Dysfunctional Koinonia

"I'm sorry," the doctor said, "but the Primates are suffering an extreme case of Koinonial dysfunction." "How bad is it?" I asked. "Well, koinonial dysfunction is the inability to share family life and community fellowship. The causes for this condition are a mystery but seem to involved primary urges to be dominant." "Oh, you mean like being alpha dog?" "Exactly!" the doctor exclaimed. "Of course, in humans this condition comes out in less obvious ways. Koinonial dysfunction in humans often takes the form of being righteous, sometimes individually, sometimes in groups." "The trouble with this dysfunction," the doctor sighed, "is that it gets in the way of doing what is helpful to others – and helpful for the community." "It is very easy for koinonial dysfunction to turn into ecclesial aggression."

"Well, how can the Primates overcome koinonial dysfunction?"

"By themselves, within such dysfunctional community, it is impossible," said the doctor, "but if they can see beyond themselves to God's call to the whole family, all things are possible." "Of course, once the dysfunction has crossed over into being cast as church fights, even remembering that they are all part of a fellowship becomes problematic."


First reports from the Anglican Primates Meeting in Dar Es Salaam Tanzania don't bode well for health of the Primates or the Communion. Meetings are being held in various headquarters and alternative agendas are getting negotiated even before the formal meeting begins.

Whatever possessed the Windsor Report, much less the Anglican Consultative Council, to think that gathering the Primates was a good idea? Here is what the Primates Meetings are meant to be, according to the Anglican Communion web site: "an opportunity for "leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation."

Here is what the Windsor Report recommended the Primates meetings become (Appendix1.5): "The Commission is convinced that the Primates' Meeting should continue to provide an important element in the life of the Communion as the body which affirms the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference in the life of Anglicanism. In that respect, the Primates' Meeting should serve formally as the Standing Committee of the Lambeth Conference and as such should monitor developments in furtherance of resolutions of the Lambeth Conference in addition to the process of reception. This will allow the Primates' Meeting to begin the enhanced responsibility which successive Lambeth Conferences have recommended. It should be a primary forum for the strengthening of the mutual life of theprovinces, and be respected by individual primates and the provinces they lead as an instrument through which new developments may be honestly addressed. In order to fulfil this role, it must be enabled to meet regularly. The Commission believes that greater attention should be paid to the organisation of the Primates' Meeting to facilitate greater participation by the primates and to provide for more formal and businesslike sessions."

It's a far cry from the first vision and the second. But now the vision is more of a political sort, or perhaps a play yard gone mean.

Ruth Gledhill spoke Tuesday morning on BBC Radio and once again opined that the actions of the Primates seem like the quarreling of children in a play yard and although the issues are important religious issues the quarrel seems, from a secular point of view, absurd. It is argued that so much that could be helpful to the world is being overlooked and vast amounts of energy is being dispersed in a quarrel over the correct reading of Holy Scriptures, the giving or withholding of blessings, the morals of covenants between people, and other ecclesial matters. The gaze of the church's leaders is inward and the energy for the love of others is being dispersed in the bottomless pit of dysfunctional criticism.

Some commentators think the play yard image is wrong. Sarah Hay over at Stand Firm is pretty insistent. While I think she asks the questions in such a one sided way as to make it almost impossible to have further conversation, she at least is on target to say that "Both sides -- the "reappraisers" and the "reasserters" -- see the issues as deeply important, so much so that both sides are willing to fight to the end for their foundational worldviews." You will note her "fight to the end" language. In the play yard there is the assumption that someone will step in before it becomes a fight to the end. In the real life of deeply felt issues there is no easy recourse in a referee .

It is hard to tell sometimes if what we have here is a really really really good game or if it is in fact what it seems: the exercise of influence and power to the point of dysfunction by men who are used to fighting.

Here are the reports of Tuesday in Tanzania. Whether or not this is play or dysfunction, who knows? If it is play it is mean spirited. If it is a fight it is certainly dysfunctional to any notion of community.

