In an article titled, "Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future" published on Monday July 27, 2009, the Archbishop nicely and in his usual nuanced style essentially said that no one is fooled: The General Convention of The Episcopal Church has strayed from the fold.
The whole essay is HERE.
The subtitle is, "Reflections on the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion."
These are reflections by someone who attended only a bit of the General Convention. He did get around a bit: I saw him in the World Mission Legislative Committee meeting, he gave a good talk on global economics, although its contents were overshadowed by his awareness that his every word was going to be analyzed, he gave a meditation at the Eucharist. In that mediation he said,
"Of course I am coming here with hopes and anxieties – you know that and I shan't deny it. Along with many in the Communion, I hope and pray that there won't be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart."
This is called giving indirect directions.
As far as I know the Archbishop was not there for any of the debate, conversations, hearings and the like on any of the major resolutions that are such a cause for concern. There was a long distance phone calls from the Lambeth brigade the night after the vote on D025, on Episcopal Elections and the Anglican Communion. The general sense was that this "lifted the moratorium" that B033 had put in place last General Convention and that TEC was on its way to do its own thing once again. Since then there has been an attempt (failed obviously) to tell the ABC not to panic.
The essay is a mishmash of reheated sausage, dry toast and a dropped egg or two. Hardly a good breakfast here in the US, and for that matter a sorry mess of a breakfast even in England.
Much has been written on this essay and here are a few of my thoughts to add to it all:
Some of the more telling quotes from the essay, with follow-up comments from Preludium.
2. However, a realistic assessment of what Convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed. ..."
Meaning, the requested moratoria have been overturned. Well, yes and no.
There are all sorts of ways to unwrap all this moratoria stuff, but the real problem is that General Convention 2006 did NOT pass legislation enforcing the moratorium on consent to the election of a gay bishop in a committed relationship. It could not. What B033 said (and this has been repeated until the horse died) is this:
"...Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion".
Yet later the bishops of TEC seem to have on their own determined that B033 directly addressed that issue and was indeed understood as a moratorium. Nice of them, but the Bishops alone do not have the right to make a "call upon Standing Committees and bishops" a moratorium. B033 is a call to class action, not a binding moratorium on action. If it were it would have read, "...Convention therefore requires that Standing Committees and Bishops with jurisdiction not consent..." B033 was a strong statement, and it lamentably worked, in that no gay person in relationship was elected, much less put forward for consents. Two, however, were in election processes and there are reasons to suppose that they were not elected in part because consents would have been difficult to come by.
As for the resolution on same sex blessings (C056), the resolution calls for work to be done and give bishops latitude to express "generous pastoral response." No doubt that means that within particular dioceses bishops may give permission for a variety of pastoral responses, including services of blessing.
The call of the Windsor Report was that
"...While we recognise that the Episcopal Church (USA) has by action of Convention made provision for the development of public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions, the decision to authorise rests with diocesan bishops. Because of the serious repercussions in the Communion, we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites..."
Windsor was incorrect about the first, namely that General Convention had made provision for the development of public Rites of Blessing. Nothing appeared at this General Convention in terms of a report on such development.
The issue as to what is a "public Rite" is still debated, but even C056 does not go so far as to name the end result of the study it recommends. In fact it suggests precisely the theological study that the Archbishop will later call for in this letter.
The Archbishop now turns to perhaps the most difficult of his ruminations, namely the moral issues related to same-sex blessings. He first sets up the straw-man for the argument - that same sex blessings are presented as a justice issue, when they are not only that rather a theological and faith issue.
"4...Appeal is made to the fundamental human rights dimension of attitudes to LGBT people, and to the impossibility of betraying their proper expectations of a Christian body which has courageously supported them.
"6. However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage."
This he contends would be a major shift in Christian thinking.
"7... A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.
8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires."
Note here that the Archbishop makes reference to "the Church Catholic" and "the Communion as a whole." He pulls out all the ecclesial stops, the authority that derives from the ideal of a worldwide Church, universal in scope, of which The Anglican Churches are a part by way of being "The Anglican Communion." This is, of course, the argument from the position that the Anglican Communion shares with the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches sufficient cohesion and history to make a claim to ancient origins, catholic intentions and current cohesiveness so as to constitute a world wide "Communion." That has been the dream claim of at least some Anglicans who have sought parity with Rome and Constantinople. But it is mostly a dream.
It is a bad dream because it proposes that justice people live in a different room in the mansion than do Christian - manner - of - life people.There is also the terrible injustice of claiming that same-sex relationships are necessarily the same sort of relationship as heterosexual relationships outside marriage. Well it is true mostly that the church frowns on sex outside marriage and what we might call cohabitation with sexual privileges. But the last time I looked heterosexuals had the option of marriage, making it all legal and neatly boxed for proper manner of life usage. Homosexuals have until recently had no such option. The same-sex relationships are not uniformly like heterosexual relationships outside marriage. Period.
