Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Chatham House Rule

Chatham House in London, since 1920 a (safe) meeting place for dignitaries to discuss world issues, is soon to be back in the news.

The unique setting was originally conceived as a place for Anglo-American discussions with the goal of preventing war, a noble cause that arose out of the very recent memories of the horrors of War I.

One of the important elements of the institution is something called The Chatham House Rule, which states:

"When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed".

The idea is to free participants to speak freely as individuals; people who if otherwise speaking publicly would be representing an organization, church, or government. The Rule has actually been invoked worldwide, but has Chatham House as its source. And at Chatham House, it is taken very seriously. What is fascinating about the Rule is that it places a moral burden on participants that can only be enforced through censure.

My first thought is: This would be a really great idea for synods to adopt. Thinking about tinkering with, say, your Doctrine of the Ministry statement? It might be a good idea to gather interested parties to Have At It for a week or two under the Chatham House Rule. What happens in Chatham House stays in Chatham House!

You could call it the Let Down Your Hair Rule, except that would be more American than Anglo. And speaking of hair-letting:

It is under the Chatham House Rule that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, will soon be celebrating a "secret" communion service with gay clergy and their partners.
The Times of London has the story here.

In light of the fact that Archbishop Williams will soon be attending the gathering of Episcopal bishops in New Orleans to try to save that communion from splintering, and in light of the fact that he's sent out hundreds of invitations to next year's Lambeth Conference but isn't getting many back because he's invited the Americans, this latest is simply amazing. To the worldwide Anglican communion it will be like setting a match to a very dry, very large copse of wood.

HT: Get Religion

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