Friday, December 14, 2007

Canterbury's Advent Letter

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has written his Advent letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion. You can find his letter here.

Here are a few sections worth noting...

Regarding responses to TEC's House of Bishops' Meeting in New Orleans:

...So we have no consensus about the New Orleans statement. It is also the case that some of the more negative assessments from primates were clearly influenced by the reported remarks of individual bishops in The Episcopal Church who either declared their unwillingness to abide by the terms of the statement or argued that it did not imply any change in current policies. It should be noted too that some of the positive responses reflected a deep desire to put the question decisively behind us as a Communion; some of these also expressed dissatisfaction with our present channels of discussion and communication...
The House of Bishops' statement did not resolve anything. Some of the responses were influenced by tangential factors not directly related to the issues at hand, making the "votes," which were close to a draw anyway, of little or no significance.

Regarding how Dr. Williams views his role in resolving the current tensions in the Communion: is important to try and state what common ground there is before we attempt to move forward; and it is historically an aspect of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury to 'articulate the mind of the Communion' in moments of tension and controversy, as the Windsor Report puts it (para. 109)....
This is consistent with Dr. Williams' previous statements. He does not consider it appropriate to state his personal convictions. He has set them aside, in an attempt to "articulate the mind of the Communion." We may disagree with that definition of his leadership role. But it would be unwise for us to dismiss his presentation of the "mind of the Communion" based on such a disagreement. He is in the position to know what is happening around the globe. If we like it or not, his perspective of what is happening is most likely much more informed than any other view we might encounter.

Dr. Williams offers some "boundaries" for our Anglican identity, which he also refers to as the ingredients necessary for "a full relationship of communion."

...The common acknowledgment that we stand under the authority of Scripture as 'the rule and ultimate standard of faith', in the words of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral...Understanding the Bible is not a private process or something to be undertaken in isolation by one part of the family. Radical change in the way we read cannot be determined by one group or tradition alone...
It would appear that Dr. Williams is attempting to reframe the issue; moving it from a confrontation about matters related to justice and human sexuality to a debate regarding how the Communion as a whole interprets scripture. If it were only that simple. Unfortunately, an academic debate regarding methods of biblical interpretation will not resolve matters that strike at the very core of being for some of our members.

The common acknowledgement of an authentic ministry of Word and Sacrament...The principle that one local church should not intervene in the life of another is simply a way of expressing this trust that the form of ministry is something we share and that God provides what is needed for each local community.
Will Nigeria and the Southern Cone hear this? For this to follow the previous "boundary" is quite striking. "Radical change" cannot be determined by one group, yet "God provides what is needed for each local community," which seems to suggest that cultural differences need to be honored.

The common acknowledgement that the first and great priority of each local Christian community is to communicate the Good News...Communion thus means the sharing of resources and skills in order to enable one another to proclaim and serve in this way.
Here we have Dr. Williams' clear explanation of one of the reasons he has put such a high value on "unity." Our proclamation of the Good News in word and deed is hindered by our divisions.

Using the above boundaries, Dr. Williams draws some conclusions:

...the deeper question is about what we believe we are free to do, if we seek to be recognisably faithful to Scripture and the moral tradition of the wider Church, with respect to blessing and sanctioning in the name of the Church certain personal decisions about what constitutes an acceptable Christian lifestyle. Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about this, it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible...
Regardless of the preface he gives to this statement, in which he affirms our need to "condemn homophobic prejudice and violence, to defend the human rights and civil liberties of homosexual people," the Communion is not going to reconsider Lambeth 1.10. In other words, our gay and lesbian members are to remain second class citizens in the Communion.

The concern of Dr. Williams seems to be with those who "deplore" new interpretations of scripture: becomes important to clarify that the Communion as a whole is not committed to receiving the new interpretation and that there must be ways in which others can appropriately distance themselves from decisions and policies which they have not agreed...
Having now established that, from his perspective, the consensus is that TEC was in error to act on new interpretations in isolation, he challenges the ways in which some parts of the Communion have responded:

...The desire to establish this distance has led some to conclude that, since the first condition of recognisability (a common reading and understanding of Scripture) is not met, the whole structure of mission and ministry has failed in a local church that commits itself to a new reading of the Bible. Hence the willingness of some to provide supplementary ministerial care through the adoption of parishes in distant provinces or the ordination of ministers for distant provinces.

...The view that has been expressed by all the Instruments of Communion in recent years is that interventions are not to be sanctioned. It would seem reasonable to say that this principle should only be overridden when the Communion together had in some way concluded, not only that a province was behaving anomalously, but that this was so serious as to compromise the entire ministry and mission the province was undertaking...
Further strong words from Dr. Williams against interventions follow. The basis of his objection is that it is inappropriate to claim that the mission and ministry of TEC has failed (that TEC is no longer Christian, thus making the Province open for new missions) because some within TEC claim a new interpretation of scripture.

Evidence that TEC as a whole has not failed is suggested by Dr. Williams by the existence of the "Windsor bishops":

...several within The Episcopal Church, including a significant number of bishops and some diocesan conventions, have clearly distanced themselves from the prevailing view in their province as expressed in its public policies and declarations. This includes the bishops who have committed themselves to the proposals of the Windsor Report in their Camp Allen conference, as well as others who have looked for more radical solutions. Without elaborating on the practical implications of this or the complicated and diverse politics of the situation, it is obvious that such dioceses and bishops cannot be regarded as deficient in recognisable faithfulness to the common deposit and the common language and practice of the Communion. If their faith and practice are recognised by other churches in the Communion as representing the common mind of the Anglican Church, they are clearly in fellowship with the Communion. The practical challenge then becomes to find ways of working out a fruitful, sustainable and honest relation for them both with their own province and with the wider Communion...
Think of Dr. Williams' letter to Bp. Howe. The above is a further unpacking of that notion; that a diocese can be in full Communion with the rest of the Anglican Communion, even if their Province is not. Also, note the reference to "the Anglican Church." I find that rather astonishing.

