Friday, April 23, 2010

That mind of the Communion just won't go away

When does the Communion not have a "mind"? When some blogger dismisses the notion, pours scorn on it and denies it has credibility, plausibility, or laudability? No. It's when the majority of the Communion agrees it does not exist or forswears never to invoke the concept again.

Whoops. The majority of the Communion has just used the phrase "mind of the Communion" again. Here are the money clauses in the communique from Singapore's Global South Encounter 4 ('the fourth trumpet'): [my emboldening]

"11. We rejoiced to receive the report from the Global South Anglican Economic Empowerment Track that was established in the Third Encounter. We affirm the actions already taken in the past four years that focus on:
- Developing in each Province an Economic Empowerment Fund;
- Developing sustainable Empowerment strategy;
- Promoting biblically-based teaching on stewardship;
- Promoting regional partnerships;
- Networking and increasing active engagement of both public and private sectors in improving the economic livelihood of local communities.

12. The youth leaders from the Provinces of Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Southeast Asia met together to celebrate their Anglican heritage. We agreed that the future of the Communion lies in winning the next generation for Christ. We urge each region to adopt initiatives to better understand the needs and characteristics of this new generation so that we might better communicate the Gospel and Christian values to them. It is essential that the ethos and traditions of the Church be imparted to the youth in creative and dynamic ways so that they will be equipped to live for Christ for their generation and beyond.

13. During our plenary sessions, bible studies and small group discussions we were called back to a fresh vision of God, of the Church and of Christian leadership. We saw God in His stunning holiness and absolute sovereignty through Isaiah’s vision (Is 6: 1-13), and correspondingly saw our own ingrained sinfulness and utter foolishness in trusting man rather than God alone. We caught a “ big” vision of the Church from her role as ‘servant of the Lord’ (Is 42: 1-9) to bring God’s justice or ‘right order of living’ to the nations of the world. This established the absolute necessity and priority for the Church to disciple her members under the authority of the inspired Scriptures so that they may transform their societies and reach the nations with the Gospel. The fresh call upon the Church’s leadership, from the Servant of the Lord’s costly obedience (Is 50: 4-9), is to be courageous and fully confident of the Lord’s sustaining grace and final vindication.

14. Upon this biblical foundation, we looked afresh at the theological underpinnings of the Encounter’s theme, found renewed strength to pursue its practical outworking and renewed our commitment to network with one another for mission, prayer and economic empowerment strategies so that we might enlarge the capacity of our provinces and dioceses to fulfill the Great Commission.

15. As a sign of our fellowship and an encouragement to our purpose, at the beginning of our assembly God sent into our midst two Nepalese Anglicans, members of the new Anglican Church in this principally Hindu and Buddhist nation. They shared with us about new Anglican initiatives that are bringing the gospel to their people and the way in which the Word of God has brought life and hope and peace, along with suffering. We rejoice with them in their newfound faith and their determination to be obedient to the Word of God in a setting where such obedience is very costly.

16. In contrast, we continue to grieve over the life of The Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada and all those churches that have rejected the Way of the Lord as expressed in Holy Scripture. The recent action of TEC in the election and intended consecration of Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, as a bishop in Los Angeles, has demonstrated, yet again, a total disregard for the mind of the Communion. These churches continue in their defiance as they set themselves on a course that contradicts the plain teaching of the Holy Scriptures on matters so fundamental that they affect the very salvation of those involved. Such actions violate the integrity of the Gospel, the Communion and our Christian witness to the rest of the world. In the face of this we dare not remain silent and must respond with appropriate action.

17. We uphold the courageous actions taken by Archbishops Mouneer Anis (Jerusalem and the Middle East), Henry Orombi (Uganda) and Ian Ernest (Indian Ocean) and are encouraged by their decision not to participate in meetings of the various Instruments of Communion at which representatives of The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada are present. We understand their actions to be in protest of the failure to correct the ongoing crisis situation.

18. Some of our Provinces are already in a state of broken and impaired Communion with The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. Their continued refusal to honor the many requests made of them by the various meetings of the Primates throughout the Windsor Process have brought discredit to our witness and we urge the Archbishop of Canterbury to implement the recommended actions. In light of the above, this Fourth South-to-South Encounter encourages our various Provinces to reconsider their communion relationships with The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada until it becomes clear that there is genuine repentance.

19. We were pleased to welcome two Communion Partner bishops from The Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and acknowledge that with them there are many within TEC who do not accept their church’s innovations. We assure them of our loving and prayerful support. We are grateful that the recently formed Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is a faithful expression of Anglicanism. We welcomed them as partners in the Gospel and our hope is that all provinces will be in full communion with the clergy and people of the ACNA and the Communion Partners.

20. For many generations Anglicans have lived together with a shared understanding of our common faith; indeed among our great gifts has been the Book of Common Prayer that has provided a foundation for our common life. In recent years the peace of our Communion has been deeply wounded by those who continue to claim the name Anglican but who pursue an agenda of their own desire in opposition to historic norms of faith, teaching and practice. This has led to a number of developments including the GAFCON meeting that took place in Jerusalem in June 2008.

