Sunday, January 3, 2010

Unity and truth do not need to be at the expense of each other

There is a version of the relationship between truth and unity in Christian life which goes like this, 'You cannot have unity and truth. We disagree on so much that unity means sacrificing the truth. Truth matters more than unity so let's either drop the pretense of being unified or forget talk of unity altogether.' Of course there are variations on this. For example, 'You can have unity and truth but only by recognizing that there are diverse understandings of truth. Thus unity comes not by agreeing on truth but but by celebrating the diversity among us.' Or this, 'Unity is the most important truth for Christians. Only fundamentalists/literalists with their fanatical pursuit of narrow-minded understanding of truth stand in the way of unity.'

My last posts of 2009, working on the theology of unity and truth in Ephesians, imply that a true Christian theology of unity and truth will never pit one against the other, never disparage those brothers and sisters who emphasise one over the other, and always inspire every effort to secure unity-in-truth and truth-with-unity. For the fact is that the mission of the church is both to witness to the truth and to live out the truth through our communion together. For the truth is the gospel and the gospel is the reconciliation of God and humanity, and of human beings, one with one another. Disunity is not just a sin of the church, it is a sign that we have given up on understanding the profound depths of the truth of the gospel. (However, we should be kind to each other when we find that we have given up: we are frail humans, and the challenge of human unity is beyond human strength. Only God's grace is sufficient strength for this weakness.)

Can we refind our mission as a church, as diverse and disunited churches expressing the one church of God in the world? Peggy Noonan has a challenging post on the loss of a sense of mission among the institutions of America through the past decade. She includes this observation of the Catholic Church in the USA:

"The Catholic Church, as great and constructive an institution as ever existed in our country, educating the children of immigrants and healing the weak in hospitals, also acted as if it had forgotten the mission. Their mission was to be Christ's church in the world, to stand for the weak. Many fulfilled it, and still do, but the Boston Globe in 2003 revealed the extent to which church leaders allowed the abuse of the weak and needy, and then covered it up.

"It was a decades-long story; it only became famous in the '00s. But it was in its way the most harmful forgetting of a mission of all, for it is the church that has historically given a first home to America's immigrants, and made them Americans. Its reputation, its high standing, mattered to our country. Its loss of reputation damaged it. And it happened in part because priests and bishops forgot they were servants of a great institution, and came to think the great church existed to meet their needs."

I wonder what Peggy would say about the Anglican Communion and its forgotten mission? Perhaps she would say this: 'The Anglican Communion offered the churches of the world a unique vision, to be a union of churches throughout the world, united not only by a common heritage but also by a common vision of a broad understanding of the width of the gospel combined with a patient determination to walk together in the proclamation of the gospel through deed and word in the world.

'It's mission was both sharing that gospel (like all churches) and working (unlike many other churches) for the reunion of the divided churches of the world, offering a living example of being a communion of diverse but not divided churches.

'But it has forgotten that mission. In part because some member churches have determined that other mission strategies should take priority, to the point where the future of the Anglican Communion will not be as a Communion, and certainly not as a living example of the communion of diverse but not divided churches.'

My continuing argument through the last posts of last year and the first posts of this new year is that the Covenant offers the Anglican Communion the possibility of refinding its mission as a Communion, remaining a Communion, and renewing an Ephesian theology of unity-in-truth and truth-with-unity.

But there are powerful and influential detractors abroad. Here is Louie Crew (of TEC):

"For example, those proposing an Anglican Covenant purport to promote unity, but do so at the expense of homosexual persons and their friends. Scripture can seem on their side: Scripture tells us to value unity. But not above all else."

Then Giles Fraser (of the CofE):

"I object to the Covenant’s very existence. I’d object to it even if I agreed with every word.

"Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with the expression of mutual commitment, and for this mutuality to have a formal aspect. The marriage service, for instance, is precisely that. But the Anglican Covenant isn’t at all like the commitments of a marriage service. It is more like the anxious and untrust ing legalism of that thoroughly distasteful feature of modern life, the pre-nuptial agreement.

"And no amount of Lambeth Palace spin is going to persuade me that, like the pre-nuptial agree­ment, this Covenant isn’t a way of arranging, in advance, the terms of some future divorce. The only people who are going to love this document are the lawyers."

Contra Fraser, the Covenant defines not the terms of our separating from one another but the theologically responsible limitations on the diversity which the Communion can sustain. Contra Crew, the Covenant determines that a Communion wide understanding of homosexuality should be a Communion wide understanding of homosexuality, not an American one. For both detractors the Communion appears expendable in the name of truth. In neither case is the unity of the Communion a requisite for confidence that we know the truth.

