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!


Tim Harris said...

Some similar thoughts to your own Peter (cross-posted from StandFirm):

A handful of thoughts, and a couple of questions:

1. It strikes me as very significant that this is a post-crisis statement. Unlike all previous responses, this is a permanent state of affairs, unless:

(a) there is a clear pulling back from a particular course of action by the province (or diocese - see below) concerned. This would not be difficult in the case of border-crossing scenarios ("it was always considered a temporary measure" etc), but much harder politically (near impossible in human terms) for the other two, or

(b) there is an official change of policy at a significant 'Instrument of Communion' level. Lambeth 1:10 is now indisputably the official Communion position, unless overturned at a similar level (this was the rational for the first two moratoria, and the public position at Lambeth 08)

This has potentially enormous consequences, depending on what happens with the Primates Mtg and ACC, and is not insignificant when it comes to appointments to any faith and order related Communion commissions etc. There is no more talk of 'for a season' - this is the new reality (however it emerges).

Tim Harris said...

2. It is not clear what the provincial responsibilities will be for officially mandated actions within the province. Is the Canadian province responsible for exercising internal discipline in matters of faith and order for dioceses that have affirmed contrary practices at diocesan synod level? Will the province be held to account for such policies (remembering the strong rhetoric that provinces are the primary holders of authority within the Communion)? Is there a cost for the assertions of provincial autonomy?

This may be easier aid than done - is the province of Australia to be held accountable for the Diocese of Sydney's official acceptance of lay administration of communion (as I understand it)? Are all Australian identities to be similarly excluded from faith and order bodies if this is deemed to contravene Anglican order? I wonder if TEC would be tempted to play this card?

3. The rationale behind this response (officially mandated decisions and actions have consequences) would be easily translated to diocesan levels (perhaps to avoid the provincial accountability noted above). In which case, representatives from dioceses who have officially sanctioned policies in the area of the various moratoria may similarly face exclusion. In this regard, I wonder if anyone knows the canonical residency status of the Canadian representatives? I'm thinking especially of The Revd Canon Dr Alyson Barnett-Cowan.

Bryden Black said...

Don't forget, Peter, the equivalent of the last scene around the likes of the fountains - where you and I and other wanna-be players chew the debriefing fat ... And often such half conversations, allusions, throw-aways, whatever, reveal what Oceans 14/15/16 might look like ...

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for commenting Tim and Bryden!

I wouldn't have too much sympathy for Australians ...

Disregard, that last comment. Of course we love Australians on this side of the ditch :)

Tim raises some questions I, of course, am not an authority to answer. But here is a hope: I hope that ++RW and the ACO would be 'clear' about what applies to provinces, what applies to dioceses, and where provinces are absolved from responsibility for diocesan developments over which they have no authority.

Australia is a very interesting case. My loose understanding is that dioceses there might have more 'independence' than any other dioceses/province relationship in the Communion!

I agree that a significant move has been made by ++RW. A permanent consultancy status awaits TEC unless it changes, or the composition of opinion in the Communion changes.

Janice said...

I wouldn't have too much sympathy for Australians ...

Disregard, that last comment. Of course we love Australians on this side of the ditch :)

Yes. And we love NZedders on this side of the ditch. :) The ambiguity is tantalising but I'll leave that there.

To get serious: Tim mentioned, "the province of Australia".

I'm not up on these organisational things but having read somewhere that the diocese in which I live is part of the Province of Queensland I had to check. According to Wikipedia the Anglican Church of Australia, "is organised into 23 dioceses grouped into 5 provinces or regions." So what does that make the ACA as a whole?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Janice
I have a soft spot for Queenslanders! My mother was born there ...

Unfortunately 'province' has more than one meaning in Anglicanspeak: 'province' = (1) a member church of the Anglican Communion (2) a regional grouping of dioceses within a member church of the Anglican Communion.

To avoid confusion I try to talk about 'member churches' rather than 'provinces'.

Tim Harris said...

Janice - Peter's explanation is entirely correct. The answer (in the Australian context) is 'both'. Australia is organised around provincial clusters (except, I think, for Tasmania, which stands independently - in more ways than one...), with each province under a metropolitan bishop -an 'Archbishop' (a largely nominal role).

However, in the context of the ABoC's letter, that is irrelevant, for he is referring to 'provinces' as the national church or wider grouping - whichever is overseen by a primate and represented as such at the Primates Meeting.

liturgy said...

I love sleight of hand, Tim. What about ACANZP?... Oh look - Australia! (TEC is the same, so if Australia wears thin... Oh, look TEC,... and so is CofE...). Meanwhile... ummm: what about ACANZP? A "member church" with THREE (count them, 1,2, yep 3) Primates.