Monday, November 14, 2005

Some Answers From Canterbury

In a previous post, I referred to Archbishop Rowan Williams' excellent address at the Global South Encounter. It appears that there was a question and answer session following this address. The Archbishop's answers give us a rare opportunity to see exactly where Dr. Williams stands on some of the current struggles within the Anglican Communion.

Context is important. Keep in mind that he is answering questions asked by the Global South. This is the largest group of Anglicans within the Communion. It is also a group that has given signals that it is considering breaking away from Canterbury. Dr. Williams is attempting to meet them where they are.

Even when considered in context, some of Dr. Williams' responses are unexpected. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, his statements carry much weight. Even though his authority is primarily symbolic, as the only Instrument of Unity that is recognized by most Anglicans, his words can have a great influence on future decisions.

Let's consider some of his words in this question and answer session. The first question is if same-sex sex can be holy and blessed. Here's part of Dr. Williams' response:

...the Anglican communion has not been persuaded that same-sex sex can be holy and blessed. Were it to decide that by some process - unimaginable to most of you - it would be by an overwhelming consensus and only at that point would it be possible to say in the name of the church, this is holy and blessed. So I take my stand with the church of England, with the Communion, with the majority of Christians through the ages...
One can understand why Dr. Williams may have made this statement in that particular setting. And, maybe he is appropriately living into the role he has been given within the Church. I still find the statement troubling. The Church, as with most institutions, is always inclined to be conservative. Tradition is guarded like a golden calf. The early Church was not persuaded that Gentiles should be allowed as converts. Yet Paul and Peter persisted, and the tradition was changed. The Church was not persuaded that Galileo's science was correct, but the scientists persisted, and the biblical assumption of a flat earth was eventually exposed as erroneous. The Church was not persuaded that slavery was an evil institution, or that civil rights was a biblical principle, or that women were not second class citizens in God's kingdom. Eventually, because of the witness of a courageous and persistant minority, the Church has changed its teaching on these issues. I find it unfortunate that Dr. Williams is insisting on a consensus. By bowing to the "majority rules" mindset, he has effectively removed the role of prophet from the list of charisms essential for one to be the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He continues with this caveat:

...theologians will go on discussing this and it would not, I think, be possible to stop them...I distinguish as clearly as I can between a question a theologian may ask and an action or determination the church may take, or only the bishop may take. I think that is a necessary distinction for the life and health of the church. It would be a tragedy if the church sought to suppress questions. But it is equally a tragedy when the church creates facts on the ground that foreclose discussions and reflections on such questions.
The curious thing about this excerpt is that is was offered out of context in the press release. Consequently, when I first read the release, I initially assumed that the "facts on the ground" that were "foreclosing discussion" included Archbishop Akinola's homophobic rantings, the border crossings, and the irregular ordinations. Instead, it appears that he is specifically referring to the consecration of Bishop Robinson and the blessing of relationships.

Regardless of what he was specifically referring to, I think we cannot leave things to the theologians. We have more than enough "armchair theologians" whose worth is often found in being an alternative to a sleeping pill. Until a theologian has lived among the people struggling with these current tensions, I doubt their authority to even comment on such topics. The refusal of many within the Anglican Communion to even listen to the stories of faithful gay and lesbian Christians calls into question the pronouncements of their theologians.

Am I advocating liberation theology? Absolutely. A hermeneutical circle of prayer, study and action, followed by more prayer, further study and a new action, is the only way that theological study can address the real concerns of the people of God. The reign of the armchair theologian has ended. Unless you are among the people, sharing their joys and their sorrows, breaking bread with them, listening to their stories and helping them integrate God's story with their own, the fine words of theologians are, as Thomas finally came to see, nothing but straw.

There are a couple of statements within question 4 that we need to hear very clearly:

...I cannot endorse or approve the election that took place in the ECUSA.

...I’m quite clear that actions taken have been outside the fellowship and proper discipline of the communion.

...the prospect of an Anglican Covenant or the prospect of a convergent system of canon law is the best hope we have.
Let those statements sink in for a moment. Don't try to put spin on them. This is the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking. This is the position that is most likely going to become the official position of the Anglican Communion one day soon. There is not going to be any middle way found. Accept it. Learn to live with it. And then, move on.

Question 5 is about Archbishop Eames' statement that the Episcopal Church has met the requirements of the Windsor Report. Dr. Williams' response offers us another important piece of information:

I don’t think that we can say they have satisfied in a simple direct way what Windsor asks because that process is still continuing and will continue until the general convention next year.
The proving ground is General Convention 2006. We may not like that. We may argue that it should be Lambeth 2008. Face the reality that the trigger for the realignment of the Anglican Communion will be GC06. I think it is also critical that we face the fact that regardless of what we do, the realignment will commence at the end of GC06. Why? For the simple reason that Gene Robinson will still be a bishop at the end of General Convention. The Gobal South will never accept that. Accept this reality. Learn to live with it. And then, move on.

Question 6 regarding invitations to Lambeth also reveals some rather disheartening information:

...And as for categories of participants, again I can’t mortgage myself to answer it at this moment. But this and many other questions are under review by the groups that are now beginning to assemble...
The fact that "categories" of bishops is even being considered places a new twist to our understanding of holy orders. It appears to me that there is a chance that there will be some bishops invited, but they will be in a "special category," with such categorization including various limitations, no doubt. In other words, all bishops will be equal, but some will be more equal than others. Would you accept an invitation to tea with the Archbishop if such acceptance required you to submit to being categorized as a second class bishop?

Question 7, regarding the recognition of the Network, has gotten a lot of play lately. Unforunately, the Network has been quoting only the first half of Dr. Williams' answer, and leaving out the clarification offered in the second half. Here is the first part of his answer, which has the Network folks standing on chairs and cheering:

There is no doubt in my mind at all that these networks are full members of the Anglican communion. That is to say, they are bishops, they are clergy, they are people that are involved in the life of the communion which I share with them, which I will share with them...
Here is the second part, which is conveniently left out by the Network:

Formal ecclesial recognition of a network as if it were a province is not simply in my hands or in the hands of any individual. I do want to say it quite simply, of course, these are part of our Anglican fellowship and I welcome that.
Yes, Bishop Duncan is an Anglican bishop, as he is a bishop within the Episcopal Church, not because he is the head honcho of the Network. There was no "formal recognition" of the Network. It remains in the same category as the ECW or the Brotherhood of St. Andrew.

Mark Harris has more on the peculiar spin the Network, and specifically Bishop Duncan, has put on this answer from Dr. Williams.

The Anglican Scotist, in a post entitled Archbishop Williams Erring, offers a more theological critique of Dr. Williams' answers.

When you read the transcript of this question and answer period, don't skip question 11. It is a moving testimony that reveals some of Dr. Williams' personal journey into Christ.


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