First, the ABC might better have started with the end of his letter - with prayer. At the end he writes,
"We are praying for a new Pentecost for our Communion.
We have the mind of Christ’ says St Paul (I Cor. 2.16); and, as the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has recently written, this means that we must have a ‘kenotic’, a self-emptying approach to each other in the Church. May the Spirit create this in us daily and lead us into that wholeness of truth which is only to be found in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus."
Praying for a new Pentecost for our Communion - that I can get behind. This is a better place to start than the biblical commentary with which the letter actually starts, but there it is. The ABC starts with this:
"Jesus tells us in St John’s gospel that the Spirit of truth will ‘prove the world wrong’ in respect of sin and righteousness and judgement (Jn 16.8). But if the Spirit is leading us all further into the truth, the Spirit will convict the Church too of its wrongness and lead it into repentance. And if the Church is a community where we serve each other in the name of Christ, it is a community where we can and should call each other to repentance in the name of Christ and his Spirit – not to make the other feel inferior (because we all need to be called to repentance) but to remind them of the glory of Christ’s gift and the promise that we lose sight of when we fail in our common life as a Church."
He starts, in other words, with the (I believe) misread of what John meant in saying that "the Spirit of truth will prove the world wrong in respect of sin and righteousness and judgment." That becomes then the basis for calling the Church to acknowledge its wrongness and its being lead to repentance, and to calling each other IN the Church to such repentance. So, right out of the starting gate the issue is calling members to repentance by other members.
"There are still things being done that the representative bodies of the Communion have repeatedly pleaded should not be done; and this leads to recrimination, confusion and bitterness all round. It is clear that the official bodies of The Episcopal Church have felt in conscience that they cannot go along with what has been asked of them by others, and the consecration of Canon Mary Glasspool on May 15 has been a clear sign of this. And despite attempts to clarify the situation, activity across provincial boundaries still continues – equally dictated by what people have felt they must in conscience do. Some provinces have within them dioceses that are committed to policies that neither the province as a whole nor the Communion has sanctioned. In several places, not only in North America, Anglicans have not hesitated to involve the law courts in settling disputes, often at great expense and at the cost of the Church’s good name."
So here are the charges: TEC has gone ahead and done what we asked them not to do, churches still interfere in the life of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada (boundary crossings), some provinces have dioceses that go undisciplined for doing unsanctioned blessings of same sex relationships, and Anglicans are taking each other to court. The first three are examples of the moratoria asked by the Windsor Report. The last - going to the courts - has become a tack on to the others. So what is at stake here is the matter of the call for moratoria.
The Archbishop then tries to convince us that given the call for repentance and the call to honor the requested moratoria, we none the less see the Anglican Covenant "not... as an instrument of control." He writes,
"I want to stress yet again that the Covenant is not envisaged as an instrument of control."
But then he moves to the side and takes up the argument that the Standing Committee is the Standing Committee.
"And this is perhaps a good place to clarify that the place given in the final text to the Standing Committee of the Communion introduces no novelty: the Committee is identical to the former Joint Standing Committee, fully answerable in all matters to the ACC and the Primates; nor is there any intention to prevent the Primates in the group from meeting separately. The reference to the Standing Committee reflected widespread unease about leaving certain processes only to the ACC or only to the Primates."
But of course the issue is raised precisely because the Standing Committee is an agent of discipline, calling to repentance and control. I would argue too that the ABC is not correct in saying that the Standing Committee is "fully answerable in all matters to the ACC and the Primates." The Standing Committee is a product of the ACC Constitution and By-Laws. The fact that some of its members are from the Primates group indicates that they might be answerable to the Primates, but the whole is not. But let that be as it will, the Standing Committee is precisely about control and is the agent of all of section 4 of the Anglican Covenant. That is one of the things that makes many of us a bit nervous about the Anglican Covenant.
He then tells us a truth we all knew anyway:
"The sobering truth is that often our attempts to share the Gospel effectively in our own setting can create problems for those in other settings."
That is true, but not very helpful. Worse, it doesn't address one of the most divisive issues, namely money. Sharing the Gospel effectively in our own setting in a time of economic recession might (and often does) mean limiting the monies we make available for other churches for "normal" administration towards sharing the Gospel in other settings.
The ABC remarks that,
"We have not... found a way of shaping our consciences and convictions as a worldwide body. We have not fully received the Pentecostal gift of mutual understanding for common mission."
I understand what he is saying here, and on one level he is right, but I am not sure mutual understanding for common mission is a Pentecostal gift. That is words taking wing.
The ABC gets in a plug for the Communion Partners. He writes,
"It is significant that there are still very many in The Episcopal Church, bishops, clergy and faithful, who want to be aligned with the Communion’s general commitments and directions, such as those who identify as ‘Communion Partners’, who disagree strongly with recent decisions, yet want to remain in visible fellowship within TEC so far as they can."
