Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Consequences of being Justin Welby

Recently Archbishop Justin Welby fronted up to the public via media by way of an hour of talkback radio in England. Questions came in from the public.He responded. One response in particular has generated enormous follow up discussion, debate, perhaps even scorn. One line into the controversy is via a linked blog, Psephizo and a post entitled, What did Justin Welby say about gays and violence in Africa? The controversy, you see, turning on the extent to which ++Justin made some violence against Christians in Africa consequential on decisions in England about same sex marriage.

+Gene Robinson weighs in on the matter via The Daily Beast. It is a thoughtful piece which expresses thoughts I have read elsewhere, including concerns that the ++Welby approach kinda gives into murderers.

Is the matter, nevertheless, one that raises questions about what it means to be 'Anglican'? I have also been reading (but cannot now recall where) that if we go too far in the direction of (so to speak) local concerns trumping global consequences, do we not undermine understanding of episcopacy, with (as it happens) specific reference to the episcopacy of +Gene Robinson himself?

Anglicanism as a global phenomenon is a tension between the local and the global. The Anglican Communion is a communion of churches and not (it is often noted) itself a church. Thus the churches which make up this Communion are autonomous (they can make decisions via General Synods/Conventions without reference to higher authority) while the Communion when it meets cannot make decisions which the churches must implement. So far so good. And thus far we can certainly note that if autonomy means autonomy then local churches should be able to make local decisions about, say, gay marriage or blessing same sex partnerships, or, uncomfortably for many observers, about supporting draconian anti-gay legislation without acknowledgement of any consequences for other churches in the Communion.

But does autonomy mean autonomy?

I suggest that, in the peculiarity of the Anglican Communion, we do not have a straightforward understanding of autonomy, that, in fact, we have a sneaky version which amounts to 'when it suits, autonomous means autonomous, but when it doesn't suit, it doesn't.'

Bear with me.

When TEC ordained Gene Robinson to be bishop in 2003 it exercised its autonomy to ordain whom it saw fit to ordain. In that particular context in time and Anglican debate, the autonomous American church said, 'Global concerns about this mean zilch.' But when we fast forward to 2008 we found that +Gene Robinson was not invited to the Lambeth Conference that year. A snub on any reckoning. Effectively the Conference via its president, the then ABC, ++Rowan Williams, said 'You are not recognised as a bishop admissible to this global meeting of Anglican bishops.' A conclusion we may draw from that event is that sometimes autonomous Anglican churches acting on local concerns will effectively perform sacramental actions, such as ordination, with local but not global recognition of the action or actions.

If autonomy means autonomy then no snub would be perceived: TEC had the right to ordain +Gene Robinson; ++Rowan Williams had the right to not invite him to be a bishop beyond his diocese of New Hampshire.

But there was a perceived snub. Anglicans around the world were pained by the refusal to invite. Autonomy does not quite mean autonomy when we do not want it to mean that. A bishop, we say, ordained locally is available for ministry globally.

What makes this so? What makes for this less than straightforward state of autonomy? It is the fact that the reality of how we understand the Communion is that it is not actually a communion of autonomous churches but a communion of churches with a degree of autonomy and a degree of interdependency with other churches. That interdependency concerns entering into a series of common interests. Communion meetings of bishops, of primates, and of bishops/clergy/laity foster those common interests and do so in a form of theological speech which is laced with distinctive themes and memes derived from distinctively Anglican speech set down in documents such as the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Lambeth Quadrilateral, to say nothing of the writings of popular Anglican theologians.

Bishops chosen locally should share in the common interests of the global Communion. Meeting together at Lambeth is a way to deepen understanding of those interests and perhaps to develop new commonalities. When the commonalities are not shared there may be problems over meeting together (as there were in 2008, noting not only the snub, but many bishops who chose not to take up their invitation).

Perhaps ++Justin misjudged the 'consequences' of local actions on other parts of the world, and perhaps he misjudged the consequences of his own words, as +Gene Robinson notes. My own judgment is that he made an important note to all of us about connections across a global communion and the note works in various ways re a variety of actions at this time (cf. my comment on the Psephizo post linked above). Nevertheless there has been wide debate following++Justin's brush with radio and clearly a number of commentators are angry with ++Justin.

What ++Justin got absolutely right, however, is his underlying presupposition: the Communion is not a communion of completely and utterly autonomous churches. It is a Communion of semi-autonomous churches which should take care not to claim autonomy only when it suits. Further, this group of churches is a communion, a group with common interests fostered by interdependency which need affirming not disputing. For as long as we dispute common characteristics we run significant risks of destroying the Communion as the disputes highlight autonomy and undo unity. The key to our future is to find out what interdependence means, the balance between autonomy and dependence on one another. We set that back when we rejected the Covenant.

++Justin does not wish to be the ABC who finds himself without a Communion. He is working hard at renewing interdependence. He has his work cut out. His critics are zeroed in on his every word. Should he prove fallible he will be mercilessly criticised.

