Friday, July 07, 2006

Dr. Williams Addresses General Synod

Before you read the Archbishop's latest communication, keep in mind that these comments are coming from the same man who, in 1989, wrote that beautiful essay we've been discussing in the previous post, The Body's Grace. I'm inclined to be very generous towards Dr. Williams at the moment. I hope you will be as well. Here's the complete text. Now for a few excerpts:

...The first thing to say is that the complex processes of Convention produced – perhaps predictably – a less than completely clear result. The final resolution relating to the consecration of practising gay persons as bishops owed a great deal to some last-minute work by the Presiding Bishop, who invoked his personal authority in a way that was obviously costly for him in order to make sure that there was some degree of recognisable response to the recommendations of the Windsor Report in this regard. I think that he – and his successor-elect – deserve credit and gratitude for taking the risk of focusing the debate and its implications so sharply...
Praise for Bps. Griswold and Jefferts Schori. Yes, it was costly, to them both. The question remains, however, was the price they paid high enough to satisfy Canterbury? Let's continue:

...However, as has become plain, the resolutions of Convention overall leave a number of unanswered questions, and there needs to be some careful disentangling of what they say and what they don't say. This work is to be carried forward by a small group already appointed before Convention by the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC. And I have also written directly to every Primate to ask for a preliminary reaction from their province. The next Primates' Meeting in February next year will digest what emerges from all this...
Leaving it up to the Primates is not so good. As we know, this is a group dominated by a few Primates who have attempted to claim authority that has never been granted them by the Provinces. Now Dr. Williams helps affirm this assumption of power by suggesting they will decide if TEC has met their standards. Dromantine was never on the table. Windsor was. Why should the Primates be appointed judge and jury?

Careful disentangling? I'm not sure what there is to "disentangle." The Legislative Summary boils it down to less than a page. I can summarize what we did in response to Windsor in one sentence:

We reaffirmed the commitment of the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion, expressed our regret for straining the bonds of affection, supported the development of an Anglican Covenant and called upon standing committees and bishops to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.

Ok, so it was a long sentence. I'm a Kerouac fan; blame him. Moving along:

You will be aware of a number of developments in the public arena in the last couple of weeks, notably the request from several US dioceses for some sort of direct primatial oversight from outside the US, preferably from Canterbury. This raises very large questions indeed; various consultations are going forward to clarify what is being asked and to reflect on possible implications. There has also been an announcement from Nigeria of the election by the Nigerian House of Bishops of an American cleric as a bishop to serve the Convocation of Nigerian Anglican congregations in the US. I have publicly stated my concern about this and some other cross-provincial activities.
This doesn't look good for Marty. Looks like he may be going the way of the AMiA (are they Anglican or not?). Glad to see that Canterbury is not rushing to serve AlPO. Large questions indeed.

Mention of this leads me to say a word about my own published reflections in the wake of General Convention. In spite of some interesting reporting and some slightly intemperate reaction, this contained no directives (I do not have authority to dictate policy to the provinces of the Communion) and no foreclosing of the character and content of such a covenant. Were any such arrangement to be proposed, it would of course have to be owned by the constitutional bodies governing Provinces. The proposal has already been dismissed in some quarters as a capitulation to fundamentalism and in others as a cunning plan to entrench total doctrinal indifferentism.

Both characterisations are nonsense.
Do we catch a hint here that Dr. Williams is beginning to express some frustration over the whole mess? If so, I find that to be a positive sign. It is a frustrating mess. And it needs a foreman to clean it up.

... So I don't think we can be complacent about what the complete breakup of the Communion might mean - not the blooming of a thousand flowers, but a situation in which vulnerable churches suffer further. And vulnerable churches are not restricted to Africa... But if this prospect is not one we want to choose, what then? Historic links to Canterbury have no canonical force, and we do not have (and I hope we don't develop) an international executive. We depend upon consent. My argument was and is that such consent may now need a more tangible form than it has hitherto had; hence the Covenant idea in Windsor...
No international executive is good news as well. But, he continues:

...But if there is such a structure, and if we do depend on consent, the logical implication is that particular churches are free to say yes or no; and a no has consequences, not as ‘punishment’ but simply as a statement of what can and cannot be taken for granted in a relationship between two particular churches. When I spoke as I did of 'churches in association', I was trying to envisage what such a relation might be if it was less than full eucharistic communion and more than mutual repudiation. It was not an attempt to muddy the waters but to offer a vocabulary for thinking about how levels of seriously impaired or interrupted communion could be understood...
The ideal is honorable, but the reality is that some Primates will settle for nothing less than punishment, and other Primates may very well opt out if they are offered second-class status.

...We have claimed to be Catholic, to have a ministry that is capable of being universally recognised (even where in practice it does not have that recognition) because of its theological and institutional continuity; to hold a faith that is not locally determined but shared through time and space with the fellowship of the baptised; to celebrate sacraments that express the reality of a community which is more than the people present at any one moment with any one set of concerns. So at the very least we must recognise that Anglicanism as we have experienced it has never been just a loose grouping of people who care to describe themselves as Anglicans but enjoy unconfined local liberties. Argue for this if you will, but recognise that it represents something other than the tradition we have received and been nourished by in God's providence. And only if we can articulate some coherent core for this tradition in present practice can we continue to engage plausibly in any kind of ecumenical endeavour, local or international...
I know some will disagree with Dr. Williams, but in this matter I think he is absolutely right. I have no interest in becoming more Protestant, which was the root of my initial discomfort with our Concordat with the Lutherans. But, we mellow with age, I suppose. Not a big deal anymore. Yet, the principle Dr. Williams presents here is an essential one to many Anglicans. Hopefully the more evangelically inclined Anglicans will recognize that. Otherwise, we may end up heaping the high church/low church divisions on top of the already existing ones.

...I believe that the vision of Catholic sacramental unity without centralisation or coercion is one that we have witnessed to at our best and still need to work at. That is why a concern for unity – for unity (I must repeat this yet again) as a means to living in the truth – is not about placing the survival of an institution above the demands of conscience. God forbid. It is a question of how we work out, faithfully, attentively, obediently what we need to do and say in order to remain within sight and sound of each other in the fellowship to which Christ has called us. It has never been easy and it isn't now. But it is the call that matters, and that sustains us together in the task...
"It is not about placing the survival of an institution over the demands of conscience." I think Dr. Williams is being sincere here. I believe he is speaking from the heart. And I have accused him of just what he has denied. I take back that accusation, and apologize for being too quick to judge another.

Maybe I've been overly softened by reflecting on The Body's Grace. All I know is that after reading this speech, I am much more at peace about the future of the Anglican Communion.

Pray for Rowan.


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