Back to work

My younger son and I have been nursing the same sort of cold these past few days. I am back at my desk now, but he’s still on the mend. There have been several developments in the Anglican world while I’ve been sick, and I hope to get to them in due course. But the one that jumped out at me involves a recent speech by the Primate of Wales, the Most Rev. Barry Morgan, who was a member of the Lambeth Commission that authored the Windsor Report.

You can read the entire address here, or read the section regarding the Communion clicking on the continue reading button.

The archbishop is of the opinion that the Episcopal Church has responded constructively to the Windsor Report. His holding this opinion settles nothing, of course, but it is a useful balance to Bishop Tom Wright who has devoted himself to elucidating our perceived failure in this regard.

What struck me about the archbishop’s statement, though, wasn’t his seeming vote of confidence in the Episcopal Church, but the passage in which he writes:

“I do not know whether the Communion will ultimately hold together or not. If it fractures, it will not be a simple matter of just one province not recognising another but parishes and dioceses within provinces allying themselves with like-minded parishes and dioceses in other provinces. In other words, the fault lines will run through provinces as well as between them. Is that what we really want?”

To which I can only respond: Yes, given the alternatives, I think this may be what I want. It is a better solution (in my unofficial view) than establishing some sort of protectorate for conservative Episcopalians governed by the primate of another province, but still part of the Episcopal Church. It is better than the ongoing feuding that has crippled our ability to do mission. It is better than forcing the capitulation of one side or the other in our deeply divided communion. If each side believes that it is speaking the Word of God, then neither should have any fear of making its case in the marketplace of religious ideas.

A little further on, the archbishop writes: “And what kind of a church will we be, if we only associate with those who think or behave like us or conform to our view of things? No room then for difference or dissidence and what kind of witness to the Gospel is that?”

But I don’t think he’s got this right. There would still be plenty of differences within the communities that resulted from the divisions within the Communion. Just to offer two quick examples, conservatives would have disagreements about the role of women in ordained ministry. On the liberal side, people could even disagree about the wisdom of electing gay bishops. (However, they’d have to agree the election of such a bishop would not be a church-breaking issue.)

I don’t want the Communion to break up, but I am not interested in capitulation or forcing capitulation. Some sort of looser, messier association seems to me the sanest way to get on with our lives in Christ. I am open to persuasion, or course. So have at it.


Let us now move to the Anglican Communion. I have just said that Christians hold a variety of different viewpoints on a host of moral issues. The only moral issue on which diversity does not seem to be encouraged in various parts of the Communion, is the issue of homosexuality. I am therefore glad and proud that the bishops of this Church have given a lead to our Church, that there is no one correct Christian viewpoint on this issue. In preparing this address I came across this quote from Professor Grace Davie, who holds the Chair in Sociology and Religion at the University of Exeter, “Could it be” she asks “that churches offer space for debate regarding particular and often controversial topics that are difficult to address elsewhere in society? The current debate about homosexuality offers a possible example, an interpretation encouraged by the intense media attention directed at this issue. Is this simply an internal debate about senior clergy appointments in which different lobbies are exerting their influence? Or is this one way in which society as a whole comes to terms with profound shifts in the moral climate?” She goes on to say that, “If the latter is not true, it is hard to understand why so much attention is being paid to the churches in this respect. If it is true, sociological thinking must take this factor into account.” It is an interesting observation about modern Britain, if not the Communion.

I do not know whether the Communion will ultimately hold together or not. If it fractures, it will not be a simple matter of just one province not recognising another but parishes and dioceses within provinces allying themselves with like-minded parishes and dioceses in other provinces. In other words, the fault lines will run through provinces as well as between them. Is that what we really want? And what kind of a church will we be, if we only associate with those who think or behave like us or conform to our view of things? No room then for difference or dissidence and what kind of witness to the Gospel is that? This is what I believe the Archbishop of Canterbury was implying when he wrote to all provinces about the implications of the break up of the Communion. He was not advocating a two tier Communion – one for true believers and another for those who could not swallow the full faith as it were, who would be in some form of loose association with the Communion. He was merely pointing out the danger we are in. The Windsor Report advocated that provinces should covenant with one another and consult with one another before making decisions, which might affect the life of the Communion as a whole. As a member of that Commission, we did not have in mind a covenant that was prescriptive and detailed and intrusive. What we did have in mind was what ECUSA did at its convention in July when:

It re-affirmed its abiding commitment to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and sought to live into the highest degree of communion possible.

It reaffirmed that it was in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.

It went on to make a commitment to the vision of inter-dependent life in Christ, characterized by forbearance, trust, and respect, and commended the Windsor Report and process as a means of deepening understanding of that commitment.

