Saturday, 16 August 2008


My Lambeth-ending piece on Anglican Balkanisation for The Lead appeared recently.

Since then there's a kind of opinion gathering pace about it now being time for The Episcopal Church and even the Anglican Church of Canada to offer themselves as sacrifices.

One of the messages that came from the Lambeth Conference was that of sacrifice for the good of the centralising Communion, so that it could continue in the direction in which it is going.

The principal point about sacrifice is that it comes from the people most directly affected. Now that The Episcopal Church has made a welcome to minorities previously excluded, and the Anglican Church of Canada is clearly moving in the same direction, it is not for them to sacrifice those they have already welcomed. It is only those who have been welcomed who can make the sacrifice. At another little progress along the way, they are the ones to have to back pedal again, probably so that a Communion can move towards being a Church, an aim hardly worth any sacrifice at all. It may look fine for those in purple, the holiest of religious bureaucrats: it is a purpose about which they can heartily approve even or especially on the backs of others they would rather not welcome.

If The Episcopal Church is going to make a sacrifice, it has to sacrifice itself. If the Anglican Church of Canada felt it was being ignored at Lambeth, it too might want to join its neighbour.

The point about sacrifice is that you give up something very significant. But it is not pointless. A sacrifice has some sort of hope built into it: that by doing the sacrifice something is cleared to allow something better to happen.

What it allows to happen is the welcome to those minorities, and not only in the two North American Churches.

No one is accepting blame or admitting to guilt by sacrificing (and such could be made clear): it is just a free offering of a material loss that hopes for but cannot be sure of a bigger spiritual gain. That free offering is The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada removing themselves from active participation in Anglican Communion structures.

A while back the argument would have been different. It would have been to play along and to go along, to stay and let those threatening to walk do the walking.

They've walked; there's was not a sacrifice (or at least only very limited) because it was done with immediate intention of taking power, of intervening, and those that faced a loss of going to Lambeth went anyway. It was a very controlled move, indeed by very few, and had been done with planned intent.

It is clear now that whatever the Canterbury Anglican Communion does, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans will want its Primates Council and its Province of GAFCON in North America. It wants control, to do what evangelicals have always failed to do. They would demand far reaching changes to the Anglican Communion before any full reintegration, of the kind that would not get past synods of Churches and even moderate evangelicals.

The self-removal by TEC and ACC would involve certain other matters. One would be no place at all for the Pastoral Forum or any other Anglican Communion institution interfering in their affairs. Withdrawal comes with a cost on both sides. Also there would be no spending on bureaucratic Anglican Communion operations by either Church. The debt for the Lambeth Conference will have to be funded elsewhere.

Secondly, whilst there would (at least at first) be no other formal arrangements planned, TEC and ACC would welcome arrangements with other Anglican Churches moving in their direction. Even then any formal arrangements would be loose. You don't give up on something in order to make the same mistakes all over again.

There is no doubt that this move of self-exclusion would cause quite some tensions elsewhere. No doubt some evangelicals would regard it as something of a relief - like "good, they've gone" or that it affirms a first class Christian communion in their eyes. But a great many others would not like this at all, and would make their own connections across the water.

As a result, TEC and the ACC would suddenly discover many friends. Furthermore, they would find that the Anglican Communion simply would not implement the excluding, centralising features that it seems hell-bent on introducing at present. The liberals, smaller in weight across the Communion that was left, would realise that their influence mattered, and Anglican Churches that have a definition of breadth would effectively veto centralising measures. After all: what would be the point? Those that the Pastoral Forum/ Faith and Order Commission/ Covenant were meant to keep in on the theological hard right were still gone, and those who might have been kept in on the theological left had also gone into non-participation.

What might be found is that the non-GAFCON Global South adopts a Covenant and catechism. They start to organise themselves too.

My guess is that, with these all-Communion institutions dropped, except for a few signatories and self-organisers, there would be increasing hands of friendship across the Atlantic Ocean and that these would rebuild: many based on informal Covenants of Fate rather than a formal Covenant of Faith (as in Rabbi Sacks' lecture at the Lambeth Conference).

This sacrifice by TEC and ACC would not be necessary except that Rowan Williams wants to push his institutions like the Pastoral Forum: that is the arrogance of introducing an institution that does the work of the Covenant before there is even a Covenant. The worst thing that can happen is that the Communion structures are in the driving seat and start to slice up the pack of cards from its standpoint.

Better to give way first, to pull away and wait. See what happens. There is no need to do a GAFCON and start setting things up by designing and intervening. The only thing to do when pulling out is to be prophetic, that is to be fully welcoming of all that will come in. Show how to do it. It might even catch on.


Anonymous said...

I am no fan of 3 of the 4 so-called Instruments of Communion, the ABC, the Primates meeting, and Lambeth.

But a voluntary withdrawal from Anglican Communion strucutres seems to me to be mistaken. For me, the analogy is that I, as a gay man, should absent myself from family gatherings because some of my family might be/are offended that I chose to live my life honestly and openly as a gay man. If I were to stay away, where is the possibility of reconciliation?

Granted, that possibility is lessened if other family members choose to absent themselves because I will be there, but the possibility still remains, if I am there, that in future, reconciliation will occur.

And if, in future, I am no longer invited to family gatherings, at least that is an honest, plain, up-front dynamic, one that lets no one “off the hook”.

It seems to me the idea of voluntary withdrawal is based on a lie, one that says that a false peace and a false harmony based on separation is better than an honest conflict and an honest discord based on presence.

I see nothing in the ministry of Jesus that would justify such a withdrawal.

I think absenting ourselves particularly from the Anglican Consultative Council, the only body with representation by all orders of ministry and with any sort of juridical authority, would be a big mistake.

Bryant A. Hudson

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

That's not the analogy. You would still be in the family. It is that your family wouldn't go and see the more distant relatives in family gatherings. Of course individuals of those relatives would come and go, and some would be very friendly, and some talk about other ways of having gatherings. But it's the formal gatherings as was that would stop, an action of the immediate family.

WSJM said...

I think this is a splendid piece, Adrian -- and thanks to Mark Harris at Preludium for referring us over to you. Mark also has a very good response, and I'm posting further comments over at his blog.

Bill Moorhead

Marshall Scott said...

I agree that we need to consider this. I do feel strongly that any decision to step back needs to be described in the language from Lambeth that we are doing this out of our generosity. Let others see it as penance; we will have stated our intent.