Monday, June 21, 2010

Faith and Order: supporting the Williams-Kearon line

Has TEC crossed a ‘Faith and Order’ line which deserves, if not demands that members of that church on Communion ecumenical bodies should be removed, and its member on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity Faith and Order (IASCUFO) be restricted to consultancy status? Mark Harris at Preludium argues for a negative answer: such action is neither deserved nor demanded. In respect of the ecumenical bodies, Harris argues that ‘no requirement exists that there be a consistent Anglican voice at the ecumenical table’ and offers issues such as divorce and remarriage or the inerrancy of Scripture as issues on which it is unlikely that an Anglican body engaged in ecumenical discussions would have ‘one voice on the matter’.

With respect to IASCUFO Mark Harris cites the relevant Anglican Communion information about this body as offering nothing ‘to suggest that unanimity in viewpoint is a requirement for participation in the Commission.’

Harris also contrasts Kenneth Kearon’s point, relating to ‘the mind of the Communion’ that (on some matters at least) the Anglican Communion must speak with one voice with this point, ‘Surely it would be just as honest to come to the ecumenical table and say that Anglican churches are not of one mind on the matters concerning the vocation of gay and lesbian persons.’

A final point which Harris makes is, I suggest, easily dealt with. He asserts that when Kearon said to the TEC Executive Council, ‘not been to get at TEC, but to find room for others to remain as well as enabling as full a participation as possible for TEC’ this meant, ‘In other words to rid the Communion of those troublesome people.’ But that is not at all the plain meaning of either Kearon’s words, or the Archbishop of Canterbury’s actions. No one is being gotten rid of from the Communion.

Nevertheless action has been taken re two forms of Communion meetings, and Mark Harris is rightly keen to determine whether justification for this action is solid or ephemeral.

What might the solid ground or grounds of justification be? One ground is helpfully given in a comment in the post below: some bodies, such as another Christian church or a Muslim body either will not dialogue with Anglican bodies, or only dialogue with difficulty, while the Anglican Communion is deemed to be a body accepting the ordination of same sex partnered bishops. A sidelining or inhibition of TEC from certain Communion bodies is a signal that the Communion does not accept (or, does not yet accept) that which is inimical to such ecumenical dialogue.

Another ground involves ‘faith and order’ but in a different way to that given when reference is made to a World Council of Churches understanding of ‘Faith and Order’. It goes like this: the Anglican Communion is a body to which some churches want to belong to as members. Not all who wish to belong are permitted to belong, so some criterion or criterion of membership is involved in determining which churches may be member churches and which may not. Further, member churches appear to derive some benefit from belonging because there is normally a cost to membership, monetary or in time, energy and people resources. In short, there is shared faith and agreed order to Anglican life in the Anglican Communion. There are other Anglican churches in the world, but they do not share the faith and order of the Communion so they are not members of the Communion.

Further, varying interpretations of what constitutes that faith and order are likely to arise in a multi-member body, and in fact this is the case. Hence a further aspect to order in the Communion is the Communion collectively finding ways to address the question of handling these varying interpretations. Mostly the Communion is adept at living with varying interpretations, and on a number of matters has found that it can communicate to other bodies that it is itself a body with more than one view in its midst. One such example is the ordination of women.

However recently the Communion has found that living with varying interpretations about homosexuality is not something it is adept at. It may one day be in a different position, but right now it is not. Collectively the Communion has said it is not ready for the lead TEC has given, and is not any more agreeable to it now it has been confirmed than before. Part of that collective statement has been a series of clear indications that the Communion will no longer exist in its current form if no signal is given that TEC’s lead at this time is not acceptable.

Whether or not there is a past statement such as the Nicene Creed or the Lambeth Quadrilateral to be pointed to, or a common canon law or constitutional rule to be referenced, the Communion is saying two things at this time: ordaining same sex partnered bishops and authorising blessings of same sex partnerships is not part of Anglican faith and order as this Communion in its present composition understands faith and order AND these are not matters on which we formally wish to be seen speaking with multiple and different voices.

In other words, Mark Harris’ careful critique of the arguments proffered by Kenneth Kearon fails to recognise that we are not in normal Anglican mode on these matters. If we were, his argument would be solid ground for refuting Kearon’s line. But we are not in normal mode. These are exceptional times for the Communion and exception is being taken to the view that refusal to listen to the Communion means business as usual on bodies concerned with faith and order.

