Monday, January 17, 2011

What Should ++Rowan Do?

The Primates' Meeting, whether it is a power meeting or just an optional leaders' retreat (as characterized by one commenter in a post below), is at least significant in this way: it is the second Instrument of Unity meeting in less than two years to have people stay away not because it is optional but because of the participation of TEC's hierarchy. There is a message there about the state of our Communion. We are two speed (if not divided more deeply than that). At no time in the last two years has any indication been given that absenteeism of bishops/primates from the Primates' Meetings or Lambeth Conferences will cease as long as TEC remains on its present course.

I think ++Rowan should do something about this situation, ideally in concert with the primates of the member churches of the Communion. The following steps should be taken. They are not hard to secure agreement on.

(1) Make a statement that acknowledges the Communion is in an impaired state and not likely to change that status for the foreseeable future.

(2) Make a judgment call as to whether there are any circumstances (other than change of theological mindset) under which all bishops for Lambeth 2018 and all primates for the next Primates' Meeting are likely to meet or not.

(3a) If there are such circumstances, tell the Communion and work hard to make sure they prevail.

(3b) If there are not (and that is my judgment), tell the Communion and set in motion the required work  to reconfigure the Communion accordingly.

In respect of (3b) that could be as simple as changing our name, replacing Communion with a word more suited to being 'not in communion', but could be as complicated as two communions within a larger shell entity, the ABC being a figure of unity for both communions but just a figurehead for the larger shell entity.

In fairness to ++Rowan's leadership I would add that I think the logic of the current situation - including the fact that various sides are not going to be told what to do by anyone else - does not change if ++Rowan decided to retire (though he deserves to be free to make that decision - he must be very tired!) or to resign to make way for another ABC who, somehow, would break through the logjam with a different approach. No, no, no.  I believe ++Rowan could say more - offer a blunter more realistic assessment of the crisis. But I do not believe that he is in any way part of the problem. Let me explain ...

There are two gospels (or more) at work in our Communion today. Two approaches to salvation, two messages of what life in Jesus Christ means. In my view this is not an unusual situation per se: two (or more) gospels have often been present in the life of the Communion (think back, for example, to the early 1960s and the two gospels represented by John A.T. Robinson's Honest to God and the then burgeoning publications from the pen of John Stott). For many decades the Communion has coped with two (or more) gospels but that has lulled us into thinking such a situation would always prevail. Today we are facing the fact (or ought to be facing up to the fact) that we are not coping with the presence of two (or more) gospels in our midst. A two or more gospel church or communion always risks division. Risk through the last decades of the twentieth century has become reality in the twenty-first century.

It does not matter who the ABC is in respect of personality or leadership skills once managing the risk (as Fisher, Ramsey, Coggan, Runcie and Carey did) gives way to the reality of two or more gospels acting as foci points for multiple communions. (Added note: see comments below, but there is an important argument that Carey belongs with Williams as ABCs in the time of reality, Runcie being the last ABC in the time of risk).

The reality which has emerged from the years of managing the risk is not a failure on the part of ++Rowan's role as ABC but a result of decisions made elsewhere beyond the ability of any ABC to influence them. On the one hand the decision (albeit an aggregation of small decisions over several years) by TEC to be ultimately unconstrained by considerations of the Communion's unity in pursuit of the gospel as they understand it. On the other hand the decision (albeit an aggregation of small decisions over several years) by archbishops and bishops (mostly but not exclusively in Africa)  to be ultimately unconstrained by considerations of the Communion's unity or by the usefulness of American financial generosity in pursuit of a Communion united around one gospel.

In sum: the Communion has lived through much of its life with the pleasant delusion that it has been united deeply. In reality it has had a fair degree of unity in constant tension with the underlying, even hidden presence of two or more gospels. The tension has snapped: there are two or more gospels present and the pursuit of one or the other as the gospel for the Communion has exposed the fragility of our unity. There is no going back to the way things were. The future can be managed well or badly. The Primates' Meeting is impotent in respect of reversing the course of recent history, but it has potential to lead well into the future in which an impaired Communion must necessarily give way to a new set of Anglican entities.


Suem said...

I actually agree with much of this. I do think there should be more acknowledgement of impaired communion, and an acceptance (if that is what you are saying?) of the reality of two or more foci points. Isn't this in effect the same as Rowan's "two tier communion" though - and then his later reference to a "many layered communion."

I am not sure I agree with there being "two gospels", although I might agree with this if it is true, as some say, that TEC as a whole are denying the divinity of Christ outright (I am not talking about a nuanced theological debate on the Resurrection as most important for its symbolic aspects as coming under that banner.)

