Thursday 30 July 2009

Bishop Tom to Ground Control

When I wrote the Anglican Oddity and Anglican Ashes pieces, I assumed that the real Bishop Tom Wright would be pretty fed up with the Real Archbishop Rowan Williams by now, especially as 'Rowan's Reflections' contain no specific means to an end of flogging the same Covenant. Well, I've been a little previous. Now Bishop Tom Wright has written a piece offering some means towards as well as supporting the same end; and he is also far more warm to the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) than ever before, assuming it works along with picking off of dioceses and even parishes - even individuals - inside The Episcopal Church (TEC) for Covenant signing purposes - and surely it would only be too eager.

There are two things Wright is right about. One is the now screaming clarity of Rowan Williams statement on homosexuality (doesn't mean he's right, though) and the other is the statement within Williams's paragraph 13 that the decision as to which things can be decided locally is not itself one that can be taken locally - 'locally' meaning one of the Anglican Churches (and that clarity does not mean it is right either).

It is not a matter of "sneering" that this implies central control: it imples nothing other. It implies the decision is taken centrally by whatever are the control mechanisms [Wright's para 8 (ii)].

This centralisation is where innovation is being introduced into Anglicanism, and who says it is to be introduced: the central decision makers in a grab for central control?

Once again, the Communion is not a Church. It does not have this power, not is there the legitimacy to grab this power. Indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no juridical authority outside the Province of Canterbury [para 20]. Nor, should it be added, would it be legal for the Church of England to adopt a Covenant of central control, if such control was to be regarded as demonstrative. Parliament might have something to say about this, constitutionally.

Now Bishop Tom Wright wants the Covenant adopting rapidly, even while it remains in process of completion and while none of the UK issues have even been considered. Given the intention of the Covenant to most definitely exclude, on the basis of Tom Wright's particular view of a two track approach (extracted selectively from 'Rowan's Reflections'), in that one is the correct and coherent (and ecumenical) track and the other is not [para 10], it is unlikely to be adopted with such an intention by many a Church and somewhat doubtful by the Church of England General Synod given previous debating. How would that work then: a Covenant where the Church of England could well be on the 'outer track' and the Archbishop of Canterbury up a creek without a paddle?

On the matter of homosexuality [back at para 6], Wright dismisses the importance of identity and rights by shifting the argument to "desires", and that desires have never been part of Christian identity although constraint has been. Perhaps he ought not to ignore the science then [para 6 (i)]. He goes on to criticise the claim to baptismal theology that is inclusive of the homosexual:

This appears to ignore the New Testament teaching about baptism, that it constitutes a dying to self and sin and a rising to new life with Christ, specifically characterised by a holiness and renewed humanity in which certain habits and styles of life are left behind. [para 6 (ii)]

It does not (even) appear to do anything of the sort. Indeed, the argument specifically refers to holiness and renewed humanity, in the context of faithfulness of one to the other, and no doubt there would be as much chastity within the gay relationship as within one between a man and a woman. Those are the constraints of Christianity. So the meaning of baptism is not overturned; furthermore, because it is not, the issue of identity can then come into the argument.

So this is the actual baptismal argument, and that is why TEC would be justified in seeking close relationships with other Anglican Churches.

However, I think that seeking it through the Covenant would be a mistake. The issue is not to be included in the Communion by way of the Covenant, but to stop the Covenant altogether. It is the Covenant that is innovating Anglicanism into something it has never been, and whilst TEC ought to be part of 'discussions' regarding this thing, the outcome intended ought to be the point where this experiment in centralisation is dropped.

If it is not dropped at a point before where institutions and parts of institutions (probably illegally) start to sign on, then some Anglican Churches ought to consider what other means of agreements can be made, such that can appear in the Synods of Anglican Churches as more attractive alternatives and more consistent with Anglican structures.

It may be that a group of Churches end up signing something like this Covenant, but many will not, and if dioceses start being picked off in order to sign it, then there will be a campaign in some dioceses for them to start unsigning it. Remember, Bishop Tom Butler once talked of the Communion as a Spiritual Commonwealth, or that Bishop John Saxbee is President of a group that has consistently opposed the Covenant. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Or - more cleanly - just don't go there, to such a mess; such a mess based on a partial reading of biblical texts about what people do sexually, or an ecclesiastical desire to look more Roman Catholicism to Roman Catholics.

Perhaps that's the point: if Anglicans want to be more ecumenical, perhaps they ought to talk more to the Protestants: the Swedish Lutherans are a good start (a good spread on them in the Lincoln Diocese publication Crosslincs). Anglicans might well find a proper ecumenical purpose with them, with the Old Catholic Churches, with many non-conformists too including those with Anglican origins, and leave Pope Benedict to his own frustrated rationality and logic, that sort that in the end has the logic of a Williamson, not of a Williams of old.


June Butler said...

Bishop Tom takes no notice of the moratorium on border crossings by foreign bishops into US and Canadian dioceses, which have been broken time after time. Why doesn't he call for those bishops to mend broken bridges?

June Butler said...

Well said, Adrian, especially when you say this:

The issue is not to be included in the Communion by way of the Covenant, but to stop the Covenant altogether.

Stop the Covenant in its tracks. I find too many in TEC willing to engage in discussions about a fix for the Covenant that will make it acceptable for the US church to sign on. That would be a terrible mistake.

Allowing individual dioceses and parishes to sign the Covenant would, indeed, open up a can of worms. Bishop Tom says not a word about arranging pastoral care for dioceses and parishes in the Church of England that may want to opt out of signing the Covenant. Surely with the FoCA folks now operating in England he should see far enough down the road to know that it would not be a good thing to go in that direction.

FrDarryl said...

Perhaps the only future for Anglicanism is what must be called the sort of hard pluralism I see advanced here, versus the soft civility version that's obtained really since the Elizabethan settlement but before Post-modernism mandated its quasi-nihilist dogmas, the new metanarrative which doesn't really exist, nudge, nudge.

Perhaps some proper druid rites could be authorised by Parliament as well. These days, lots of the unchurched and dechurched appear to be attracted to Paganism. All that mystery of mystery religions versus the ever-so-approachable happy-clappy worship so voguish in the only Establishment churches which appear to be numerically and financially self-sustaining. Let's take advantage of that phenomenon and get some bums on pews - of both hewn wood and stone, both in and out of doors.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yeah: I'd go for that.