The Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury and "relational consequences."

The Primates of the Anglican Communion, meeting in January, outlined what the Archbishop of Canterbury came to call "consequences" that would follow in the actions of the 2015 General Convention. There was at the time some question as to whether or not these were "consequences," "sanctions," or "punishments."

Well it turns out that there are indeed "consequences," but the requirements in the Communique are surely to be understood as sanctions and punishments. 

The Anglican Covenant, in Section Four, speaks of consequences. It reads as follows:

4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below." 

Objections to the Covenant are largely about Section Four, and its process for determining that a given church has acted without due deference to the whole Communion. But The Anglican Covenant assumed that the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, made up of members of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates, would be the source of recommendation regarding "relational consequences." And, while it is unclear just how this would all be initiated in a time when not all members Churches of the Communion had adopted the Covenant, there was at least the general sense that the Covenant is binding only on those members of the Communion who have adopted it.  

All of which is to say, the notion of "relational consequences" only works when relationship is there. The whole notion of relational consequences does not hold when the articles of the Covenant are not mutually affirmed, and more importantly when there are not relationships already in play.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, his staff and the Anglican Communion Office knew this. The whole spin on what to call the Primate's requirement of exclusion of The Episcopal Church's participation in various Anglican Communion organizations was an effort to hide the raw fact that the Primates required certain exclusions. 

The Primates message read

"“It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity." (I put the word require in red).

Now we are in a somewhat murky time in the Anglican Communion. Not all provinces have adopted the Covenant. In fact at latest count only 11 Provinces have officially adopted the Covenant. That is considerably less than 1/3 of the Provinces. (This was last updated in January 2015 by the ACC office, a sign that things are moving very slow indeed with other buy-ins.)  If the Covenant were in force and those 11 Provinces wished to make a case for "relational consequences" and if TEC were a party to the Covenant, then maybe the matter would be about agreed on consequences of actions deemed unacceptable to the member churches of the Anglican Covenant Communion.

In this case the Primates reported to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion their requirements. There was nothing of the process in the Anglican Covenant. There was nothing about relational matters.  

The Standing Committee reported out the following:

"The Standing Committee received a report from the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Primates’ gathering in January 2016 and noted the stated commitment of the Primates to ‘walk together’ despite differences of view. The Standing Committee welcomed the formation of a Task Group as recommended by the Primates to maintain conversation among them with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, and healing the legacy of hurt. The Standing Committee considered the Communiqué from the Primates and affirmed the relational links between the Instruments of Communion in which each Instrument, including the Anglican Consultative Council, forms its own views and has its own responsibilities."

In other words, the Standing Committee did not affirm the required actions dictated by the Primates. 

Which means that the Primates did not invoke "relational consequences" but were out to impose sanctions and punish. To the extent that the Primates communicated a line of action they wish to have imposed, and to the extent that the Archbishop worked to see that line of action fulfilled, we have a display of executive power by the Primates. 

The Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury may wish us to understand the matter as one of consequences, and somehow about what the Anglican Covenant hopes to achieve, but it is not.  It is a matter of the power to sanction and punish. 

Following the ACC meeting, The Archbishop stated
“Given that my report, referred to in the resolution, incorporated the Communiqué and was very explicit on consequences; the resolution clearly supports and accepts all the Primates’ Meeting conclusions.

“No member of the Episcopal Church stood for office in the ACC or Standing Committee. The consequences of the Primates meeting have been fully implemented.”

This is nicely put hokum. It is, on the face of it, false. Here is what the resolution from the ACC stated:

The Anglican Consultative Council
  1. receives the formal report of the Archbishop of Canterbury to ACC-16 on the Primates’ Gathering and Meeting of January 2016; and
  2. affirms the commitment of the Primates of the Anglican Communion to walk together; and
  3. commits to continue to seek appropriate ways for the provinces of the Anglican Communion to walk together with each other and with the Primates and other Instruments of Communion.

 Just to be clear: no where in the ACC resolution is there any mention of notion that the "the resolution clearly supports and accepts all the Primates’ Meeting conclusions."  Receiving a report is not supporting or accepting all the Primates' Meeting conclusions.

The fact that "no member of the Episcopal Church stood for office in the ACC or Standing Committee" is a sign of the graciousness of the ACC members from TEC, not a sign that the consequences were accepted as binding in any way.  

In particular the decision by Bishop Douglas not to stand for election to the office of Chair of the Standing Committee was an act of grace on his part, not a result of "consequences" required by the actions of TEC at the last General Convention. He indeed acted relationally. He often does. At least from the outside it seems to me his actions were not about obedience to the Primates' requirements, but about life in relationship. 

