The Questions get Sharper (revised x2)

Bishop Paul Marshall wrote a letter that first appeared on the House of Bishops/ House of Deputies list. It has since been widely posted on the internet. As far as I can find it first appeared in the blogsphere outside the list on the blog Of Course I Could Be Wrong. We can presume it refers to the upcoming meeting of the House of Bishops March 16-21. Thanks to Louie Crew, whose Anglican Communion pages continue to be a treasure of information.

The letter itself raises questions that have been raised on this and several other blogs. The primary question is whether the Archbishop of Canterbury has anything to say about his distancing of himself and his office from the Episcopal Church and its House of Bishops. That distancing certainly holds the potential that the shunning that is currently going on would lead to a meltdown in the relationship between the Church of England and The Episcopal Church.

Read the whole of his letter HERE and HERE, and HERE.

Bishop Marshall makes it clear, “… we deserve to hear from him (the Archbishop), in the room with us, an explanation of his distance and intentions. We are all busy, and we show up where we believe it is important to go. Let's hope we become important.”

Bishop Marshall also comments, “The widely-publicized Lambeth Palace photograph of Rowan, Frank, and Katharine all standing as far away from each other as the camera lens would allow has not been without its effect on many among us. A dismal icon of formal communion without a hint of affection or connection has been sent to the entire inhabited world.”

Here is that photograph. I think the Bishop is right. (revised: Several responses have made me realize that there is no little to tell us in the photography why they are standing apart. In some other photos he is standing nearer those with him, but who knows what that means. What is important perhaps is that Bishop Marshall believes the Archbishop to be cool towards the American PB and PB elect, and that is an example of the wider distance felt between the ABC and the House of Bishops.)

The issues of the Covenant Process is addressed by Bishop Marshall: “All of this said, it seems necessary to report my perception that the nadir in Rowan's overall relationship to the US, Canada and perhaps South Africa has been the appointment of a virtual lynch mob to draft the Covenant that will by all reports attempt turn a fellowship into a curial bureaucracy in which the worst elements of the great and oppressive Colonizer and of the Resentful Colonized will as meet as a scissors to the denigration of significant number of God's people who were almost equal in Christ for one brief shining moment.”

Well, it’s good to see a bishop in a lather about the Covenant Design Group. The drift of the covenant business seems indeed to be towards a “curial bureaucracy.”

The obvious question of how this all will play in the established church was asked by Nigel Taber-Hamilton of Whidbey Island, Washington, of Roger Stokes in England. He reported Roger’s reply on the House of Bishops / House of Deputies list and I have his permission to publish the exchange.

Nigel: “ Roger, Do you know if the C of E could accept an Anglican Covenant without Parliament's approval? Seems to me that such a change as radical as this would require it.”

Roger: “It depends on what form the Covenant takes when it eventually emerges from the Drafting Group. Any move on doctrine as founded in the Holy Scriptures would require Parliamentary approval, but how do you define "founded in"? Theologians are not agreed on how to apply the various passages in today's world and psycho-sexual understanding. The House of Bishops paper "Issues in Human Sexuality", which set norms and invited further discussion, did not require Parliament's nod. Signing up to a Covenant which gave another body the power to change the Church's doctrine and discipline probably would.

However it would first have to be passed by General Synod and I am not prepared to assume that it would get over that hurdle. Unless the Covenant
is fairly anodyne I would expect it to have a difficult passage in Synod. When "Issues" was last debated there we saw remarkable unity from the House of Bishops in ensuring the defeat of any amendment to the motion calling for study and debate. (This regimented opposition turned out not to have been necessary as every amendment stressing one side or the other was defeated in the other Houses as well.) I cannot see any proposal to sign up to a Confession or Covenant as some Provinces seem to want receiving any easier passage over ten years later.

That could then leave us in the interesting position of the Focus of Unity, and President of the Instruments of Communion, heading a Province that is in the "associate" group of Churches. If that happened I think we would be in a very different type of Communion from the one we had up until five years ago. Judging by his comments on homosexuality (and his reference to males may be because sexual activity between two females has never been illegal in the UK) the new Primate of Ireland will be another supporter of inclusivity when the Primates gather in Tanzania.

