The House of Bishops, meeting in Texas last week produced several important papers, namely two "mind of the house" resolution and a message to the Church. They can be read HERE. They were published as a group on March 20th by The Episcopal News Service. It is now March 26th. There have been a variety of comments from Network Bishops, some of whom did not attend the meeting. Telling Beads has a compendium of responses from bishops of all sorts and conditions. There has been nothing from the Moderator, save a comment on leaving the meeting that he was going to have to think about it all.
The Voice of the Anglican Communion Network, namely the Moderator, is silent so far. Not so the voices of various bishops and other "partners" within the Network.
Having read the various comments by them, I am struck by two things:
- Those bishops from the Network who attended made either thoughtful and reflective statements (Howe, Steenson, Stanton) or said they needed to think about it more (Love, Duncan). Those who did not attend were vocal but not very thoughtful or useful. This is a strong argument for why it is important for bishops to attend. Those attending had much more interesting things to say than those who stayed away.
- Those who stayed away advised waiting to see what the Primates would do and hoped the scheme for a Primatial council would go forward anyway. This in spite of the mind of the house that "…the House of Bishops believes the proposed Pastoral Scheme of the Dar es Salaam Communiqué of February 19, 2007 would be injurious to The Episcopal Church and urges that the Executive Council decline to participate in it; and … the House of Bishops pledges itself to continue to work to find ways of meeting the pastoral concerns of the Primates that are compatible with our own polity and canons." They are waiting, one supposes, because they promised the Global South Steering Committee that they would act through their spokesperson (the Moderator of the Network) and in concert with the GSSC.
The House of Bishops statements have put the Moderator in a difficult position: The ACN did not have much faith in the Scheme anyway, but the "mind of the House" has spoken, and even that last option is untenable. In his Pastoral Letter of March 9,2007, the Moderator said,
"Most of us, but certainly not all, in the Anglican Communion Network now believe that it is the Episcopal Church majority's clear and continuing intention to "walk apart" in matters of Faith and Order. Nevertheless, we owe it to our beloved Communion to follow the Primates' wisdom as to how to take a last step in that discernment."
Well, it turns out this "last step in that discernment" has been challenged by the House of Bishops, since it believes it ill behooves The Episcopal Church to enter into this Pastoral Scheme. Now what is the Network to do?
Most of the cards have now been played. It is time to show them.
The Network, which at its best had 10 Dioceses must now be less sure of its hold on those dioceses. There is no question that each bishop in his own way is dissatisfied with at least some of what has been done at the House of Bishops meeting. It would appear that the "stay away" policy, which the Moderator articulated in his Pastoral Letter, in which "that discussion of the issues before us is the limit of our participation in the life of the House of Bishops at the present time," and which he said, "…represents no alteration of the grounds on which most Network Bishops have participated in the House of Bishops since August of 2003" is falling apart. More network bishops came than stayed away. Those who came and took part in the life of the meeting were by no means mollified in their concerns, but they were responsive in thoughtful ways.
The Network has bound its future to the authority of the Primates, and in particular the Global South Steering Committee Primates. There are real problems in doing that, and the House of Bishops' statements bring those out.
The authority ascribed to the Primates is just that – ascribed. When the cards are played, ascribed authority will find it hard to beat legitimate, empowered authority that arises out of an organization. The statements of the House of Bishops carries considerably more weight than the statement of the Primates because it takes place within a structure where such statements have a legitimate place. The House of Bishops does some things on its own – such as inviting the Archbishop of Canterbury to visit. It expresses its mind. It refers such expressions to appropriate places, the Executive Council, the General Convention, and places its observations about the Constitution in that context. The power of the statements of the House of Bishops is that they were made solidly within the confines of the proper duties and responsibilities of a body that is part of an organization with legitimate and empowered authority for the members of this Church.
The Network, by way of its Moderator, has put much of the future of the Network in the hands of the Archbishop of Nigeria who heads up the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa and the Global South Network and who has a foothold in the US by way of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. There is considerable distancing from the Archbishop going on these days, in part because of the role he has taken in legislation in Nigeria that will further criminalize homosexuality there and in part because he has pushed his agenda as if it were that of CAPA, or the GS Network. The Archbishop of Nigeria has real authority in Nigeria and lots and lots of ascribed power elsewhere by those who align with him. But will that power be of help in the end?
What now? If the Network bishops are completely together and if the authority they are relying on is found wanting, what are they going to do. No wonder the Moderator is taking his time on this one.
We await the Moderator's words with interest.