It is not clear to me how this message gets through into the collective mind of TEC’s leadership. It is bizarre that a church desperate to belong to the Communion will not listen to the Communion let alone accede to its wishes. It is beyond bizarre that there is seemingly little or no understanding that the Communion which it is so keen to belong to is at a turning point. If we make the wrong move at this crucial moment in history then the Communion could be lost for ever.

Addendum: The message does seem to be getting through to some such as this commenter on Preludium, who identifies himself as a gay priest serving in TEC. An excerpt: "We are getting a time-out because we acting arrogantly and self-servingly. We act as if we are not part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We act vaingloriously as if we are so incredibly wise, knowledgeable, and “prophetic” that we don’t need to listen to anyone else.

We are acting as a Church in the same why our State Department and Military leadership acted under George Bush. We can do whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want, unilaterally because we are Americans and that makes it right! We claim over and over that we "listen," but we still act like Bushy Americans. Are we so blind that we cannot see that as a Church we are acting like the “ugly Americans,” imperialists, paternalists thinking that we know so much better than all others, particularly those backward Africans? And to add insult to injury, we are actually claiming “colonial victimhood” because the English ABC is beginning to take action - fairly, I might add."


Howard Pilgrim said...

"It is bizarre that a church desperate to belong to the Communion will not listen to the Communion let alone accede to its wishes."

Now, where do you get this impression that TEC in general or Mark Harris in particular are "desperate" to belong to the Communion? My reading of Mark's recent blog posts suggests that:-
1. He and other TEC advocates are confident that TEC is already a member (indeed the principal founding member) of the Communion.
2. Have a clear preference to remain fully accepted rather partially accepted members of the Communion, although not at any cost.
3. If forced to chose, will continue to affirm the integrity of their own call to local mission and its gospel imperatives, rather than comply with restrictions placed on them by outsiders, thus placing a higher value on their own unity in mission than on preserving unity with other Communion members.
4. Take a long historical view ratifying that priority of provincial over communion commitments, and rejecting arguments that our present situation takes us all "out of normal mode" as you put it.

You are the one arguing for a change in ecclesiology, Peter, whatever you think of TEC's changed policy regarding sexuality. I say that we are still very much in normal mode, inasmuch as:-
1. Publicly acceptance by some provinces that women are called by God to ordained ministry is simply recognising what has always been the case.
2. Publicly acceptance by TEC that people in same-sex relationships have always been among us as Christian disciples and ministers of the gospel is simply recognising what has always been the case.
3. Heated differences among Anglicans concerning women's ministries, same-sex relationships, and many other contentious issues have always been a part of our life together, and dealt with with by means of the formal and informal structures that have built the unity in diversity developed over centuries of trial and error.

Carry on as usual, that is! Nothing abnormal here.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
By 'desperate' I mean 'very keen to continue to belong to the Communion despite being given quite a hard time by other parts of the Communion; and seemingly very keen to remain a member of the Communion despite some voices within TEC suggesting it is time to leave.'

As for the situation to be viewed as 'normal'? I cannot go along with you. The Harris-Pilgrim view means that ++Williams has done the wrong thing, misunderstood the majority of the Communion, and mistaken the possibility that the Communion may shortly disintegrate. If the Communion disintegrated, would that be 'normal'?

Howard Pilgrim said...

Where "desperation" meets "normality"? That could be crack that lets the light get in ...

Disintegration of the Communion? How well is it integrated right now? Some cracking and heaving as the foundations get realigned (not so alarming for those of us in the shaky isles) could lead to a better coming together of the component parts, a better integration rather than the pseudo unity we have accepted to date. More organic maybe, a natural growing together as every tissue makes its own new connections with others in the body - organic that is, rather than imposed from on top? I'm obviously just musing here, but yes one postulate would have to be that Father Rowan might have made some well-intentioned mistakes, although the members of his feuding family will have their own stories his errors.
I see a gentle stirring of the Spirit among us all rather than a crisis calling for desperate measures.

seamus said...

The only ones who aren't listening are ostrasizing, imprisoning and advocating death to people. No need to give the African churches a pass here. Ill take American arrogance on this over African bruatlty. Self-loathing Fr. Bob is just sad.