My assessment is that it will be difficult for the Global South group to impose their views on the Communion as a whole and it is a matter of judgment for them how hard they will push. If they push as hard as some would like then it will lead to fracture of the Communion, partly because some of their bishops have admitted they have not studied the issues so their opposition will not be accepted by those who have engaged in that study. They are, of course, free to maintain their own groups for mutual support but I do not see any move to expel TEC or the Canadians from the Communion getting through the Anglican Consultative Council, and any attempt by the Primates to force the issue would cause further resentment and opposition there.

In my view a wiser course by the Global South Provinces would be not to push so hard but to say that certain individuals, or those belonging to certain groups, may not minister in their Provinces because the views they express might weaken the faith of others. By so doing they could argue they were following in the advice of St Paul about refraining from actions that would undermine the faith of others. The Primates' Meeting will be interesting and, as Archbishop Rowan has said, there will be the need for discernment and decisions. Will people like Archbishop Akinola stay at the table to share in that process or not? That is his decision. Will the Primates accept the principle of organizations like CANA? I doubt it, and certainly not unanimously. My sense is that all the rope has been played out and is about to be jerked. We will see next month and meanwhile all we can do is pray.”

“All the rope has been played out and is about to be jerked.” There it is. The Covenant Design Group is meeting this month in preparation for the meeting of the Primates in Tanzania. One wonders if they will hear what Roger Stokes has said or what Bishop Marshall has thundered.

The ingredients for the Tanzania stew are ready to be thrown together. What will it taste like? “We will see next month and meanwhile all we can do is pray.”


  1. (Dave) "“The widely-publicized Lambeth Palace photograph of Rowan, Frank, and Katharine all standing as far away from each other as the camera lens would allow has not been without its effect on many among us."
    How in the world can ++Rowan be blamed for this? He is in the middle! IF the PB or the PB elect had wanted to be closer, they could have moved closer to him. Does he have his elbows extended to ward them off? More likely, the American bishops remained apart as a reflection of their unhappiness with what ++Rowan had told them about their future in the AC.

  2. It is interesting to note that the Episcopal News Service report of the meeting of the Archbishop with the former and new Presiding Bishops includes a photograph in which they are standing a little closer together than in the one you include.
    There's still space between them, but then the Arch is not accustomed to standing with women bishops.

  3. From quietly lurking over at the "traditionalists" sites (Virtue, StandFirm, Drell) I get the feeling that many of them are catching on to the fact that their game is winding down.

  4. In this meeting, may the scandal of accepting homosexual practice as normative be made abundantly clear for what it is before it metatasticizes globally. May there be no more obfuscation in the name of collegiality. May it not be one more Episcopal fudge festival.

  5. Dave and Ron rightly point out that the pictures don't tell the tale, only the tellers tell the tale. So one can't tell very much from the pictures. I have corrected the blog entry. I should have thought that through further. Thanks.

    the Anonymous 4:14 posting referring to the scandal of accepting homosexual practice got through the "comments moderation" in part because it was short... but that person needs to know that I will be insistent that some name be connected to future posts. I left it on because, although I think it is wrongheaded it was a clear opinion, and short.

    Dennis... I agree.

  6. Ron: "There's still space between them, but then the Arch is not accustomed to standing with women bishops."

    additionally, I believe that the English, in general, are considerably less cuddly than the Americans. either way, you're right, it is perhaps not possible to infer the Archbishop's stance towards either Presiding Bishop from this photo.

    that said, his welcome to ++Jefferts Schori upon her election was iffy, at best. his other actions have not exactly shown great warmth towards the Episcopal Church.

  7. Look. It's not often OCICBW does serious stuff, seriously, but I demand recognition that we blogged this letter, in full, at 10.34 am English time, five and a half hours before Our Ruth mysteriously got her hands on a copy (I wonder where from). This was the scoop of my career from a bone fide source and everyone's referencing the Johnny Come Latelies.

  8. This is a wonderful piece from Bishop Marshall. It is no secret that the ABC's ministry has been a colossal disappointment. His treatment of Jeffrey John alone was inexcusable.

    After seeing the Panel of Reference on Ft. Worth, one wonders whether communion with Canterbury is worth having. But it also gives us a sense of just how difficult Rowan's position must be. Eventually, there will be a split in the C of E, and Rowan should be careful, lest he end up on the wrong side of it, with few if any friends left. I am sure that the pastoral choices that he has made were very painful for him and that he thinks he is taking the hard road and indeed walking the way of the cross. Marshall is right that he is doing what he is doing with good intentions and that these are mistakes not misdeeds.

