Monday 27 July 2009

The Real Archbishop of Anglicanism

Aha! Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has responded to the decisions of the General Convention 2009 of The Episcopal Church to pass resolutions D025 and C056 with some Reflections. And what does his piece amount to? A sort of 'Argument as usual' with proposals as usual.

They remain the only proposals we are likely to see that address some of the risks and confusions already detailed, encouraging us to act and decide in ways that are not simply local. [Para 20]

It is really time now, however, to nail this argument he keeps presenting once and for all. For he says:

The doctrine that 'what affects the communion of all should be decided by all' is a venerable principle. ...It takes time and a willingness to believe that what we determine together is more likely, in a New Testament framework, to be in tune with the Holy Spirit than what any one community decides locally. [Para 13]

Here we have it yet again. Something that is 'local', the Churches, and something that is 'global' - the Communion: that is, therefore, the Church, globally. And he goes on:

There have never been universal and straightforward rules about this, and no-one is seeking a risk-free, simple organ of doctrinal decision for our Communion. [para 15]

But why ever not? If the venerable principle is such, and even when what is important enough to be decided by a communion should itself be decided by a communion, as in "ways of checking whether a new local development would have the effect of isolating a local church or making it less recognisable to others", then why not set up the appropriate communion doctrinal body?

We need to crack this division made by the Archbishop of Canterbury between a 'local church' and the global communion, by which, he means indeed, and be honest, a Global Church. And he does mean this, because of this, and here is the crux of it:

This again has an ecumenical dimension when a global Christian body is involved in partnerships and discussions with other churches who will quite reasonably want to know who now speaks for the body they are relating to when a controversial local change occurs. [Para 15]

Later in paragraph 18 he emphasises this:

To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. [Para 18]

This argument applies to the ordination of women, surely? But when years ago he hinted at this reality, the actual reality of one local Church - The Church of England - forced a rapid reversal. Indeed, this local Church is not far off from deciding to ordain bishops: when other Anglican Churches do not and the whole of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not. Of course, b 'sacramental practice' he steers clear of the ordination of women and has a go at another two creeping changes happening 'locally' elsewhere:

Lay presidency at the Holy Communion is one well-known instance. Another is the regular admission of the unbaptised to Holy Communion as a matter of public policy. Neither of these practices has been given straightforward official sanction as yet by any Anglican authorities at diocesan or provincial level... [para 16] acceptance of these sorts of innovation in sacramental practice would represent a manifest change in both the teaching and the discipline of the Anglican tradition, such that it would be a fair question as to whether the new practice was in any way continuous with the old. [para 17]

Well, one is the matter for the Australian Church because it is starting to happen in Sydney diocese, and another is a practice found in various Catholic type places - open communion - that is often the practical situation anyway. People don't exactly have their passports checked for 'Anglican or approved Church membership' before they come to the rail and consume bread and wine.

He sees the other argument, of course, though I wish he and others would use confederalist. What he wants is more the federalist structure:

As Anglicans, our membership of the Communion is an important part of our identity. However, some see this as best expressed in a more federalist and pluralist way. They would see this as the only appropriate language for a modern or indeed postmodern global fellowship of believers in which levels of diversity are bound to be high and the risks of centralisation and authoritarianism are the most worrying. [Para 19]

But how historical, how traditional, is this global Anglican Communion identity? Oh! Not that historical at all; indeed, it is quite an innovation:

...less than ever in the last half-century, with new organs and instruments for the Communion's communication and governance and new enterprises in ecumenical co-operation. [Para 19]

New organs! Does that not show where the innovation has come from? Where is this acceptable innovation towards a global Church? Have some people not mistaken growing the means for co-operation between actual Churches and something they are now starting to call, but whisper it gently, a Global Church? And of course we are back with the only proposals in town - well, at the centre anyway.

The Covenant proposals of recent years have been a serious attempt to do justice to that aspect of Anglican history that has resisted mere federation. ...They are emphatically not about centralisation but about mutual responsibility. They look to the possibility of a freely chosen commitment to sharing discernment (and also to a mutual respect for the integrity of each province, which is the point of the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions). [Para 20]

But the freely chosen commitment is not there, is it, and more and more it begins to look like imposition. It comes from the centre. Here is the innovation happening before our eyes, driven by an ecclesiology that is simply not representative of all of Anglicanism. Now it is that they are so driven, that it looks that they are there to include some and exclude others. Here we come to the most tortured argument of this response:

They have been criticised as 'exclusive' in intent. But their aim is not to shut anyone out... [Para 21]

Really? Not if there is a division between associational membership and core membership, as has been envisaged before. But rather than go back to some previous statement, this one will itself do as he envisages: least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with 'covenanted' provinces. [Para 22]

