Sunday 16 December 2007

Resist Canterbury

It has taken me some time to absorb and understand the Advent Letter 2007 from Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, sent to the primates of Anglican Churches first and then released to the public.

It involved me rewriting the Advent Letter for my own sense of clarity. Then I rewrote it in a different order, a logical order as I could see it. Then I boiled it down into a summary. Then, having grasped it, I hope, I thought of a commentary and it is an attitude of resistance. All these stages are in the webpage in Learning - Religion - Denominations - called Anglican Communion Advent Letter 2007.

I am, of course, interested in any comments via here, Thinking Anglicans, or my website, if anyone thinks I have misunderstood the original Advent Letter.

Here I reproduce two parts of that webpage:

Boiled Down Summary

What is being proposed by this Archbishop of Canterbury is a massive centralisation of the Anglican Communion and its local (national) Churches to the Instruments of Communion (via a Covenant). The Communion has to be accepted as the centre of power and authority, rather than the local Church, if the local Church wishes to be regarded as Anglican within this Communion. This does not simply allow, on a Catholic principle, the ability to change doctrine by Communion-wide agreement, which is its potential, but change is prevented because Lambeth 1998 1:10 is the fixed mind of the Communion and indicates the way to read the Bible. A local Church that reads it otherwise risks the common ministry (because it falls outside expectations of the local Church by other local Churches) and may be regarded as a failed local Church, and it is for the Communion to decide to cross boundaries into a failed local Church. However, whatever local Churches decide, individual bishops and their dioceses faithful to the Communion can stay in full recognition of the Communion - a local (normally a national) Church is then bypassed.

An Alternative Strategy: Resistance to Canterbury

The proposals and actions of the Archbishop of Canterbury are a complete rewriting of Anglicanism as a set of autonomous local (national) Churches which come together according to bonds of affection. He is not only instituting a Roman Catholic style centralisation (compared with Eastern Orthodoxy) based around the Instruments of Communion, but he is now also basing it on a Protestant principle of belief and faith, and fellowship, as determined by Lambeth 1998 1:10. The Catholic principle has the edge, because Lambeth 1998 1:10 remains the mind of the Communion (and minds can change), yet is not up for discussion, and also because it is bishops who uphold the Communion and its faith and order. The Communion is made up of local (national) Churches having expectations of faith and order over others, but the task of maintenance passes up to the Communion on the principle of unity. The Instruments of Communion will gain clarity by instituting a Covenant, and it is now clear that the Covenant will be restrictive, because it is based on one method of reading the Bible and understanding ministry. The ministry is ultimately and completely episcopally based, and the recognition of bishops can bypass the local Church whatever its status.

It seems to me that this has to be opposed, and the way to oppose it is to oppose the Covenant and all it apparantly stands for. It could be that some bishops will accept the Windsor Process, go to Lambeth 2008, and undermine the Covenant by making it plural and broad. Don't believe it, because the Instruments of Communion will be at it afterwards according to the perceived (noisy) expectations of local Churches. There never was, and there is not, one way to read the Bible, and there are texts treated with more flexibility than the anti-homosexual clobber texts of the Bible.

The Anglican Communion is not a Church. It is not a form of Roman Catholicism, nor is it a form of Eastern Orthodoxy, but arguably it is closer to Eastern Orthodoxy in its make up of autonomous Churches than it is to Roman Catholicism.

So, what is the reality of the situation? Arguably the Archbishop has become so conservative and centralist in order to keep on board African and other globally southern Churches. He is imposing them on the rest. However, they have already set up local to local boundary-crossing ministerial arrangements. The Communion may take these over, but they will be as autonomous as any of the Churches.

The Episcopal Church will have to protect its integrity, and may have to do so not just against other Anglican Churches but against the Instruments of Communion. These Instruments of Communion have no more right to interfere in a local Church than have other local Churches. The Canadian Church will also find itself the subject of primates and the Instruments of Communion interfering in its decisions. So may other autonomous Churches.

It may be correct now for some liberal minded bishops not to go to Lambeth 2008. It was not part of the agenda of the more liberal minded to undermine the work of the Archbishop. But surely it is now clear that the Covenant will restrict, and horribly, and that the form of Anglicanism proposed is itself innovative and ugly. This Windsor Process could ruin the indeed recognisable nature of many Anglican Churches.

It may also seem perverse, but perhaps people should be realistic, that there are different Anglican Churches that are going to export themselves. Let them - and keep the existing, tolerant, Churches maintained with their integrity. It could be realistic now to consider two or three Communions.

It was a probable outcome that, having gone off on their own, the more selective literalist Anglican Churches would form their own Communion, based around the NURKSS (Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Sydney, Southern Cone), leaving a more tolerant Communion, headed by Canterbury, that could indeed then revisit Lambeth 1998 1:10 and have a looser generally Catholic Communion. Now it seems that, whilst the NURKSS may form their own body, the Canterbury Communion would be not far removed in its authoritarian basis - belief as well as process, and centralised. So another strategy is needed.

Anglican Churches which value their autonomy and their breadth, and bishops/ dioceses, priests/ parishes and laypeople within all these Churches, should first of all affirm autonomy and even the autocephalous nature of their Churches. Secondly they should establish their own connections according to mutual recognitions. As they do this, they may later wish to invite Canterbury into such a recognition of loose relationships, and thus restore Anglicanism to what it used to be and what it can be.

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