This is a highly destructive comment. It sets up the proposition that to be "aligned with the Communion" is to be in strong disagreement with recent decisions (ordination of Bishop Glasspool, etc) and in visible fellowship within TEC "so far as they can." The whole of this is to applaud those who are aligned with the Communion and resisters in TEC. This is a set up for seeing TEC as a context for non cooperation and resistance, and turns the Communion Partners into Gandhian non-violent resistance fighters. This is amazingly unhelpful to anything like a Pentecost, Spirit led sense of life together.
Now the ABC makes his plug for the Anglican Communion effort to get relief and development agencies to work together in spite of differences in the Communion. He writes,
'And, as has often been pointed out, there are things that Anglicans across the world need and want to do together for the care of God’s poor and vulnerable that can and do go on even when division over doctrine or discipline is sharp."
Good. I'm all for our working to relieve the people and church in Haiti, those suffering from disaster and destruction and corporate and national greed.
But the ABC digresses, and now returns to decisions about what to do with the unrepentant.
"But some decisions cannot be avoided. We began by thinking about Pentecost and the diverse peoples of the earth finding a common voice, recognising that each was speaking a truth recognised by all. However, when some part of that fellowship speaks in ways that others find hard to recognise, and that point in a significantly different direction from what others are saying, we cannot pretend there is no problem. "
OK, there is a problem. Now what?
"And when a province through its formal decision-making bodies or its House of Bishops as a body declines to accept requests or advice from the consultative organs of the Communion, it is very hard (as noted in my letter to the Communion last year after the General Convention of TEC) to see how members of that province can be placed in positions where they are required to represent the Communion as a whole."
So here is the nub: If you don't comply with the requests and advice of "consultative organs of the Communion" how can you "be placed in positions where (you) are required to represent the Communion as a whole." Well that makes several assumptions - that people on committees and commissions of the Anglican Communion serve as representatives of their churches and that they at the same time "represent the Communion as a whole." Clearly we would hope that someone on an ecumenical council would honestly represent the views of the Communion as he or she understood them, but we do not expect (I don't think) persons serving on those commissions to represent TEC. They come from TEC (which has a broad range of viewpoints) but serve on the Anglican commission or committee in their own right as Anglicans.
But the ABC is proposing that members of various commissions having to do with faith and order do indeed represent both. Well, there it is.
"I am therefore proposing that, while these tensions remain unresolved, members of such provinces – provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged. I am further proposing that members of such provinces serving on IASCUFO should for the time being have the status only of consultants rather than full members."
Now an interesting word here is "formally." Who has formally "adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria.."? In electing and consenting to the ordination of Bishop Glasspool or Bishop Robinson the formal policies are the polices governing election and consent. They have not changed. The policy change had to do with whether or not particular persons (by group) were considered suitable candidates for consideration in the ordination processes. This is a bit different from the Church of Rwanda making it clear that AMiA is a subsidiary of its church.
But here it is. The Archbishop apparently appoints (with advice) to these bodies and he can therefore limit who serves. His recommendation I suppose can take effect immediately. He does go on to write of other bodies who will have the opportunity to retain, limit, or expel errant Provinces as their bylaws and constitutions allow.
"I am aware that other bodies have responsibilities in questions concerned with faith and order, notably the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Standing Committee. The latter two are governed by constitutional provisions which cannot be overturned by any one person’s decision alone, and there will have to be further consultation as to how they are affected. I shall be inviting the views of all members of the Primates’ Meeting on the handling of these matters with a view to the agenda of the next scheduled meeting in January 2011."
So the ABC will invite the Primates to share their views on handling such matters. I can not imagine that this will all wait on the meeting in January of next year. Some of the Primates have already stated that they will not attend meetings with TEC or ACoC Primates and have called for a special meeting with the ABC to make it clear that dis-invitation will have to take place prior to a meeting or they won't go. I can only imagine what they will think of the clear case of Rwanda being excluded for deliberate policy contrary to the moratoria.
But here is what I think this all means: The "consultant" status the ABC proposes for TEC, ACoC and some other Provinces - Rwanda for sure and probably Southern Cone, Nigeria and perhaps others - is what he will propose for the full ACC and Primates meetings, that those who do not publicly repent will be reduced to "consultant" status. This is more or less the notion of "Anglican Communion second-class."
Well there it is. A long letter that goes no further than what has already been stated. The ABC said there are consequences, and the only ones he can personally make happen are those related to positions which he fills by appointment. So the consequences are that TEC and ACoC (and some others) are not to continue serving as full members on those committees.
This is a dishonor to those serving, who although members of this or that Province, were asked to serve in their persons, not their positions as representatives of their Churches. It is a dishonor to the Communion which will be deprived of the good talents and even perhaps the Pentecostal zeal of these particular participants. And it will do nothing to shield the Communion from the troubles of the day.
Because his prayer is so good. "We are praying for a new Pentecost in our Communion."
Maybe that is where we should simply stay... and the Spirit will bring us new fire as the night and day require.