Sunday, May 30, 2010
Danny Ocean at Lambeth Palace
It is easy to be lulled by the face of ++Rowan Williams into thinking that when he delivers a Pentecost letter to the Communion it is all about spiritual things, theological topics, and the like. I think it is the beard that does it. It combines monk, Eastern patriarch, English academic, and Welsh poet into one mind altering look which makes the reader think, "Theology. Not much practical use." But shave the beard and we have Danny Ocean at Lambeth Palace, mysteriously translocated to Las Vegas, playing high stake poker, with a weak hand but the advantage of having memorised his opponents cards and a freakish ability to outwit the house. We ought to be thinking about the Pentecost letter, "Politics. Could be useful."
At stake here is the future of the organisation known as the Anglican Communion. It is a high stake because the organisation could completely crumble, and it has been set up so that no one person, not even one committee can control its future. But, like all politics, it is not so much about the structure of the organisation and who may or may not be, legally, technically, or otherwise in charge, but about the hearts and minds of the people. The people always win in politics. (Something politicians nearly always forget!)
Notwithstanding all kinds of amazing deprecatory remarks about bishops and archbishops, about synods and conventions, the fact is that when such individuals or committees speak, they speak for the people over time, and not for themselves. In the Anglican Communion those voices, representing the people, have said that the majority viewpoint is expressed in Lambeth 1998 1.10, the Windsor Report, and in various statements made by the Primates. Any which way it is argued, TEC on matters to do with homosexuality (and to a slightly lesser extent ACofCanada), is in a minority within the Anglican Communion.
Consequently it has sought to argue (implicitly or explicitly, through formal statements or through public expressions of opinion such as the blogosphere) that (1) it should not be expelled from the Communion (2) its minority position will one day be the majority position of the Communion (3) Anglican diversity means the Communion should live with both the majority and the minority viewpoints on homosexuality. The Archbishop's Pentecost letter confirms what has never seriously been in doubt that (1) holds good. It makes no comment on the likelihood of (2). It is saying that TEC thus far has failed to make the case for (3): the majority view of the Communion, as discerned by ++Rowan, is that TEC's interpretation of Anglican diversity re minority+majority is itself a minority view.
Thus Danny Ocean has put his cards on the table. They may look low in value. But TEC's hand is not higher. It does not have the Ace which means the majority of the Communion is backing its position. It does not have the King which means it has control of key Communion committees/groups (though it is trying hard with one committee!). It thought it had the Queen of Diamonds (its funding of aspects of Communion life) but that turns out to now only be the Jack of Diamonds (less willingness now to be dependent on those funds). And that is the only picture card. A bit of support from the likes of Canada, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia are low cards in this particular game.
What might TEC do?
What is often forgotten in great howls of protest about "control" of TEC by the Communion is that this is all about an organisation called the Anglican Communion, not about TEC. If TEC wanted to go its own way so as to go its own way, no one is stopping it. No one is holding TEC at the Communion table of fellowship. But TEC wants to be at the Communion table, so the question is, what does it mean to be at that table. What does TEC-in-Communion mean for a Communion-at-odds-with-TEC?
The Pentecost letter means that a judgement has been delivered that TEC cannot be at that table on terms it sets. So TEC must now reckon with whether it can be at the Communion table on terms the Communion sets. A Communion of which TEC is a part and has contributed its voice as a member; but a voice which has not persuaded a majority to agree to it. To change metaphors from card games: the ball is now in TEC's court. It must now deliver the outcome of this judgement itself.
Readers to this point may be wondering why I have said nothing about the other member churches also judged by the letter to have ignored Communion moratoria. Well, their situation is pretty straightforward. They, like TEC, can decide to do something about living by the moratoria. But, unlike TEC, their decision, to stop incursional episcopal activity, is easy to make. TEC's inner politics, how it wishes to chart its own life as a church, have taken it to a point where it is now impossible to abide by the moratoria.
TEC's main hope, now, of resuming a full contribution to the life of the Communion is that other developments take place: for example, other churches peeling away from the table. That could happen.
Like Danny Ocean's movies, the plot has many twists and turns!