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.’