I would certainly say there are many approaches to the gospel, different interpretations of Christ's teaching, different emphases and different pastoral responses in different contexts - not sure that means a different gospel as such.

Interesting that Ephraim Radner seems to deny that the ACI missive has the implications that certainly could be read into it. I did say that they have presented views not as strictly their own - but have expressed them forcefully, using some language such as "heretical" and "manipulative" that they have certainly not repudiated in the same document. Such adjectives are wholly unjustified when applied to our Archbishop. I would love to hear them say that!

Doug Chaplin said...


Do you think Carey should be grouped with his predecessors as "managing the risk" or with his successor as "dealing with" the split?

I note that it was in his time that the AMiA bishops were consecrated, and self-proclaimed refugees from TEC joined African allegiances in the USA. It was in his time that the C of E set up a woman free enclave to enable people to exist denying the validity of the rest of the church's sacraments.

Yes, things speeded up rapidly, but perhaps it is fairer to see +Rowan as inheriting the split.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
I think one technical difference between my/++Rowan's painting of the Communion picture as two (or more tiered) is that the concept arose originally re the Covenant: signers up and non-signers would contitute two tiers. Whereas I am asserting that the two tiers now exist, even without a Covenant.

I accept that defining the 'two gospels' is tricky. But it is not only about those who accept and those who deny the divinity of Christ. It is also about whether Scripture is God's revelation to us or not (e.g. our insights in the divine recorded to ourselves); and about the nature of sin and whether or not salvation rescues us from eternal separation from God.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Doug,
Fair point: I shall nuance the post slightly.

In my defence I would point out that other secessions from TEC have taken place for a long time now; and, in my view, the 'big split' is 2003 onwards.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I would hesitate to state castegorically, as you do, that there are 2 Gospels. Surely, there is only one Christian Gospel - that which has been proclaimed through the incarnation, teaching and ministry of Jesus, Son of God?

I agree with some of what you are saying here, but I think you have failed to account for the fact that the Communion was bifurcated under the leadership of the previous ABC, George Carey, who was responsible for allowing the divisive tactics of the burgeoning 'Global South' Prelates at his final hosting of Lambeth.

Therefore, your question as to what should Rowan do? might better be countered by "What should George have done?" Granted, both questions might now be relegated to the hypothetical and therefore unanswerable - by anyone but, in the first case, Rowan. Certainly George, with his continuing grand-standing on the state of the Church and the World, would scarcely be expected to apologise for his performance.

It would seem from the evidence available to us, that whatever the ABC chooses to do now, this will make little difference to the GAFCON and ACNA dissidents. They have 'set their faces resolutely towards Jersualem' and will still continue to assert their moral superiority over the rest of us.

2 Communions in the future? Maybe. But only one of them will be truly Anglican - in terms of the three-legged stool of 'Scripture, Tradition and Reason'.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Some intriguing issues in your post!
(1) I suggest it is too easy to look back on what happened at Lambeth 1998 and deem it to have been 'divisive' as though there was an alternative which was not divisive. Given the vote which occurred would it have been undivisive to have had a resolution which sought to merely encourage people to keep talking? It would certainly have been divisive to have had a resolution which was the opposite of 1.10!

(2) Two gospels or one? I shall post on that question soon.

(3) What is 'truly Anglican'? I shall post on that soon too. But in the meantime a question: by what authority might any of us propose that to be truly Anglican is to adhere to the three-legged stool of Scripture, tradition, and reason?

Martin Reynolds said...

One of the things I find so disagreeable about this ACI piece is the suggestion that the upcoming meeting of Primates will be a cause for scandal and tragic.

The interventions from the ACI are increasingly shrill and set a tone that might convince some to think as they do but there is surely no need.

The debate on the the role of the Primates Meeting has been going on for some years. Encouragement for them to take up an enhanced role in 1988 and 1998 was tempored by a less than encouraging reaction to their subsequent performance in 2008. Many Primates and bishops just did not want that experiment to continue.

Indeed the whole idea of these meetings having a conciliar role has been hotly debated from the moment the ABC called the first Lambeth Conference. Many significant people boycotted that meeting too.

I do not find it tragic that our Communion is in flux about governance and that there are many, often contradictory opinions about how we should (or should not) move forward nor should we claim it as a cause for scandal! As I see it, in the scale of things, we are just at the begriming and while there are many trying to bounce us into hasty actions - we stand a long way off from any finished work.

It will be sad if some Primates do not attend as a protest, but as I say, we have been here before.

Where I agree with my ACI brothers is their belief that it would be best if they all came