Sunday, August 2, 2009

In praise of ++Rowan's two tracks for the Communion

++Rowan's response to TEC's GC 2009, which is concomitantly a setting out of a vision for the Anglican Communion as a catholic church always open to reunification with the catholic churches of Rome and Constantinople, continues to be rubbished. Thinking Anglicans offers a continuously updated series of links to such rubbish posts, one of which, Simple Massing Priest, offers this cheery thought,

"But I am becoming ever more convinced that Dr. Williams's sincere attempts to save the Anglican Communion will, if allowed to come to fruition, ultimately destroy it."

Here I want to focus on just one aspect of ++Rowan's statement, the idea of a 'two tracks' Communion, expressed in these two paragraphs (italics mine):

"23. This has been called a 'two-tier' model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. 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."

I suggest that Anglicanism is in fact rather good already at doing 'two tracks' as a way forward when there is disagreement and difference, if not dispute in our midst. Call it a little noticed section of the hidden DNA of our life together!

Some examples:

Different kinds of services in the same parish church to accommodate diversity between generations and between liturgical preferences.

The work-in-progress in (e.g.) the Anglican Church of Australia and in the Church of England in respect of acceptance and non acceptance of women priests and bishops.

The movement gathering pace in parts of the Communion to offer "Fresh Expressions" alongside, or at least somewhere in the vicinity of "traditional expressions of Anglicanism" and, sometimes the same thing, often not, various (duly authorised) church planting strategies.

Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism co-existing in the same diocese (and, in some parts of the world, e.g. Tanzania, Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical dioceses co-existing in the same provinces).

I am not here attempting to argue that the twin tracks of an association of TEC, ACCan and other provinces traveling in one direction, and the remainder of the Communion in another direction in respect of human sexuality, is precisely analogous to any or all of the above, merely that Anglicans do "twin tracks" as part of being Anglican.

In my view ++Rowan's approach here is pastorally responsible and encouraging to each track:

"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."

Some form of the Gamaliel principle, that God should determine what is of God and what is not, rather than councils and committees, seems implicit here. But I do not think that is ++Rowan's main thrust, rather it is that when a church determines, with due synodical authority, on a course of action disagreeable to the remainder of the Communion, it is a matter of basic human decency, to say nothing of fraternal love, for the local church to be allowed to "pursue" that direction.

Quite how this sensible and respectful proposal for the way forward excites so much opposition is beyond me.

Bleating about how the LGBTs are being sold out or Scripture is being betrayed by ++Rowan's statement misses the point of the situation we are in: the Communion is on the verge of divorce if one side of the argument is pushed forward ahead of the other; ++Rowan is offering an alternative to divorce in which the divided couple move into separate bedrooms in the same house. What is not to like?


Suem said...

I think the reason Rowan's responses 'excite so much opposition" is that the extremes of both sides want it their way! Many conservatives feel they cannot in all integrity remain in communion with those who affirm,include and bless those who are in same sex relationships. Liberals also see it as a human rights issue and feel betrayed by William's caution when they know his true views are - have been - sympathetic. I think liberals are also sickened by the hypocrisy when the C of E relies on so many of its partnered gay clergy.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Sue
I understand those dynamics in the opposition from both sides to ++R on this statement (and many others). But in this case I am raising the question whether ++R's statement has been read with an intelligent appreciation of all issues before the Communion, and therefore present to ++R as the ABC as he works out his response.