    I suspect that the dynamics may be such that it is impossible for him to lead. Like Bishop Marshall, I still admire the theologian and the man, though I think the roots of his tragically poor leadership are present in his theology. He clearly thinks that the Anglican Communion is or should be something that it neither is nor can be.

    Bishop Marshall is right that the Covenant design group was very poorly chosen, like the Lambeth Commission before it.

  9. Ron - is the ABC used to standing next to men bishops?

    Mark - for future reference you may want to use the permalink to Gledhill's posting of and on the letter: http://timescolumns.typepad.com/gledhill/2007/01/tec_bishop_sava.html

    rather than just the general link to her blog.

  10. Bishop Marshall is a credit to our church . I have been overwhelmingly disappointed in the leadership (or lack thereof) from the person for whom I lobbied for ABC (OK, emails from the USA to The Church Times may not cut much ice with the Crown Appointments Commision, but I did what I could), but having +Paul lay it out with such stark clarity was rather startling.

    ++Rowan can visit Rome, but not the USA -- very sad.

  11. Seems like more mixed messages?

    On one hand, if there is a whiff that the ABC is 'interfering' with TEC, this is viewed with much disapproval.

    On the other hand, if the ABC 'distances' himself from TEC, this is viewed with much disapproval.

    Guys, you can't have your cake and eat it. You cannot hold and act on autonomy as the highest virtue, and then complain that the fellowship you used to enjoy with folk who disagree with you is strained.

  12. What "anonymous" should understand is that an attempt to build walls to keep GLBT individuals out is utterly futile. I know. As a gay man, I lived behind those walls of "safety" for 40 years. However, it was not until I was fully authentic that the Spirit was able to use me fully. This did not make me love our savior less, but rather, much, much more.

    You may not believe me, but the homosexuals you wish to exclude are your brothers, your sisters, your fathers, your mothers, your aunts, your uncles, your nieces and nephews. They are your friends. They are those you do not know.

    They are your neighbor.

  13. Mark,

    It's MLK Day. I quoted the following in my sermon yesterday, but it seems appropriate here, too. From Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.:

    I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    (Emphasis added).

  14. One should also remember that in Paul Marshall's initial response to Windsor, which is still well worth reading, he counsels that the moderate hand wringers in the present Anglican crisis should all reread Why We Can't Wait.

    The following section, also from the Letter From Birmingham Jail, which I used with my Youth Group on Sunday in conjunction with a study of Luke 4 makes much the same point:

    We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

  15. Peter,

    It seems from your comment that you cut a bifurcation where a bit more understanding might be in helpful.

    You're right, we don't appreciate "interference." Our bishops and General Convention have jurisdiction in this Province, just as the ABC and synods have jurisdiction in his.

    But having face-to-face meetings with the ABC to seek mutual understanding is hardly interference, and seems to be what the Anglican Communion is built on.

    Hoping that we may remain at the table together even when we disagree asking for something un-Christian or trying to "have our cake and eat it, too."

    So far, it appears the ABC has privileged a handful of our leadership (the most vocal and oppositional) over its full breadth. I believe we are rightly concerned this risks distorting his perspective on The Episcopal Church and unfairly represents our minority position in the greater Communion.

    Nor does it lend itself to furthering his efforts to hold the Communion together. Are we a part of the Communion or not? I, for one, would like a clearer answer, please -- even if it is an unequivocal, "No."

    God's peace.

  16. Hullo Richard,

    Probably that answer will be forthcoming shortly. Though, we are Anglicans, so you never know!

    I'm all for continued discussion, but I do not think that can happen easily in the current environment. Nor can we, as optimistically assumed by some, just continue business as usual.

    It's also not entirely helpful to say "we're here at the table, we're not walking away like those others". This is to confuse action and reaction.

    It would be better to recognise that those in strained or broken communion have done so as a reaction, not as an action in a void (as is often portrayed). You may disagree with that reaction, but it would be good to credit it for what it is.

    I'll say again, TEC cannot act as though autonomy is the highest virtue then turn around and complain when bonds of fellowship are strained.

    That does not mean we can no longer talk. It does mean we have to recognise that the situation on the ground is not what it was.

    Blessings on you.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, 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.