I do not know about you, but I could sign a covenant such as that. For, just as we have to recognise that the theory of the just war does not answer all the difficulties raised by modern methods of warfare, so too we have to recognise, as far as the Anglican Communion is concerned, that globalisation and instant communication have changed the nature of our relationships with one another and that what happens in one part of the church does affect another for good or ill. A covenant, setting out our mutual inter-dependence would remind us all of that fact. But that is totally different from the kind of covenant that some people want – a kind of prescriptive one, setting up an inter-provincial constitution that would set out theological boundaries and perimeters for individual provinces in both belief and behaviour, policed by a central curia of the primates or Archbishop of Canterbury. That would go much further than what ECUSA has done, or the existing agreement of the Lambeth quadrilateral, based on the acceptance of the scriptures, the creeds, the two dominical sacraments and the historic episcopate. It would cut at the root of the Anglican Communion as it has been traditionally understood with to my mind, disastrous consequences. We are after all a communion not a confession. We all need reminding of the words of St Augustine ‘In certis, unitas. In dubiis, libertas. Et in omnibus caritas.’ ‘In fundamentals of faith there must be unity. In disputable matters there must be freedom for debate. But in everything there must be love.’

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18 Comments
  1. Widening Gyre

    Jim,

    I read the address earlier this morning and my initial concern about it was that the progressives would pull (out of context) the comments about GC 2006 and proclaim, “Hey, Windsor Report Member says We’re OK!”

    Well, you’ve proven that concern valid when you wrote, “The archbishop is of the opinion that the Episcopal Church has responded constructively to the Windsor Report.”

    Now, I know you are a stickler for saying the right thing so I think you might want to re-phrase that sentence, more along the lines of “The archbishop is of the opinion that the Episcopal Church has provided constructive guidance toward developing the Anglican Covenant called for in the Windsor Report.”

    See the difference. The former says much more that it should; the latter says only what it should. Do you see my point?

  2. I am trying to see your point, but I must admit that this strike me as a distinction without a significant difference.

  3. Widening Gyre

    So let’s then add the sentence you wrote right after the sentence discussed above: “His holding this opinion settles nothing, of course, but it is a useful balance to Bishop Tom Wright who has devoted himself to elucidating our perceived failure in this regard.”

    The implication here is that Bishop Wright (a member and one of the drafters of the Windsor Report) has said that TEC did not respond constructively to Windsor at GC 2006. Now, Jim, maybe you have inside knowledge of something I lack, but I don’t recall reading anything from Bishop Tom in which he comments on GC 2006 actions. Help me out here, to what comments by Bishop Wright are you referring (by implication)?

    I think you are referencing the article attributed to Bishop Wright on the Anglican Fulrum site that addressed the Special Commission’s Windsor Resolutions (not the Special Committee’s Resolutions or even the resolutions that ultimately were adopted). And a careful reading of his comments suggests that the Special Commission’s resolutions fell short of complying with the Windsor Recommendations directed only at TEC (this is a key point because the Anglican Covenant idea that the Archbishop discusses was addressed to ALL communion members, not just to TEC).

    In other words, you are making (perhaps unconsciously) an apples to oranges comparison. Bishop Wright was suggesting that TEC might fail to comply with the recommendations if it adopted the Special Commission’s resolutions without amendment while Archbishop Morgan said TEC has done a good job adding to the conversation about the Covenant by adopting resolutions at GC 2006. Two different pieces of the Windsor Report.

    I see nothing in Archbishop Morgan’s address that addresses how well or poorly TEC responded to the Windsor recommendations. Archbishop Morgan was commenting ONLY on the idea of the Anglican Covenant, which makes sense because that idea was addressed to his (and all other Communion) churches.

    Does that help? In other words, I don’t in any way see how his comments mute or counter Bishop Wright’s criticisms.

  4. WG,

    I am not saying that Morgan’s statements mute or counter Wright’s. Those are your words. The word I used was “balance.”

    This member of the WR commission has spoken positively about TEC’s response to some of Windsor. Wright has spoken negatively about our response to other parts. It doesn’t matter if they are commenting on the same portion of the report, it is clear from the public statements of both men that one holds our response in higher esteem than does another.

    As I said, this settles nothing, particuarly since the commission, now disbanded, has no further authority in this process.

    If you want to have this out with someone who actually thinks the archbishop is directly responding to Tom Wright, rather than just putting his own more positive interpretation of our response to Windsor into the debate, by all means, find that person and have at them. What I am trying to do in this thread is get some conversation going on whether the fragmentation of the communion is as bad a thing as some people, including Archbishop Morgan, think it would be.

