08/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bishops Discuss More Than Sex -- Imagine That!

As I read the news about the Lambeth Conference, the much-anticipated once-a-decade meeting of bishops from around the Anglican Communion, I'm surprised by how calmly -- even amicably -- events there seem to be unfolding.

Now, mind you, that could be because reports coming out of the conference are somewhat scarce, what with the media being kept on a short leash. It could also be because the bishops there don't want to put forth a negative message; one almost gets the impression from their blogs that they've been told to keep things upbeat.

Or, perhaps things really are relatively upbeat.

This decade's Lambeth Conference comes amid a storm of controversy and rancor within the Communion, triggered by the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003 as the Anglican Communion's first openly gay bishop. Since then, conservative churches and even whole dioceses in The Episcopal Church USA have put themselves under the authority of like-minded (at least on this issue) African bishops, prompting nasty lawsuits, threats of depositions, and just a whole lot of confusion and uncertainty about the future of the Anglican Communion.

In June, many of those conservative bishops set up a rival meeting to the Lambeth Conference called the "Global Anglican Future Conference," which met in Jerusalem, and out of which emerged a conservative group called the "Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans." Many of those same bishops -- it seems around 230 -- have now boycotted the Lambeth Conference. Which leaves at Lambeth the remaining 600 or so bishops who actually want to be together despite their differences, and who may actually be willing to find a way out of this morass.

That's not to say there aren't some negative reports coming out of the conference. But many, if not most, have been quite moving and constructive, such as those reports about friendships forming across vast cultural and political divides, small groups meeting to discuss Scripture and life with no agenda or expected outcome, and new partnerships being formed between churches in countries that barely knew of each other's existence before now.

What's more, there seems to be a shared desire to talk about other subjects as much if not more than the recent institutional turmoil and divisions over human sexuality. Whole sessions and even entire days have been taken up by discussions about, for instance, domestic violence against women across the Anglican Communion, or the plight among Anglicans in the Sudan -- as in the stuff you can actually imagine Jesus caring about.

Several days remain of this conference, and, knowing how quickly things can go sour in church politics, I don't want to sound too optimistic about the outcome just yet. But for now, and in light of what seems to be coming out of Lambeth, surely I'm not the only one secretly hoping that those 230 bishops might just keep on with their boycotting.