Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Dictatorial Hand of Cards

The Archbishop of Canterbury has chosen a Windsor Continuation Group in line with the Advent Letter of last year.

The controversy of Sharia Law might have exercised the media, and involved me in some explanation to a) a church member given a lift home from the evening service on Tuesday and b) clarifications of what he meant by his actual parallel jurisdiction (opt out of religious communities to community courts that would decide matters, opt out of individuals back to the state courts) to friends in the pub afterwards, but this Sharia explosion is something of an (albeit illustrative) diversion from the main business of this Archbishop's central activity going towards the Lambeth Conference.

Everything and everything is being invested into this. We know this even from those final words of the Archbishop's speech - electronic bloggers don't contribute to togetherness like the countercultural meeting of bishops will; please pray for minorities etc. but especially pray for the huddle of bishops and what they will decide. Yuck.

The Windsor Continuation Group has a specific task, which is centred around the whole business of the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing the Mind of the Communion (paragaph 109 of the Windsor Report). Some Churches question this, including the Irish:

To describe the Archbishop of Canterbury as the "the significant focus of unity, mission and teaching" (C.109 p59) is to move towards a Patriarchate with more than an historical Primacy of Honour accorded to one who is freely accepted by other provinces, despite their differences, as Primus inter Pares.

The Welsh took the view that the Anglican Consultative Council is the body

Furthermore it is not as though the Archbishop of Canterbury is chosen by the whole of the Anglican Communion. However great the crisis in the Communion over the last two years we do not accept that this is a reason for changing the fundamental nature of the place of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion. We believe that the belief in WR 109 that such a person should "speak directly to any provincial situation" is ill advised, and inherently impractical.

What then do we recommend? We affirm the value of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is a properly synodical body. We also believe that further discussion between the provinces, and inter cultural dialogue, is what is needed at this critical junction...

Nevertheless, in his drive towards definition and centralisation, Rowan Williams continues to regard the Windsor Report as the only show in town.

The Archbishop's Mind of the Communion is in his Advent Letter too, which is that Lambeth 1998 1:10 represents the basis on which Churches recognise one another as valid to hold the monopoly of Anglicanism in their area, but if a Church innovates a reading of scripture away from this then it is the task of the Communion to intervene and not one (local) Church over another.

the ability of each part of the family to recognise that other local churches have received the same faith from the apostles and are faithfully holding to it in loyalty to the One Lord incarnate who speaks in Scripture and bestows his grace in the sacraments.

The group is to look at:

  • Anglican identity
  • Assess developments following on from the clear recommendations of Windsor
  • Work on unanswered questions arising from the inconclusive evaluation of the primates responding to the meeting of TEC bishops in New Orleans
  • Work in collaboration with the primates, the Joint Standing Committee, the Covenant Design Group and the Lambeth Conference Design Group
  • Draw on statements from the ACC

The crux however is still this:

...whether in the present circumstances it is possible for provinces or individual bishops at odds with the expressed mind of the Communion to participate fully in representative Communion agencies including ecumenical bodies...

What Rowan Williams wants is identity. He used the word "unclarity" then:

the question of 'who speaks for the Communion?' is surrounded by much unclarity and urgently needs resolution...

He sees:

...damaging positions by any vagueness as to what the Communion as a whole believes and endorses...

And states that the question that:

...who represents the Communion cannot be evaded.

So that:

Not everyone carrying the name of Anglican can claim to speak authentically for the identity we share as a global fellowship.

The point is that he is trying to force an identity which, perhaps, the Anglican Communion in all its diversity, simply cannot give.

It is as if he wants to then take this identity to Benedict XVI and say:

Look, this is a worldwide Church. It is an actual Church. It is a Catholic Church. I, as Archbishop, now speak for the Mind of the Communion. The Instruments of Communion now determine the boundaries of what these Churches may profess in recognition of each other. Where a Church falls out of line of these narrow scriptural boundaries, we the Communion can either pull it into line or we can regard it as marginal to the expressed central definition of this Communion, the Church. We are a worldwide Catholic Church, therefore, and please recognise us fully.

The Archbishop is singular in this pursuit, which is why he laid the condition that only those bishops who accept the Covenant process can go to Lambeth 2008. Conditions, conditions - all in the pursuit of this singular outcome. He is almost like a dictator who lacks dictatorial powers but makes the best of the cards in his hand and the rules of the game, getting others to change the rules ever so slightly his way and to hand over some more cards.

The question is whether, really, the autonomy of all the Churches can stand this revolution in centralisation. By the absence of responses to the Nassau Covenant, and the negativity of five of the thirteen who bothered, the answer is probably no. Nevertheless we should not expect this to stop the holy huddle pressing on and pressing on regardless.

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