I may be wrong. They may be right. The future of the Communion based on a Crew-Fraser approach to truth-and-unity-but-no-Covenant would be interesting. My sense is that we would become completely fragmented. But I may underestimate the capacity of the unCovenanted Communion to continue in fellowship!

But here is something to ponder. The Global South is lining up to sign the Covenant:

"The Global South Anglican Primates Steering Committee met in Singapore on 1st to 2nd Dec 2009 to discuss and confirm planning details on the coming Encounter.

This 4th Encounter will build on the ecclesiological vision of the 'One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ' we shared at the 3rd “Red Sea” Encounter at El-ein-Suknah, Egypt in 2005. The coming 4th Encounter aims to further develop this in our common life and witness in and for the Gospel. We will explore how we may relate to one another in covenantal and communion autonomy with accountability in matters of faith and order; partnerships and networks in existing and new mission fields; and mutual capacity building for increased self-reliance for greater service.

We aim to affirm the Anglican Covenant as the basis in intensifying the ecclesial life between churches in the Communion, and explore ways churches should stand firm side by side in one spirit and with one mind for the faith of the Gospel of Lord Jesus Christ."

It troubles me that most of the support for the Covenant is coming from a rainbow coalition of diverse cultures across Africa and Asia while most of the criticism seems to come from one culture, and one segment within that culture (i.e. the liberal West).

On one scenario of the future after promulgation of the Covenant, there would be an Anglican Something which on closer inspection was composed of Anglican/Episcopalian churches in (say) England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, USA, Brazil, and New Zealand. To not be part of a rainbow Anglican Communion with African and Asian Anglican churches would raise (SHOULD raise) some searching questions for us Westies. What do you think?

In that rainbow Communion, incidentally, noting the careful language of the Global South statement which refuses to pit unity against truth, we will find a renewed vision of truth and unity!


Kurt said...

Archbishop Williams desperately needs The Episcopal Church (and the Anglican Church of Canada) to support the Covenant in order for it to be accepted by broader layers within the Anglican Communion. While I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t think that support from most American Episcopalians will be forthcoming. If folks in my (pretty average/typical) parish are any barometer, Episcopalians are not eager to do Williams any favors; American perceptions of the man have gone from initial keenness to perplexity through irritation to disgust. Even moderate conservatives here do not trust the man, and most lack enthusiasm for the Covenant.

If TEC and the ACC were to actively oppose the Covenant, I think that they would draw upon the serious misgivings that many in other provinces have with this document and its potential to interfere with provincial governance and decision making. Within the UK there are many who oppose the Covenant in the Scottish, Welch, and even Irish Churches, as well as many liberals and moderates within the CofE itself. Many serious Church leaders have even raised questions regarding the ability of the CofE to sign on to such a document. One can expect challenges within both the Church and Parliamentary systems. The Brazilians, Japanese, South Africans and most of the Latin Americans outside of the Southern Cone are dubious as well. And many on the fence can be persuaded to oppose the Covenant of TEC and other provinces act with vigor.

Meanwhile, the ACNA appears to be fracturing into at least four different factions, reflecting 450 years of Anglican controversy. Now that they do not have a “common enemy” in TEC and ACC, there are serious disagreements developing regarding “An Anglican Prayer Book” of 2008 (the theology it reflects is too High Church Catholic for many) ; disagreements regarding “the correct” interpretation of the Articles of Religion; disagreements concerning women in the Holy Ministry (that female bishops will be banned outright upsets some; but will female priests be demoted to deacons, or will all ACNA women in Holy Orders laicized? Any decision made may very well provoke some to split); there are serious disagreements around ceremonial (“Ritualism”). ACNA appears well on its way to fracturing in the same manner that the “Continuing Anglican” sects have done before them.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn USA

Kurt said...


Father Jim Stockton has written an essay which captures, I think, the feelings of most of us American Episcopalians regarding the proposed Covenant. It can be accessed at Lionel Deimel’s blog:

The essay emphasizes why the Covenant probably will not be ratified by the American Church.--kh

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
Does TEC wish to be a member of a united Anglican Communion on terms set by the Communion as a whole?

I do not find an affirmative answer emerging anywhere on the internet, least of all in Fr Stockton's essay which is based on the non-sense that the creeds are sufficient to define the Anglican Communion. They are not, of course, because the Anglican Communion believes in things which the creeds say nothing about, such as our orders of ministry ... that sets us apart from Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists ... and from Roman Catholics who believe in the same set of orders but think ours null and void.

