I am aware that there is an argument that the member of churches of the Communion have always been 'independent churches.' My proposal that, in the light of the Primates' Meeting in Dublin, we (i.e. the Anglican Minority Communion) would now be better named the Global Forum of Independent Anglican Churches involves an observation that the reminder of independency in the Primus of Scotland's words (see post below) was not accompanied by the statement of being a fellowship with a determination to seek the common good of the Communion as a whole.
Independency rather than interdependency was identified by no less a figure than Robert Runcie as implying gradual fragmentation:
"But we have reached the stage in the growth of the Communion when we must begin to make radical choices, or growth will imperceptibly turn to decay. I believe the choice between independence and interdependence, already set before us as a Communion in embryo twenty-five years ago, is quite simply the choice between unity or gradual fragmentation." [Cited S66, Windsor report; R Runcie, Opening Address, reproduced in The Truth Shall Make You Free, The Lambeth Conference 1988, CHP (1988), p.16.]
On the matter of 'autonomy' versus 'independence' these words in the Windsor Report are worth pondering:
"75. The word ‘autonomy’ represents within Anglican discourse a far more limited form of independent government than is popularly understood by many today. Literally, ‘autonomous’ means ‘having one’s own laws’ (auto - self, nomos - law), and the autonomy of a body or institution means “[t]he right of selfgovernment, of making its own laws and administering its own affairs”. In the secular world it is well settled that ‘autonomic’ laws are those created by a body or persons within the community on which has been conferred subordinate and restricted legislative power. Autonomy, therefore, is not the same thing as sovereignty or independence; it more closely resembles the orthodox polity of ‘autocephaly’, which denotes autonomy in communion.
76. A body is thus, in this sense, ‘autonomous’ only in relation to others: autonomy exists in a relation with a wider community or system of which the autonomous entity forms part. The word ‘autonomous’ in this sense actually implies not an isolated individualism, but the idea of being free to determine one’s own life within a wider obligation to others. The key idea is autonomy-in-communion, that is, freedom held within interdependence. The autonomy of each Anglican province therefore implies that the church lives in relation to, and exercises its autonomy most fully in the context of, the global Communion. This idea of autonomy-in-relation is clearly implicit in the laws of some churches: for instance, South East Asia describes itself as “a fully autonomous part of the Anglican Communion”.
77. As the right to self-government, autonomy is a form of limited authority. Ordinarily, an autonomous body (unlike a sovereign body) is capable only of making decisions for itself in relation to its own affairs at its own level. Autonomy, then, is linked to subsidiarity (see paragraphs 38-39, 83, 94-95).
78. Understood in this way, each autonomous church has the unfettered right to order and regulate its own local affairs, through its own system of government and law. Each such church is free from direct control by any decision of any ecclesiastical body external to itself in relation to its exclusively internal affairs (unless that external decision is authorised under, or incorporated in, its own law).
79. However, some affairs treated within and by a church may have a dual character: they may be of internal (domestic) and external (common) concern. Autonomy includes the right of a church to make decisions in those of its affairs which also touch the wider external community of which it forms part, which are also the affairs of others, provided those internal decisions are fully compatible with the interests, standards, unity and good order of the wider community of which the autonomous body forms part. If they are not so compatible, whilst there may be no question about their legal validity, they will impose strains not only upon that church’s wider relationship with other churches, but on that church’s inner self-understanding as part of “the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” in relation to some of its own members.
80. In our view, therefore, ‘autonomy’ thus denotes not unlimited freedom but what we might call freedom-in-relation, so it is subject to limits generated by the commitments of communion. Consequently, the very nature of autonomy itself obliges each church to have regard to the common good of the global Anglican community and the Church universal."
Of course the Primus of Scotland might wish to say, after reflection, that he spoke hastily, and what he really meant to say was not that the AC is a 'communion of independent churches' but a 'communion of autonomous churches having regard for the common good of the Communion.' But then he did not say that, and what he said followed a meeting in which the Primates Meeting decided it would no longer seek to offer a lead in Communion affairs as an Instrument of Unity. When we remember that Lambeth 2008 as constituted on the basis that it would make no resolutions, the AC looks very much like an entity which has evolved in rapid time from a 'communion' into a 'global forum', a series of meetings to talk about things without intent or pretence to make resolutions directing the common good of the Communion as a whole.
Put another way: where now in the life of the Communion exists the possibility of the Communion challenging any decision made by any of its member churches? One answer could be the ACC. But this body has a reluctance to do such things. In short, there is nothing in the Communion which is likely to lead the Communion to reject independency in favour of interdependency, or to commend autonomy (in terms of the Windsor paragraphs cited above) as the more accurate desciption of our ecclesiology than independency.
When we named ourselves the 'Anglican Communion' we named ourselves as much for our potential as for our existent reality: we were becoming a communion, our bonds of affection were deepening from meeting to meeting. But sooner or later we were likely to meet a test of that becoming, of those bonds. Would we pass the test in a manner which deepened our communion or impaired it, which developed interdependency or revealed independency?
While some lament that sexuality has been that test ... as though some preordained mandate means it should have been, say, the Trinity or the Incarnation ... the fact is sexuality is not an insignificant test case. One might expect a communion of Christians to have among their common doctrines, a common doctrine of marriage. (In 1 Corinthians, that great apostolic epistle on communion, marriage is one of those doctrines expounded by Paul). Further, sexuality and marriage are among those matters of human life on which Jews and Christians believe with some fervour that God has revealed through Scripture how we should live (i.e. differently to surrounding nations and kingdoms). So also the test has been about a common understanding of Scripture.
From Lambeth 1998 to Lambeth 2008, from the highpoint of a Communion proposing a common mind (the Windsor Report, which has been the basis for Primates' Meetings concluding statements since 2004) to the Primates' Meeting 2011, we have seen a hardening resolve to respond to the test issue in favour of independency rather than interdependency, and of 'independency' as accurate descriptor rather than 'autonomy.' So communion is impaired if not broken; certainly not deepened across the whole global network of Anglicans; and the bonds of affection have express limits: affection for each other will be shown, but no bonds will bind against independency. Conversation not Covenant is the key to the future of this part of the former Anglican Communion.
The irony of the recent Primates' Meeting is that it could come to a common mind on two things. One, determining that it would move away from any sense that it is mandated to challenge independency. Two, speaking to any kind of issue outside the internal life of the Communion itself. Extraordinary!