21. Global South leaders have been in the forefront of the development of the ‘Anglican Covenant’ that seeks to articulate the essential elements of our faith together with means by which we might exercise meaningful and loving discipline for those who depart from the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints.’ We are currently reviewing the proposed Covenant to find ways to strengthen it in order for it to fulfill its purpose. For example, we believe that all those who adopt the Covenant must be in compliance with Lambeth 1.10. Meanwhile we recognize that the Primates Meeting, being responsible for Faith and Order, should be the body to oversee the Covenant in its implementation, not the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.

22. Over the last 20 years we have been distracted by conflicts and controversies that have kept us from effectively fulfilling the Great Commission. While we have been so distracted, Christian heritage, identity and influence has continued to decline in the West. We believe that there is a need to review the entire Anglican Communion structure; especially the Instruments of Communion and the Anglican Communion office; in order to achieve an authentic expression of the current reality of our Anglican Communion.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2)" [the full statement, including footnotes is here].

Plenty to discuss here. But (I think I have my maths correct here) a majority of the Communion's member churches have gathered, represented by their primates and have, once again, pointed out that the mind of the Communion has said one thing and some member churches have done another.

Notable also is a tightening of interpretation of the Covenant, cleverly avoiding entanglement with Section 4, instead focusing on 'compliance with Lambeth 1.10' as a necessary criterion for adopters of the Covenant. That would rule out TEC. (But, commenters will be quick to add, might also rule out those who have failed to engage with the 'listening process').

Most heartening in my view is the call for review of the Instruments of Unity. Timely. Crucial. Necessary for the chaos to stop.

Not so heartening, in my view, is neglect to speak of commitment to understanding and genuine gracious love for gay and lesbian Anglicans.

Intriguing is the mention of the Book of Common Prayer. It sort of hangs there in the way it is mentioned. In what way is it a foundation for our common life? (It does not, for example, play a central role in liturgical worship among evangelical Anglicans). Also interesting is this phrasing, "those who continue to claim the name Anglican but who pursue an agenda of their own desire in opposition to historic norms of faith, teaching and practice." A bit of definition is needed here. Quite a few of us have agenda, claim the name Anglican, and earnestly assert our continuity with historic norms of faith, teaching, and practice.

ACNA does not go away, nor the Communion Partners from the future of Anglican communion (deliberate small "c"). Global South is clearly in communion with ACNA and the Communion Partners. Others may huff and puff, and the ACO may dither round the question of ACNA membership of the Communion or whether dioceses such as Communion Partners can sign the Covenant, but Global South is clear here: we are in communion with them, they may sign the Covenant.


Suem said...

I am not sure it is at all helpful to speak of "the mind" of the Communion, because different parts of the Communion are of a different mind. It is a metaphor; metaphors only work when they are apposite and I am not sure this one is at this moment.

The metaphor of the "mind" of the Communion does become apposite IF you are prepared to exclude or discount the views of those who disagree with you. This is clearly what the Global South want to do as they speak of,
"those who continue to claim the name Anglican "

You are not allowed your own conscientious opinion! If you do not agree with us we will reject you as our Christian brothers and sisters and we will redefine you as "unanglican".

What a wonderful witness to Christian love!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
I think I understand what you are saying, but if I do then some questions come to my mind: are there issues on which it is important for a corporate body to have or to be of 'one mind'? Can that body speak of its 'mind' when that is a majority view which sits with (a) significant minority view(s)?

The GSE statement links the mind of the Communion to the teaching of Scripture: in this case is another view able to be accepted as the view of a conscientious minority? Or would that be trying to square the circle: holding truth and non-truth together?

I would understand GSE4 to be expressing the last: there is one scriptural truth at stake, the mind of the Communion is in accord with that, thus those not in accord are 'violating' Scripture etc.

Personally I would like to see the Communion work on the possibilities for living with majority/minority views on this matter. But here is a thought or two to conclude:

(a) how well is TEC doing itself with living with a minority view? What model is it offering the Communion re majority/minority?

(b) it could be helpful to drop talk of (un)Anglican: will those commenters on the internet who keep referring to members of ACNA as unAnglican, wannabe Anglican and the like be among the first to drop such objectionable talk?

Suem said...

I blogged on this- it probably won't paste live.

You say that,
"The GSE statement links the mind of the Communion to the teaching of Scripture."

And yet there have been issues in the past, such as the issue of slavery, which is supported in scripture and we have revised our views on this issue in the light of what conscience and experience tells us is just.

There are other issues, such as the remarriage of divorcees(other than in the case of adultery), around which there exists difference of opinion - and yet scripture seems pretty clear on the matter.

We have divorced and remarried bishops - and yet I hear no public outcry when they are consecrated and it is not a communion breaking issue.

