Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bleak House

Ephraim Radner, post Global South Singapore (of which he makes a very interesting observation, italicised by me), post AMiA pulling apart from ACNA, post Glasspool consecration amidst curiously syncretistic service, offers what we might call a Dickensian pessimism about the state of global Anglican life. The whole article is published at Anglican Communion Institute. Here is an excerpt:

"The Lambeth Conference, of course, needed only one meeting in 2008 to demonstrate its marginalization in leadership: talking without decision, boycotted by a quarter of its most dissatisfied members, the great gathering of Anglican episcopal leaders became an inward looking and reflexive publicity opportunity for program coordinators. It was astonishing to see how thoroughly and quickly one of the most august meetings in the Christian Church had lost its way.

And the Anglican Consultative Council? A May, 2009 self-combustion over simple voting procedures left this “most representative” gathering of the Communion without credibility as anything but an arena for political posturing and finagling. The national church model that, primarily, lies behind the provincial ordering of the ACC, has instead poisoned the search for shared hope and mutual subjection among the council’s members, a subversion led by the most nationalistically aggressive of the all the provinces, the Episcopal Church. Current attempts by TEC to manipulate its position on the ACC’s Standing Committee, seemingly abetted by the Anglican Communion Office, only underscores this sorry state of affairs.

Why mince words here? For some years now – since even before the Virginia Report of the late 1990’s — it has been stated formally over and over again that the structures of the Anglican Communion needed redefinition and rebuilding, so as to be able to function fruitfully. Key efforts were made to give direction to such reconstruction. A decade of failure, however, has simply borne out an already established and publicly stated fear.

But trying to set up alternative structures has not fared much better. If the recent Singapore meeting exposed a ten-year lapse in credibility for existing Communion structures, it also put the lie to any attractive claim for alternative structures that, in the past 10 years, some portions of the Communion have so assiduously been at work to erect: new provinces in North America; special “primatial councils” for common confessors; extra-jurisdictional missionary fiefdoms; episcopal netwoks of alternative oversight. Instead, the gathering proved to be what every other Anglican gathering has been in the past decade: in addition to faithful witness and counsel, also a time for political maneuver, secretive changing of agendas at the last moment, North Americans coming in and grabbing the microphones and running meetings, disagreements over this and that strategy and doctrine. That a common communiqué emerged at all was cause for surprise by the end; that it expressed little tangible except a shared dislike for Communion structures and for TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada was probably the most one could have predicted, which isn’t very much, let alone particularly edifying."

NB Please read Tim Harris' comments below concerning the italicised words. Tim was at the Singapore event; whereas Ephraim Radner was not.


Howard Pilgrim said...

Thanks for that link, Peter. I have just read +Radner's article in full and, to my surprise, found it to be honest about the failure of his own hopes and agendas, open to the full range of differences within the Communion, and prophetic in its vision of the challenges and opportunities God has now placed before all of us. Nihil obstat, my fellow liberals!

Tim Harris said...

Peter, I am no more optimistic about the state of affairs at the 'Instruments of Communion' level than Ephraim Radner appears to be (and it is quite a change in outlook from him, who has otherwise been confident that the 'Church catholic' would self-correct from aberrant courses).

However, I am very surprised to read the section you have highlighted. I'm not sure what meeting Radner is reporting on, but it certainly wasn't the one that actually took place. I know he wasn't there, so must be relying on (apparently quite skewed) reports from sources with a vested interest.

To talk of North Americans 'coming in and grabbing the microphones and running meetings' is simply nonsense! If anything, the North Americans were put firmly in their place and their profile was as minimal as can be. The timeframe for organising the Encounter was remarkably short, and the sessions were exactly as notified to participants about a month in advance (as also available on the GS website). How does complying with the well-publicised agenda constitute 'secretive changing of the agenda at the last minute'?

The only changes evident to participants were requests for further work, more time or extra consultation in the preparation of the communiqué, but that is the nature of such events, and the final communiqué received unanimous support - and NO western guests were invited to contribute to its formulation. Other than Stephen Noll (as part of the Ugandan representation - justifiably), none contributed to the plenary discussion in my recollection. Western guests were invited as observers to these otherwise closed sessions (ie. closed to the media), but not speaking participants.