There is other egregious non-sense in Stockton's essay re bad seed and so forth. The arguments for the Covenant go well beyond envy, power politics and the like.

Kurt said...

The short answer to your question is “No.” The AC has been (at least up to now) a “fellowship” and not a Church. No one in Abuja (or Nelson, for that matter) has any business telling us Episcopalians whom we can and cannot ordain. This is unacceptable.

I can also assure you that if TEC and ACC are “expelled” from the AC for following their own canons “the rest of the AC” will not be permitted to go rolling along with business as usual. There are plenty of folks around the globe (including folks in New Zealand) who agree with us. If you want one h**l of a fight/split, you will get one! And the “trouble” will not be confined to the USA and Canada! We can easily use the financing once offered to the AC to pursue our own agenda worldwide with those Churches with whom we have more in common (e.g., The Scottish Episcopalians, Church of Sweden, Old Catholics, etc). If you want to be part of an AC that is dominated by bigots and misogynists, that’s your decision. As for me, I won’t contribute one dime to such a “communion.”

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn USA

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
I would like to put the situation in terms which do not involve fighting! I accept that the current situation involves Anglicans out of step with one another. The Covenant (on my arguments) represents the possibility of the Communion's churches re-finding themselves in step with each other (with a "price" to pay by TEC which, as you note, is unacceptable). At least two alternatives are also in the picture.

One is that the Communion breaks up into many fragments - a TEC fragment, a GAFCON fragment which is different to a Global South fragment, and so on.

Another is that there is a fairly simple division of the Communion into two communions. As you note, TEC has the finance to develop one of those communions; the remnant Anglican Communion may not have the finance to develop the other!

I would disagree with you on three matters concerning this possibility: (i) it could be accomplished without a fight - it may be emerging even as we converse!! (ii) it need not require TEC to be 'expelled' from the current Communion: TEC could choose to embrace a new communion structure. (iii) it need not mean that the non-TEC communion is dominated by bigots and misogynists, though it would mean domination by people who see things differently, perhaps by people who are thinking more hesitantly about things TEC thinks about confidently.

Incidentally, while you are correct that many Anglicans in NZ would support TEC's approach to GLBT issues, I personally am far from clear what our church, ACANZP, would do in the scenario in which a TEC-led communion and an ABC-led communion emerged. I wonder if it would be possible to belong to both?

Kurt said...

“I wonder if it would be possible to belong to both [communions]?” --Fr. Carrell

If a situation of dual communions (which might be viewed more as two public factions of the same religious current) were to emerge, I don’t see why a province could not belong to both. (Just as the CofE currently belongs to both the Anglican Communion and the Porvoo Communion).

Of course, all religious organizations have been affected by the Great Recession. TEC, which recently reduced our 2010-12 budget by $23 million, has also said that despite the pinch, we would continue our social mission. Our elected leadership decided to cut 30 staff positions at our headquarters here in New York, but folks restored funding for programs in the developing world. We have said that the budget was focused on giving to others first and then to ourselves last. Yet both the national Church, and individual dioceses (such as New York) are in better shape than some other religious organizations. We could definitely devote monies to promote a new international fellowship of Churches while integrating our programs in the developing world into this structure.

The “old” AC, it is true, would probably not have the level of financing to which it is accustomed. Certainly, they cannot look to Sydney. These folks were hit even harder financially than TEC. Their $265 million assets are now worth $105 million. And, frankly, does this Geneva-facing, congregationalist end of the Anglican spectrum need a Communion in the way that others do? I think they will pull back and concentrate on their own domestic agenda. A couple of years ago they were able to allocate $30 million or so to educate new clergy and to do outreach. Now, however, the returns from investments have plummeted so steeply that, as I understand it, the funds available have been slashed to $5.6 million.

I have heard some rumors circulating among NYC-area clergy from my parish priest. One of these is that Archbishop Williams has been/will shortly be “dis-invited” from attending the 2010 Trinity Institute gathering. Another rumor has it that Trinity Church, one of the wealthiest Episcopal Churches in the country, has informed/will shortly inform the AC that it is no longer funding its general activities such as Lambeth. True or not that such rumors are circulating among clergy here tells you quite a bit about the bitterness that has grown up here over the past dozen years.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn USA

Peter Carrell said...

That's very interesting, Kurt!

I add just one small observation: whether Sydney has been contributing funds to GAFCON Primates meetings and the like, or not, it is intriguing how little one hears about what GAFCON is thinking ... my sense is that the Global South, over time, will be a stronger bloc than GAFCON, whether as part of the AC, the former AC, or a new AC.