Tuesday, February 8, 2011

If the Primates Do Not Understand the Problem ...

The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, David Chillingworth, has returned to Scotland and written a reflection on the Primates' Meeting. Thus we read:

"As the statements make clear, the Meeting spent much time clarifying the role of the Primates’ Meeting as one of the Instruments of Communion. It should not be a place where decisions are made for the Communion or for Provinces. It was clear that most of us come – as I do – from Provinces where decision-making is collegial and consultative within our autonomous provincial structure.

So when our College of Bishops meets next week, my colleagues will not expect me to bring back a series of decisions for implementation. But they will want me to share with them the best account I can give of how other Provinces are dealing with the same problems as we face. That won’t just be an account of how far-off places are doing – because through the Instruments of Communion we expect to respond to the feelings and the difficulties of other Provinces. As they respond to us. That’s what it means to be a Communion."

I suggest that lovely though this sounds (We meet. We share. We care. We learn.) it begs a number of questions about being Anglican in a global communion.

(1) The Communion is an organisation. It has governance needs irrespective of whether the Communion itself should or should not govern individual member churches. Where does governance of the Communion as an organisation take place? With the Lambeth Conference becoming non-resolving, and the Primates' Meeting becoming disinterested in the Communion itself (though not becoming non-resolving, because willing to resolve about global warming etc), the governance of the Communion - as being observed by people other than myself - is increasingly in the hands of fewer and fewer people. In the case at hand, the Primates' Meeting, when one lot of primates will not sit down at even the table of discussion with another lot of primates, when do the reasons for that impairment of communion get addressed, let alone possible solutions become aired?

(2) Why spend funds on primates meeting together if the main return from doing so is hearing how similar problems in other parts of the world are faced? Other parts of the world are different so, by definition, it is highly likely that the solutions to those problems are interesting but not applicable elsewhere. Why not spend the funds closer to home? In New Zealand, for example, we Anglicans have problems around aging congregations, declining attendances, and shortages in ministry personpower. Should we pay for our primate to fly to Dublin or request that he meets with other church leaders in our land to see how their local solutions are working out because they are likely to be applicable in our context?

(3) But, it might be claimed, in response to (2), it means something to meet as Anglicans. We have things in common which bind us together. Also it means something to be a global community of Anglicans, so it means something to have representative meetings of the churches of that global Anglican community. But that line of thinking begs the question of what we do when we also realise the things we do not have in common as Anglicans. At which meeting do differences between Anglicans get addressed? Who works on the possibility that either these differences can be resolved (thus strengthening both our unity and our understanding of the extent of our common faith) or they cannot be resolved (thus opening up the question of not being what we think we are, a single global community of Anglicans, and the further question of what that might mean in terms of future meetings).

The Primates' Meeting could have given a lead on what it means to be Anglican at this time. It could have spoken about how these important representatives of Anglican churches saw the future of the Communion. It could have opened up the pain of our divisions and made some honest assessment of what these divisions mean for the global Anglican community.

The Meeting could have done all the above without  making one decision that needed implementing by individual member churches when the primates returned home.

Essentially the Primates' Meeting has deluded itself that because it has no power to make decisions affecting the internal life of member churches, it has no power at all. It could have considerable power in respect of the life of the Communion as a global community: the power of influence, the power of vision, the power of stating problems and the power of proposing solutions for consideration.

That the Primates' Meeting used its power to make statements about a number of problems in the world and denied itself the power to make any statements about problems in the Communion is absurd.

Actions have consequences. In this case non-actions also have consequences. The Communion is becoming something other than a communion with every passing meeting because it is refusing to reflect on the reality of the impoverishment of its common life, let alone on the depth of its divisions. 


Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Hammer hits nail on head:

"That the Primates' Meeting used its power to make statements about a number of problems in the world and denied itself the power to make any statements about problems in the Communion is absurd."

If this is all the Primates' Meeting is now about, then we shouldn't send anybody to it and we should spend the money otherwise wasted on matters at home!

Andy S said...

6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

7 As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.

8 They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.

9 And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.

10 For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD.

11 Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.

12 My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God.

Brother David said...

A bit of arrogance going on lately Peter. You have set yourself up as judge and jury over and against the combined wisdom and experience of the 25 primates who went to the Meeting. Those who have spoken thus far have had positive reports, so they obviously feel that the money spent to go was worthwhile.

I think that the AC was led off course by the current ABC's predecessor. Folks started filling the air with demands and expectations of a curial AC. Many of us kept saying that that was never the course for the AC and we do not want that vision for the AC.

