Sunday, August 9, 2009

How can a Communion work along Two Tracks?

Last night I had the privilege of seeing an extraordinary artist at work. His name is Daniel Carter and he is an artist with a rugby ball. He can do things lesser mortals cannot do such as kick the ball with pin point accuracy. But what makes him a genius is his ability to make the complicated moves of running, kicking, catching and passing simple. In the televised game last night (Auckland versus Canterbury) his half-back threw him a wild array of passes, but Daniel Carter caught every one of them as though he had been thrown the perfect waist-high pass. Even making his regulation kicks, Carter shows that he is a cut above the rest: he kicks with great speed, thus clearing the ball more quickly away from the outstretched arms of opposing forwards.

Archbishop Rowan Williams is just about a Daniel Carter of Anglican theology. He is an extraordinary theologian, he can think thoughts and write words lesser mortals cannot do. He is certainly thrown a wild array of challenges by his English church and world Communion. But the recurring criticism of the Archbishop is his failure to make the complicated simple. In that respect he is not quite Daniel Carter's equivalent as a genius. Nevertheless he has played one of his best hands with his response to the American GC in Anaheim. Let's go back to two key paragraphs in that statement (my original post on it is here):

"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."

Here ++Rowan Williams offers a generous recognition of those, such as TEC, who proceed down a pathway in which it proves that 'local autonomy' is greater than participation in a 'covenantal structure': each way is respected for they constitute "two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage" or "two styles of being Anglican". When he then goes onto deny the possibility that each way can be represented at "ecumenical interchanges and processes", he is simply noting that the majority viewpoint rather than the minority needs to represent the whole of the Anglican Communion at such meetings. This is not 'two tier' Anglicanism, but conciliar Anglicanism in which the council of Anglican views and doctrines is represented by the majority (i.e. those signing up to the Covenant) and not by the minority.

Of course, there is another alternative, in which the minority breaks away from the majority, or the majority expels the minority. But, with respect to ecumenical ventures, would that be advantageous to the minority? I think not. It is hard to see Rome or Constantinople opening up negotiations with both Canterbury and New York! (Even if Canterbury, following some posturing of English liberals, folded into TEC's camp, would a New York-Canterbury Anglicanism be invited to Rome or Constantinople?)

In turn, this takes us to the extraordinary effort of ++Rowan to be realistic rather than idealistic. With phrasing such as "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" and "if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely", the Archbishop offers the unremarkable assessment that this is the best we can do under the circumstances by way of a Communion in which disagreement has already led to a degree of schism. Tina, girlfriend of many a political leader is at hand here, 'there is no alternative'!

If there is an alternative, ++Rowan's critics have not produced it. Blathering on about taking on the conservatives, selling the LGBT movement down the creek, etc, are simply recipes to split the Communion not only in two, but in an irrevocable way. ++Rowan's respectful yet realistic way of describing the future, two Anglican ways, but both will not pretend to be the mind and voice of the Communion, has the singular advantage of keeping the door open to a renewed unity in the future.

But a question or three remains. How does a Two Tracks Communion work in each aspect of the Communion's life. Discussions at ecumenical meetings is only one aspect that life. Will the ACC meet together in the future as at present? Will Lambeth 2018 be like many conferences, with a conference for each Track meeting simultaneously, and occasional plenary sessions for all delegates?

But more pressing for lesser mortals such as myself, and perhaps you, dear reader, is what all this might mean on the ground as parishes and dioceses work out their futures. In broad terms, especially in the West, but not, I think, only in the West, many parishes and dioceses have a majority and a minority within with respect to attitudes to homosexuality. If, say, a minority of parishes wish to distance themselves from their diocese which wishes to overtly signal its agreement with the Covenant (whether or not a diocese can sign the Covenant, surely it can advertise itself as 'Covenant aligned' or similar), will such a grouping be able to do so?

These and many other questions are going to trouble us. I want to suggest that they will be less troublesome to answer within a Two Tracks Communion than from any position engendered by a split Communion.

Postscript: A very thoughtful and clear response posted by the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy effectively critiques the approach I am taking in this post. I note, however, that their post does not offer a clear way forward for dealing with TEC.


Anonymous said...

Maybe people need to learn a lesson from the experience of the British Labour Party in the late 70s and early 80s. Many Trotskyites and other far leftists joined as 'entryists' and took over weak areas. They briefly came to dominate the national party but provoked a civil war within the party and kept Labour out of power until Kinnock and Blair drove them out.
The revisionists have succeeded in North America in institutional control, but they have only driven out the younger and more devoted of members, who are regrouping in ACNA.
A two-track Anglicanism will not stay in tandem, because systemic liberalism would drive out the residual orthodox and continue the relentless and perverse logic of religious subjectivity. Tec will become ever more like the Church of Sweden, with its partnered lesbian bishop and increasingly non-Christian 'theology'. It is neo-Gnostic in its basic assumptions - which is to say (as St Irenaeus would have remarked), it may use (some!) Christian language but it means something quite different thereby. Let it go.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
We do need to learn that lesson ... though (in my reading on the internet) the "entryist" tactics are being charged against FCA in the C of E, as well as against liberals in TEC.

A significant question lies in the "integrity" of various sides. I tend to trust that TEC is not gnostic in its theology, even though I disagree with some of its conclusions. But you alert people such as myself to be more wary than I am!

Anonymous said...

The FCA folk are lifelong orthodox Anglicans, so it's hard to see how they could be "entryists". Splitters, maybe, in the eyes of the opponents, but not cuckoos in the nest.
By 'neo-gnostic' I meant the exotic underlying theologies to be found in many Episcopal institutions and clerical heads, only partly veiled by comparatively conservative liturgical language. Spong was just the most notorious of these. Schori is not really that far behind but is less inclined (for political reasons) 'epater les bourgeois'.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
There are lifelong Anglicans in both conservative and liberal camps. There is an 'entryist' flavour to some activities going on under the name "Anglican", namely attempts by minorities to influence the shape of the whole Communion, but they are different to the Militant Tendency in the Labour Party which operated in a secretive way (as I recall).
The alleged neo-gnosticism of TEC is difficult to pin down. Some votes at GC 2009 imply it is not the overwhelming theology of TEC, though it appears to be the theology of the majority of bishops and deputies!