The only input western guests had to the proceedings was some time with the GS primates (where the North Americans - both TEC and ACNA - were absolutely *grilled* about details), and on the final morning to the main meeting, after the communiqué had been finalised (but before the final adoption).


Tim Harris said...


There was obviously some measure of 'politicking' going on (no more than any such gathering), but this was not over crucial 'votes' or resolutions. It was much more of the networking opportunity - and I can tell you it included as much (if not more) listening by western guests than otherwise - more of a genuine 'indaba'!

The event and procedures would have been different if it had been organised along western lines, but I can affirm it was unlike any other Anglican gathering I have attended (General Synods included...), both in spirit and resolve.

I am not sure what is driving Dr Radner at this point, but his piece (which I otherwise generally agree with) reads as fairly blatant 'spin' in this section.

I suspect it may arise from false expectations by some - there was much hype through North American blog sites - Downunder varieties can speak for themselves ;-) - that the Global South Encounter was going to provide some sort of watershed moment and an alternative way forward to the crisis in the communion. In reality, the event was more by way of saying 'we're going to get on with our own mission agenda and get organised to operate more independently in that regard' - we have little time and will to hope the AC more generally get back on track.

The focus was Global South, not global Anglicanism in any structural form.

My suspicion is that Radner's comments are shaped by his disappointment that the Covenant didn't get the ringing endorsement he was hoping for, and that concerns over the 'Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion' placed a big question mark over section 4.

But Radner is an astute enough scholar to know that a communiqué of this nature can only ever speak for those present, and that such a statement cannot speak for the provinces themselves - and it was never conceived that it would. What sort of statement did he expect to emerge? As I say, it may be more a case of judging things through criteria of differing expectations than the event itself.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Tim for enlightenment.

Thanks Howard for nihil obstat.


Rosemary Behan said...

Howard says .. "Nihil obstat, my fellow liberals." What does that mean? Nothing stands in the way my fellow liberals? Nothing stands in the way of what? And Peter, why are you thanking him for making that remark? I don't understand.

May I also thank Tim. The impression I got from both reading the Global South Website and listening to the talks, was quite different from the remarks you highlighted Peter from Ephraim Radner. It's not easy being a pewsitter with 'spin' this and that. I wonder what happened to good old Christian honesty.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
I presume Howard, tongue in cheek, is assuming a pontifical mode in which he declares to his liberal comrades that he finds nothing objectionable in Ephraim Radner's report (contrary to his anticipation that he would find something objectionable). Playing along with this assumption I am expressing appreciation of the pontifical honour bestowed upon this post!

Anonymous said...

Howard was not speaking "in pontifical mode" but merely as a humble Catholic bishop in his remit of issuing a "nihil obstat".

This infallible judgment is delivered ex cathedra by Our Hand, quinto die ante Kalendas Iuniae, MMX.

Outis I, P.M.

Bryden Black said...

While I realise Kierkegaard used many a persona to get his often satirical voice heard, I actually rather wish the apparent Liberal nihil would be true to such a voice and itself fade like the Cheshire Cat’s grin when participating - trying to participate - in comments on the likes of GSE4 and the Two-Thirds Church in general. Harsh? No; not to one who has tried to straddle both the sundry voices of the West these past decades and learn too the ways first-hand of a part of the Global South Church, in Africa for a good chunk of my life.

That said, I welcome Tim’s alternative take (not ‘spin’) on GSE4 in Singapore to Ephraim Radner’s otherwise helpful presentation of the current state of the Communion’s disintegration. Tim’s comments are the kind of thing I’d fully expect. In which light overall, this church in Aotearoa New Zealand had better learn to get its theological lode-star oriented pretty soon. For our recent collective performance at GS up north does not fill me with much confidence at all. But perhaps - all satirical takes aside - that’s as vain a hope as the Dane’s shouting into the 19th C wind. Just as the culture of his own day won out, so too I reckon ours has already swamped the good barque/waka ecclesia Anglicana.

Anonymous said...

Bryden Black is confused.

Outis is not "Liberal".

Outis is confused.

