9/16/2005

The Nigerian Constitution: The Reality, Sometimes Sad, of Autonomy

Matt Gunter observed recently, regarding the Amendments to the Nigerian Church Constitution: "This is a big ekklesial mistake. I would affirm a resolution repudiating it."

I too think this was a real mistake, but I am not surprised by it, having read the Nigerian Church Constitution before. There for all to see is the nub of the matter re. autonomy. They are for it. It says, " (1.1.4) In the interpretation of the aforementioned formularies (the BCP 1662, the Articles of Religion, the Word of God as understood by the Church of England) and in all questions of Faith, Doctrine and Discipline, the decisions of the Ecclesiastical tribunals of the Church of Nigeria shall be final."

The Church in Nigeria has every right to make changes in its Constitution.
Perhaps we ought simply to note our disappointment at their distancing themselves from the see of Canterbury in this way.
I think Nigeria has changed its rules of engagement, making it clear that all church to church relations are viewed by it as ecumenical and are more or less "communal" to the extent that common beliefs and concerns make it possible. For some time I have argued that we ought to think of the Anglican Communion as a peculiar sort of ecumenical activity or community... recognizing great differences, indeed sometimes reveling in them, while at the same time being open to one another's ministries and people. So I think in part that what Nigeria did in changing its constitution is OK, just sad.

At the same time, I think we ought to recognize that this is all part of the change in direction that results in a South to South Encounter that is no longer about a general meeting of folk from the "South" but rather of "like minded" folk, an emerging second community of Anglican Churches,and shows clearly that there are people who have decided that being Anglican and being in communion with the see of Canterbury are two different things. I disagree, but there it is.
The ACC needs to be clear that it has the de-facto if not legal "name" the Anglican Communion, else we might find ourselves with the same crazy legal battle as happened over the name of the Episcopal Church, Inc.

These are not happy times and this decision by Nigeria was unfortunate. But autonomy is autonomy and they can practice it as well as we can. The question is why the action to change the constitution now, and to what end? The meeting in Egypt, despite the Archbishop of Nigeria's protestations, will be of considerable interest, since among "like minded people" members of the Network have been invited (if the Archbishop of the Southern Cone is correct in his statement).

I recommend Thinking Anglicans reflections on the Nigerian Synod.

17 comments:

  1. As we approach the end game, which may take a decade or two, shouldn't the question be that of how we are faithful to Christ amid the schisms that may well occur. I respect Nigeria's right to walk apart, if they feel they must. I don't want to burn any bridges. We don't need to have an Anglican jurisdiction in every country on the earth to be a "fellowship within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."

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  2. I know you may be tired of hearing me type this Mark, but I am back to Rowan Williams' sad question at Nottingham: If we must walk apart can we not at least be friends?

    Clearly, I think, Nigeria has the authority to amend its constitution. For any American to argue against autonomous action would be disengenous to a new limit.


    Clearly too, Fr. Matt is correct that the decision to do so and the shape of the amendment are unfortnate. Nigeria will now judge the fidelity of those who seek to walk alongside it. At least they have no false humility!

    Nigeria has answered the Nottingham question -- "NO! We are not friends unless you agree with us." That is a sad, sad, and indeed reputable answer.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  3. Jim, I too am reminded of ++Rowan's question of whether we could "be friends" if we could not be full brothers and sisters.

    The problem is, in the face of great differences and disagreements, and the language of persecution and injury being escalated on both sides, "friends" is a harder relationship to maintain. "Friends" is a chosen relationship, and easier to opt out of than "brothers and sisters."

    I truly think a split is going to happen, and at this point, it should happen--as in some marriages, divorce is not the worst thing that can happen to all concerned parties. At least a recognized parting of the ways could leave all those involved with some dignity, a chance to step back and take a hard look at what it is that makes us want to stay together. And from that point, look toward ways of being together that honor the diversity of gifts and graces.

    I don't think we can do that being as entangled as we are right now. The closeness is no longer a loving embrace--it's more like Mike Tyson biting off his opponent's ear.

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  4. Wendi,

    Point taken, friendship requires at least two actors. But(!) is it chosen for Christians? "Father I pray for them, that they all may be one." I am not clear that we do have a choice.

    The divorce analogy is apt in one sense, we in our failures do sometimes need to walk a ways apart. In another it is not apt, except perhaps in some perhaps fictional States, bothers and sisters are not permitted to divorce. ;-)

    In the event, we are left with the Nigerian decision to select friends based on their own sense of what is orthodox. A new and troubling way to define eligibility for friendship I think. One might were not these the self-annointed orthodox, suggest the idea is sinful!

    FWIW
    jimB

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  5. Wendi,

    True some marriges must be ended. When it happens, we are generally talking about sinful conduct, one or both parties refusing to be spouses. So too here -- when churches walk apart, someone is making a choice. Contrary to what one hears, no one in the CorE, ACCanada or TEC is making such a decision.

    I think we hear the answer to His Grace's question: nope!

    FWIW
    jim B

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  6. Jim, I think friendship is impossible--at this particular moment.

    I think if there is a time to be a bit more distant from each other, a period of cooling-off from what are admittedly very heated words and actions from all concerned parties, there is a possibility of not only friendship, but even a reclaiming of mutual affection and admiration for each others' gifts.

    Right now, I imagine that the Father to whom Jesus prays that all might be one, might want to send all of us to our respective rooms until we can be civil with each other. Then, and only then, can we all come out and play together, and eat at the same table.

    Does that kind of "sibling" analogy work a bit better than the spousal one?

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  7. Wendi,

    You may well be correct.