  5. Widening Gyre

    Jim, I don’t want “to have it out” with anybody. I expressed what my concerns were, you said you weren’t sure you understood them, I explained further, you said, “Oh, I get that now, but that’s not what I meant to say.”

    Now that we’ve cleared that up, I think fragmentation would be as bad a thing as Archbishop Morgan thinks it would be. That being said, I am starting to see the same arguments used by both sides to justify fragmentation (which is troubling).

    As an aside, has Wright publicly commented about GC2006?

  6. I don’t think there is any agreement on either the left or the right that fragmentation is a good thing. Plenty of people on the left woud like to have it out–all the way through law suits which they (and I) assume they will (usually) win. Plenty of people on the right think that if they just hang in there long enough they will get the Anglican franchise or some sort of TEC-humbling accomodation. So I don’t know that this is one of those issues on which the lables–accurate though thye may be–tell us very much. In my own thinking, it seemed to me that I was moving to the center.

  7. Widening Gyre

    Yesterday over at Brad Drell’s site, I was involved in a discussion over the need for finding common ground. A progressive poster first brought it up and then a conservative poster said “but don’t forget, above all we are to proclaim the Truth, which may not always allow for common ground.”

    Then today, over at Jake’s site, a similar discussion was held, this time with the conservative saying we need to find common ground and the progressive replying, “but don’t forget, above all we are to proclaim the Truth, which may not always allow for common ground.”

    Weird. I agree completely that there is disagreement within each “side” to the extent there are even sides anymore.

    So, are you suggesting that you are starting to think the fragmentation might be a good thing? Or am I misreading you again?

    Another aside, haven’t watched FNL yet (although I taught my daughter’s soccer team the pre-game chant). Sounds good. I have watched Studio 60 which talks about God every week.

  8. I guess I am starting to think that fragmentation would be a good thing. It isn’t a position I hold very firmly, but I keep putting it forward because I am puzzled by what I perceive as a widespread unwillingness to discuss it. It seems to me that if the leaders of the EC and AC want to hold those institutions together, they need to do a better job of persuading us why that togetherness is diesreable. And doing so requires something beyond bromides about the oneness of the body.

    (I don’t watch Studio 60. I don’t actively avoid it. I just don’t watch it. But I did see a piece in either the Post or Times yesterday about its depiction of Christians. Aaron Sorkin and I dated roomates at Syracuse in the early 1980s, but I was unable to glean any insight into his attiudes about faith when we passed each other on the stairs.)

  9. pendennis88

    I tend to agree with you on fragmentation. I never quite understood why ECUSA has failed to offer any alternative episcopal oversight that afforded real protection to orthodox parishes. It seems like one missed opportunity of many, and, of course, we’ve now got the whole issue of alternative primatial oversight. I have wondered if a possible reason is a sense on the part of some in ECUSA that once you start talking about things, they will become inevitable. That certainly can happen. But it is also conceivable that a group could come up with a governance structure that protected both sides of the church, while allowing common missions, and possibly ECUSA remaining in the Anglican Communion, at least in some sense. I think that is what Williams was asking for in his Reflections. It can’t be forced on ECUSA, but neither can ECUSA force the ABC or the primates to do anything. (As an aside, it seems to me that those who are often asserting most loudly that ECUSA is autonomous and the ABC and primates should stay out are also the quickest to try to tell the ABC and the primates what they should and should not be doing. To say that this reinforces negative stereotypes of Americans is an understatement.) And without an internal US resolution, the primates may simply view themselves as forced by ECUSA’s intractability to create a de facto new province. Then, the implications, legal and otherwise, for ECUSA will be whatever they will be.

  10. Richard III

    PD88, your observation that

    “ECUSA has failed to offer any alternative episcopal oversight that afforded real protection to orthodox parishes.” Please help me out by explaining why and or what protection ‘orthodox’ parishes need and from whom do they need it?

  11. Widening Gyre

    Jim wrote: “It seems to me that if the leaders of the EC and AC want to hold those institutions together, they need to do a better job of persuading us why that togetherness is desireable. And doing so requires something beyond bromides about the oneness of the body.”

    That is a great point, Jim.

  12. pendennis88

    Ricard III: Well, I suppose you could ask the Connecticut Six, but I don’t think it is a great mystery. Protection against orthodox clergy not being deposed or inhibited by the bishop for being orthdox, protection that the parish will not be reduced by the bishop to mission status for being orthodox, ability to call orthodox clergy, ability to exercise stewardship by not providing funds to the diocese that laity in the parish ask not be sent to the diocese, and protection of property from seizure due to the parish being orthodox.