If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom. [Para 23]

OK, so it is exclusion. Here is a point: if there was exclusion from certain operating functional decision making institutions and these defined such a Communion (that by which these are recognised) then The Episcopal Church ought to stop paying the bills. But in further torturous argument Rowan Williams goes on to think there might be:

two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. [Para 24]

And this cake and eating it is even more obvious and self-contradictory when it comes to:

The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. [Para 24]

So, here is the logic of this argument: you divide Anglicanism up in order to have one part speak for Anglicanism in a centralising body, but there is greater integrity in that BOTH are doing this. Well, in which case, what is wrong with so-called local Churches doing this more fluidly in the first place?

And then we have the matter of carving up these actual Churches - the ones he calls 'local' - in order to serve the Greater Communion as a Global Church:

But in the current context, the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. [Para 25]

This prospect of a carve up is given here:

...and no-one would say that new kinds of structural differentiation are desirable in their own right. [Para 26]

So he would try and bolt Churches together via this Covenant and Communion instruments, but where they are already together he would introduce new kinds of structural differentiation!

What a good idea: Lincoln diocese could join in full Communion with The Episcopal Church, and perhaps the Americans might send one of theirs over here (in a manner of speaking). We could call these Anglican tectonic plates: lots of really local dioceses getting ever so pluralist in breaking off from national Churches so that national Churches can be more like overseas Churches with more consistency as a product of trying to create a more solid Communion Church that can be presented to the Roman Catholics?

I have an idea for playing cards. We could have new packs of cards, with similar numbers in each, all with different colours on the back indicating where they came from!

He says:

Thus far in Anglican history we have (remarkably) contained diverse convictions more or less within a unified structure. [Para 26]

Sorry? It is already unified (more or less)? So let's examine how this has worked so far, before this whole centralisation project - the only proposals in town - got going? Well, the more or less unified structure worked that's because it has been a diversified structure! That's the point. No one has been trying to nail it together, until now.

Note how the Reflections just come to a kind of dead stop, with nothing actually demanded in some sort of concluding paragraph. And yet the demand is still there throughout: as if a Prime Minister has come to the end of his political cycle, with a Cabinet of "extinct volcanoes", and yet the same policy is being proposed that had failed to be pushed through over the previous period. It ends:

the different emphases in what we want to say theologically about the Church itself, are bound to have consequences. We must hope that, in spite of the difficulties, this may yet be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth for all who value the Anglican name and heritage. [Para 26]

I think he is trying to be more optimistic than he was at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica, whilst the substance has moved on even more negatively for him. His demand in all its tortured reverse arguments is little more than the prospect of a total mess.

He does not seem to have got the point - or has he? The point is this: the Churches are the Churches, and bits don't drop off them in "new kinds of structural differentiation", and the project to nail them into something of a Global Church that suits Rowan Williams's outlook is a non-starter. The more or less unified diverse structure is the one that allowed some and then more actual Churches to ordain women, including as bishops, and the structure works the same for discerning whether there should be same-sex blessings or partnered homosexual people in all levels of ministry. This is how Anglicanism "more or less" works. The Orthodox have habits of ex-communicating one another, but Anglicans have tended to be more practical in their associating and their rejecting of one Church by another. The argument comes down to this: that the Covenant is unAnglican and, as the only proposal from the centre, it should be dropped without replacement.


John D Bassett said...

Really great analysis of this very confused and troubling letter.

What I also find curious about this is how Rowan essentially makes the decision about TEC for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. There's no suggestion here of "We talked this over at General Synod" or "This seems to be the prevailing view at the Anglican Consultative Council". No, Rowan has just decided what the future shape of the Communion will be an who will be in it. L'eglise, c'est moi.

Noel Anselot said...

Rowan Williams sadly continues to attempt to marry fire and water, virtue and sin, humility and arrogance. He must be a very unhappy man. The truth is that he cannot bear the thought of parting from people with whom he fundamentally agrees. How can he lead a church based on faith in Scriptures and on moral principles ? The honest thing to do would be for him to resign and join those whose views he shares in private.

Anonymous said...

"The argument comes down to this: that the Covenant is unAnglican and, as the only proposal from the centre, it should be dropped without replacement."

But just think: Now Anglicans can join with Baha'is all over the world in celebrating the Day of the Covenant (November 26). How much more ecumenical can you get than that? Not only that, but Anglicans can also join with Baha'is in inveigling against communities of Covenant-breakers. We must, after all, remember what religion is really all about: fideism, evangelical or otherwise.

Unknown said...