A number of Primates, accompanied by various realignment folk including Bishop Martyn Minns, Canon David Anderson, Bishop Duncan, and others, have been meeting at one hotel, dubbed by one of their members as "the real headquarters." Folks at the other headquarters, the one that pertains to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the formal meetings, etc, are concerned to keep the actual Primates Meetings closed to the outside world. So there seems to be lots of action at the one, and very little at the other.

There seems to be a whole lot of strategizing going on. The Global South strategy session has yielded results in the form of a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury about changing the agenda of the Primates Meeting to have it conform to the CAPA document, "Road to Lambeth" and a proposal for the often discussed "Two Province Solution. The Living Church has been a major source of good information on all this, and our thanks to them for the hard work.

The Global South / Realignment meeting is being followed by a meeting of the Primates in the Conference of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA). CAPA was the source of the document "The Road To Lambeth" and no doubt these Primates will be rallied to the cause in that session.

Meanwhile, supposedly the Archbishop of Canterbury was to meet with the new Primates (Preemie Primates?) on Wednesday morning prior to the meeting with the three bishops from the US (Duncan, MacPherson and Epting).

The letter asking for a change in agenda also concerns the seating of the Archbishop of York and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. No word on when that might be considered.

Meanwhile, there was supposed to have been a meeting of the joint committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, but it appears most of the Primates on that Joint Committee are either not attending or detained in other meetings. So that committee, which is to review the finances of the Anglican Communion may not get very far.

This only gets us to Wednesday afternoon. There seems to be sufficient strategizing and politicking going on. Prayer is assured, both in place and from all over, but for what is less clear. Most of us pray with our lenses on, so even the good prayers have a bit of human induced myopia to help them on their way.

It is hard to know what to make of it all. Without doubt there is hard ball being played. There is some question as to whether this is in the context of a play yard or a battlefield.

Ruth Gledhill thinks things are heating up considerably. Perhaps Stand Firm is right, this is no play yard, it is a battlefield. It is no place for those suffering from koinonal dysfunction.


  1. Mark,

    TEC has shown itself to be unconcerned about the opinion of the rest of the "family." It has a major case of koinonia dysfunction.

    If TEC doesn't care about the opinion of the rest of the Communion, why should it matter if the rest of the Communion doesn't care about the opinion of TEC?

    Phil Snyder

  2. I'm glad that Integrity didn't advance its agenda by way of politicking and strategy sessions behind closed doors.


  3. (Dave)
    Except for the reference to men only, the comment "It is hard to tell sometimes if what we have here is a really really really good game or if it is in fact what it seems: the exercise of influence and power to the point of dysfunction by men who are used to fighting" seems to perfectly describe what TEC has been about the last decade or so. The Weather Underground has been in control of its actions and agenda to the point of dysfunction and for everyone's health, it is time to say enough is enough.

  4. One wonders, Mr. Snyder, why we should care about the opinion of the 'rest of the family'. They don't seem to care about ours, nor do they care about even listening to our experiences.

    Honestly, the opinion of a gentleman, for example, from Nigeria what wears a funny hat, on whether or not my manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church don't feed the hundred or so hungry people what are coming to my parish door on Saturday.

    'Scuse, please, I must go buy groceries now.

  5. christopher+13/2/07 6:27 PM

    "It's a far cry [between] the first vision and the second."

    Indeed it is. This is what makes this such a critical time of discernment for all Anglicans really. If the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting - each a forum of bishops only - are to become international governing bodies whose own decisions are enforced in the Provinces, then each Province will need to decide whether this is, in the end, an acceptable, new approach to the fellowship we have shared historically in the Anglican Communion. This is not just an issue affecting the North American churches.

    As the Church of England's "Society of Catholic Priests" very correctly points out, "the fractures within the Communion run not between but through provinces, dioceses and parishes" (http://www.scp.org.uk). Any decision to divide the church along confessional lines in one Province opens the door to doing so in each and every other Province. This does not seem a very good recipe for unity. Indeed, the result would not be unity at all, but rather more and more division over time. If the Primates fail to grasp this, the much more representative Anglican Consultative Council will.

  6. I've been following the reports coming out of Dar es Salaam and I find it all INCREDIBLY SAD. It seems to be a huge religious war waged by very mean men who only want their own way. I pray things improve and very soon!


