What a strange few weeks in Anglican Land. Here is where I think we are:
THE STATUS QUO ANTE
The Lambeth Conference resulted in the determination by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Third Presidential Address that everything is as it was before Lambeth:
Lambeth Resolution 1998 – 1.10 continues to be the mind of the Communion.
“…Perhaps we should read that Resolution (Lambeth 1.10) …acknowledging that it remains where our Communion as a global community stands…” (Presidential Address III – PA III)
The Moratoria suggested in the Windsor Report continue be understood to “command respect,” with the expectation that they will be implemented.
“…the pleas for continuing moratoria regarding certain new policies and practices have … have found wide support across the range of views represented in the indaba groups.” PAIII
The Pastoral Forum as the latest incarnation of a commitment to an international committee to provide alternative pastoral oversight.
“We have quite a strong degree of support for a Pastoral Forum to support minorities…” PAIII
The Instruments of Communion, as the instruments of governance.
We have “a strong consensus on the need to examine how the Instruments of Communion will best work…” PAIII
An Anglican Covenant.
we have “…a recognition … that a Covenant is needed.” PAIII
Lambeth 2008 did not resolve or decide anything. Instead the Archbishop of Canterbury found affirmation for his general plan for the maintenance of the Communion: A supposed common mind of the Communion on the church issues concerning homosexuals, moratoria, pastoral oversight from outside a Province, the instruments of Communion and a covenant.
Most importantly of all, the Archbishop of Canterbury was clear that the alternative to the scheme he outlines is the slow or perhaps rapid disintegration of the Anglican Communion. If the break up of the Communion happens, he contends, it will be because either the North American churches – the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada – or the Provinces intervening in the North American churches have not been willing to step back. Stepping back, or at least accepting the status quo ante is viewed as a matter of “covenanted restraint.” Not stepping back is viewed as selfishness.
THE WORK AHEAD
The Archbishop summed up his sense of the Conference and the way ahead: (I have highlighted several significant words or phrases:
“To our Communion many gifts have been given, and God wills to give many more if we let him. In these days together we have not overcome our problems or reinvented our structures : that will still take time. We have quite a strong degree of support for a Pastoral Forum to support minorities, a strong consensus on the need to examine how the Instruments of Communion will best work, and a recognition - though still with many questions - that a Covenant is needed. We have a strongly expressed intention to place our international development work on a firmer and more co-coordinated footing. Where will the work be done? Before the ACC meeting next year - which will be a significant element in implementing our vision - I intend to convene a Primates’ Meeting as early as possible in 2009. I shall look within the next two months for a clear and detailed specification for the task and composition of a Pastoral Forum, and I shall ensure that the perspectives of various groups looking at the Covenant and the Windsor process, as well as the Design Group for this Conference help to shape the implementation of the agenda outlined in the Reflections document, and are fed into the special meeting in November of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC. We may not have put an end to all our problems - but the pieces are on the board. And in the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages. Much in the GAFCON documents is consonant with much of what we have sought to say and do, and we need to look for the best ways of building bridges here.”
His address then included a calendar for the plan forward:
- August-October: Form the task and composition of a Pastoral Forum
- August-October: shaping the agenda outlined in the Reflections document by Covenant, Windsor, and Lambeth Design groups for use by the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC. (JSCP-ACC)
- November: Joint Standing Committee Primates / ACC at which we can expect input from GAFCON.
- Early 2009, Primates Meeting.
- Joint Standing Committee - Primates and ACC April 29-May1, 2009
- ACC- Jamaica May 2-12, 2009
In his press conference following the last Lambeth Presidential address the Archbishop said this, “I think if the north American churches don’t accept the need for moratoria then, to say the least, we are no further forward.” Oddly the ABC does not mention the moratoria on interventions here.
The moratoria – on blessing of same sex relations; ordination of persons whose “manner of life” was in question in the communion; and interventions in dioceses not one’s own – all grew from the Windsor Report which continues to be viewed as normative for the Communion in that doing as it recommends is seen as “mending the fabric” and not doing so is seen as ripping the Communion to shreds.
The problem with this approach is that if moratoria are the keys to the future of the Anglican Communion, shredding is the future for the simple reason that the call for moratoria will not be honored in the absolute sense that various parties are insisting they be honored.
The Archbishop has put the Communion in an untenable position. The ideas that were offered in the past regarding the future of the Communion are failing, and all he offers now are the same ideas regurgitated in roughly the same form.
