Monday, June 30, 2008

Canterbury Responds to the Gafconites

From the Archbishop of Canterbury:

...A ‘Primates’ Council’ which consists only of a self-selected group from among the Primates of the Communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the Communion...
After many years of scheming, and at least four years of activism, this group has not gotten what they wanted. So, they created their own new authority, consisting of 6 Primates out of 37. As Dr. Williams' points out, the problem these gentlemen now face is that few, if any, of the other leaders in the Communion are going to consider their authority to be legitimate.
...And any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties, both theological and practical – theological because of our historic commitments to mutual recognition of ministries in the Communion, practical because of the obvious strain of responsibly exercising episcopal or primatial authority across enormous geographical and cultural divides.

Two questions arise at once about what has been proposed. By what authority are Primates deemed acceptable or unacceptable members of any new primatial council? And how is effective discipline to be maintained in a situation of overlapping and competing jurisdictions?

No-one should for a moment impute selfish or malicious motives to those who have offered pastoral oversight to congregations in other provinces; these actions, however we judge them, arise from pastoral and spiritual concern. But one question has repeatedly been raised which is now becoming very serious: how is a bishop or primate in another continent able to discriminate effectively between a genuine crisis of pastoral relationship and theological integrity, and a situation where there are underlying non-theological motivations at work? We have seen instances of intervention in dioceses whose leadership is unquestionably orthodox simply because of local difficulties of a personal and administrative nature. We have also seen instances of clergy disciplined for scandalous behaviour in one jurisdiction accepted in another, apparently without due process. Some other Christian churches have unhappy experience of this problem and it needs to be addressed honestly.
One example involving overlapping jurisdictions and clergy discipline that we should all recall would be the case of Don Armstrong, who was found guilty of theft by an eclesiastical court, but jumped to Nigeria the same day the evidence against him was made public.

I do indeed "impute selfish or malicious motives" to some of those foreign bishops  (and their followers, such as Mr. Armstrong) who pillage North American congregations . Yes, there are indeed "underlying non-theological motivations at work," unless one wants to include monetary gains as a theological motivation.

Continuing with Dr. Williams' statement:

...It is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the Communion. If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise solutions that may seem to be effective for some in the short term but will continue to create more problems than they solve. This challenge is one of the most significant focuses for the forthcoming Lambeth Conference. One of its major stated aims is to restore and deepen confidence in our Anglican identity. And this task will require all who care as deeply as the authors of the statement say they do about the future of Anglicanism to play their part...
For these 6 Primates to attempt to cut the authority of Canterbury out of the equation, and still call themselves "Anglicans," is simply absurd. As Susan pointed out, Dr. Williams continues to issue invitations to Lambeth, chair the Primates' Meeting and preside over the Anglican Consultative Council. That is the legitimate authority, if the Gafconites like it or not. And the changes happen from within, not by making up your own structures that intend to function as nothing more than a subversive element.

Regarding the false witness that the Gafconites and other extremists continue to make against their brothers and sisters in Christ, Dr. Williams had this to say:

...I believe that it is wrong to assume we are now so far apart that all those outside the GAFCON network are simply proclaiming another gospel. This is not the case; it is not the experience of millions of faithful and biblically focused Anglicans in every province. What is true is that, on all sides of our controversies, slogans, misrepresentations and caricatures abound. And they need to be challenged in the name of the respect and patience we owe to each other in Jesus Christ...
A good statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, it seems to me.


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