Anglican Communion woes? Be not afraid.
I had thought I might stay silent on recent developments in the Anglican Communion, leaving the analysis to other capable bloggers. However, seeing Ruth Gledhill’s blog entry in the Times Online today has pushed me off the blogospheric couch and over to the soap box. Gledhill writes that General Synod will be asked to consider a Private Member’s Motion that would push the Church of England toward communion with the Anglican Church in North America.
I’ll start there. First, let’s remember that Gledhill is not an objective observer of the Church of England. She’s a reporter eager to write breathless headlines and generate mountains of web traffic. We’ve been reading for years, from Gledhill and her ilk, about various threats, counterthreats, schisms, and plots. Most of these of turned out to be so much spilled ink or burned-out pixels. This PMM is unlikely to get to the floor of Synod, methinks. Even in the current list of PMMs, there are other motions with more signatures. The leadership of Synod will not want to provoke lots of folks with a debate that is likely to yield nothing more than acrimony.
Should the PMM get to the floor of Synod, I see little chance of its passage. At some level, people in the C of E are finally beginning to understand that if they encourage secessionists outside England, their own turf is likely to be invaded. While many in the C of E are in denial, there is no doubt that many of the the Akinolites would love to set up shop with their own cathedral in the shadow of St. Paul’s. (They wouldn’t do that in Canterbury because reporters are less likely to be around.)
What’s worrying to me is Bishop Gregory Cameron’s comments in Gledhill’s interview over at Religious Intelligence. Cameron says, “We have succeeded in getting all the primates round the table at primates’ meetings so far.” He goes on, “I don’t think that would happen again if TEC confirms the election of Mary Glasspool.” I was at the Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam, just like Bishop Cameron. He was on the ACO staff, whilst I was outside the security perimeter blogging. I’m not sure I share his view of of things.
First of all, the table that counts in my book is the Holy Table. For the last few Primates’ Meetings, a (decreasing) number of primates have refused to share Holy Communion with other primates. This began during Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold’s tenure. If a number of primates have (literally) excommunicated themselves from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the majority of Anglican primates, how can we take their commitment to church order seriously?
And what of the discussion table? I’m told that there was abusive shouting at our Presiding Bishop in Dar es Salaam. Does it do any good to be around the table if people merely shout, rather than converse? I also know, because I saw him, that Archbishop Akinola was out chatting with reporters regularly during sessions of the meeting. So I’m left wondering what kind of unity Bishop Cameron is seeking to preserve?
The unity of the Anglican Communion that I have observed is among laity, who mostly do not care to sever ties to their Anglican sisters and brothers across the world. Parish clergy are somewhat more likely to be anxious. Ironically, our “guardians of the faith” — our bishops and archbishops — are the ones who so often are ready to either cast ECUSA into outer darkness or jettison Nigeria as hopelessly conservative. Those of us who are not bishops need to hold our bishops accountable to their vocation, namely guarding the unity of the church. There is nothing in the ordinal which should make bishops seek to jet ’round the world sowing discord.
The cause of unity is not helped when the so-called Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (a body which does not yet have public constitutional recognition) issues statements that fan the flames of fear and demonstrate remarkable ignorance. The Standing Committee’s statement is short, so I will quote it in full, with comments.
The following resolution was passed by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion meeting in London on 15-18 December, and approved for public distribution.
Resolved that, in the light of:
i. The recent episcopal nomination in the Diocese of Los Angeles of a partnered lesbian candidate
I used to chastise my American friends for claiming that misunderstood ECUSA polity was a major factor in our present troubles. Surely there are people in England who have bothered to ask a few questions or read our canons ? This causes me to revisit my assumptions. The Diocese of Los Angeles has ELECTED a partnered lesbian candidate, not NOMINATED a candidate. The failure to use the word “election” suggests that perhaps people really do not yet understand our process of nominating candidates, holding public elections under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and then seeking ratification. Really, if folks can’t be bothered to learn the basics, there’s not much hope of reconciliation.
ii. The decisions in a number of US and Canadian dioceses to proceed with formal ceremonies of same-sex blessings
This is outrageous. The legal status of same-sex blessings in ECUSA or in the Anglican Church of Canada is precisely the same as in the Church of England at present. The situation is this: same-sex blessings are being offered as a pastoral response of the church. I’m told that thousands upon thousands of same-sex blessings have been offered in metropolitan London. That is, for those of you keeping score, in the Province of Canterbury, where Archbishop Rowan Williams is responsible for discipline. If same-sex blessings are to be stopped in the US, might Archbishop Williams begin at home? Of course, that would likely cause push-back that would be felt at the gates of Lambeth Palace. All of the considerable number of gay bishops and GLBT priests, deacons, and laity in the Church of England have been pretty docile until now. That could change quickly, I suspect.