Then the ones involved with leading things off course started bucking the fact that no matter how much they tried to dictate how things were going to be, the great ship of the AC was not going to follow the course they were trying to set.

We have now had three meetings of the Instruments of Communion which you have declared useless, null and void; the Lambeth Conference of 2008, the ACC of 2009, and now the PM of 2011. You are disillusioned because the meetings did not meet your expectations of the curial communion that was going to be our glorious future.

Yet, most of us who are progressives have constantly told you, that is not the real AC and that is not the direction that ultimately it will go, even if eventually it is a bit lighter and riding higher in the water. And that is what is happening, she has found her course again and she may take a few legs of the journey to get back into her routine, but this is the AC as she has been and likely will continue to be.

You will now need to decide for yourself whether you are staying or setting off in a rubber dingy to catch up with the little boats of those who have left. You know the direction which we are going. We shall shoot off a flair occasionally so you could find your way back if necessary.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
It could be arrogance; or just being 'Anglican': I have been as an Anglican a few times to Anglican meetings, with bishops present, and found such meetings can go off course, be a waste of time etc, but also be spun as 'marvellous, fantastic, and inspiring.'

Since I have no intention of leaving my church I imagine I am as likely to go off course as it is. I leave you to judge whether ACANZP is going to leave the Communion or not ...

In one way the three meetings you mention have not at all been useless, or null or void. As you wisely observe, they have been part of a process of getting the Communion onto a certain course, lighter and brighter for having lost some passengers. Even I can recognise, as I tried to say in my post, that non-actions can have consequences.

In the end we will have the Communion we deserve.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Hermano David wrote:

"A bit of arrogance going on lately Peter. You have set yourself up as judge and jury over and against the combined wisdom and experience of the 25 primates who went to the Meeting."

I note that there are those who argue that Anglican Provinces such as the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have set themselves up as judge and jury over and against the combined wisdom and experience of 2,000+ years of not only biblical authors but also Church Fathers and Mothers, Reformers and Anglican Divines, et al., who have spoken in ways relevant to issues that are currently dividing the Anglican Communion. And in response to the combined wisdom and experience of Scripture and Tradition, the leadership of these Provinces who play the role of judge and jury have said by their actions (but not in explicit words), "No! We reject that testimony."

Regardless of whether or not one regards that rejection arrogant, how refreshing it would be to hear our leaders actually express this rejection clearly and honestly! If a respected New Testament scholar like Luke Timothy Johnson can do that by explicitly rejecting Scripture and Tradition in favor of the authority of subjective experience, why can't the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and others who claim access to new, Scripture-and-Tradition-trumping truth, do it, too?

And why in the world can't those attending the Primates' Meeting at least acknowledge that there's an elephant in the living room?

Howard Pilgrim said...

Like David, I have noticed your recent change in tone, Peter, but thought you sounded "cross" rather than arrogant. Naughty primates neglecting their main task ...

On the other hand, this post ends on a high point of faith:- "In the end we will have the Communion we deserve." Wonderful!

Paul Powers said...

So, tell me, David, where exactly is the U.S.S. Anglican Communion headed? What is she using for ballast to make up for having fewer passengers? Who's hand is on the rudder? What is her crew using for charts and a compass and a sextant to keep her on course? Is there anybody left to warn her crew of dangers ahead?

Brother David said...

I find that you are mistaken in many ways Bryan. They have not set themselves up as judge and jury, and have time again and again let you know that you are free to follow whatever is in your heart to follow. The judgement has always come from your side of the issues.

Paul it is not a United States Ship, it is an international ship, flying the banner of her Captain, Jesus Christ, sailing the course that he has set. You will find the course he charted in his teachings; to love the Lord, our God, with all of our heart, mind, might and strength, and to love out neighbors as ourselves.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
Yes, I am cross.
I find it strange as well as annoying that the primates could not even affirm that the Communion (USS or otherwise) is on the right course. Nor could they tell the absent primates whether they were glad to not have them on board, or whether they ever see a time when they will be able come on board, or just, frankly, felt they had to say that nothing was going to change to they may as well get used to staying away.

Is it a terrible thing to think that primates gathered en masse might have offered even the tiniest bit of leadership?

I am amazed that commenters here opposed to me make no comment about the discrepancy between the primates' willingness to comment on issues around the world but make no comment on the Communion.

Father Ron Smith said...