The Archbishop speaks of consequences as matters to be "fully implemented."   Relational consequences are matters that arise out of relationships. They are not implemented, as directives or commands might be. They are lived into. Bishop Douglas lived into the requirements of relationship. I hope and trust we in TEC will remember this extraordinary example of the honoring of relationships.

I am sorry to say that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates Meeting wanted more (or less if one lives in the fear of God). They wanted obedience to sanctions and (in the case of some Primates) acceptance of punishment.

But they cannot have what they cannot force. There is no mechanism for implementing relational consequences, save relationship. If the supposed offenders do not acknowledge sanction and do not accept punishment, the whole pack of cards falls down.

And, they cannot force relational consequences. Those are a product of reception and quite possibly grace. Force is counter to relational engagement and consequences and they ought to have known better.



Let this be a sign unto you...ACNA and the future of all things North American

The ACNA Diocese of Pittsburgh just held an election for Bishop. This Bishop will follow Bishop Robert Duncan, deposed bishop of The Episcopal Church, bishop of the ACNA Diocese of Pittsburgh, (not a member diocese of The Episcopal Church or any other province of the Anglican Communion), and first and now retired Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America (not a member province of the Anglican Communion).  This new bishop will be the Bishop of just the ACNA Diocese of Pittsburgh. It will be a difficult job and we can, even across the divide between churches, wish him well.

As is reported in the Episcopal Cafe, The Lead,  the delegates to that convention came close to electing a person recently divorced. Bishop Duncan cautioned that election of a divorced person would be a source of considerable trouble for the College of Bishops who must consent to elections.  

He ought to know, having been a prime mover in forming the canons of ACNA in which top down decisions about suitability and unsuitability for office in the church are the norm.  The sanctity of marriage and its vows are of central importance to ACNA in its desire to see people transformed by obedience to God's "word written."  And there is no doubt that ACNA, at least from the top down, is all about the faith once delivered to the saints and God's word written.  That person engaged in sex outside the one marriage into which they entered is unsuitable for holy work. So, no divorced persons, no gay persons, no single persons not abstaining from sex is suitable as a candidate for office in the church. 

Well, let this be a sign unto you. The electors of the ACNA Diocese of Pittsburgh came close to electing an unsuitable person. Some (the header for the Lead article being an example) believe this may be the work of the Holy Spirit, working on ACNA as she will.  

I am not nearly so bold. I believe this is the people of ACNA, of the diocese that became the core of ACNA, reflecting the reality of life in North America. Divorce and remarriage are no longer signs of permanent brokenness or personal spiritual defect. It is appropriate to consider a candidate who has been divorced.

Now it may take time for the hierarchy of ACNA to get this, because the bishops in ACNA are not as easily informed by the laity - but the handwriting is on the wall, the signs are there.  In spite of all the muttering about truths once delivered of the saints and God's word written, the reality is that divorce is no longer a clear sign of unsuitability. 

Is divorce in the life of a candidate a matter that requires further question? Of course. But is no longer a clear sign of unsuitability.

In North America regular church citizens are not likely to appreciate being told what to do and who is suitable. As seems to have been true for all Anglican and Anglican-like bodies in North America, ACNA will have to come to terms with being IN North America.

Good luck with that.


Anglican Diversity at the Communion Level....not so much.

The Living Church reports, "ACC Picks Diverse Leaders". Well, yes and no. 

The Anglican Consultative Council is a representative body of the churches of the Anglican Communion. It is not proportionately representative, but in its own way it tries to include voices from various levels throughout the Communion.  It has a Steering Committee which guides its agenda and work, and there is often hope that that body might reflect that representative spirit as well.  The hope is that the ACC will indeed pick diverse leaders.

The newly elected members of the ACC Standing Committee come from five continents. Great. 

They join several carryover members, the Chair, from Hong Kong, and of course the Archbishop of Canterbury. When the counting is finished there is a wide diversity of home churches in six of the seven continents. 

They are less diverse when it comes to developed world/ developing world, however designated. About half are from the developed world. And four, that is about one in four, are from England, Ireland and Scotland. 

But then there is a singular lack of diversity in other ways of counting.  As I read it there are five Primates that join the elected ACC folk to make up the steering committee. In addition the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chair are both Primates, making seven primates. There are three additional bishops, and four lay persons. There is one priest.

In terms of the "orders" of the church the score runs, Bishops 10, Lay 4, Priests 1, Deacons 0. In terms of the leadership of churches, there are seven Primates, and eight others.

