Wednesday, March 24, 2010

We are fine as we are, thank you very much

Reading some reactions to the Poon paper, to say nothing of a comment or two here, I am struck by the amount of fear that talk of the Communion becoming a church generates. Interesting! But it would also be fair to say that a continuing line of rebuttal is that there is nothing wrong with the Communion as it is: a fellowship of national churches, none beholden to the other, all able to make appropriate decisions in their local contexts. We are fine as we are, thank you very much.

I will put off making comment myself on Michael Poon's paper for a day or so, and make a few observations here about the idea of the Communion becoming a worldwide church:

(a) 'the Communion is not a worldwide church' is a doctrine to suit the occasion: it was noticeable recently when the Ugandan parliament, with some church support, was moving towards a draconian law against homosexuals, there was a tremendous amount on international Anglican interest in persuading the Anglican Church of Uganda not to support this proposed law. Apparently that member church of the Communion was about to make an inappropriate decision in its own local context and needed to be told so by a body of opinion larger than itself.

(b) the arguments against the Communion becoming a worldwide church are noticeably negative in the headline and poorly thought through in the substance: it would be like Rome, it would be without precedent, it would mean we would all have to believe the same things. What happened to Anglicanism's unique ability to create and forge its own singular identity? Why would a worldwide Anglican church look like the bits of Roman Catholicism that we do not admire? (Would it be a bad thing if we looked like the bits of Roman Catholicism which we do admire?!) What is it with the 'no precedent' argument when Anglicanism's history is full of new precedents being created? Would it be such a bad idea to believe everything together? That used to be a definition of orthodoxy! And, why is it that there is a version of Anglicanism that insists that we all believe in diversity, tolerance, reading from the same lectionary around the world, and the virtues of local autonomy? That version gets a free pass by critics of the possibility of a worldwide Anglican church! Incidentally, try critiquing aspects of the uniform version of Anglicanism and see what the Anglican Magisterium does to you in response!!

(c) The one positive argument against the idea of a worldwide Anglican church is that everything is fine with Communion life as it is. But that is palpably absurd. As various commenters have observed from time to time here, our Communion is and has been for a long time an impaired Communion. We have an incoherent set of Instruments of Unity - none held to be primary over the others, only one with a constitution and representation from bishops, clergy, and laity, and the most important one (in my view) only meeting every ten years (and the last time it met, assiduously avoiding making any resolutions). While it is most unfortunate pastorally that the presenting issue through this decade which is most on our minds concerns human sexuality, the simple fact is that we have an issue on which we are divided and are struggling to find common ground on which to stand together in fellowship. The unwillingness, on several sides, to find a way forward, suggests that the Communion does not mean a fellowship of member churches, but a set of churches with a history of togetherness and a future of dispersal, unchecked by concern to hold more rather than less in common.

Do not worry, those who are fearful of the Communion becoming a worldwide church. It cannot happen if Anglicans do not want it to happen.

But my argument here on this blog is that the Communion is finished if it does not intensify its common life. Like any marriage, our relationships with one another cannot stand still, we are either growing forward into greater oneness or growing apart towards separation.


Rosemary Behan said...

You have said this in many different ways in recent days Peter, but here again .. “Like any marriage, our relationships with one another cannot stand still, we are either growing forward into greater oneness or growing apart towards separation.”

I have tried to point out that families must have discipline, that some things are a ‘step too far’ .. and take you out of the family circle. That families must hold to their values even when sons or daughters disagree with those values. You on the other hand, either insist that a son or daughter cannot take a ‘step too far’ .. that for better or worse, they ARE part of the family, and CANNOT choose to cut themselves off from that family. Nor indeed can they take that ‘step too far’ and be denied a position in that family if they express a desire to remain in that family .. which puts the family in the invidious position of not being able to ‘stand’ for it’s expressed values. Am I correct so far in my understanding of what you are saying?

Well now I want to get back to the very thing we have been discussing for well over two years now Peter. What about us? What about women and men who are so called complementarians? Are we considered part of the family? Do you take steps to make sure that egalitarians consider us to be part of the family? Why is our integrity questioned when we have worked for you without dispute for over 20 years? Why isn’t your [generic] integrity in question? If Evangelicals ACCEPT the local church down the road which is run along Liberal or Catholic lines, they just keep their heads down and do the work they believe the Lord has called them to .. then why are egalitarians/liberals/anglo catholics not told to welcome us as members who are ALSO doing the Lord’s work?

We’ve had 20 years in this Diocese, and in that time, had little or NO help, nor encouragement from anyone except Bishop David to a small degree. Yet suddenly, AFTER he has announced his resignation, Wally has had invitations to speak. Why? Well it could be that Bishop Victoria Matthews does recognise some of the things the Lord has done through Wally .. or that others now recognise that Our Lord has blessed his work? But I suspect not, rather, now that he’s not going to be around, the Diocese want to re-write history and have the pleasure of recognising [owning] that work, which was in fact done without their help. It will be lip service only of course!! There’s a list of questions here Peter, here’s another. Why in the 20 years we have been a part of this Diocese, has my husband NEVER been asked to speak at anything .. and now he is? [continued]

Rosemary Behan said...

I was at a Diocesan meeting last Friday and when I pointed out that no one from the Diocese has ever attended the courses we have offered through Diocesan notices with regard to children’s work, I wondered [out loud] whether that was because they’re so afraid of catching our theology rather than our passion for children’s work. Whatever the reason, it certainly doesn’t help to make us feel part of the family, although I daresay no other local church has as much success in children’s work.

You see, as far as I’m concerned with regard to your above statement, we are growing forward into greater separation, and it’s some in the Diocese [some of whom are influential] who have made us feel so ‘apart’ and unwelcome. They have neither been nor exercised the ‘tolerance’ you are demanding right now in the cause of unity. Do you accept that possibility? Because even if only a fraction of what I said is true .. how can you possibly talk about building any other sort of ‘relationship’ .. because so far, we’ve failed abysmally at this one. There is more than a lack of honesty around all this Peter.

It’s entirely possible that when the decision was taken to ordain women to all three offices, that most people didn’t realise that the corollary to that decision was that those who didn’t agree with all three offices, would no longer be welcome members of our church, but that IS the reality. I suspect at least some of the law makers recognised that possibility however, and with regard to our present day presenting issue, the same is true.

Is that fair? Is that just? Is that tolerant? How can you ask for yet more tolerance, when so far, you [generic] are incapable of delivering tolerance to brothers and sisters who apart from that one small issue, ARE in agreement. I’m not at all sure you see the problem clearly Peter.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
Some of your questions are best talked over a cup of tea ...I am happy to arrange to see you sometime when convenient (and not clashing with Easter business/breaks)!

I agree: to talk about greater Anglican fellowship with fellow Anglicans either walking apart or perceived to be walking apart or imagined to be thinking about walking apart is to tackle both the global and the local situations. You may not think it, but actually I am trying pretty hard on both scores.