Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Talking Point Which Underlines How Special TEC Is

Mark Harris raises the question 'What makes The Episcopal Church so "special" in the eyes of the Archbishop?' It does not have the feel of a happy post, and ends on, shall we say, a forceful note,

"You will not be surprised to know that while we hold you personally in high regard, we wonder in amazement that you only spoke of a proposal and the Secretary General took the proposal as an order and hacked away. Either you were not strong enough to demand resignation yourself or were simply avoiding the reality of dismissing hard working and faithful Christians from work they loved. You were either dishonest or into avoidance."

As one commenter points out, ++Rowan may be into delegation. As I would like to point out: if it is surprising that ++Rowan has actually acted, perhaps that says something about how patient he has hitherto been.

What makes TEC so "special" I suggest is that it has defied one of its own talking points, published for all the world to see here. The final talking point is this:

"Resolution 49c from the 1930 Lambeth Conference notes: “Churches in the Anglican Communion are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.” "

What is mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference? One might be forgiven for thinking that this would be about bishops meeting at, say, Lambeth, and making resolutions, to which subsequently they would be loyal.

The point which constitutes the "specialness" of TEC is that it has vociferous supporters who do not see what others see. This group does not see that a resolution of Lambeth should be binding upon itself as long as it wishes to remain a part of the Communion which made that resolution. It does not see that TEC as TEC is not being told what to do, or being governed by a foreign jurisdiction (a concern of another talking point)* but it is being asked to be a responsible member of the Communion to which it wishes to belong. It does not see that one wrong does not make another wrong right, so it draws attention to the faults of the Church of England, and of other Anglican churches, as though attending to their faults changes anything. It does not see that if the Communion clarifies what it means to be a Communion (a mutually loyal body of believers living according to the common counsel of its bishops) then the faults of others will be the next attended to. (Yes, ACANZP has some faults, and it would be good to see them straightened out). It does not see that a Communion which takes seven years to determine a consequence for certain actions (and a consequence which falls far short of suspension of membership, let alone expulsion) is not a Communion being led into the arms of Rome by a power-grabbing Archbishop of Canterbury; rather a patient, mild, weak, yet not supine Communion led with thoughtful regard for the life of the whole Communion. Finally, this group of supporters of TEC does not see that the Communion which makes no effective response to TEC is a Communion almost certain to shrivel to a rump group of mostly Western Anglican nations. (If it is not too late already).

Is there a way forward here? Can TEC be TEC, the Communion be the Communion, and TEC remain what it is, a member of the Communion?

I think grace requires us to search for affirmative answers to these questions. Could the current space to which TEC is being led by the ABC, less than full membership of some bodies, also be a space in which TEC is encouraged to be itself and to pursue its distinctive pathway, watched by a Communion genuinely open to seeing the fruits of that way?(With say a preliminary report made at Lambeth 2018, and a final determinative report being made at Lambeth 2028?) Would TEC, for its part, be willing to refrain from talking about being 'led by the Spirit'? Such talk seems either divisive (We have the Spirit, the remainder of the Communion does not) or confusing (The Spirit can say one thing to one bunch of Anglicans and another thing to another). Could the searchlight of the Communion be turned upon those member churches who in recent years have been shown up as harbouring homophobic sentiments, or fudging various issues concerning 'don't ask, don't tell' approaches to relationships? (Again, the aim could be a clearer, more consistent and coherent Communion on relational matters by 2028).

In the end, it is probably true that there are two gospels (or more) at work in the Communion. It is too early for the whole Communion to tell which is true and which is false in a fast changing world. But time will tell. Various statistical prognostications about the future of Western churches, for instance, should be vindicated or otherwise in eighteen or so years time. It would be gracious to expel no one at this stage, nor to press anyone to leave, even as it seems that requiring some discipline during this time is the right thing to do.

*Presiding Bishop William White, the first Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (1789), said that the Church of which he was a prime architect was to contain “the constituent principles of the Church of England, and yet independent of foreign jurisdiction or influence.”

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