Saturday, 7 February 2009

Distant Creative Writing

The Times Online article by Ruth Gledhill is yet another example of distance creative writing. Mixing up the Anglican Communion and the Church of England, she predicts nothing less than an historic outbreak of unity.

Historians may look back on this time as a new reformation as Anglican canon lawyers, theologians and bishops struggle to find a formula for a Church that can remain at once reformed and catholic, inclusive and orthodox, without formal schism.

This is a Communion that Venables described as broken, and that was already divided, and the difference being to work out the division in love. This is a change in attitude, but not a change towards unity. Still creative writing by a distant journalist might open up some point of debate:

This week, at their meeting in Alexandria, the primates have been debating the Covenant, a new document that is at the heart of the solution and sets out a Bible-based orthodoxy that the provinces will be invited to sign up to.

Is that what the Covenant does: sets out a Bible-based orthodoxy? I thought it was a Church document of authority, relationship and process, the juridical side of the process apparently being dropped. What is "Bible-based", other than (these days) a slogan of a right wing section of the Anglicans, as well as others of that spectrum. All sorts of things are Bible-included after all. It just depends on who says so. When asked what's in this process for gay and lesbian people, the Archbishop of Canterbury's reply was the listening process in Lambeth 1998 1:10 and the hermeneutical work that will take place at Communion level regarding the Bible. Oh really? Bible based then that might be positive for gay and lesbian Christians (I wouldn't bank on such an outcome, however).

Other than it being daft that the Communion level can decide on which of the multiple ways one should read the Bible, this is not quite intended as the slogan approach to the Bible that this report suggests.

We are told that the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA):

is likely to be granted some extra-provincial status allowing the thousands of Anglicans it represents to remain within the Communion.

I didn't see any of that. When was that decided? It seems rather that it's being left to hang while The Episcopal Church (TEC) General Convention decides whether to lift its self-imposed restriction on no more gay relationship bishops, or decide to return to its inclusive interpretation of the gospels (Bible-based). The hard right is waiting to point the finger, but that's in the unstated current situation open to analysis. That would be the time for a Primates' Council to appear to recognise for itself ACNA, pointing the finger at TEC's General Convention (ooh, not even bishops in charge). Such an act of recognition would break the Communiqué of Alexandria which clearly opposes any group taking Communion authority to itself.

Gregory Cameron, who Ruth Gledhill damns by predictions of promotions beyond his bishopping (this is something I do by the way: I get groceries twice a week), clearly states that positions have not changed, only the manner of talk. Hardly unity.

Indeed the decision to make women eligible for becoming bishops is likely to be highly charged for the Church of England. The reason is that it actually pushes the Church of England in a liberal direction. First of all it does it because women in ministry tend to be broader in outlook than men and there have been surveys indicating this trend. Secondly it does so because the traditionalist Catholics really will have to go, except the few who want their pensions, and those congregants who were never as clear as they thought they were. Ruth Gledhill's report says little about this, as she jumbles this up with Michael Nazir-Ali on the Covenant: that's the bishop talking about collective episcopal authority who has allied himself with the breakaways.

Plus, if the Covenant is going to be like the suggested Porvoo agreement, then this is an ecumenical style document that is considerably less about Communion than intended. It really would then just be a document to drop into the background, and cannot bring about a two tier Communion that Ruth Gledhill defines as a form of unity. The Covenant, however, is intended for a Communion, one likely to be rejected by many Churches if its intention is to produce a formal two tier Communion. A Porvoo approach would be some documentation that existed after it was realised that Anglicanism was based on a Federation of Churches, as in the Lutheran plus (Porvoo etc.) case.

The way forward is not, I suggest, some outbreak of unity (oh what a headline) but a recognition that the Communion is broken, and finding where it is broken, and to proceed on building friendly relations from that point on between those in general agreement on theological and practical issues.

1 comment:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Gledhill's entire article is high comedy. My laugh-o-meter went highest at the headline, at her notion that "Anglican canon lawyers, theologians and bishops" will bring unity to the Communion, and her final words below, though Ruth is surely right about the prophecies.:

Prophecies in this arena are about as safe as economic forecasts, but it could be that after years of teetering on the brink of schism, unity is about to break out in the Anglican Communion.