He is pushing for a “closer” union with some of the paraphernalia of a worldwide church. He doesn’t want “merely” a federation and doesn’t want a Roman curia. But he does want a level of coherence among member churches that is more than toleration. He wants the Anglican Communion to be a body.
Yet there is nothing in Lambeth that provides any new approach to the problems of the brokenness of this body. It only offers the hope that member churches, bishops and people of the Communion will be willing to suffer the consequences of restraint for the good of the body. Gay but not celibate members of the church will have to suffer exclusion from ordained leadership and denial of blessing of relationship. Interventionist bishops will have to suffer limits on their ministries.
The Status Quo Ante continues to bind together the solution to the problems of the Anglican Communion and its future to the willingness to suffer the consequences of restraint. I suggest that the sufferings of those who long to find blessings instead of curse are much graver than those who have bishops they cannot agree with. Bishops, after all, are mortal and either retire, get other assignments or pass away. But the curse does not pass away and the blessing does not come unless the insistent plea is made and answered.
The Lambeth Conference leaves the matter where it was: blessing and ordaining is not to be and bishops are to stay in their own back yards, and unless there is willingness to suffer, the Communion is dead.
The suggestion that suffering for the fullness of the body of the Anglican Communion is a vocation that some faithful Christians ought to be willing to take on mistakes the Anglican Communion for the Body of Christ. And more, it equates the insistence for blessing rather than curse with a matter of ecclesial discipline. To ask gay and lesbian Christians to wait and wait and wait is to ask them to die without blessing. This is not about exercising restraint, this is about giving up hope. To tell a bishop to stay in his own jurisdiction is precisely to ask him to exercise restraint.
Ether way, the moratoria will not stand: people are eager for blessing rather than curse and some bishops will not exercise restraint.
So there must be either other options to the status quo ante, or the Communion is in shreds.
Other options have arisen over time:
(i) the notion that various churches in the Anglican Communion might be in different “tiers” – some on a greater level of full communion, some on lesser. The “two-tier” approach seems to have come from the ABC.
(ii) the idea that The Episcopal Church could of its own accord step back from full involvement in the instruments of communion – the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meetings, the ACC – for a period. This came from Dr. Katherine Grieb of Virginia Theological School and member of the Covenant Design Group.
The “Two Tier” possibility has been roundly trounced as a path leading to first and second class citizens of the kingdom of Anglican Land. It is a juridical nightmare, for how will ranking take place and how will it not be viewed as punishment if a church is removed from “full” communion to some lesser status.
Professor Grieb’s idea given in her paper for the House of Bishops, March 19, 2007 deserves to be stated again:
“I think the Presiding Bishop's language about fasting points the way for us: It is now very clear that the tremendous concern of the Primates to obtain these interim assurances is the point of the covenant process as a whole. As painful as it is for us to think about this, the whole question of a covenant for the Anglican Communion arose first in the Windsor Report in response to the General Convention of 2003 and was pushed forward by the Archbishop of Canterbury immediately after our General Convention of 2006. It is distinctly possible, even highly probable, that these events and these responses have had a distorting effect on the Anglican Communion. We haven't actually been a covenant-based tradition and it may be that the Communion is rushing to embrace a Covenant as a short-term solution to some questions that require a much longer process. Would it help the Communion if we removed the pressure to come up with a Covenant by stepping out of the room for a while as they discuss it?
I suggest that we enter a five-year period of fasting from full participation in the Anglican Communion to give us all time to think and to listen more carefully to one another. I think we should engage in prayerful non-participation in global meetings (in Lambeth, in the Anglican Consultative Council, in other Communion committee meetings) or, if invited to do so, send observers who could comment, if asked, on the matter under discussion. We should continue on the local level to send money and people wherever they are wanted. (This is not about taking our marbles and going home.) We need to remain wholly engaged in the mission of the church, as closely tied as we are allowed to the See of Canterbury and to the Anglican Communion as a whole. But we should absent ourselves from positions of leadership, stepping out of the room, so that the discussions of the Anglican Communion about itself can go on without spending any more time on our situation which has preoccupied it.”
This proposal has much to recommend it, but it didn’t get off the ground. I believe a variation on the Grieb proposal might.
I believe the Archbishop’s conclusion that the Conference affirmed the trajectory already laid out by Windsor and the processes that came from it is a disaster.
There is some hope in an alternative to the Status Quo Ante in a variation on the Grieb proposal.
That is the subject of my next reflection.