I would suggest that the heavy wight given to Primates in the ACC undercuts the otherwise laudable diversity of places of residence of the members. 

Some caution is needed in celebrating this diversity, for in the long run the Primates and Bishops, who meet in two other contexts in bodies that are "instruments of communion" are more likely to share common views on matters of church life and exercise greater authority than the five lay and clergy members. 

As for the paucity of clergy representatives...well better four lay than four clergy, but still, the Anglican Communion consists mostly of laity, followed by clergy (other than bishops) then bishops and lastly Primates.  The order of things in almost inverse in the ACC.


Why the sky is not falling in Anglican / Episcopal world.

The Anglican Consultative Council will be meeting soon-  in Lusaka, Zambia, April 8-19. Several Primates have indicated that they or their delegation will not attend. The ACC has established its organizational independence from the the decisions of the Primates gathering / meeting. But the Primates are present at the ACC meeting and they exert immense pressure as chief pastors of their respective churches. If a challenge is raised to the continued participation of the US delegation, the ACC could vote to ask the US delegation to become observers again as they had in the past. That is unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Which ever way it goes, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The court case between the Diocese of South Carolina (Episcopal) vs. the Diocese of South Carolina (Bp. Lawrence, connected "extra-provincial" to GAFCON) is coming to a head and the South Carolina Supreme Court will make its ruling soon. Which ever way it goes, there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

So in the next few weeks the dread bird of Anglican / Episcopal bad press will visit us. It is the "end of the Anglican Communion as we know it" bird. The press, smelling dead meat will zoom in from on high and announce in one way or another that there is "no more Anglican Communion as we know it."  But the announcement will be wrong.

Well, it is true that if the representative of the Episcopal Church (TEC) are unseated at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting, it will be real news. Indeed it will be unexpected news, since the President of the ACC has worked with the assumption that TEC members are real members.  But we have been here before, having been reduced to observer status in 2005 at Nottingham. It was not the end of ACAWKI.

True too that the decision in South Carolina will creep out into the wider Episcopal / Anglican Church in North America struggle for control of the patrimony of the Episcopal Church in a time of schism.  But however it goes, it will not be the end of the Episcopal Church as we know it.

There are two fantastic reads re the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and the Lawrence alternative Diocese of South Carolina.  The first two articles on the South Carolina Episopalians website (HERE) give the most recent blow by blow of that long legal process. The blogger, Ronald Caldwell, has a fine article on Donald Trump and Schism in South Carolina. Great Read!

These articles confirm my sense that the Lawrence leadership of the breakaway group is a mess. No matter what happens in the court case, the Lawrence leadership spells disaster in the organization of those who with him.

The reports of the impending death of The Episcopal Church by slow drain and the reports of the implosion of the Anglican Communion by schism and division are both massively overstated. Church institutions have a long half life and they are practiced as rising from the ashes of this or that "final" conflagration. 

More interestingly, I believe, is the sense that there is a "new normal" in Anglican / Episcopal land.

On an official Provincial level, meetings of Anglicans from different provinces will take place in a more fragmentary way, with some meetings falling short of Communion wide attendance (ACC 2016) and some excluding provinces part of the Communion and including some church groups not part of the common list of Anglican provinces (GAFCON meetings).

On unofficial levels, including diocese to diocese relationships, there will be meetings that do not conform to the groupings that are evidenced on an official Provincial level, including some cooperation between TEC and ACNA dioceses or parishes. There will be times when by indirect connections, Provinces in impaired communion status will work together through other agencies for relief and refugee work.  But mostly work will be done by dioceses and parishes directly and quietly with partners in other Anglican churches.

The long term effect of ACNA and GAFCON will be minimal in part because the effective range of justice concerns, the sorts of justice that we are commanded to "do", and the love of mercy, will make ACNA and GAFCON less and less appealing.

The Episcopal Church is not dead or dying. It is finding new ways to carry forward the old old "story of unseen things above, of Jesus and his Glory, of Jesus and his love." It will continue as a place of landing and departure for people in their journeys in faith. And it will be a witness to God's justice and love both.

And the Anglican Communion will continue, not as a church, which it is not, but as a community of churches Catholic and constantly in reform, informed by the spiritual and ecclesial experience of the Church in England and its offspring in the world.  

The sky is not falling in Anglican / Episcopal land. 


The Bishops "Word to the Church" : Glad they did this, but my heart is not strangely warmed.

The Bishops of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Texas this week, published "A Word to the Church." That they did so is to be commended, for religious leaders have not had much to say about the violence in political words and actions in the primary contests this year, much less about where it all might lead. So I was delighted to see this short "Word" published.