Are people more tolerant of those heterosexual "sins" outlawed by a narrow reading of scripture? If so, why?

I don't see why we cannot differ.
If a "liberal" gay Christian can manage to walk in communion with a Christian who does not oppose the death penalty for gays (even if the gay man abhors and is deeply threatened by those views and sees them as sinful ) then why cannot a "conservative" walk in communion with those who are in relationships that that conservative considers sinful?

Ask yourself which you would find harder and which would require the greater grace?

Suem said...

The ACNA IS a breakaway, self styled Anglican group. Now, that does not mean it cannot not be recognised, and its aspirations to that have been acknowledged. But does the ACNA itself acknowledge the parts of the body to which it objects, or does it want them expelled - but itself accepted?

I'd be quite happy for the ACNA to be recognised as Anglican, providing it can live equitably alongside the other established members of the Communion.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem
(a) Yes, there are big questions about what differences we can (and, as gracious people, should be able to) live with; and what "sins" are tolerable within Christian fellowship. I myself struggle to be satisfied with how we (apparently) accept divorced and remarried bishops but not gay bishops in stable faithful partnerships. But I think I also need to respect the majority view on such matters which, at this time, seems to be prevailing across the Communion.
(b) I share your concern that ACNA's recognition by the Communion is concomitant with its recognition of TEC's membership of the Communion.

Suem said...

So,if on the issue of divorce and remarriage we respect the majority view over scripture - where does that leave the place of scripture for someone like yourself?

If in a few decades time the majority view across the Communions is that gay relationships are acceptable, is that view then to be respected?

Also, how practicable is it, once the vast majority of the Christian community in a particular nation holds a particular view, to insist their national church ignores that view.

The issue of sexuality and of women priests is an interesting one here. The vast majority of people in the UK, including Christians, believe that to close positions to people on the basis of their gender or sexuality is wrong - the church is acting immorally.

Our national church seems more bothered about the loving committed relationship of a same sex bishop in the US than it does about the fact that lesbian women could not attend a gay friendly Anglican church in Uganda without being abducted and raped as a "punishment" - though it was described as a "cure".

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
You raise a number of interesting points!

In general terms I would certainly respect a majority viewpoint on any matter. If, on a matter of deep conviction, I was part of the minority I would need to consider my position.

Is there any nation in which the majority viewpoint among active Christians (regular churchgoing, money contributing, participating in decisions of appointments active Christians) is in favour of blessing same sex partnerships?

When you say "The vast majority of people in the UK, including Christians, believe that to close positions to people on the basis of their gender or sexuality is wrong - the church is acting immorally." I am left wondering about the nuances! Is this about orientation or activity? Does this apply to each and every position in the church, or would a majority (citizens? Christians? both?) accept that the church could refuse to appoint someone to a teaching position whose style of life was contrary to the teaching of the church?

Rape is abhorrent in any country any context any time. I would hope that each member church of the Communion disavow the action (practices?) you mention. Intriguingly I have never heard any Anglican leader support such abhorrent actions, nor would I suppose any Anglican leader would say support for such actions might be context dependent. But the issues before the Communion are proving to be difficult precisely because Anglican leaders are for-and-against, and because we cannot even agree whether these issues are context dependent or not.

Suem said...

I am not saying that any church leader has officially "supported" atrocities against LGBT Christians. Some church leaders have turned a blind eye to them and may ( perhaps unwittingly?) have said things that encourage others to think hatred and fear is justified. One example might be Akinola's statement that gays would bring about the extinction of the human race.

The global South asserts that it wants only those "compliant with Lambeth 1:10" to sign the covenant. Lambeth 1;10 does pledge to oppose "irrational fear and hatred "( I haven't got the exact wording) of LGBT people. Given Akinola's statement about the extinction of the human race, how is he compliant with Lambeth 1:10 ayhow?!

I'd certainly be interested to see a survey of UK churchgoers and see how many would be in favour of blessing same sex unions. I have no idea whether it would be a majority or minority. Certainly the feel "on the ground" is of a groundswell of sympathy and acceptance from most Christians. Many people have children who have come out to them, friends and colleagues who are openly gay in a way that wouldn't have happened even a decade ago. So, they know and love these people. I think the situation in the UK in another decade will certainly be of majority support, but probably not in other parts of the Communion.

Forget the "mind of the Communion " not going away-this issues will not go away, gay people and gay rights will not go away, unless we can find a way to agree to disagree, we cannot expect the Communion to hold together.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem
I quite agree that 1.10 as a code of compliance for the Covenant is a stiff test which more may fail than some would think!

In my view the 'mind of the Communion' indeed needs to encompass a pastoral pragmatic in which the ongoing existence of homosexuality within human societies is acknowledged.

Suem said...

And I note that you've just posted on the point of whether all in the Global South are compliant with Lambeth 1:10 - so, just want to thank you for that post:)