14 comments:

Caleb said...

++Justin's comments are horrendous, even in context (which the Psephizo blog helpfully provides).

He condemns "homophobic behaviour" towards gay teenagers in Britain… Good (and Psephizo is right to point this out). In his brief comments, he unfortunately doesn't talk about how the church's past and present stance on sexuality is in some ways linked to that homophobic behaviour. And he certainly doesn't try to claim that the Hero parade (or UK equivalent) should be banned because it might call forth homophobic violence elsewhere in the country.

With the murders in Africa, ++Justin follows a different logic. Of course, the responsibility for these murders should be placed first and foremost on the murderers themselves (and I'm sure ++Justin would agree). But just like with the homophobic bullying in England, this behaviour can be linked to the church's beliefs and practice. Here, ++Justin does make this kind of link. But he points to exactly the opposite beliefs and practices to what he should be pointing to. He links the murders to the beliefs and actions of pro-LGBTI Western Christians, whereas he should link the murders to the beliefs and actions of anti-LGBTI Western Christians since missionary contact, as these have in some ways stoked, justified and armed anti-LGBTI violence (of course, we should also point to anti-LGBTI tendencies within the African cultures).

Even if you disagree with the suggestion that we should point to anti-LGBTI Christianity, it's clear that pointing to pro-LGBTI Christianity is an ethically repugnant logic. It's very similar to victim blaming; it's only different because in this case, the victims are several steps removed from the people being (partly) blamed. This logic lets violent people's violent narratives influence our assessments of who's responsible for their violence.

It's like saying left wing politics are partly responsible for Anders Breivik's murders, because his murders were in response to left wing politics. Nope. The responsibility lies primarily with Breivik himself. Insofar as politics bear some responsibility, it's not the left-wing politics he was attacking that are to blame, but the far-right politics that inspired his attacks.

Father Ron Smith said...

"' But when we fast forward to 2008 we found that +Gene Robinson was not invited to the Lambeth Conference that year. A snub on any reckoning. Effectively the Conference via its president, the then ABC, ++Rowan Williams, said 'You are not recognised as a bishop admissible to this global meeting of Anglican bishops.' A conclusion we may draw from that event is that sometimes autonomous Anglican churches acting on local concerns will effectively perform sacramental actions, such as ordination, with local but not global recognition of the action or actions.' " - Dr. Peter Carrell

And yet, on that very same basis - of Head Office refusing to countenance a properly-ordained Bishop in TEC, on account of TEC's self-determination; Should not Head Office now refuse to accept the presence of GAFCON Archbishops who have aided and abetted the criminalisation of LGBT people in their own territories.

What is sauce for the goose ought really - in terms of common justice - be sauce for the gander!

Or it is this matter of LGBT flourishing only for non-Gafcon afficionados? I guess though that the ABC - whoever it may be - will only be acceptable when he fulfils the Conservative Agenda!

Kurt said...

“Should not Head Office now refuse to accept the presence of GAFCON Archbishops who have aided and abetted the criminalisation of LGBT people in their own territories.”—Fr. Ron

I’m sure that if openly gay bishop(s) are not invited to the next Lambeth Conference, there will be tremendous pressure—financial as well as moral—on Canterbury to not invite these African bishops either. (Of course, whether or not they would come if invited is irrelevant in this context.)

Archbishop Welby would have us give in to extortion. It’s as simple as that. I gave this man the benefit of the doubt; it looks like he’s going to be even worse than Rowan.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

tachesterton said...

I really can't see any New Testament justification for using the word 'church' to describe a national entity, even less a denominational national entity. The word 'ekklesia' is only used in the NT for two realities: (1) what we would today call the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church' - the one universal body of Christ throughout the world, and (2) the local congregation. It is never used for a regional or national entity - when Paul is talking about a regional entity he always uses the plural, 'the churches of Christ in _______'.

So to describe the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of autonomous national churches is seriously unbiblical. If we believe the NT, God does not recognize autonomous national bodies as 'churches'.

My denomination is called 'The Anglican Church of Canada'. If we were being more faithful to the NT we would call it 'The Anglican Churches of Canada'. In this respect, our Pentecostal friends reflect the NT usage more closely: 'The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada' (PAOC) (using the word 'Assembly' to translate 'ekklesia').

Tim C.

arowhenua said...

I feel for ++Justin (I wish that plus sign was easier to do on my ipad) especially as he didn't want to be ABC in the first place. Although, usually people who don't want to hold positions of authority are the ones most suited for being there. I also admire him, like Gene Robinson. A man who previously worked in the oil industry, who chose to become a priest and also acted to ensure the change of unethical banking practices by bankers within the oil industry, admitting that he at one time could have been one of them. These actions speak of conviction and courage.

Local or global actions within the Anglican Church? Well it is self evident from the response to ++Justin's interview comments that his position is seen of global importance to the church.

