Saturday, 1 November 2008

Fellow Traveller

Andrew Goddard, one time victim of the shenanigans of the hard Conservative Right at Wycliffe College, but who has enjoyed a soft landing at Trinity College, Bristol, where he is Tutor in Christian Ethics, now seems to be edging towards the hard right in agreeing about the realignment of the Anglican Communion.

At present he is still falling in between two stools: criticising now the Lambeth Conference 2008 with its lack of anything afterwards and is yet still critical of the GAFCON crowd that got a move on and took some initiative, leaving the Open Evangelicals in the same creek but with no paddle.

Andrew Goddard does not seem to get it: that a bishop who intends to remove a diocese, and its property, and take it elsewhere, is going to find the discipline of his Church under which he exercises that ministry. Put the boot on the other foot: what about when GAFCON comes calling via Reform for its signing up of English parishes, and seeks some so-called orthodox bishops to do the dirty work? Let's see what Andrew Goddard thinks then.

He complains that the Episcopal Church disciplined an orthodox bishop but not heterodox bishops. This is just deflection, a bad argument: the Church of England has not disciplined apparent heterodox priests or bishops either.

One priest, however, thought she would also be an active Muslim, and she has been disciplined. She has taken the Shahadah, and if she sticks with that then she should leave the Christian priesthood.

Nor was Bishop Bob Duncan or any of the others going to take his Common Cause Partnership into some Anglican Communion holding bay as proposed by announcements at Lambeth 2008. His actions are in the context of boundary crossers, and this will be the basis of some Province of GAFCON of which it is intended that he will be Archbishop. GAFCON specifically rejected the holding bay concept on the basis that it was a 2007 solution. If Andrew Goddard believes that Bob Duncan's actions could fragment the Communion, then by extension he knows why a Church disciplined him.

Both North American Churches are maintaining the moratoria, after all, and the Canadian bishops have just affirmed this. Many find this disappointing (I do), but the institutional position is what matters.

So the evangelical argument is completely distorted, and does not function as claimed. No orthodox bishops are being pursued by some Arian or Unitarian or sexually "deviant" Anglican leadership, only any bishop who wishes to wander off or any priest existing in two incompatible organisations at once (where she effectively gives her allegiance elsewhere). No beliefs are expressed officially that equate even to Channing's Unitarianism, never mind contemporary Unitarian Universalism.

All those arguments about heterodoxy are red herrings, and Andrew Goddard knows this. Now he seems to want to work with the coming new Province of GAFCON and give it recognition. Why should any Anglican Church give this breakaway recognition? After all, GAFCON won't be stopping at just one created province, but will cater for any signed up Confessing Anglicans where it deems an inadequate diocesan bishop and generate a structure accordingly.

They will have new or existing bishops for leaving parishes in the British Isles. What of one that breaks away from the diocesan bishop who is the Bishop of Durham, for example? There is one such parish. It would be just as wrong if one broke from the Bishop of Lincoln, and there is one such parish. Would it be right, say, that the Bishop of Lincoln or Bishop of Chelmsford becomes acceptable to break from but the Bishop of Durham is not? This is the inevitable logic of adding GAFCON to Reform and Reform's desire to break free of disliked diocesan bishops.

Andrew Goddard thinks this North American Province of GAFCON could adopt the Covenant and be bound to other Covenant accepting Anglican Churches.

The aim must also be to establish a structure which, even if initially only recognised by a few provinces, is able and willing, once the Anglican covenant is agreed, to make the necessary affirmations and commitments and so align itself with the newly configured covenantal Communion.

Really? I can think of many provinces of Canterbury that won't if it will. As Andrew Goddard goes on to fear:

The danger is that this development may become – whether intentionally or not - the trigger for a fracturing of the wider Communion and the founding of a more narrowly defined purely confessional fellowship which is shaped less by the ecclesiological vision of Windsor and more by the forces of post-colonialism and hostility to the American church’s response to same-sex unions.

So what is the developing GAFCON view about the Covenant? Andrew Goddard realises that it is already hostile. Indeed it is. George Conger writes that:

THE PROPOSED Anglican Covenant is an "exercise in futility," theologians affiliated with the Gafcon movement tell The Church of England Newspaper.

Dr Mark Thompson, Dean of Moore Theological College, claims that the Covenant is "entirely irrelevant" and would "make no difference to the current situation and will be unable to prevent future challenges of the same magnitude". He refers to "actions" of Bishop Schori and Bishop Ingham and claims that the Lambeth Commentary "refuses to deal with the real issues". The Covenant confuses what is between God and humanity and this construction that is between humans. The Articles of Religion do not support the view that the people of God gather around their territorial bishop. Professor Stephen Noll, Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University, states that all the drafts "fall short" on "doctrinal substance and disciplinary efficacy". He wants the Jerusalem Declaration to be incorporated into the Covenant.

If it was, it will be swiftly rejected by province after province. If the Covenant was legalistic and about punishment, it would similarly rejected. Anglicans as spread out are not biblical literalists, and not all follow these Articles of Religion even as some historical background.

GAFCON is a produce of Religious Trotskysim. It intends to do what previous movements of the hard theological right failed to do - such as Action of Biblical Witness to Our Nation (its founder now out in a pro-Israel Christian cause consistent with extreme Christian satellite stations). This Western fringe Anglican movement will find causes and means to spread itself in order to do what others haven't done. It latched itself on to some African provinces and used them for ballast, and has used the dissent in the American and then Canadian Churches to advance its cause. It is always organisational and substantive. The idea that it won't use opportunities arising from its signatories is just daft. Its idea of transforming the Anglican Communion is exactly parallel to Militant wanting to transform the Labour Party. And in those days there were various socialist fellow travellers: useful for as long as they were sympathetic, and spat out when unwanted.

The odd thing about Andrew Goddard was that he was spat out first (Wycliffe), but now has become a fellow traveller.

The only reason he is a fellow traveller is because Fulcrum and its Open Evangelical stance keeps being left adrift. Fulcrum keeps warming up to the Archbishop of Canterbury and his pumping up a plan or two for centralising, only to find the air goes out of the tyre almost immediately. Even Andrew Goddard is frustrated.

Anglicanism is a diverse set of Churches across a range of cultures, that has a set of basic statements that connect it to other trinitarian Churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury has a fantasy that this is a Catholic Church of bishops and him, and Open Evangelicals have a fantasy that it is some sort of Protestant World Wide Fellowship of Believers. The Covenant is an idea that won't work, because it cannot work, and Anglicanism is going to have to remain a grouping of diverse origin Churches where each decides who they wish to recognise.

All the core Lambeth Conference did was all Lambeth could do: provide a get together. The rest, a sort of second Lambeth of plans and intentions, was just a set of proposals to those Churches who either will not or cannot compromise their autonomy. Covenants exist before they are written, and the one that exists now is the unwritten one about diversity and difference that some literalist Anglican Churches and movements have since come to reject.

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