The content was a bit of a let down.

Most of us regular paid up Episcopalians live "on the ground" where we are slogging through the season of Lent. In Lent we are made painfully aware of the reality of the broken world. Nothing less than a complete revolution, a turning around, a repentance, and a new creation will redeem us from this mess that we and all our institutions represent. And, it turns out we can't make it happen.

Thus when Jesus turns towards Jerusalem and the final confrontations, humiliation, death and then resurrection, he is doing on our behalf that which we cannot do. In Lent we become aware again each year of the reality: that the restitution, renewal and restoration that we seek is possible only by God's grace and action in Jesus Christ crucified. Ushering in the new age is what the Messiah is for. All other leaders spiritual and temporal, are, like the rest of us poor slobs, miserable sinners.

We miserable sinners are both convinced that it is not "they" that are responsible for our state, but "we." The arc of our liturgical life in Lent leads us to understand that even the best of us are given to the miseries of humanity groping in half-light for a vision of hope. So it is the time of the year when we read the Ten Commandments, sing the Great Litany, and finally on Good Friday put the cards on the table, showing that we, even the best of us, are indeed people under God's judgment and in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. All of which ought to inform our sense of what is going on out there in political land.

The Bishops, however,did not go there. Good Friday, crucifixion, resurrection...they all are invoked in this message, but become events in the suffering of the innocent, marginal and poor at the hands of those caught up in the web of idolatrous power and wealth. True, but not true enough.

Here is the statement, (the bishops in purple) with some commentary (added by me in italics).

A Word to the Church
Holy Week 2016
(Well,not yet, but working up to it. This was published a full week before Holy Week.)

"We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power.

(That's one way to read the matter. Still, I think that Jesus (the man here) was neither innocent nor blameless, otherwise they would not need to "protect their own status and power" by doing him in. Jesus, I believe, knew exactly what he was doing and was not at all "innocent," "blameless," or weak." Still, however we read it, he was a threat.)

On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.
(The lie that "might makes right" is not unmasked by the Resurrection. The Resurrection is a confrontation with death, for which the powers and principalities of this world are but pale instruments of implementation. The Resurrection is not an argument that proves that the grinding of Roman justice (or any principality's justice) is wrong. The Resurrection does not show that justice triumphs in the end. The Resurrection, among other things, is a foretaste of the passing away of this age or world.)

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric.

(The mob action envisioned as an end result of the violence unleashed in political life in America is linked to lynching and thus to racism, not to brown shirt riots, Jew baiting and antisemitism. I find that odd. Lynching is the sign of the old old sin of racism in America, expelling and excluding and branding is the nightmare of extreme nationalism gone viral. A hint of this nationalism gone astray is the massive display of flags behind Trump in his pleasure palace where he has free publicity because his victory speeches are billed as press conferences, and where he can exclude whoever he pleases. "This season's political rhetoric," is a polite way to talk about the obscene "survivor" reality show and its values. But we get the idea.)

Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

(An alternative might have been to say "Some Americans" as opposed to "Americans," or better, it being Lent, the bishops might have identified themselves with all other Americans and instead used the phrase "We are turning against our neighbors..." The sins of "turning against" is not limited alone to the radical nationalists.)

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege.

(I believe this is better phrased, "white male power and privilege." And it may be that that is not the central idol at all, but rather we have again returned to the rhetoric of the savior of the nation, a rhetoric well used by "fathers of the nation" ranging from Hitler to Duvalier. The savior of the nation does not need to spell out a program. He is the program. The Christian counter is of course to point out that we have no Savior except Jesus, who is known to us in breaking bread and the Scriptures and in community.)
We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

(Indeed. This is the crux of the matter and the Bishops got this right, hoping of course that those who read this understand the common good to be the common good for humankind, not for the particular people of this country only. It is at this point that the Bishop's "word" points to the Cross, for what ever else was going on in the minds of the Roman occupiers and the Jerusalem Jewish leadership, surely they were indeed thinking of safety being more important than dashed hopes.)
We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.
(An important call for prayer, and yet I wonder what "we will not betray our true selves" means here. Back in parish land we more or less have established that we are miserable sinners, so our true selves are not exactly what we might hope not to betray. I think maybe our prayer should be that "we not betray God, who calls us in community to new creation and life abundantly.")

All in all my problems with the statement are minor. I'm glad they made it, and I hope it finds wide distribution. I do think there was a lost opportunity to speak directly to the matter Resurrection hope and the general condition of humankind which makes us all complicit in the emerging extreme nationalism and the breakdown in civil discourse.