"It could have considerable power in respect of the life of the Communion as a global community: the power of influence, the power of vision, the power of stating problems and the power of proposing solutions for consideration". - Peter Carrell -

And herein, Peter, lies the clue to your problem of equivalence. You speak of no equivalence between Unity and Diversity, and you do not allow the Primates' Conference the dignity of meeting together in prayer, mutual concern and faith - without requiring them to offer some doctrinal statement binding upon all of us within the Communion.

On the one hand, you indicate the need of a firm dogmatic stance on the part of the Primates, while on the other hand you consider they do not have the general consensus of the whole Communion to offer such advice.

Where do you actually stand on the Primates' Conference? Was it useless? Or did it merely not conform to your own expectations of a firm statement (echoes of a certain 'Jerusalem Statement issued by GAFCON) of how it ought to be dogmatically opposed to the innovation of certain Provinces such as TEC and the A.C.of C.?

I am one of those in the Church who really do believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to 'make all things new' - as and when God disposes and we are ready for it. It may well be that a change has been necessary in the workings of the Communion - in order to restore an openness to the 'new things' that the likes of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada are, in faith, bringing into play.

One of the problems that Jesus had to deal with in his tussles with the Scribes and Pharisees, was their implacable opposition to change. Perhaps this has been played out in our Communion - against the vested interests of the conservative 'sola scriptura' crowd, who have already closed themselves off from any new revelation that God might want to bring into our undertstanding of what Jesus was 'up to' at the Incarnation: to 'set the captive free; unstop the ears of the deaf, and to open the eyes of the blind' - by progressive revelation.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
My disappointment with the Primates' Meeting not that they made no doctrinal statement. I had no expectation of that. My disappointment is that when their meeting with its lists of absentees was a visible sign of division in the Communion, they made no comment about that division nor made any proposal as to a 'next step' towards reconciliation.

After their prayerful deliberations together is it not surprising that the Spirit offered no revelation to them which might have been helpful to the Communion as a whole?

Paul Powers said...

I think the Communion is becoming more of a U.S. ship than people realize. +RW may be a figurehead captain, but it seems as if +KJS is setting the course. The question is what is being used to make sure the ship is on course. Scripture or Zeitgeist?

Peter Carrell said...

I agree with you Paul.

Brother David said...

I think that you guys are smoking something out behind the shed. And I think that +Katharine would find it extremely humorous at how powerful and influential you now fear her to be. I am sure that she feels a bit powerless in it all.

Anonymous said...

RE: "My disappointment is that when their meeting with its lists of absentees was a visible sign of division in the Communion, they made no comment about that division nor made any proposal as to a 'next step' towards reconciliation."

Peter -- what on earth is the comment or proposal that they could have *possibly* made that would lead to "reconciliation" or even a "next step" towards reconciliation?

I am at a loss as to what you mean by that.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Sarah,
It would have been a step towards reconciliation to actually say there is a problem that needs reconciliation.

It would have been a step towards reconciliation to be characteristically Anglican and set up yet another committee to look into the problem (or even to ask that a committee be set up or even to voice aloud the thought that it might happen). [Not much of step, granted; but better than zilcho].

It would have been a step towards reconciliation to have asked TEC and ACCan to re-examine themselves and ask if they were doing everything in their power to advance interdependency ahead of independency as characteristic of their understanding of the word 'communion' in the phrase 'Anglican Communion.'

None of these things would represent in the slightest amount an interference in the governance of a sovereign member church of the Communion!

Father Ron Smith said...

"they (the Primates meeting) made no comment about that division nor made any proposal as to a 'next step' towards reconciliation"

In other words, they let the angry little boy stay in the corner until he recovered his temper. You do not need to draw attention to those whose exclusivist behaviour is designed to make you suffer.

What the conciliatory Primates did do was to address the real needs of the world - without drawing further attention to the behaviour of those who in their fellowship who did not want to be at the meeting anyway.

Conciliation needs willing partnerts. You cannot bring people together against their will. And I for one, am glad that this particular meeting of Anglican Heads of Churches was free from the usual sanctimonious plea for the exclusion of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada - on account of their Gospel-affirming treatment of LGBT Christians who happen to have received God's call into ministry in their respective Churches.

In any event, it is impossible to reconcile those who have already withdrawn from fellowsdhip in the Communion on account of their own prejudices and unwillingness to understand the needs of other Churches.

Jesus came to set us free from prejudice, demanding a new ethic: "Love one another as I have loved you - this is how they will know that you are my disciplews - that you love one another!"