I also remind you that in England, same-sex civil partnerships are the law of the land. Legally, clergy can have their relationships registered; however, they must profess to their bishop — if he asks — that they are celibate. The most enlightened bishops are said to be those who don’t ask too many questions. What we have then is a system in which “don’t ask, don’t tell” is the moral high ground. Sounds like a moral quagmire.
iii. Continuing cross-jurisdictional activity within the Communion
Well, yes, this is a problem. At least they got this one right.
The Standing Committee strongly reaffirm Resolution 14.09 of ACC 14 supporting the three moratoria proposed by the Windsor Report and the associated request for gracious restraint in respect of actions that endanger the unity of the Anglican Communion by going against the declared view of the Instruments of Communion.
Interesting how Anglican organs neglect the Lambeth resolutions of 1978 and 1988 (and 1998, for that matter) in calling for study and for listening to the experience of gay and lesbian Anglicans. People who “violate” one part of the Windsor Process or a Lambeth resolution are held to the fire, while the willful disregard of other parts results in silence. I repeat, in case you have forgotten, the current state of things. In some provinces of the Anglican Communion, clergy are calling for gay and lesbian Christians to be put to death. In other provinces, openly gay and lesbian Christians are elected to the episcopate.
Killing people is greeted with consistent silence. Blessing people is greeted with scorn. Does anyone see the problem? And by “anyone” I’m referring to anyone who might have read the Gospels recently. Even if I thought that it was wrong to have gay or lesbian bishops, I would find the moral urgency in condemning the execution of people, whatever the reason.
But wait, there’s more! The Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith, and Order issued its own statement in December too. Like others, they found it necessary to condemn ECUSA and the Diocese of Los Angeles while remaining silent on the execution of gay and lesbian persons.
Then, of course, there is the Covenant itself which was promulgated in December. It’s a strange document, which says much and little, all at once. It talks around the divisive issues of the day, stating principles which are either entirely uncontroversial or which admit contradictory readings. “Scriptural authority” can mean very different things to different people.
I continue to maintain that the Covenant is not needed. We have the Bible, the Nicene Creed, the Lambeth Quadrilateral, and Anglican liturgical life as our standards. Any relationship which cannot be sustained by those pillars will not be strengthened by a Covenant. Moreover, the Covenant is powerless. Any Covenant which the Church of England can sign will not be able to perform the tasks that the secessionists want it to accomplish. Nigeria wants a sledgehammer to crush progressives and England wants a doily to cover the stain of open disagreement.
Remember, the sin of ECUSA and Canada is not that we have a gay bishop or that same-sex blessings are performed. Those things happen in several other provinces. The sin of ECUSA and Canada is that we are honest about who we are and what we are doing. If Anglican leadership wants to move toward a church of deliberate ignorance and puritanical moral teachings, they will find themselves without much company.
In the final analysis, not many people want to go down the road of Peter Akinola, Martyn Minns, disciplinary Covenants, and pro-secessionist Private Member’s Motions. Perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury has been letting this whole Covenant conversation play out for lo these many years while he waited for more people to come to the awareness that Akinola’s vision is not a church that either lives the embracing Gospel or invites faithful discipleship. If so, the strategy is working.
The more that lay people share in ministries across the Communion, the greater our bonds of affection become. The more we ensure that all voices are heard, not just mitred megaphones, the greater our sense of Communion becomes. The more that we bloggers shun angry fear-mongering and invite thoughtful conversation, the greater our ability to embrace Christ’s call for costly discipleship and wide-embracing evangelism.
So, dear friends, be not afraid. The Anglican Communion is alive and well. So long as we cling to hope and not fear, all manner of things shall be well.