    It is currently the situation that orthodox clergy and their parishes in revisionist diocese fear removal, and upon the departure of current clergy, inability to call orthodox clergy, e.g., graduates of Trinity or Nashotah. And it is increasingly difficult to get laity to give to the parish when the bishop has claims on a significant part of the money (or all of it, if he reduces the parish to mission status) and may use it to further oppose orthdoxy.

    But you may have known all that. An arrangement providing an orthodox bishop that had the same powers as the diocesan bishop would presumably have accomplished those things. To my knowledge that has never been offered. A separate province? One way, seems fine by me. Many state the critical importance of geographic provinces without exception, but I do not see the justification for it. And while the general concept is a tradition, exceptions seem common enough.

    Further illustration that if one gets specific, togetherness on some things becomes clearly desirable, and other things not.

  13. brad hutt

    Richard III,

    You can’t be serious as to why ECUSA ‘orthodox’ parishes or priests need real protection. Orthodox ECUSA Priests, Vestries and Parishes have been falsely charged, personally sued,and physically removed by their bishops for their standing up for their beliefs. Check out Bishop Bennison and lawsuits and removals of priests in the Diocese of PA, the Diocese of Connecticut removing six priests.. it goes on and on.

    That is why the orthodox need real protection from the revisionist bishops.

    Then ask yourself when was a liberal priest or parish vestry removed by an Orthodox Bishop..

    It has not happened.

  14. Brad, PD, WG,

    I think this is an area in which we might fruitful conversation. I would gladly stipulate that no priest or vestry should be disciplined in any way for differing with his or her bishop on the issue of non-celibate gay relationships. Where that has happened, I will join you in deploring it.

    But what should a bishop do when a priest or vestry announces that because of differences over this issue it no longer recognizes the bishop’s authority? What should a bishop do when a parish announces its intention to leave the diocese and take its property with it? In those instnaces, I don’t think it can be fairly said that the parishes are being persecuted becaues they are orthodox. Can it?

  15. pendennis88

    Yes, it can. If you act because a sword is hanging over your head, is that not a result of persecution? Or must your head be lopped off first? Note, too, that if there had been adequate alternative episcopal oversight, the parish need not have done that.

    Now, having seen the PoR writing, you might say “well, we’ll let some other bishop do confirmations and baptisms, and that is sufficient”. I don’t think it is. Orthodox parishes in revisionist diocese know what will happen when their priest leaves and they try to call a new one. They know that their laity think it bad stewardship to give to the diocese when the bishop is itching to change the priest, and they know what their bishop will do to them if they do not give to him.

    So as to your question of what the bishop should do, I would say the bishop should cede authority over that parish to another bishop. Don’t get me wrong. No one is telling ECUSA it has a canonical or constititional obligation to do that. Some are just asking. ECUSA can say no. We can then see what the primates do in response.

  16. So would you favor redoing our ecclesiology so that every parish got to pick its own bishop, and dioceses were intentional rather than geographic. (Hope I’m not missing your point, just trying to follow it toward what would seem its logical conclusion.) I can see where this might bring some peace, but it might just force the fighting down to the vestry level.

  17. brad hutt

    Jim,

    I appreciate your comment in standing with us, but it is not just the issue of non-celibate gay relationships. Persecution is about revisionist bishops forcing their will on the orthodox parishes with forced visitations, rejecting orthodox priests when called by a vestry, refusal to receive orthodox candidates for holy orders, refusal to allow candidates to attend orthodox seminaries come immediately to mind. These acts are morally wrong, yet they actually happened, and the bishops have prevailed. But what has it got us? What have those bishops accomplished?

  18. pendennis88

    Mr. Naughton, to your question, I think the ABC has already politely asked for separation without coercion. So, agreeing with the ABC, the short answer is yes. The real question is how. Perhaps you think that once the door is opened, it must be followed to an extreme. I don’t see that, any more than I think ECUSA’s insistence on the primacy of particular interpretations of current canons means that nothing else can ever be agreed to, and no changes to deal with the current crisis can be proposed. Personally, I favor a one-time, agreed-upon mechanism under which it is not easy, or without cost, but possible, for orthodox parishes and diocese to move to an orthodox province, coexisting with TEC. Not unlike the PCA-PCUSA split, though I recognize there were different historical facts behind that. After all, if I were to follow the rule that ecclesiology insists upon only one bishop in a geographic area to an extreme, I would hold only disdain for the Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches in my diocese, would I not? In fact, such ecclesiology might insist that the holder return to the Roman Catholic church.

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