decide whom to invite has gotten in the way. I don't expect earth-shattering results to happen in the first week, month or year after the event. Change of this kind tends not to show itself for a while. If they are doing what I believe they are, it is a very big risk.

But I think +Katharine was on to something when she said to never underestimate the power of tea parties to create change.

Read more about Appreciative Inquiry:
  • Rob and Kim Voyle's Appreciative Institute is found here.
  • The Weatherhead School of Management at Case-Western Reserve has a PhD program in organizational behavior where a lot of AI work is done. Here.
  • Margaret J. Wheatley has an interesting essay: Using Emergence To Take Social Innovations To Scale which describes networks as systems of influence. In a Web 2.0 world this very different from how most people understand networking (and which I think is more in line with +Rowan meant when he said way back when that networks were good--and if it is not what he meant then...well, he was right anyway!).
  • Appreciative Inquiry Commons.


Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

Well said -- I think your observations are spot on.

Jim Strader said...

Andrew+ - You make some excellent points here and I commend you for taking the long view with a virtuous sense of hope. My only concern would be with some of the issues that you raised. There's a select group of bishops who will be conducting the inquiry while they are at Lambeth. There's another group of bishops who have opted out of the meeting. The outcome is consequently the development of an appreciative framework for how members of the Anglican Communion may covenant with one another. The strategic problem is that GAFCON "dissenters" will carry out whatever mission imperatives they believe that they must undertake. This initiative occurs in a completely different context with little appreciation for listening to the views of people they disagree with on many levels.

I suppose that it is important for us an Anglicans to remember that we will never achieve perfection on this side of the Parousia. We can however continue to work for thoughtful, comprehensive, worship and practices that are as broad as possible given the social considerations we work in as we live into Christ's gospel.

I respect Ian Douglas+ immensely. His presence on the planning committee makes me hope along with you that the Lambeth gathering will bear good fruit.

Ann said...

AI was what I was thinking too --- rather than doing problem solving - which leads to rancor and division- focus on what IS working and the problems find their own answers. Ann

John B. Chilton said...

Isn't ironic that at the last Lambeth Northern conservatives put much energy training Southern conservatives in the way of the parliamentary system into which Lambeth had fallen, and that at this Lambeth the organizers have adopted the Indaba model of deliberation and conversation.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Many thanks, Andrew for an enlightening perspective. There's an interestig global perspective to what we're trying to do. Up to Lambeth 1988, the whole thing did business in the Western parliamentary mode, whipping up caucuses, passing resolutions etc. In 1998, global south bishops learned how to play that system to wedge positions against what the saw as the liberal management. I hope that in 2008 bishops from the West can actually learn how to identify and share emergent perceptions from an indaba process — smaller groups, more listening, less political posturing... AI and Integrative Complexity skills which just don't make sense in a classic debating society verbal Punchup should come to the fore from all directions, and I think far more will be achieved.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

I especially liked your list of what Anglicans do best. That is what drew me to this path to begin with.

Sarah said...

RE: "Isn't ironic that at the last Lambeth Northern conservatives put much energy training Southern conservatives in the way of the parliamentary system into which Lambeth had fallen, and that at this Lambeth the organizers have adopted the Indaba model of deliberation and conversation."

Not really. Seems a perfectly typical strategy. Once they lost at parliamentary procedure, they switched to Indaba.

But at General Conventions, of course, they *win* at parliamentary proceure -- hence no Indaba.

I see nothing particularly ironic or indeed surprising about this sort of tactic.

We're pretty used to this over in TEC.

Andrew Gerns said...


The Archbishop has been saying all along that he was not going to have a legislative Lambeth. It was on this basis that GAFCON was organized, wasn't it? Isn't this the reason that Abp. Akinola is not coming, and wasn't that established long ago?

I choose to take Abp. Williams at his word and believe that he sees another way through this impasse. The closer we get, the more we know about the process.

You seem to believe that this is a way to avoid the hard issues. If this is done right, then this will be a way through them.