Sunday 6 June 2010

Rounding Up: The Opposition Grows

So far there has been quite some scope for fun and satire regarding the condition of high up Anglicans. It starts with the later than Pentecost letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, which for effect I combined with the death of Ray Alan and an imagined memorial of his puppet, the drunk Lord Charles. I did that because I sometimes think the job of Archbishop of Canterbury would drive anyone to drink, and also he might be clearer after one or two (though, actually, this letter was clearer than some). Then along came an even later Pentecost letter of the Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, which I combined with commercialism and a sort of free enterprise spirit by overdoing the accent, and then along came Fred Hiltz of The Anglican Church of Canada where I just satired a desire to let The Episcopal Church take most of the flack and not to be as brash as the Americans, whilst what was being stated was almost identical.

But it is time to be serious. I think the sharpness of the responses to Rowan Williams is a turning point in recent events. Suddenly, now, these Primates are in open disagreement like never before. The diplomacy (and reservation) is being dropped.

Rowan Williams, basically, has overstepped his authority and has pushed too far. We see what he has tried to do: he has tried to get away with this by evening out the punishment by saying all breakers of the moratoria he recognises (but others may not) will get the punishment, including the boundary breakers. Some doubt this evenness is what will actually happen. Fred Hiltz said:

One is left wondering if provinces whose Primates continue to interfere in the internal life of other provinces and extend their pastoral jurisdiction through cross-border interventions will be contacted. To date I have seen no real measure to address that concern within The Communion.

Further more he is acting early: there is no Covenant! Says Fred Hiltz:

As you will have detected I have some significant concerns about imposing discipline consistent with provisions in the Covenant before it is even adopted...

What has also grated is the call by the Archbishop of Canterbury to duplicity, where he says:

I am therefore proposing that, while these tensions remain unresolved, members of such provinces – provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies...

This seems to be a call to dishonesty, because those who also do but don't admit it (like in his own Church) get away with it, whereas those moving towards inclusion openly, who preach what they practice, get punished. Now we all know about credal and theological duplicity, and perhaps Rowan Williams can see nothing wrong in formal dishonesty but others think this really is a step too far, when the punishment is to be dished out.

It is the lack of reservation in the language of response that is so clear (KJS):

We are distressed at the apparent imposition of sanctions on some parts of the Communion...

We are further distressed that such sanctions do not, apparently, apply to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviours in private.

Williams maintains that Section 4 is not to exclude, when clearly by his own words it is - it has to do something if "actions have consequences" and, in his proposal, it silences.

But look at the sharpness of the replies. Bishop Schori doesn't leave any room for doubt:

...the fourth section seems to be just that [an instrument of control] to Anglicans in many parts of the Communion.

Fred Hiltz takes a bit longer to say the same:

These consequences could range from limited participation to suspension from dialogues, commissions and councils within the Communion. In my opinion, they reflect principles of exclusion with which many in the Communion are very uneasy. For if one is excluded from a table, how can one be part of a conversation?

Bishop Schori also makes a direct appeal to the ecumenical arena, one area where The Episcopal Church would be silenced as 'unrepresentative' of Anglicanism.

The Spirit also seems to be saying the same thing in other parts of the Anglican Communion, and among some of our Christian partners, including Lutheran churches in North America and Europe, the Old Catholic churches of Europe, and a number of others.

She even lectures Williams on English Church history, although she makes a hamfist of it when it comes to Scotland, and her interpretation of the Synod of Whitby is open to debate (arguably Celtic Christianity was squashing and stealing Celtic paganism never mind a uniformity from Augustine). That is surely remarkable. She accuses him of colonialism:

We also recognize that the attempts to impose a singular understanding in such matters represent the same kind of cultural excesses practiced by many of our colonial forebears in their missionizing activity...

...We live in great concern that colonial attitudes continue, particularly in attempts to impose a single understanding across widely varying contexts and cultures...

...we note the troubling push toward centralized authority exemplified in many of the statements of the recent Pentecost letter.

This is nevertheless a direct challenge to the Williams view that a singular message must override local culture if local culture swamps the singular position, and a direct identification of his Pentecost letter with his centralising tendencies.

Will she take the punishment? No she won't:

...we will continue to seek every opportunity to increase our partnership in God’s mission... and the myriad of less formal and more local partnerships across the Communion – efforts in mission and ministry that inform and transform individuals and communities...

There is no centre to dish out punishments to provinces in Anglicanism. The decision making centres are the Churches. As with divorce, or ordaining women, each province either gets on with it or resists what it does not want. There are competing Anglicanisms now, because there have been crossings of borders, but they amount to little more than a myriad of continuing Anglicanisms that existed before. Let them get on with it. When someone leaves your Church to join a competing one, you tend to remove the licence. They might be considered bishops, priests or whatever by others or even everyone in Anglicanism, it's just that they left and having left they take the consequences.

That's how to deal with it. Williams's strategy is a non-Anglican innovation of centralisation.


Anonymous said...

'There are competing Anglicanisms now ... Williams's strategy is a non-Anglican innovation of centralisation.'

Excellent points.

Competing Anglicanisms ... and competing Baha'isms! I'm now a Unitarian Baha'i but I knew Fred Hiltz over twenty years ago: we all knew he was 'bishop material' even then! A wonderful man. If only he could be the next Cantuar!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I keep my ear to the ground on Unitarian Bahais. I think the concept needs a critical review, that's to say I support it as against the Haifa exclusivism but I wonder what precisely Bahaullah represents outside claims that he is a manifestation of God for the next 1000 years.

Anonymous said...

Not a bad drawing, but Rowan Williams never wears a purple shirt. Not ever.

And oddly, shortly after his appointment, a good number of English bishops began to adopt black as well ...

Chris said...

But he does wear a purple cassock, and that picture could be of a cassock.

Unfortunately he doesn't have it laundered frequently enough. Odour of sanctity, anyone?

Eric Stetson said...


Regarding Bahaullah, I think what he represents -- far and above his claim to be a "Manifestation of God," which IMO is only of minimal importance -- is the potential of Islamic-based spirituality to be universalized and reformed to be compatible with a modern global civilization.

Bahaullah came from fundamentalist Muslim origins but became a religious liberal by the standards of his time. Even today, many of the core ideas he taught would seem liberal or even radical in comparison with the typical beliefs of the Muslim world: e.g. the idea that Sharia law can be changed rather than remaining fixed according to Quran and Hadith, abolition of the concept of holy war, promotion of parliamentary democracy as the divinely ordained form of government, and an emphasis on international institutions and peacemaking. He also believed in elevating the status of women and moved away from the ferocious opposition to homosexuality found in previous Abrahamic religious traditions.

Basically, I think Bahaullah can be taken to represent an Islamic version of the same progressive impulse that in the Western Christian world led to Unitarian Universalism. What the mainstream Baha'is have done with Bahaullah is another matter, sadly.