Windsor Nosh #5 , The Bonds of Affection - a really good idea

The notion of the “bonds of affection” is the best thing going for the Windsor Report, or for that matter for the Anglican Communion. But such bonds are no easy matter, for they rely upon a deeper friendship among the churches that the notion of a fellowship can contain, and indeed a deeper friendship than any law or sensibility of “constraints” can imply. It is a vision of relationship that is not to be undertaken lightly. It is something we have never done, or at least have never done well, but that does not mean it is not a good idea and a faithful vision.

The Windsor Report refers to “bonds of affection” seven times, the “bonds of communion” three times, the “bonds of unity” five times and “bonds” of similar sorts which hold together or are with Canterbury an additional three times. Having learned a bit about higher and form criticism in seminary I see emerging Masters Theses on the question of language use in the Windsor Report and the tracing of primary authors. It will be astoundingly boring.

But the idea is not. Indeed, in the whole of the Windsor Report the assumption is that what holds the Anglican Communion is precisely this: The Bonds of Affection. It may be argued that the Windsor Report would like to see those bonds signified by a covenant, just as the bonds of marriage are signified by a covenant of marriage, but for the time being there is affection only. The only reason there is an Anglican Communion is because the churches that grew from the Church of England held each other in some form of mutual regard, found in one another friends, and saw their futures together.

It is sometimes argued that the “Colenso affair” was an appeal to authority of the collective of bishops or the Archbishop of Canterbury, or involved constraints of the bonds of affection and thus was the impetus for the creation of the Anglican Communion via the Lambeth Conference. (WR par 100-101) It was no such thing: the appeal was internal to the Church of England and in the context of the British Empire, and the Canadian Anglicans and the Episcopal Church were even more dubious concerning an authoritative Lambeth Conference than was the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first “instrument of unity” was only possible if unity meant unity in affection and not constraint. (see my article at http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/dojustice/j018.html )

There are occasional rants about how the Episcopal Church Constitution somehow requires or constrains us to be part of the Anglican Communion in order to really be the Episcopal Church. Bishop John Lipscome in his recent article makes that case very forcefully, if not convincingly. ( see http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/?p=12731 ) But again, the Anglican Communion is described as a fellowship of which we are part, not an organization to which we must belong in order to be the Episcopal Church.

But such arguments have been gone over again and again, and there will be no end of it until such time as people of God simply tire of continuing the fight. I believe the Anglican Communion does not exist (as yet) as an administrative, judicial or legislative entity. The Preamble to the Constitution is the wind up for the pitch, and it is not at all clear that it is necessary or that it mandates anything. Meanwhile, the bonds of affection remain.

What are these bonds about? Michel de Montaigne wrote in 1580 a set of essays on Friendship, and I would suggest some of his remarks are useful still in thinking about the bonds of affection. He opines,

“There seems to be nothing for which Nature has better prepared us than for fellowship – and Aristotle says that good lawgivers have shown more concern for friendship than for justice. Within a fellowship the peak of perfection consists in friendship: for all forms of it (fellowship) which are forged or fostered by pleasure or profit or by public or private necessity are so much the less beautiful and noble – and therefore so much the less ‘friendship’ – in that they bring in some purpose, end or fruition other than the friendship itself. Nor do those four ancient species of love conform to it: the natural, the social, the hospitable, and the erotic.” (p 3, On Friendship, Penguin Books, trans by M.A. Screech)

One has to be careful in reading “On Friendship,” for Montaigne was convinced that perfect friendship was between two, and not more. Furthermore, he was clearly speaking about individuals, not institutions. Still, his initial point can be taken as a beginning place for a consideration of the Anglican Communion as a fellowship that at its best exists through the bonds of affection between friends.

Following the hint of Montaigne, then, we are part of a fellowship within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, comprised of … churches. And in turn there can be many reasons and goals of such a fellowship – “pleasure, profit, public or private necessity” and even the impulse of love, by what ever name. But the affection that arises from friendship are not finally about those ends and impulses, but about the friends themselves.

Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ (MRI) has been held to be among the important insights of the Anglican Communion, working interestingly through a currently unavailable instrument of unity, namely an Anglican Congress. (WR par 8). Such mutual responsibility and interdependence very quickly became a matter of “public or private necessity” and instead of fostering friendship it fostered mission priorities between giving and receiving churches. The Anglican Communion has had to deal with the legacy of mission engagement that missed the mark, that substituted the lesser friendship of accountability for the true friendship, greater than all others, namely to give one’s life for one’s friends. (see of course, John 15:13)

For an institution such as the Episcopal Church, or even the nascent institution of the Anglican Communion the question we must ask is, are we willing to lay down our institutional lives for our friends? And at the same time, paradoxically, how could our friends ask of us that we lay our lives down?

If we were a fellowship truly bound by the affection that holds among perfect friends we would willingly offer ourselves, and that would be know. If we were so bound our friends would know that and would never ask us to do so. What then? Would we be frozen in immobility, not able to give or receive, not able to offer all we are or expect to be held affectionately for who we are? No, if we were truly bound by the affection that holds between friends we would find a way to honor one another in giving up ourselves and our opinions to a common bond that exceeded all purpose, save the friendship itself.

That means, I suppose, that the writers of the Windsor Report, who may not even know they did so, provided us with a vision – a communion of churches bound by the affection that pertains to friends. This vision is not the reality, but it is a worthy vision.

The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada (at least the Diocese of Westminster) have been accused of breaching the bonds of affection. So have those bishops who have been mucking about in vineyards not their own. Those accusations are short of the mark on two counts: (i) what was breached was not affection or its bonds, what was breached were theological and moral expectations and canons ancient and modern, and (ii) a breaching assumes a contract or covenant, not affection, and there is no such instrument, written or unwritten, save in regard to canons.

We have no breached the bonds of affection. Those bonds, if they are indeed between friends, both account for and honor who we are and demand from us mutual self giving. But there has not been the mutual self giving or the honor that exists among friends. Instead there has been the rancor of those who believe that contracts have been broken and covenants undone, of those who accuse heresy and those who accuse ignorance. (Everything is broken, and everyone has dropped the cup of kindness.)

In sum, the vision and idea of a communion bound together by affection is a wonderful one. It has only imperfectly been tried. In the hands of purists that vision has been wrecked. In the Windsor Report it is a vision turned to an instrument of accusation. In the hands of progressives it has been discounted as an instrument of injustice.

But the point is, dear friends, that, like peaceful intercourse of all sorts, the bonds of affection have mostly been untried.

Beyond the edges of this week (where there is an election in the Diocese of California) and next (where the repercussion of the Canadian bishops’ statement on the Archbishop of Nigeria are felt) and the next when some new so-called crisis will arise, and then to the General Convention, the bonds of affection that constitute real friendship in the Lord will continue.

Only the brave will go there. I am not sure any of our Primates can go there. For what will be given up is all claims to the right, all accusations of the wrong, all power, all authority, even all hope and perhaps even all faith. What will be left is the bonds of affection that constitute the fullness of friendship in the Lord, the greatest of the things that endure.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely ending to the nosh, Mark. The allusion to the oft-quoted passage from the 13th chapter of Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians is more than apt.

    If you'll forgive the echo:
    I'm starting to wonder if we shouldn't let the bishops battle, and those of us on the ground seek ways to build the "bonds of affection" and engage each other as a Communion at the grass-roots level. (Bishops are always welcome to join, of course!) :) A real way forward, it seems to me, is to get away from relying solely on the disquieting business and legalisms of "compromise" (i.e. letting the Primates and legislation decide) and seek the real, personal relationships -- which are the stuff of incarnation, after all -- that will hold us together. . .not to mention convert hearts.

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