Nihil obstat is not issued by a bishop. A bishop issues an Imprimatur.

No one should be surprised at these confusions. Nor that Ephraim Radner is confused.

Anonymous said...

"Outis is confused.

Nihil obstat is not issued by a bishop. A bishop issues an Imprimatur."

We did say he is a *humble* Catholic bishop. We appointed (in pectore) our beloved censor librorum as Titular Bishop of Mecca (in partibus infidelium). For a small consideration, enquiries will be considered regarding our other vacant ecclesiastical jurisdictions (Dioceses of Mururoa, Ultima Thule, Adelie Land, Nullarbor Plain).

Outis I, P. M.

Howard Pilgrim said...

I must add my name to those who are confused - in my own case, by Bryden Black's comment. Is he saying that liberal voices should be absent from this evangelical blog, or from any discussion of what is happening in non-western parts of the Communion? Given your own track record as owner of this blog, Peter, I don't imagine he feels encouraged to advocate the former possibility. As for the latter, it hardly bears thinking about. Are liberals not to care about the well-being of the majority of Anglican provinces? Or is it that the "Global South" is a body characterised by its conservative theology rather than its geographical provenance, as some maintain, and that those who do not share a conservative theological position have no right to express an opinion about what is going on within its exclusive domain? I read Bryden's comment as asserting that he has the geographical experience and theological purity required, so I and other liberal readers of your blog should maintain an awed silence in his presence.

For a more catholic view of our dialogue, in which evangelical, liberal and anglo-catholic voices treat each other with mutual respect, I appeal to the endorsement I have received from His Holiness Outis 1,:-), merely adding this codicil that within papal jurisdictions the power to grant a verdict of nihil obstat to any writing is delegated by a diocesan bishop to a qualified theologian, and has most weight beyond that diocese. In my own case, my endorsement was specifically addressed to my fellow liberals.

In that light, and given my current licence, ++Radner might be pleased to know that the article whose visionary qualities I celebrated in my first comment has been endorsed in this respect by the rather liberal diocese of Waiapu. As to whether it is a reliable report on what actually happened at the GSE4 meeting, we must all defer to the remarks of our colleague Tim who was, unlike me, an invited observer and, unlike ++Ephraim, an actual attendee.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Since submitting my last comment, I have been awed to learn of my preferment to the see of Mecca, and am ever-so-humbly gratified to accept this appointment from our revered father Outis 1. I trust that the light responsibilities inherent in this missionary post will enable me to exercise them largely in absentia, so as not to alarm the bishop of Waiapu about any neglect of my present duties which, unlike my episcopal prospects in the Muslim heartland, do carry a small stipendiary reward and generally appreciative audience.

Bryden Black said...

None of the above Howard! More seriously and less satirically, and adopting yet another voice, for a moment: as we "await (perhaps; some of us) [for the] Conversation to Begin" (O'Donovan), his very first chapter not only fires a warning shot across "Liberal" bows, but a fatal one below the barque's water-line. So you might find the inrushing water useful in your new appointment - assuming it to be mostly desert outside the city itself!

Howard Pilgrim said...

Thanks for your clarifying denial ("none of the above"), Bryden. it leaves me not much wiser about what you were trying to convey in your first comment about the liberal voice, so I wonder if anyone else understood it better than I?

Now we have a cryptic reference to one of many possible O'Donovans firing shots across liberal bows while waiting for a Conversation to Begin. All very tantalising - please expand the reference for less learned souls like me, particularly if it means some of us may need to inspect our below-waterline nether regions for signs of incipient disaster. Is this something to do with the approaching indignities of old age?

Bryden Black said...

Sorry Howard, many other things to do first than pay a visit to Peter's blog - like prepare and deliver sermons on the Doctrine of the Trinity! Deo Gloria!!!

Oliver O'Donovan, A Conversation Waiting to Begin: The Churches and the Gay Controversy (SCM, 2009), but first published on-line at Fulcrum as "Sermons of the Day" (after John Newman). Given your stipendiary position, I am surprised you have neither heard of the Posts nor the final book version.

As for other previous voices: the situation is 'far worse' than you might imagine ... And therefore "none of the above".