The Archbishop tries to explain that it is not at all simple:
9. ...the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. (There is also an unavoidable difficulty over whether someone belonging to a local church in which practice has been changed in respect of same-sex unions is able to represent the Communion's voice and perspective in, for example, international ecumenical encounters.)"
Elizabeth Kaeton has a fine rejoinder to calling same-sex relationship a life style choice. See HERE.T
he issue of the "public teaching" being "at odds with their lifestyle" can be solved, of course not by denying blessing since it counters public teaching, but changing public teaching so that blessing is quite normal. To do that would be to re-examine the relationship between marriage as a contractual matter in the society and marriage as a christian vocation. The Archbishop is not interested in this possibility - by either changing the laws so that same sex marriage is possible or changing the "entry requirement" for blessing a vocation to life long union so that it does not require a ticket from the State. None of this seems to make it into the Archbishops notes here.
"Public teaching" in the South included the fact that the races should not mix. Presumably if an inter-racial couple were to present themselves to the bishop and one was seeking ordination this could be interpreted as having a lifestyle that was at odds with public teaching. Even in the North such sensibilities existed into the 1960's when one of the members of my seminary married a black woman. The difference between public teaching (even the quiet prejudicial public teaching of the time and place) and the "lifestyle" of two persons who loved each other but across the race line was a reality, and an unpleasant one at that.
The Archbishop then turns to the matter of "local church" decision making. By "local church" I gather he means the CofE, or TEC, or the Anglican Church of Canada, or whatever. He writes,
"The second issue is the broader one of how a local church makes up its mind on a sensitive and controversial matter...
12. When a local church seeks to respond to a new question, to the challenge of possible change in its practice or discipline in the light of new facts, new pressures, or new contexts, as local churches have repeatedly sought to do, it needs some way of including in its discernment the judgement of the wider Church. Without this, it risks becoming unrecognisable to other local churches, pressing ahead with changes that render it strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe.
13. This is not some piece of modern bureaucratic absolutism, but the conviction of the Church from its very early days. The doctrine that 'what affects the communion of all should be decided by all' is a venerable principle...
Well, the Archbishop talks nice, but he knows, and we know, that with the possible exception of the early councils (the first four?) no such mechanism has operated for more than 16 hundred years. The doctrine sometimes put forward as "Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus approbari debet." covers a variety of civil and ecclesiastical ideas about proper governance.
When applied to the whole Church it is not about the Anglican Communion, it is not about Rome or Constantinople, it is about the whole thing... and that hasn't been possible in toto since the disciples got into a snit about the leadership of the early church. So it is applied downward to world wide churches. For this to apply to the matter of a local church - i.e. TEC - we would have to posit some greater church to which it belongs and to which it must give way. That we do not have although some are precisely arguing for it by way of the Anglican Covenant.
The Archbishop wants to argue both sides of the matter: That we are autonomous churches and that we are a Church where questions that affect everybody must be solved by everybody together.The ABC then raises the cultural captivity question:
14....this should not lead us to ignore or minimise the opposite danger of so responding to local pressure or change that a local church simply becomes isolated and imprisoned in its own cultural environment."
The notion that TEC is captive to the culture in its efforts to be inclusive of gay and lesbian persons is prattled about, and we need to take it seriously as a possibility. On the other hand we might suggest that having excruciating practice at racism we are now a bit more aware of just how our sense of Christian manner of life has had nothing to do with the Gospel and everything to do with Nation, State, race and class. Perhaps we are trying to learn a bit from that experience. We don't need lectures from the "cultural environment" of English Churchmen to be reminded of the link between some aspects of culture, injustice and bad theology.
Playing the cultural captivity card here is a hasty overstatement at best and dirty pool at worse.
"18. To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. It would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent 'community of Christian communities'."
Assuming that it is the ABC, or one of the instruments, that is being asked to accept the priority of local and pastoral factors, who does the ABC think is doing the asking? The Episcopal Church is not asking the Communion to accept its priorities, or to see it as normative for the Communion, nor does TEC make any attempt to speak for the Communion. What it does contend is that it is called to consider these factors in its decision making and liturgical practice.
The notion that any one of the autonomous churches in the Communion is required to seek the consensus of all the rest regarding its life is patently absurd. I can not imagine the Church of England asking Communion wide consensus on changing its Book of Common Prayer or the appropriateness of its status as a State church. Its ecumenical full communion status with some of the Lutherans in Europe was not vetted by some consensus mechanism. And I can surely understand The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) in its assertion that it makes its own decisions and interprets its own canons without reference to consensus with anyone.