You say that "The Orthodox have habits of ex-communicating one another, but Anglicans have tended to be more practical in their associating and their rejecting of one Church by another." That translated means that the Heterodox have so far got away with not respecting the mind of the Church and the Communion, and they propose that that is the spirit of Anglicanism. Except when they are in a local majority. Then they'll run over the consciences of anybody else. You'll see. God deliver us from Heterodox orthodoxy!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Rogelio. That, translated, doesn't, mean as you put it. It means Orthodox Churches, as in The Orthodox, who have a dispersed structure but rigid theology have tended to excommunicate each other (and recommunicate later on) whereas Anglicans with a diverse structure have been more flexible. The comment is nothing to do with a measure of theological legitimacy within Anglicanism, but the misreading shows how this theological legitimacy/ illegitimacy has invaded Anglicanism recently.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I look forward to Rowan Williams's writing after the burden of his 'job' but I don't think he can reverse gear all over again. All this underlines my increasing dislike of apostolic authority as a principle and religious bureaucracy.

I think a Covenant does have that impact that the Baha'is have used it for, but I doubt that Anglicans will use the method as extensively and personally as Baha'is have. But it is the same principle of in and out and another reason for opposition.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I agree with John Bassett, and this personal management was seen the most at the Lambeth Conference 2008 - quite curious for an Anglican Communion that is supposed not to be centralised, where an awful lot of actual management went on.

Anonymous said...

TiggerA thoughtful commentary to which one could add 1.) Why speak of two tracks? In reality the Anglican communion represents a confederalist model or an asymmetrical federalist model, and there is nothing wrong with that. Each province emerged from its unique historical circumstances, reflecting organizational models that were thrust upon it in the colonial era, or that it devised. Some are democratic, some are imperialist, but, hey, that's what emerged from our various histories. It actually works fine the way it is. The Lambeth, ACC,and Prelates meetings allow colleagues to know one another, let off steam, try out new ideas, etc. It would be disastrous to try and turn any one of these dotted line, loosly organized bodies into a Roman curia type organization, as is being proposed. Anglicans made that sort of decision in the sixteenth century.
2.) No numbers have ever been produced to show that there is any real widespread support for a Covenant. And there is no proof that support for the present draft is strong, except among those who are determined to foist the Covenant on the Communion. It won't work.
3.) The Covenant idea was raised as a reality in the sixteenth century when a Protestant "Covenant Belt" existed in Protestant Europe. Puritans tried to bring such a structure to Reformation England, and it was soundly rejected. Richard Hooker's writings are full of reasons why, and a theological-structural defense for the via media. While Covenant proponents make vague references to Anglican history, none will make reference to Richard Hooker, John Jewel, and their contemporaries.
Still, something positive can come out of the current discussions, for at heart they are a sincere, if incomplete, effort by all parties to find an Anglican identity in a postcolonial era.
Frederick Quinn

The Very Rev. Daniel B. Brown said...

ABC Rowan doesn't surprise me. Especially when he says in section 2 para 9 "It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences." This is not the same argument he gave when he was Bishop of Wales. but it is the one he needs to give so he can save the AC, or so he must think.
But I spoke with a young man in my circle who is in discernment for ordination and in a loving relationship with another young man. If there is anything that distinguishes these two young men from the other GLBT persons that frequent my world it is that they are so very well mannered.
So that got me to thinking, ABC Rowan is a smart man, a very smart man. Could it be that he is just being very, very Anglican? Could it be that he is not equating orientation with lifestyle choice at all? Could it be that he means something very different than that which we assume here in the States?
Which distinguishes the CofE from its American counterpart more: the percentages of clergy who are GLBT or the percentages of clergy who are GLBT AND out? Rowan wants TEC's GLBT clergy to "mind their manners" and to a degree get back in the closet. That's the lifestyle choice of which he speaks. Plus it has this extra benefit; the Africans would love it! Then from the closets where they hide their polygamy they could wink at us knowing we had our own secrets.
The Covenant is easy if we're all winking at each other, don't you think?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Deception is the Anglican way.

June Butler said...

Paragraph 8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond....

To which body does Rowan refer when he says "the Church Catholic"? Does he speak of the Roman Catholic Church?

The argument comes down to this: that the Covenant is unAnglican and, as the only proposal from the centre, it should be dropped without replacement.

Amen to that!

One more question: Who is it that Rowan sees as the target audience of his reflections? The great mass of pew sitters on both sides of the pond and around the world are not paying attention. Just a few silly folks like me subject themselves to his ruminations. Is the letter addressed to the leadership of all the Anglican churches? To Rome? I'm curious.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Fulcrum and the ACI - the last people listening to him with any sense of approval (perhaps).