Tuesday 19 August 2008

Fawning and Imagining

Some Open Evangelicals are now making their responses to Lambeth, particularly Graham Kings in England and Ephraim Radner in North America.

Graham Kings takes a ride on the African theme (given these cut-down indabas at Lambeth, and probably the provinces behind GAFCON too - that he reduces to a "shadow conference"). He says African wisdom comes in proverbs whereas European wisdom (equally treated) comes in aphorisms.

Then he is on to "conversation" (being different from talk) and "writing" at Lambeth itself, including those Reflections, where only the mildest of criticism is offered.

Then we have something of a staple of Fulcrum: the desired fawning of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Now I happen to think that we should be respectful, and even more see the better side of someone and give the benefit of the doubt. Yet even the second address of Rowan Williams gets a positive response from Graham Kings: that was the one that troubled evangelicals and traditionalists because he voiced the liberal inclusivist opinion alongside the excluding one, and left evangelicals and traditionalists to worry about an apparent even handedness:

He went on, riskily and imaginatively, to enter the world of the 'innovator' and the 'traditionalist' concerning sexuality and tried to describe them from the inside and their respective calls for generosity. Surprisingly, and perhaps deliberately, he left little room to develop the depth of the 'centre'.

Surprisingly - but perhaps deliberately - Graham Kings can offer the only the tiniest criticism of the Archbishop here when he must have heard how other evangelicals were responding.

However, the tiny criticism is allowed because there is the third address, the "magisterially resolute" one. Deeper into Christ, it went, apparently, as it set out a programme far more deliberate than anything resolved (as nothing was resolved - or was it so?) at the Lambeth Conference.

Intriguingly, he used the phrase 'Anglican Church' several times, and time will be needed to elucidate this hint.

It was no hint: it was deliberate, underlined at the last press conference.

The baddies of the magesterial denouement, however, went away from this tight lipped: these bishops had "media advisors" to do this. Double think and double talk!

If they were angry, but not in public, how does Graham Kings know? Did Susan Russell represent them all? Unlike the magisterial Archbishop, Americans think one thing in private and say one thing in public, and this would never do.

So the Archbishop is acting "urgently" with the Pastoral Forum, with as much legitimacy as every other dreamt up organ of intervention. GAFCON can come back in - build bridges with them while North Americans cross bridges with their private anger in media-guided public silence.

The Pastoral Forum has "potential" against the interventions of GAFCON, interventions which can only lead to a "vacuum centred federation", unlike the Archbishop building his centralised Empire with Christ somewhere subsumed in the middle. Such a Forum needs a "Primate of significant distinction" (is there one?). This would have to be someone conservative on sexual issues and keen to hold the communion together.

Graham Kings forgets one thing. He forgets the Canadians and the Americans. He forgets the Irish and the Scots and the Welsh. He forgets most Australians and the New Zealanders. He forgets the Brazilians, the Mexicans and even the South Africans. None of these, and a great many of the English, will not put up with this. He forgets Synods and actual Churches.

This is all the wrong way around. The separatists and homophobes of Africa are being enticed, and a minority of a population are being excluded on the basis of building this Castle in the sky.

But let's just imagine for a moment that Fulcrum has the ear of the strategy, rather than just agreeing with anything this Archbishop does (or like Tom Wright, imagining being close to the centre of activity while he gets everything wrong). Let's just suppose that this is the way forward.

Well then, if the Americans and Canadians have got any sense, in their private anger and public silence, they will do what should be done. Get out. Get out before it is too late. Make it easy for them. And then watch and see who really wants the Castle in the sky, or who instead actually wants to build bridges across the Atlantic - real bridges worth having.

Who would want to be in a Communion that could reabsorb GAFCON on at least some of its terms? Not many. It might help stop a division through Fulcrum, between Conservative and Open strains, but it won't be much of a Communion left and it definitely would not be worth the effort of dodging the bigotry.

And then there is Ephraim Radner. He is less fawning in response but is most definitely of the same school.

He mentions the press in more detail and its various declarations, including the non-revelation of an Archbishop's double-think towards gay inclusion, yet blanketed by his assertion of:

the Archbishop's long-known support of yesteryear for a positive consideration of gay inclusion (a support he has since significantly modified in a traditionalist direction).

That was according to Tom Wright's letter: not according to Rowan Williams's own account at the same time. And, in any case, the double-think goes so much further, as evidenced when he was tied in knots after being asked simple questions by Richard Dawkins, as shown on Channel 4 on Monday evening (The Genius of Charles Darwin).

So we get to:

a more realistic assessment of the road now opened up after the Lambeth Conference...

First of all, the bishops got on so well with each other and in doing religious things, with the Bible at the centre.


...the Conference "Report" or "Reflections"...stands more as a series of undigested notes, helpful perhaps to the participants in reminding them of things said and shared, but without much coherent direction for the faithful at large.

See, it doesn't look so much like fawning. It may well actually be worse:

But there is little in it [the Conference] to guide and inspire, and one might indeed wonder if the unique opportunity of the Communion's episcopal college actually coming together at a time of undoubted ecclesial crisis had been substantively squandered in favor of a kind of preliminary relational work that should have been both pursued and presumed long before the frenzied and torrid few days of July.