So, based on his hope in the "Windsor bishops" and those who have "looked for more radical solutions," Dr. Williams is not yet ready to give up on TEC:

...most if not all of the bishops present in New Orleans were seeking in all honesty to find a way of meeting the requests of the primates and to express a sense of responsibility towards the Communion and their concern for and loyalty to it. It is of enormous importance that the Communion overall does not forget its responsibility to and for that large body of prayerful opinion in The Episcopal Church which sincerely desires to work in full harmony with others, particularly those bishops who have clearly expressed their desire to work within the framework both of the Windsor Report and the Lambeth Resolutions, and that it does not give way to the temptation to view The Episcopal Church as a monochrome body...
It is worth noting the many references to "the Windsor Report" made by Dr. Williams. It seems clear that in his mind, it is no longer a series of "recommendations," but has the authority of canon law. This will become even more apparent later on.

Dr. Williams then turns to the specifics of the House of Bishops' New Orleans statement. He expresses the concerns from some in the Communion regarding blessings, and suggests that there is "a significant and serious gap" between what TEC considers an appropriate liturgical provision and how others believe such a provision will impact the larger Church.

Dr. Williams is troubled by TEC's bishops identifying one of their own boundaries; General Convention:

...A somewhat complicating factor in the New Orleans statement has been the provision that any kind of moratorium is in place until General Convention provides otherwise. Since the matters at issue are those in which the bishops have a decisive voice as a House of Bishops in General Convention, puzzlement has been expressed as to why the House should apparently bind itself to future direction from the Convention. If that is indeed what this means, it is in itself a decision of some significance. It raises a major ecclesiological issue, not about some sort of autocratic episcopal privilege but about the understanding in The Episcopal Church of the distinctive charism of bishops as an order and their responsibility for sustaining doctrinal standards. Once again, there seems to be a gap between what some in The Episcopal Church understand about the ministry of bishops and what is held elsewhere in the Communion, and this needs to be addressed...
And how much do you want to bet that it will be addressed by a group wearing purple shirts?

The Archbishop seems to refuse to accept that in TEC, the ministry of the Lay order is taken quite seriously. We will not accept Prince Bishops. We believe that our bicameral form of government, in which the House of Deputies holds the same authority as the House of Bishops, is a better way to organize the Church. It offers the checks and balances that avoids the abuses evident in those places in which the Bishop is the sole source of authority. We are not inclined to entertain any suggestion that we should remove those safeguards.

Dr. Williams continues by speaking about Lambeth invitations:

...I have not felt able to invite those whose episcopal ordination was carried through against the counsel of the Instruments of Communion, and I have not seen any reason to revisit this...
Bp. Robinson and Bp. Minns will not be receiving invitations. Neither will any of the other bishops created by foreign Primates to provide oversight in the USA.

...I have underlined in my letter of invitation that acceptance of the invitation must be taken as implying willingness to work with those aspects of the Conference's agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a Covenant...I intend to be in direct contact with those who have expressed unease about this, so as to try and clarify how deep their difficulties go with accepting or adopting the Conference's agenda...
Implementing Windsor and developing a Covenant are the bottom line. If you aren't willing to work on those matters, stay home.

...the refusal to meet can be a refusal of the cross - and so of the resurrection...
This may be the most powerful statement in the entire letter. It will be interesting to monitor various reactions to it.

Some specific recommendations from Dr. Williams:

...I wish to pursue some professionally facilitated conversations between the leadership of The Episcopal Church and those with whom they are most in dispute, internally and externally, to see if we can generate any better level of mutual understanding...

...I also intend to convene a small group of primates and others, whose task will be, in close collaboration with the primates, the Joint Standing Committee, the Covenant Design Group and the Lambeth Conference Design Group, to work on the unanswered questions arising from the inconclusive evaluation of the primates to New Orleans and to take certain issues forward to Lambeth...
More meetings, more conversation, all the way to Lambeth, and most likely beyond.

It appears that Dr, Williams has taken the position that the consensus of the Communion is against TEC, and so in order to "articulate the mind of the Communion," Dr. Williams has adopted that position. The only reason he will not give up on TEC, will not agree that the mission and ministry has failed, is because of the existence of the "Windsor" bishops and others who follow the Communion's consensus.

Dr. Williams has polled the Communion, and has now come out in support of what he considers the majority view. It is rather ironic that he would make his stand on such a basis, while at the same time calling into question TEC's democratic model.

This letter will probably manage to hold the Communion together through Lambeth, although it is doubtful if it will be enough to carry us through GC2009.

Dr. Williams has chosen to support those who would exclude others from the Church based on the questionable translation of seven verses from scripture. The concrete act which exemplifies his decision to support that position is his insistence on continuing to exclude Bp. Robinson from Lambeth. He seems to not recognize that by barring Bp. Robinson, he has silenced the most qualified representative of those being persecuted in the Church today. In so doing, it is Dr. Williams who has expressed a "refusal of the cross - and so of the resurrection."


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