  7. As I read about all the goings on in Tanzania, this quote from Montesquieu sadly comes to mind:

    "There has never been a kingdom so given to so many civil wars as that of Christ."

    Our Lord, who was an uncompromising pacifist, must suffer yet another war among those who already have His affection.
    It appears that our PB will not only be the one woman at this boys' club, but she will also be the adult as well. She has my prayers. I do not envy her position. My advice is that if things get too insufferable, a nice trip to see what's left of the snows of Kilimanjaro would be a wonderful and refreshing diversion. Maybe time might be more productively spent with the Massai herding cattle.

    The Episcopal Church will continue, and I expect to be observing Lent and Holy Week with my parish as usual when this is over, no matter what happens.


  8. Phil,

    I have news for you, "the rest of the communion" is a big lie. The rest of the communion includes Canadians, not even most of whom are into Dallas neo-pharisee wing, ditto Japan, South Africa, most of Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, Wales, Scotland, Ireland (probably) and oh yeah, England.

    I know the Nigerians claim to be amazingly large, but I don't think much of their published counting methods. It is likely that they are overstating the real numbers.

    What is troubling is not that the rest of the communion is upset with TEC, but that the few neo-pharisee diocese have flat out misrepresented their experience here, note that no one is being foced to ordain anyone or believe anything. Want to do a compare and contrast with Nigeria?


  9. I am reminded of James & John's request to be seated at Christ's right and left hand when he entered into his glory (Mark 10: 37). A host of primates are claiming the authority to do whatever they ask. They seem completely unaware of the fact that they are traveling on the road with other disciples. Moreover, they refuse to share the Body and Blood of Christ with persons they believe to be unworthy of Christ's redemption. My perception is that this "war" between Global South primates and their allies and the Archbishop of Canterbury is taking place because of certain primates' and bishops' desire to "lord it over them" (us)in the Episcopal Church.

  10. Jim's statement: "they refuse to share the Body and Blood of Christ with persons they believe to be unworthy of Christ's redemption" is completely untrue and a gross falsehood. They refuse to receive Communion with those who deny Jesus' claim that no one comes to the Father except by Him, who refuse the call to repentance, who refuse to heed the Godly admonition of their brethren, who have made a mockery of their charge to safeguard the teaching of the Apostles and whose idea of union in Christ takes place in the bedrooma of same sex couples. The AC has called TEC to repent and be restored. Did the church not historically restore to full Communion only the truly penitent? Where is the evidence of that penitence? TEC wants to go it alone or with the AC, but on TEC's terms alone. So alone it will be.

  11. There are some excellent comments here.

    Counterlight's is so very poignant, and well made. I also, would not trade places with +Katharine for the world, but am I ever glad she's willing to be there, to go, and to be the first - unwanted, challenged, and scape-goated.

    I know that my family and I will also be in church for many Sundays to come, no matter what happens. TEC is still going to exist.

    If the communion breaks due to these conditions, it may be God's intention for it to break.

    Do we really want to be in communion with those who are so anxious to be rid of us, and to get on with their purity codes and hair-splitting? I'd rather we all play nice, but with all this power and control at stake, I do wonder what Jesus would do, or recommend we do?

  12. Eileen,
    You've sparked me to a thought, which could be dangerous. Applying the "Gamaliel Principle" (If it is of God, it will last) the one thing that seems evident is that the one thing in the church that hasn't lasted is institutional unity. This is usually seen as our "unhappy divisions" -- but it has lately struck me that this is a matter of crocodile tears, since it is well within our power to surrender. Problem is, we don't do that.

    My point here is that maybe God's plan for the church was not institutional unity (all members the same) but institutional variety in fellowship (remember all those organs of the body with their different functions all working together -- yet the eye is not the hand, and so on?). Perhaps we should accept that what has endured -- a church with many and various members and traditions -- is really what is "of God" and that if we could accept that and stop bickering about our differences (and criticizing each others') we might then be about the tikkun olam that is God's purpose fof the church for the world. What might that accomplish?


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.