Friday, February 6, 2009

The Primates' Half-Full Glass Communique

Some excerpted paragraphs from the Primates Alexandrian Communique - the whole accessible, e.g., here - I have added my own comments in italics. At the end I address the question whether this communique is hopeful or not:

"10. Our honest engagement revealed the complexity of the situation. Matters are not as clear-cut as some portray. The soul of our Communion has been stretched and threatened by the continuation of our damaged and fractured relationships, even though we believe that God continues to call us into a Communion founded not on our will, but on the action of God in Christ Jesus. We have experienced God drawing us more deeply into that honest engagement and listening which both require and engender trust, and which must continue and intensify if we are to move forward under God. We must find a deeper understanding of the basis of the bonds, both divine and human, which sustain ecclesial fellowship.

Amen to 'complexity'. Unless we accept this is the actual state of affairs in the Communion we will despair of the slowness of the process and the middling stand of leaders, including the Primates in this Communique. The complexity of the Communion includes, I suggest, the wide variation in cultures of sexuality, San Francisco to Lagos etc; and the nuances in approaches to biblical interpretation as different Anglican churches arrive at different conclusions re the practice of human sexuality across a range of matters from remarriage of divorcees to faithful, stable same sex partnerships.

11. The Windsor Continuation Group Report asks whether the Anglican Communion suffers from an "ecclesial deficit."[6] In other words, do we have the necessary theological, structural and cultural foundations to sustain the life of the Communion? We need "to move to communion with autonomy and accountability"[7]; to develop the capacity to address divisive issues in a timely and effective way, and to learn "the responsibilities and obligations of interdependence"[8]. We affirm the recommendation of the Windsor Continuation Group that work will need to be done to develop the Instruments of Communion and the Anglican Covenant. With the Windsor Continuation Group, we encourage the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Communion Office to proceed with this work. We affirm the decision to establish the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order. We recognise the need for the Primates' Meeting to be engaged at every stage with all these developments.

AMEN to this too! If there is one good to come from the ordination of Gene Robinson to the episcopacy it is a re-formation of the worldwide set of Anglican churches into a 'Communion' which is a 'true church' in the sense of a 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic body of Christ'. Again, if we do not accept an 'ecclesial deficit' marks the actual state of Anglican Communion affairs, then we are unlikely to find common cause towards a solution.

12. There are continuing deep differences especially over the issues of the election of bishops in same-gender unions, Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions, and on cross-border interventions. The moratoria, requested by the Windsor Report and reaffirmed by the majority of bishops at the Lambeth Conference, were much discussed. If a way forward is to be found and mutual trust to be re-established, it is imperative that further aggravation and acts which cause offence, misunderstanding or hostility cease. While we are aware of the depth of conscientious conviction involved, the position of the Communion defined by the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 in its entirety remains, and gracious restraint on all three fronts is urgently needed to open the way for transforming conversation.

Once again, Lambeth 1998 1.10 is affirmed. That's good. Will it make a difference, say, at GC 2009?

13. This conversation will include continuing the Listening Process[9], and the "Bible in the Church" Project. It is urgent that we as primates, with the rest of the Communion, directly study the scriptures and explore the subject of human sexuality together in order to help us find a common understanding.

Goes without saying, really!

14. The Windsor Continuation Group Report examines in Section H the question of parallel jurisdictions, particularly as raised by the Common Cause Partnership, a coalition of seven different organisations[10] which have significantly differing relationships with the Anglican Communion. The Report identifies some of the difficulties in recognising the coalition among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Significant concerns were raised in the conversation about the possibility of parallel jurisdictions. There is no consensus among us about how this new entity should be regarded, but we are unanimous in supporting the recommendation in paragraph 101 of the Windsor Continuation Group Report[11]. Therefore, we request the Archbishop of Canterbury to initiate a professionally mediated conversation which engages all parties at the earliest opportunity. We commit ourselves to support these processes and to participate as appropriate. We earnestly desire reconciliation with these dear sisters and brothers for whom we understand membership of the Anglican Communion is profoundly important. We recognise that these processes cannot be rushed, but neither should they be postponed."

I suspect this will mean little to the harshest critics on the left and the right. But this is a very significant statement because it means that the whole Communion, through its Primates speaking in unanimous agreement, acknowledges and accepts the existence of the emerging parallel jurisdictions in North America and regards these as Anglican entities speaking with Anglican voices. One does not, after all, have a 'mediated conversation' with a vacuum! What kind of regard and recognition, if any at all, may be given the parallel jurisdictions remains to be seen. But this is a respectful response, unlike the constant dissing served up by the likes of Mark Harris on Preludium. And, as Christopher Seitz astutely points out in a comment [No 25] on Titus One Nine, this response has been agreed to by the likes of ++Peter Akinola: that is, those who think the parallel jurisdictions should have been granted instant recognition should reflect on the process now agreed to by the African primates.

You can probably pick that I see the Communique as a half-full glass. Reactions on Titus One Nine (the comment by Christopher Seitz noted above excepted) are that it is half-empty, if not empty! So, I remain hopeful about our future as a Communion on a journey towards ecclesial solidity, commonality in our reading of Scripture, and clarity in our understanding of mission in a world much removed from the Saxon England of Augustine and the Elizabethan England of Hooker. Yet my hope is tempered by the dark cloud of General Convention 2009, no larger than the size of a man's hand, visible above the horizon.

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