Episcopal College? What's that? When was that set up? Anyway, look - there is criticism too even about the Archbishop when Graham Kings was able to be so positive:

there were those who heard mixed messages in some of his earlier reflections...

However, salvation comes from that same man, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who at the last provided:

a clear vision of accountability for the Communion that was built on a solid ecclesiology. ...it seemed as if he took upon himself only at the end of the Conference the task of articulating a common mind that the Reflections only struggled, haltingly at best, to identify.

It starts to look like a one man show. There were all these bishops, and they all said lots of things in all sorts of directions, and so did Rowan Williams twice. But at the last he managed to do what others were barely capable of achieving: he articulated the Mind of the Communion - probably. This achievement is to be followed up by a pastoral letter.

As well as this there was the Windsor Continuation Group, producing clarity and elements less clear, asserts Ephraim Radner. These drew a majority of support, apparently, from the bishops, though I don't know how he knows this.

The Global South also did their own thing too, cohering with the Windsor Continuation Group and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

(Though I seem to remember Michael Poon writing a somewhat different emphasis.)

So what is the conclusion?

First, there is no desire to separate (though not according to Graham Kings, for whom the media-guided Americans went away angry in private and silent in public). Ephraim Radner waxes lyrical about this lack of desire to separate in a way I wouldn't want to repeat (I'm English and I am modest). The bishops further embraced a form of obedience, apparently, again he waxing lyrical about this in all sorts of glossy Christian terminology.

The authority gained and expressed there is under "Christ's own life" (I've no idea what this is myself so I'm learning all the time here) - this being all about not changing something received in faith from scripture and tradition. (What has this to do with Christ's own life? Is this some sort of convoluted theologising?).

So we stick to excluding people, because the good book and tradition says so, and we are drawn (like gravity?) into unity, into a covenant and it will involve a Covenant.

So really we are replacing fawning with imagination here. The guy has gone for a Christian terminology dance around the park, where all the flowers are pretty and the trees dance and everyone feels just so unified and needs a document to say so... Oh and lots of park keepers in the form of centralising institutions.

It's the "weight of accountability that the moratoria embody". Gosh: the weight, the heaviness, the sheer gravity of it all! It's all Christ and the Church and unity and wonders will never cease.

And the turbulence (that is, presumably, not gravity) is evidence that making changes needs the onus of proof that such changes are right.

Violations of boundaries are equivalent because all should walk as one under the Master (that being Christ, not Rowan Williams).

Oh it sounds like an argument for goosestepping. Let's all look the same, be the same, do the same, respond the same: respond according to the one who moves the least, thinks the least, says the most.

The conference was "closing the circle" unleashed from 1998, and you shouldn't get away with the most basic of blessings while also trying to reach out to the GAFCON splitters.

Yet Ephraim Radner sees some dangers in all these God-backed centralising innovations (these new institutions that are innovations, aren't they?) [listing numbers added]:

  1. the proposed Forum will devolve into the impotence of the past Panel of Reference
  2. the infighting of the Primates will be coupled with their deferral of responsibility on the face of recent criticism
  3. the Joint Standing Committee of Primates and ACC will unite for a Joint Evasion
  4. GAFCON's leadership will turn their backs on the good will and counsel of friends and enshrine their separation in the habit of rejection
  5. the Archbishop himself will insist on others making necessary decisions despite their refusal and the overwhelming demands of the moment
  6. ...churches and bishops and dioceses simply continue to "do what is right in their own eyes"

Could be! And of the latter Churches, Ephraim Radner wants the Pastoral Forum, the Primates, the Joint Standing Committee and the Archbishop

respond relationally, according to the reasonable and Christian parameters that a "communion" embodies and intends

Which means that as there is no effective moratoria, even now, these "relational" institutions should intervene.

And his small Anglican Communon Institute has some recommendations to help.

  • Scripture should be called the Word of God (despite the fact it is words about the Word) and you cannot contradict it (despite the fact it contradicts itself).
  • There should be a Faith and Order Commission with bishops, clergy and laity with ten year memberships chosen by the Lambeth Conference or other representative means. (When was the Lambeth Conference representative? What of and by whom?)
  • The Faith and Order Commission handles disputes, recommending a judgment to the Primates who would give a provisional decision that is finalised by the Lambeth Conference without appeal. (Rule by bishops alone then and by what, a resolution?)
  • And so this goes on, with the Pastoral Forum carrying out the decisions.
  • And if you don't obey, you're out; and you're out until a petition and process for coming back within the Covenant.

There is something he perhaps doesn't get. Even at the Church of England's General Synod this was made clear. A Covenant that intends to exclude will not be accepted. The Churches won't have it.

Something else the Churches won't have either:

Individual dioceses who accept the Covenant apart from their provinces or national churches... free to petition the next Lambeth Conference for recognition of their partnerships as formal covenanting dioceses or provinces.

Ephraim Radner wants it all to happen quickly; of course he does - a "final ceremony" in 2011 or 2012.