So he stood by a mass grave of Christians in Africa and this made his heart bleed. Then he heard the pleas of his fellow christians in Sudan asking Him to take into consideration that they really need the support of the worldwide church so please remember what his decisions in leadership could mean for them. An appeal to let murderers off the hook (no murders yet in Sudan) or a plea from members of our body to consider out of love for them the implications of our choices?

Justin++ in the interview also indicated he felt tremendously also for homosexuals affected by violence, and mentioned any C of E decision would also be grounded in scripture and the historical church.

Gene Robinson's words were gracious in his article but infer what ++Justin ought to have said is a little unfair. When being interviewed you hardly have time to formulate the best way of wording a comment.

So we chose to crucify with our words an authority figure in our church who is studying scripture and listening to the opinions christians from around the world. Perhaps a bit of encouragement (you know the scripture, "Encourage one another...") for this man, who after all has only been in the job for a year, wouldn't go amiss.

I agree with you Ron if Bishops anywhere act in a forecful uncharacteristically christian manner, such as say 'making people sign oaths' or 'preaching violent action towards homosexuals'; they should not be invited to Lambeth.

Caleb said...

Re "You are not recognised as a bishop admissible to this global meeting of Anglican bishops." - A non-rhetorical question... What does it take for someone to be recognised as admissible to the global meeting of Anglican bishops? Is +Victoria admissable, given that only about half the churches in the communion acknowledge that women should be allowed to be bishops?

I sympathise with the idea of barring bishops who've condoned or supported anti-LGBTI violence from Lambeth; but this would be for strictly ethical reasons, rather than refusal-to-recognise-legitimacy-of-consecration-because-of-ethical-reasons (subtly different). It therefore opens up a can of worms - what about bishops that condone or support exploitation of the poor?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
The criteria for admitting a bishop to the Lambeth Conference is solely in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC). (Strictly speaking it is about 'inviting' bishops to Lambeth).

I cannot recall any ABC not admitting women bishops to Lambeth once they become bishops.

In 2008 I think I may recall correctly if I say that two bishops were not admitted to Lambeth. One was +Gene Robinson. The lack of recognition that he could be admitted into the Lambeth fellowship was basically pragmatic: he was too controversial to be included lest the Conference completely descend into chaos.

The other bishop was, I think, the renegade bishop (former bishop if you are on the side of angels) of Harare whose pro-Mugabe grab for property and power were so awful and obviously wrong that no one gave a second thought to ++Rowan not inviting him to come.

Note that the words I conjured up carefully did not say that +Gene was not recognised as a bishop per se.

Incidentally many Anglican bishops are excluded routinely from the Lambeth Conference because they are not recognised as admissible: all those bishops who belong to churches not in 'complete' fellowship with the whole Communion. Thus at Lambeth 2008 USA-resident bishops of the Anglican Church of Nigeria were not recognised as admissible to that conference even though they are full bishops of the Church of Nigeria and that church is in communion with the Communion.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Thus at Lambeth 2008 USA-resident bishops of the Anglican Church of Nigeria were not recognised as admissible to that conference even though they are full bishops of the Church of Nigeria and that church is in communion with the Communion."

I guess, Peter, that CANA - though a daughter church of the Anglican Church in Nigeria - is not as recognised part of the Anglican Communion, having been set up as a rival to the existing Anglican Province of TEC in their area.

I believe this is called 'piracy' or 'border-crossing', which is agaisnt the Communion polity

Caleb said...

"I cannot recall any ABC not admitting women bishops to Lambeth once they become bishops." - So why the double standard? Is it just because one would raise the ire of a greater proportion of Anglicans than the other?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
At risk of being corrected by those with better knowledge, there is not an inconsistency: women bishops re Lambeth Conference, as with women priests have been accepted in the life of the Anglican Communion as an 'agree to disagree' matter. That is the ABC invited women bishops to Lambeth along with men bishops knowing that not all the men bishops agreed with their being bishops but nevertheless willing to meet in the same conference.

One or two may have stayed away ... that might be a point on which my sweeping summary stands to be corrected.

Father Ron Smith said...

"I cannot recall any ABC not admitting women bishops to Lambeth once they become bishops." - P.C.

However, the was one auspicious occasion of a snub given to the TEC Presiding Bishop, when she was not allowed to wear a bishop's mitre. I believe that occasion came to be known as 'Mitre-gate'. Hardly encouraging one might say.

Peter Carrell said...

That wasn't at a Lambeth Conference, Ron. It was a C of E occasion.

Father Ron Smith said...

With respect, Peter, I was merely drawing attention to the fact that it was most likely the then ABC - who is Convenor of the Lambeth Conference - who would have been considered ultimately responsible for the snub give to the TEC P.B.

That is, of course, if a Primate is ultimately responsible for the corporate behaviour of her/his own province towards high-profile colleagues in ministry.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Yes, the then ABC likely was responsible for what was, on any reckoning, something very odd about not wearing a mitre.

My point is that (as far as I am aware) the Lambeth Conference itself, as a Communion occasion, with respect to women bishops, has not descended to that level of farce.