Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Train crash averted, several wagons diverted down second track

At last our Wonderful Leader has spoken ... and spoken well, if, for example, we take John Richardson of The Ugley Vicar's respectful response as a guide. Archbishop Rowan's long-awaited response to GC 2009 waits no more, his 3000 odd word dissertation available for all to read.

Kendall Harmon at Titus One Nine cites these three paragraphs so they will be worth copying here too:

"7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.

8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.

9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. (There is also an unavoidable difficulty over whether someone belonging to a local church in which practice has been changed in respect of same-sex unions is able to represent the Communion's voice and perspective in, for example, international ecumenical encounters.)"

Things I like: ++Rowan recognises that:

-the GC resolutions and subsequent explanations have done nothing to allay Communion anxieties (2),

-the issues of homosexuality and the church are not merely about human rights, but about whether the church itself has the right to change its teaching on marriage (6, then see 7-9 cited above),

-the church has absolutely no business fostering prejudice against gay and lesbian people (5, 10),

-the local church, even in a Communion-which-is-not-a-church, can be wrong in its assessment of an issue as not requiring the agreement of the 'Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole' (13, see also 7-9 cited above; also note 16-18, which highlights how (e.g.) Sydney's possible move to lay presidency is as undermining of the unity of the Communion as TEC's moves with the effect of changing the Communion to a federation),

-the Communion has a choice: to remain a Communion or to become a federalist, pluralist entity (19), but the Covenant has been a bold effort to remain a Communion (20),

-the Covenant is not about centralization of the Communion but of intensifying our sense of mutual responsibility to each other (20),

-the Communion of the Covenant, in the light of TEC's GC 2009, will almost certainly mean a 'two track' Communion (with efforts to call this first and second class acknowledged but 'two track' clearly preferred - I am saddened that Ruth Gledhill chooses to reinforce the language of 'first and second class' ... the point of ++Rowan's reflection is not that there are two classes of Anglicans like awards of a university degree but that two different journeys are being taken by people who think they are on the same train!),

-the 'two track' Communion, of Covenanted provinces and associated local churches, should not be one of 'competitive hostility' (ACNA and TEC take note!)

Things I do not like: ++Rowan makes the bold statement that "no-one is seeking a risk-free, simple organ of doctrinal decision for our Communion" (15) when at least one exception to that statement exists (smile), and, joining quite a few others at this time, is disingenuous about the schismatic character of the situation. Thus he says towards the end (my italics),

"23. ... But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

24. It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. It is right to hope for and work for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained as between different visions of the Anglican heritage. And if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely."

Maybe we are not strictly speaking heading into 'schism', but we are heading into a separated walk apart inasmuch as whatever 'co-operation in mission and service' occurs between the two tracks, only members of one track will participate in ecumenical dialogue and the like as full representatives of 'the' Anglican Communion.

That word 'ecumenical' is key to understanding the document, as Anglican Curmudgeon very helpfully draws attention to in this post. ++Rowan has his eye on the world unity of Christianity which must involve Anglican conversation with Rome and Constantinople. He will not give away a Communion which is in this conversation for a federation which will be excluded from such conversation. Yet he will not excommunicate TEC so the only option available is for TEC to be in a different relationship to the Communion, in short, associate membership, not full membership.

I am wholly supportive of ++Rowan's ecumenical vision as the bigger picture the Communion must not lose sight of as it struggles to deal with local autonomies. There will be implications for my own church, ACANZP, as a result of this statement, since we have not resolved our commitment to communion with Canterbury which is in tension with our own desires for autonomy.

So, much to like; some reality confronted; some prospects set forth; a little to dislike. The train crash may be averted if some wagons can be diverted to the alternative track. D025 and C056 appear to be couplings beginning to be loosened, the fork in the track looming into sight.

PS If in a foul and masochist mood this morning, and would like a completely unenjoyable cup of coffee, why not make your coffee and read the vitriol being poured upon our Wonderful Leader by commenters on the left (Thinking Anglicans) and on the right (Stand Firm).

As ++Rowan drinks his own cup of coffee he may be in a chirpy mood, realising that something might just be right about his statement if it earns such high praise (not) from the edges of the Communion!