    The Romans and the Lutherans have very recently begun to tentativly approach each other. I recall the 400th (!) anniversary of Luther's theses. When one says one walks apart a while, one adopts a habit. Do you know Bruce Garner? He tells of how one can identify, "a season" and his story is both devasting and interesting. If we start down that road, we will spend more than our lifetimes on it.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  8. there are people who have decided that being Anglican and being in communion with the see of Canterbury are two different things. I disagree, but there it is.

    Hmmm. Mark, just a few months ago, it looked like the shoe (speaking of which!) might be on the other foot: ECUSA and the AngChCanada being ex-communicated by Canterbury (perhaps unwillingly, but still).

    I think that a bottom-line "Anglicanism" always ought to seek to be in communion w/ the ABC---whom we can all imagine might, one day, not be British?---but that one's Anglican-ness is not surrendered merely by being put out by whomever happens to occupy the Cantuar throne.

    Vaya con Dios, Nigeria. :-( (We'll still be here when you at last realize that CHRIST is the Head of the Church, not +PJA. On that glorious day, Welcome Back! :-D)

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  9. Jim, you said:
    "If we start down that road, we will spend more than our lifetimes on it."

    Why must we insist that things be resolved "in our lifetimes"? Right now, everyone involved is (to some extent, rightly) accusing each other of "impatience" of some sort.

    Our lifetimes are pretty insignificant in terms of the wider historical sweep. It might be satisfying to get things tidied up before we move on to whatever lies ahead, but is it necessary--or even right or good? Or possible or desirable?

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  10. Wendi,

    I don't insist anything be settled in my life time. But, consider all the really good minestry Rome and Lutherland might have done if they were not busy fighting. Jesus did NOT call us to compete but to proclaim.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  11. Wendy D. said...
    Jim, I think friendship is impossible--at this particular moment.

    But let us remember that -- perhaps especially in this time of tension -- there still are significant personal friendships between progressive Episcopalians and members of the African Anglican churches. It may be even more important right now to nurture those one-on-one relationships. We brothers and sisters may be able to "listen" to one another much more effectively than the primates can or will.

    Ever in hope --
    Lisa

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  12. Wendi,

    And some others at "lower levels" that persist. My parish is involved in a relationship with a parish in Africa that ++Akinola would probably not affirm. We sort of forget to tell him. And we are far from the only ones.

    Oh yes, there will be ongoing contact, but the example of the, "continuim" as those who left TEC either because of sacremental authority in the 19th century or female clerics in the 20th is instructive. There has been very little real conversation among, for instance, TEC and the REC, or PKTK over the decades. In towns where two of the communities have congregations and tight budgets, sheep stealing, not ministry is the norm. Add in Anglicans Missing In Action, and the picture gets very sad in a hurry.

    I will agree that not all is bleak. But schism is a bad thing, and I do regret the clear intent of Dr. Akinola et al to enforce at least one. It is likely that there will be more -- once a lion eats meat, there is no stopping him.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  13. If the Communion is about to divide, I think ECUSA should at least acknowledge their part in it and not put the whole blame on Akinola et al. The primates said (and Griswold signed the statement as well):

    If [VGR's] consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).

    The following month, Griswold himself presided over the consecration. And now the fabric of the Communion is perhaps being torn at its deepest level. Should we be surprised? I think many are surprised because they (including Griswold) never took the Global South or the words of the primates seriously. Perhaps we thought they needed our money too much to take action -- I heard many comments to this effect, and still do (especially in terms of helping the impoverished in their midst). Perhaps we should realize what kind of slap in the face those kinds of comments are to their dignity.

    Maybe ECUSA is justified; perhaps they decided that this action was more important than the unity of the Anglican Communion. Fine. Then Nigeria is also justified also in deciding that certain facets of our once-common faith and practice are more important than the unity of the Anglican Communion. If ECUSA doesn't care all that much about the Communion, it cannot expect the other members to place a high priority upon it either.

    I suggest giving up finger-pointing at Akinola, who is probably merely doing what his own people expect from him. There is more than one side to blame in this schism.

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  14. "RB said...
    If the Communion is about to divide, I think ECUSA should at least acknowledge their part in it and not put the whole blame on Akinola et al. The primates said (and Griswold signed the statement as well..."

    hmmm,,,, I went back and read all of the prior posts. Nothing there that points a finger at Dr. Akinola. The only comment that could arguably come close is the point at which, decrying schismatic intent, I said that he and others seem determined to, "enforce" a schism upon us.

    For better or worse, Dr. Akinola has become the de facto if not de juri leader of much of the "global south." He is, to understate the case, a charismatic person, educated, effective as a speaker, and in a position of nearly absolute control of his base. That combination is the stuff of visibility.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  15. This is off-topic, but I just wanted to acknowledge and congratulate you, Mark, on your appointment to the Special Commission on ECUSA and the Anglican Communion (charged w/ drafting recommendations, for GC, on responding to Windsor, Dromantine and Nottingham).

    You will be in my prayers, Mark (which, I suspect, you're gonna need! ;-p)

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  16. obadiahslope23/9/05 1:57 AM

    Jim,
    I think this comment of yours may have come awfully close to pointing the finger..
    "True some marriges must be ended. When it happens, we are generally talking about sinful conduct, one or both parties refusing to be spouses. So too here -- when churches walk apart, someone is making a choice. Contrary to what one hears, no one in the CorE, ACCanada or TEC is making such a decision."
    I am not saying you are wrong necessarily BTW, but I think in attributing a split to other than TEC, ACC etc it was claer who you meant.

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  17. I just re-read my first response to your atempted logic trap game, obadiahslope, and decided it was a bit to intense. Suffice it to say, I am not gonna play the game and our conversation just concluded.

    FWIW
    jimB

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