There is a storm brewing regarding the Primates Meeting coming up Monday the 11th. At least that is what some Anglican commentators seem to hope will be the case.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is hoping that a wide variety of topics will be covered in the meeting. There is considerable anxiety that only one will be of importance - the topic of Anglican unity and identity. Supposedly that topic will be decided in the first days of the meeting leading to compromise and / or walkout. For all intents and purposes that will be only item on the agenda that will make the papers. It is assumed that that there will not be much good news in all this.
Most of the press seem to think this meeting will result in one of three possibilities:
(i) That the Global South, GAFCON, Primates (about 10-12 or so in number) will, on the first day of the meeting, demand that The Episcopal Church, The Anglican Church of Canada, possibly the Church of England and assorted other Primates cease and desist from supporting the full inclusion of gay people in the church, allowing gay marriage and ordaining gay people, and that these churches repent of their actions in the past and otherwise become "biblical Christians." If the culprits do so, all will be well, sort of.
The Communion that will then exist will be different from the Anglican Communion of the Lambeth Conference, Communion wide office and programs, Anglican Consultative Council and Primates Meetings. The difference will be that the Archbishop of Canterbury will no longer be the focal point of unity. It may look like a short term win for the ABC, but it will not be.
(ii) That the Global South, GAFCON, Primates will make the demand and the culprits will say "no," including the Archbishop of Canterbury's own Church of England. In which case the esteemed Primates of GAFCON will leave, meet elsewhere and there will be two distinct world-wide bodies claiming to be the primary expression of Anglican identity: one, identity based on communion with Canterbury, and the other identity based on a declaration (the Jerusalem Declaration).
(iii) That the Global South, GAFCON, Primates will make the demand and the Archbishop of Canterbury will not go with the usual suspects, but rather affirm the Global South position, in which case the Jerusalem Declaration will be effectively the litmus test used by the Archbishop of Canterbury for inclusion in the new improved Anglican Communion.
For most of us Episcopalians, or for that matter for most of any of us Anglicans in whatever national or regional church we belong to, this is all pretty foreign, mostly a snooze, and not really very important either to our own church life or the ministries we have, domestic or foreign.
There has been considerable "yawn" here in Episcopal Church land concerning the meeting and what might transpire. I suspect being tired of all this foolishness is pretty well the case in many parts of the Anglican world. But that yawn is also a bit overdone. It betrays, I believe, a deeper sense of avoidance, avoidance of uncomfortable problems in our relations with others in the Communion.
So, why is anything that happens at the Primates Meeting around this important?
Well, dear friends, it is important because in spite of all the hard feelings and anathemas being hurled at various churches, in spite of colonial history, there are residual feelings of real companionship in the Gospel and real hopes for engagement in common mission. We have been a community of considerable depth and mutual respect.In all the wringing of hands and lamenting of this or that deep hurt this fact is likely to get lost.
The redefinition of the Anglican Communion is being drawn along lines of the "clean" and "unclean." And the clean, in this case the GAFCON Primates, have made a big show of their purity by loudly proclaiming that they will have nothing to do with money coming from the unclean churches. Some Churches have hedged their bets: The Church of the Sudan still accepts relationships, financial and otherwise, with dioceses in the US that have held to purity standards of GAFCON. There are companion diocese links that have continued even across the purity borders. But on the whole the GAFCON crowd believe that some money is more tainted than other and they are set on the purity way.
There is, of course, considerable evidence that monies and other aid from churches has been accompanied by various pressures from the giving churches on a variety of issues. Most notably, grants and other monies have often been given with Western ideas of purity regarding financial reporting, which in turn has led to patronizing and humiliating "accounting" processes. Granting organizations have come to the receiving church with sometimes insulting demands. Where some Western churches have seen graft and corruption in their receivers, some receivers have seen only the strings attached. And of course there has been graft and corruption at times. But there have always been strings... and those have been seen as puppet strings.
It is also true that receivers sometimes have a different sense than the givers of what a grant is. Does receiving the grant make the receiver an agent of the giver? Or is the giving free and the actions of the receiver a stand alone moral issue? Is the giving and receiving between equals or not.
And there is the long term sense that "The white man came to our land an brought us the Bible, when it was over we had the Bible and they had the land." While the Bible was accepted there has been long resentment of the colonial exploitation of land and people. Colonialism brought Christianity and the Bible. Now whole nations have a strange and convoluted relationship to the churches who were missionary to their nations. The Word came among them carried by the very people who were exploiting them.
Many of the churches formed out of the missionary enterprise that accompanied empire building are now led by the children of former hirelings of the empires. There is both resentment and admiration of the style of empire, and a love / hate relationship to the parent churches.
There is a new analysis of this colonial paradigm from writes in the GAFCON crowd. (I believe it is mistaken.) It goes like this: The West is pushing its gay and feminist agenda by way of the actions of Western churches that have been co-opted by anti-biblical compromise with Western culture. Those same churches are pushing that agenda in every place in the Global South where they have influence by grant making, missionary involvement or education of clergy. It is a new or "neo" colonialism, the purpose of which is to make the Global South conform or at least buy into the West's cultural sensibilities. But because the Global South have indeed received the Bible and live by it faithfully they will have none of the cultural imperialism of the West which is both un-biblical and immoral.
To all of this the better voices in the West continue to insist that they are motivated in their own churches by the voice of justice, which they believe has biblical foundations. And they believe that justice is not limited by boundaries.
The battle then involves the underlying long term suspicion of some Churches in the Communion that they are being caught again in an imperialism of the West, this time not bringing the Bible but some new message which runs against both ancient community standards AND those adapted from the Biblical witness they received from the Western churches. Having suffered colonialism once they will have none of it.
No wonder there is a sense that betrayal accompanies every incursion of the Western churches into the lives of peoples they have reached. At every turn the Gospel was accompanied by some form of imperial reach. In imperial times it was the reach for land. In modern times it is the reach for economic dominance. The imperial reach could carry the Gospel.The modern economic reach, as they understand it, has no Gospel to bring, only the superficial good news of consumer power and hedonism.
The distrust by some of our brothers and sisters of other Anglican Churches has been fanned by puritans within the Anglican Churches of the west, particularly by some in the United States. It has been easy to fan. A good bit of coaching and teaching has come from puritan conservative Anglicans.
Nothing of this distrust and coached suspicion is addressed by the posturing at the Primates Meeting. No matter which way things go there - peacefully or otherwise - nothing addresses the longer term distrust of colonialism and imperialism, or for that matter the distrust of the notion of biblical purity.
What is desperately needed is a combination of (i) theological work, driven by work in the newer churches, about what to do with the reality that the Gospel was brought in colonial and imperialistic containers and (ii) good solid on the ground building of deep friendships that cannot be contained by any cultural expectations.
What is needed is post-colonial paradigms for the Gospel and its containers, and renewed deep companionship.
The best thing to do at the Primates Meeting is to meet and not walk away, to not play various power cards but to find small ways to trust. The best thing to do is to do what the Primates meetings were designed to do - to give heads of the churches a chance to have deep discussion and increase mutual affection. Anything else is business and war as usual.
We Anglicans can do better than that.