Somehow ceremony is not the right word. But there is another suggestion.

Once again: don't wait for this, North America. Get out. Get out as fast as you can. Make it easy for them.

Then let's see what happens. The Covenant will not see the light of day. See then what a real communion looks like, with real hands of friendship across the water.

And be done with the centralising all under the disguise of gushing Christian talk that turns the sun of faith into a sheet of ice.

I was reminded recently about Karl Barth's views, that evangelical, with a colourful phrase encapsulating his views applied even to Christianity. Sinful manufactured religion: and the Covenant and all the institutions that keep being dreamt up represent just that. It is sinful manufactured religion: building an Empire on the backs of an excluded group.

When the cards are on the table, that group will not be excluded, nor anyone else that is to be welcomed into the family. It is on such small but hugely principled matters that whole empires can fall, and this one should and will.


Erika Baker said...

Wow, what stunning writing and what an outstanding analysis. Thank you.

The whole thing has a huge sense of unreality about it. As though a noisy group of people dictating what God's reality is like could actually create that reality.

It's shaddow boxing at its worst.

Fr Craig said...

THanks, P - I truly revel in your 'slightly an outsider' way of cutting to the quick. My prediction: we Episcopalians will murmur politely about unity and a good number of bishops will - out of genuine conscience, work for the Covenant, et. al. But in the end, I cannot conceive of our General Convention approving anything that even remotely tries to tell us what we can or can't do. So, at that point, we may well be 'out'. But i believe we are simply too 'polite' to 'get out' in advance of that. Remember - the vast majority (I venture 95% +, seriously) of folks in the pews have no idea that all of this discussion is even taking place. And, for better of worse, we are Americans - we don't stand for someone else telling us what to do or think. Hell, even the RC laity here don't pay attention to Rome on the whole. I think the Prof Grieb idea of quietly stepping back is great, frankly - but it won't happen because our bishops and our laity are too disbursed in thinking to organize such a concerted move. We will stumble our way along doing as we like until we are kicked out. The result - hands across the oceans in genuine communion - will still happen, it will just take longer. And, in the great scheme of things, if some of our former parishes now claim to be 'Nigerian' or something - we'll just shake our heads and wish them well. In the end, the courts will sort that out (and TEC will, by and large, win). We Americans love to go to court!
Blessings -

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I like that: "slightly an outsider"

You may well be right, but to be thrown out or given second division status is to accept the stamp on the head others so wish to provide.

June Butler said...

Pluralist, I like your direct manner of quickly getting to the heart of the matter, too. I would like to never have to pay attention to a word that Archbishop Williams says again, because his repeated beating up on the Episcopal Church in the US (and the Anglican Church of Canada) begins to feel abusive. However, as Fr Craig says, we will not formally separate from the AC. It just won't happen. We will, however, go our own way and perhaps be thrown out or reduced to a lower status.

You may well be right, but to be thrown out or given second division status is to accept the stamp on the head others so wish to provide.

I wouldn't mind. Jesus hangs out with the lowly.

Episcopal College? What's that? When was that set up?

That was set up at the same time the "Anglican Church" was set up.

I'm pleased to see that Rowan's repeated use of "Anglican Church" sets off alarm bells for others, and not just for me.

Erika Baker said...

"to be thrown out or given second division status is to accept the stamp on the head others so wish to provide."

Only if you take any notice of their judgement.
Once you're truly free of it it matters no more than what a Baptist might think of your theology, or a Seven Day Adventist.

It's like a marriage break-up. At first you try to persuade the other, then you accept the status quo but still care about what they think of you. Eventually, they have no more important status than anyone else in the world and you marvel at how you ever accepted any "stamp" they put on you.

The cap only fits if you will wear it.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yeah, that is the weakness in my argument Erika. Do you clear yourself out of the way sooner, and let things go the way they will, or do you let them do the dirty work, after which the result is pretty much the same. I still think if you don't get duffed up by getting out of the way then you are better off and others are better off (for not having done it) for goodwill to start from a better position.

Anonymous said...

Pluralist, great observations! Nicely done. As far as the aforementioned blogging bishops from conservative circles: They do seem rather proud of themselves. I wonder when God handed them their cell phones, so that they know precisely what God wants. And which service does God use?
I agree with you, the American Episcopal Church and the Canadian Anglican Church should get out. Now. But Episcopalians like to be civilized, and bolting seems, well, rude. So we'll continue muddling along as we have until one day we find we're on a separate path ... and we have a lot of others walking with us.

AndyA said...

Thank you for a thoughtful contribution. As a part of the Episcopal Church, I believe the most important problem with our "polite" bumbling is the message it sends to American life - namely - passivity and lack of a clear and positive message. I believe many Americans interpret such behavior as proof positive that we have simply followed cultural trends and then go quiet hoping the fuss will all go away over time.

Warren said...

Fr Craig said:

the vast majority (I venture 95% +, seriously) of folks in the pews have no idea that all of this discussion is even taking place.

This is an excellent summary of why modern liberal Anglicanism is such a joke. Of course, modern western evangelicalism isn't any better.