Monday, 1 September 2008

Home Made Speculation

I have been asked to speculate on what will happen regarding Anglican politics should Jeffrey John become Bishop of Bangor.

The first important point, as stated by Peter Ould, is that there will be much hedging about his appointment, in that he has declared previously that Jeffrey John is in a celibate civil partnership. Thus a contrast will be made between him and Gene Robinson. Ould says it is sexual practice that debars a gay man from episcopal office, and it cannot be a civil partnership that debars a man because of the Church's own position on civil partnerships when it comes to pensions. If the criticism is based on his teachings, Ould says, then it is no difference from Rowan Williams's The Body's Grace, or indeed what he wrote to Deborah Pitt years ago. Ould concludes, from his "post-gay" perspective:

The best card to play is a combination of the same-sex union ban and the teaching of Dr John on sexual morality, but such an objection has huge implications for the Church of England (as regards its stance on Civil Partnerships).

This really won't do, nor does the positioning of the goalposts. They had been moved by Rowan Williams, when he sacrificed his friend, as he asks other bishops to sacrifice gays and lesbians in order to have a more coherent Anglican Communion. Rumourland has it that the now Fulcrum people offered Rowan Williams a bargain that Jeffrey John could be a Dean without trouble, but not a bishop, which if so was another one of those bargains that comes back to haunt.

The first thing that Jeffrey John as Bishop of Bangor does is make Rowan Williams's position more untenable in the eyes of many (that is to say, for some it is somewhat untenable now, that he argues and indeed builds a position on the basis of views he does not personally hold). One can argue - I would - that his open private view reduces any duplicity. But this time matters start to look somewhat twisting, in that the man he in effect forced to step down takes up a position in a Church where Rowan Williams used to be the chief. The answer could well be that at that time, and in that province, Rowan Williams may well have also agreed with his consecration. If that is the answer, then it is somewhat against his bishop-is-different response to Deborah Pitt (and to that hapless reporter in the African airport - "I am an Archbishop and this is what I teach") that he may well have employed then. If this was the view, then it says that England is more important than Wales, that by necessity England cannot be as progressive as can Wales. If this was the argument, then of course TEC and ACC also can be progressive. In the end Rowan Williams would have to push to a further extreme his view that he holds certain private views but neither in Wales nor in England would he act in this way.

Then that raises the whole business of autonomy. He cannot quite say, well I would not have done it but Wales is under new management and Wales remains autonomous. Rowan Williams's position now is that provinces of the Anglican Communion ought to be more interdependent.

It comes to something, of course, if the next door Church, once of the Church of England, doesn't agree with this supposed Mother Church (supposed by Rowan Williams).

Presumably the position would be of an interfering Anglican Communion, that is to say it would put its new up and coming Pastoral Forum into the space of Wales to take into its ship holding bay congregations and even dioceses of Wales. How bizarre that would be, as requests come forward. Although such would be Communion level, there would be a more than a hint of England interfering in Wales and the whole issue there of establishment and not being in the establishment. The Church in Wales for deep religious-cultural reasons has to be disestablished and hints of going in the other direction would not do. Rowan Williams as Chair of such a Pastoral Forum would be in an untenable position, it would be a clash of interests as Primate of All England, and it would look very colonial.

On which point it is back to GAFCON again. Almost certainly they will not go with the "combination" of Peter Ould. They will just treat it as a progressive Archbishop of Wales and treating Wales as The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are treated. Indeed it would be the first way in for setting up a new Province.

Just as the GAFCON Province across the Atlantic is for North America (after all, it's not that big), this one would presumably be for the British Isles. The legal complications of priests and congregations in England joining the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and ignoring their own diocesan bishop are many to the point of impossibility (it is a case of leaving) so FCA people in England are going to have to play their sympathies and obligations fast and loose. Wales, Scotland and Ireland may well be different. All the GAFCON Primates Council has to do is create a few bishops and attach members to them. Existing English bishops would again be hugely complicated legally, but there might be a few from elsewhere: more than likely GAFCON will make some more.

This also will join up with the whole isse of Episcopal headship. The Church of England General Synod, in part because of GAFCON, refused to have a diocese or two extra for those who wanted male only bishops. No doubt in the shaky alliance between GAFCON evangelicals and traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, another function of a GAFCON Province of the British Isles would be a place to put traditionalist Catholics. But again, they would be forced to leave the Church of England completely, without any sense that they can steal the property. Many of them would just linger on in the back alleys of the Church of England. How much GAFCON can create this function depends on how it manages its own contradictions, e.g. upholding the Thirty-nine Articles in a more absolutist manner than the Church of England does and indeed the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (I've noticed how some of Old and even Liberal Catholic sympathy have to go back to 1549).

So the clearest outcome must surely be from the breakaway Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and its expected declarations of heterodoxy for some Canterbury connected provinces around the world. From a Communion point of view there would be acute sensitivities of any Pastoral Forum coming into action in Wales. It follows that the Communion then would be hampered, even its drift to centralisation (via Rowan Williams's personal outlook and public policy) would be checked. Rowan Williams's own position would be like someone tied in knots by a rope that keeps going around him.

Yet, and this is the other side of it, Anglicanism would find its fluidity again. Provinces would indeed be autonomous and some would innovate while others would not. They would, as they say, apply the gospel into particular cultural situations, what Andrew Linzey has argued is the necessity of a theology of the Holy Spirit within a responsive Anglicanism. If Jeffrey John is the new Bishop of Bangor (assuming he is the best candidate) then he may well be a means at last to free up Western Anglicanism at least, whilst allowing those in the Global South to go at their own pace. No doubt there will be many bilateral relationships and severing of relationships, but that follows, just as it does with the Orthodox Church. If we go back to the Covenant of Fate and Covenant of Faith as lectured on by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks at the Lambeth Conference, we know that the Covenant of Faith proposed is either to be too restrictive or pointless, but that a Covenant of Fate (for serving the world) may well become the focus of a flexible, diverse, Anglicanism in all sorts of agreements made between provinces around the world. There is nothing to stop people of difference talking, as they did at Lambeth 2008.

Gosh, all this speculation - and all without Ruth Gledhill opening her mail (as she does not when away). One wonders what her mailbox contains about this matter or closely related - she having been on holiday for August.

Oh she is back and not a bad report at all, quite detailed on procedure and responses.


Doorman-Priest said...

Thank you for the analysis. I like that you do my thinking for me.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

You do some, and I'll come and read yours.

Peter O said...

I have responded initially here -

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

And a comment added over there:

Erika Baker said...

thank you!
Can I ask you to speculate once more, please?
What will be the response of the liberals in the CoE, i.e. will they finally get it together and find their own voice, or will they just meakly disintegrate?

And almost more importantly, what will be the response of the middle of the roaders in the CoE, those who have never done much more than politely stayed out of the debate hoping it would all pass them by?

Happy crystal balling:-)

Erika Baker said...

Ruth writes that JJ’s choice for Bishop would be controversial because AC has just accepted a moratorium on people like him.
But the moratorium is on openly partnered, non celibate gay priests, isn’t it?

Conservatives are already falling over themselves to denounce him because of his “sex outside marriage” (oh please!!!) and/or his “false teaching” on sexuality, but I have yet to hear someone say that he is disqualified because he’s a celibate gay priest.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

My crystal ball needs to fill up after discharging its refraction; it is not capable of just coming along with wisdom just because of the rubbing on the ball that I do to stir it into action. However, suitably rested, I'm sure that it will respond again and offer some penetrating analysis, coming out of me of course.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I'll blog on liberality on Wednesday I hope, head being filled with other things on Tuesday.