At least the Archbishop began with a bit of humor. “What,” he asks, “is the current tension in the Anglican Communion actually about?” He provides a playful answer, “Plenty of people are confident that they know the answer. It is about gay bishops, or possibly women bishops.” The protagonists turn out to be “the American Church, others are against – and the Church of England is not sure (as usual).” (All quotes are from the Archbishop's "The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today.)
Well, one might expect that this would be denied somehow in the revelation behind the joke of the REAL reason for the tension. The trouble is, the joke turns out really to be only about the playful comment “the Church of England is not sure (as usual.)” The Archbishop goes on to spend two longish paragraphs showing why justice and support for “homosexual persons” (how come he can’t say “gay and lesbian persons?”) and inclusion turns out to be different from the real questions for the church. Those turn out to be about (i) “whether the Christian Church has the freedom, on the basis of the Bible, and its historic teachings, to bless homosexual partnerships as a clear expression of God’s will,” (ii) and “what kind of behaviour a Church that seeks to be loyal to the Bible can bless, and what kinds of behaviour it must warn against.” That is, it really is about gay bishops and women bishops. And so, it really is about the “American Church.”
Having squarely settled on the proposition that indeed the tensions are all about blessing and ordaining gay and lesbian persons, he turns his gaze on Anglican decision making. The Archbishop opines that “it doesn’t help to behave as if the matter (blessing and ordaining gay and lesbian persons) had been resolved when in fact it hasn’t.” This rather Carroll like proposition is immediately followed by three paragraphs of blame attached to The Episcopal Church – for election and consecration of Bishop Robinson, for “foreclosing the debate by ordaining someone... who was in a practicing gay partnership” and for the resolutions that have not “produced a complete response to the challenges of the Windsor report.”
This section (Anglican Decision-Making) rounds out its approach to the matter with a paternalistic push, “It isn’t a question of throwing people into outer darkness, but of recognizing that actions have consequences – and that actions believed in good faith to be ‘prophetic’ in their radicalism are likely to have costly consequences.” I think The Episcopal Church, at least in its General Convention, actually know that actions have consequences. That is why we have spent so much time responding to requests and concerns raised.
The Archbishop seems to argue that the ordination of Bishop Robinson, whose major sin seems to be that he is “practicing” something, was done in “good faith” but exhibited “radicalism” and as thought to be “prophetic.”
The consent to Bishop Robinson (a real person with a real name, whose name the Archbishop might actually use once and a while) was made by two rooms full of people acting in a democratic fashion, most of whom are depressingly not radical, do not think of themselves a particularly prophetic, and quite often try to act in good faith. They are called in the Episcopal Church the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. A fairly large portion of these two Houses seemed to agree that Bishop Robinson was understood by his own diocese to be practicing faithfulness to the Gospel, a matter which requires a great deal of practice, and that his relationship to his partner was (and is) a matter of practice within the larger scheme of that faithfulness. Be that as it may, the Archbishop sees the matter as about good faith, prophetic action and radicalism, and the costly consequences thereof.
So at the end of two whole pages of comment, the Archbishop had arrived at the position of being able to discuss “Truth and Unity.” Oddly, this Truth and Unity business was brought up by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali in an op-ed piece in the Telegraph. There Bishop Michael made it clear that he believes that Truth is indeed more important than Unity, and that therefore the “crisis” occasioned by The Episcopal Church and its actions requires separating out The Episcopal Church from the main body of the Anglican Communion.
The Archbishop seems to be arguing to the contrary that while Truth may indeed be on the side of the prophetic action, or alternately that the prophetic may indeed by True, it is necessary for the divisive prophetic / radical folk to understand that Unity is “something given to us prior to our choices – let alone our votes.” He argues, and I mostly believe him, that avoiding the need to work on unity only leads to further and further splintering, straining, groaning, etc. And he asks a poignant question at the close of this section, “Are we joining together in one act of Holy Communion, one Eucharist, throughout the world, or are we just celebrating our local identities and our personal preferences?”
Well, the answer to a poignant question filled with the vision of the Church as one, is “Yes” to both: One Eucharist throughout the world, celebrating our local identities and personal preferences. That is, the answer is both unity and diversity.
Which is how, in spite of himself, the Archbishop gets to the meat of the matter: The Anglican Identity. Here he does some good reflective work, and his challenge at the close is a promising one. “We need ways of translating this underlying sacramental communion into a more effective institutional reality, so that we don’t compromise or embarrass each other in ways that get in the way of our local and our universal mission, but learn how to share responsibility.” The sections on “Truth and Unity” and “The Anglican Identity” are both good reads, very much worth further contemplation.
The Archbishop moves on to a series of thoughts on the matter of “translating this underlying sacramental communion into a more effective institutional reality.” “Future Directions” spells out something of his vision of a covenant.
This he suggests is developed “alongside existing work being done on harmonizing the church law of different local Churches.” Let the buyer beware! As an “op-in” matter, the envisioned covenant may well come with the requirement that constitutions and canons of the various Provinces would have to be changed to reflect subsidiarity in practice, that is would have to include some form of obedience to the norms of the covenant. This will be a real issue, requiring the innocence of doves and the wisdom of serpents. On this one there will be snakes in the churchyard, lightening in the sky for sure.
“Future Directions” lays out the Archbishop’s thought that perhaps there would be two sorts of church relations in the Anglican Communion – “constituent” Churches and “associated” Churches. A good deal has already been written on the basic thrust of this proposal, but hidden within the general proposal is this more dangerous nugget:
“It could mean the need for local Churches to work at ordered and mutually respectful separation between ‘constituent’ and ‘associated’ elements…”
This possibility should be a particular concern for both the Church of England and The Episcopal Church. In it is the hint of the parallel use of the separation scheme, envisioned to be about Provinces, within Provinces themselves. Who gets to decide who is the ‘constituent’ and the ‘associated’ elements in the local Church (by which the Archbishop means the Province)? Is having the meat nearer the bone to be determined by a dog fight? And if so, will the winning dog share even a morsel of what falls from the table?
We may from time to time believe it is the Archbishop’s table from which the crumbs fall, but it is not. It is the Lord’s Table, and we none of us deserve to eat from that table. We are all dogs and the Archbishop’s realistic statement, “it doesn’t help to behave as if the matter had been resolved when in fact it hasn’t,” should remind us of the unresolved matter of our training. We need, in other words, to be trained in the holiness that pertains to the household of the faith, where if the lion and the lamb can be together without mayhem, perhaps so can the dogs of ecclesiastical war be turned to the peaceful beasts content in the shade.
For this reason, although I believe the Archbishop to have gotten there by a circuitous route, involving a quite impossible blame trip, he ends up in a challenging place. We do indeed need to work together on the training required for life in the household of the faith. That training is a matter of discernment, continued engagement with one another, and the “sharing of responsibility and making decisions that will hold and that will be mutually intelligible.” Perhaps Lambeth 2008 will be part of that. It won’t unless all parties are there as equals and all parties are heard.