The problem is, the Archbishop in his last sentence accurately described what the Anglican Communion truly is, "a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent 'community of Christian communities'." He may be wrong about "loose" but about the rest, that's it.
The Archbishop then says,
"19. As Anglicans, our membership of the Communion is an important part of our identity. However, some see this as best expressed in a more federalist and pluralist way. They would see this as the only appropriate language for a modern or indeed postmodern global fellowship of believers in which levels of diversity are bound to be high and the risks of centralisation and authoritarianism are the most worrying. There is nothing foolish or incoherent about this approach. But it is not the approach that has generally shaped the self-understanding of our Communion – less than ever in the last half-century, with new organs and instruments for the Communion's communication and governance and new enterprises in ecumenical co-operation."
The reference to the last half-century is correct: all the "organs and instruments for the Communion" except the Lambeth Conference itself are a product of this period, a period marked in larger social organizations by the development of international corporations, global markets and world banks. Perhaps the move for global governance in the Anglican Communion is a product of bad modeling.
Now at the last he moves on to the matter of the Anglican Covenant. The Archbishop is not the best salesman for this project. He begins,
"20. The Covenant proposals of recent years have been a serious attempt to do justice to that aspect of Anglican history that has resisted mere federation..." They remain the only proposals we are likely to see that address some of the risks and confusions already detailed, encouraging us to act and decide in ways that are not simply local."
The Anglican Covenant is raised as an effort to resist mere federation (that is what we are now.) He says its the only act in town, so deal with it.
And he proposes a "twofold ecclesial reality" as a way:
"22...For those whose vision is not shaped by the desire to intensify relationships in this particular way, or whose vision of the Communion is different, there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness – existing relationships will not be destroyed that easily. But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with 'covenanted' provinces."
Those who buy on will be members of the Covenant Anglican Communion, those that don't are members of the Association of Anglican Provinces, or some such thing. The Archbishop assumes, it appears, that The Episcopal Church will not be part of the Covenant Anglican Communion.
The Archbishop then helpfully clarifies a point: Those on the second track, the Associated Anglican Provinces, don't get to speak officially in ecumenical interchanges and processes, etc. This of course is nonsense. Who gave anyone the right to make this claim. If this is the Archbishop's dream, then fine. It is a dream. It is his dream and scheme. But his dreams are not our realities. He says,
23. ...perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom."
Sometime it may become important to remind the Archbishop of Canterbury that here he has no more power than any foreign bishop, a phrase whose tenor he ought resonate with.
Perhaps it is important to point out that The Episcopal Church, and any other Church in the Anglican Communion is empowerd by its own life to seek ecumenical interchanges on official terms with any and all it wishes, assuming that anyone wants to talk to us.
The Archbishop now addresses again the issue of who can sign on to the Covenant. He says, "...the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. It is important that there should be a clear answer to this question."
For a while we might have though there was an answer. The ACC indicated that it expected Provinces to address sign-on, not dioceses. But the ABC, believing that The Episcopal Church will not buy on to the Covenant, is raising the issue again. His doing so is both a statement of his concern that TEC will not sign and a means of getting some portion to do so. This will be both meddling in the interior life of a Province in the worse way, it will open the possibility that the "list" of Anglican entities part of the formal Communion will consist of a list of dioceses, not provinces - perhaps some 6 or 7 hundred, not 38.
This will make being fully Anglican a direct connection between dioceses and the see of Canterbury, or the list of covenented diocese held by the ACC. The notion of a church of a nation or reigon will cease to be a marker of Anglican Church life.
And then the ABC wraps it up:
"26. ... If the present structures that have safeguarded our unity turn out to need serious rethinking in the near future, this is not the end of the Anglican way and it may bring its own opportunities. Of course it is problematic; and no-one would say that new kinds of structural differentiation are desirable in their own right. But the different needs and priorities identified by different parts of our family, and in the long run the different emphases in what we want to say theologically about the Church itself, are bound to have consequences. We must hope that, in spite of the difficulties, this may yet be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth for all who value the Anglican name and heritage."
The ABC seems to think the present structures have "safeguarded our unity." They have not. Our unity was never a product of those structures. His wrap up is a last sound of the horn. I believe the Archbishop of Canterbury is the end of the single thing called the Anglican Communion and the advent of at least two entities, with the possibility of conflict between them.
His vision of a two track future is a vision that finally ends any pretense of a moratorium on jurisdictional boundary crossing. The "formal" Anglican Communion would have precidence, of course.
This essay is the product of a disappointed and saddened man. It is unhelpful to those of us who believe that the future can be "both-and" not "either-or" - both justice and faith community, both local development in practice and core communion wide agreement in faith.