Wednesday, September 23, 2015

If the Communion splits, will we understand why?

There is a very good comment on the Fulcrum site where I mention my previous post. The comment is by Bowman Walton. I have emboldened some words which particularly strike me as illustrating the division in the Communion these last dozen years or so, why we will divide (formally, finally) absent a miracle, and why we might not understand how this will have come about:

"Some labels may change, Peter, and the path may be unpleasant at points, but all are going to get what they want in the end. Churches that love Anglican churchways and share global koinonia among themselves will keep both and maybe deepen them. Churches like TEC that love the churchways but viscerally fear that global koinonia will keep the former and will be released from the rights and responsibilities of the latter. The two sides may not like each other, but because they agree that they disagree on how strong a church or Communion should be, the long term outcome of this is not in serious doubt.
This result might be easier for some to take if we had a common narrative explaining how it happened that, at the same time that the Lambeth Conferences were becoming the cherished Anglican Communion in some places, those in other places were instead championing an idea that Anglicanism is the fundamentally the right to be left alone. Absent that narrative, neither side recognizes the legitimacy of the other. Some of us fail to see that the tacit norms we assume for global koinonia seem strange and menacing in churches with designedly weak governance structures such as TEC. The Anglican Communion Covenant proposed closer ties throughout the world than TEC had between Mark Lawrence’s South Carolina and Michael Curry’s North Carolina. Conversely, liberals gazing at all things through the lens of sex (eg in the Episcopal Cafe and Thinking Anglicans) cannot welcome any continuation of the koinonia story (eg Anglican Communion Covenant) as the missional outcome of a century-long process. Whether that reflects a taste for autonomy that rejects mutual subjection in Christ, or a disavowed yet visceral rejection of southern Anglicans, it comes to the same aversion to global koinonia. A common narrative could not narrow this chasm or make it less deep, but it could hold up a mirror to the two sides that they need to study."

In other words, what some have valued about the Anglican Communion has been that it has never deepened as a communion, it has been a meeting place for otherwise independent churches, but that is all, and (I imagine) the meetings have been pleasant affairs in sometimes exotic places and sometimes - Lambeth and all that - in historically significant places.

But what others have valued about the AC has been that it has been a promise of a deeper, tighter communion - the promise of all Christian communion, that we will be drawn deeper into the communion of the Trinity itself - which has not and now will not be fulfilled in the current form of the AC.

This misunderstanding of what the 'communion' part of the Anglican Communion means, according to Bowman Walton, that we have gotten to where we currently are without a common narrative to explain to all participants why this is so.

He also sees this lack of common narrative about what the Communion is/should become as determining the certain end of the Communion. (In my words) it is broken and it will break up. The break up will be into those churches which wish to be in a deep koinonia, where the koinonia is undergirded by common doctrine, and into those churches which wish to be in a light koinonia, where the koinonia is undergirded by anything and everything apart from doctrine (heritage, historical ties, bonds of affection).

Exactly which churches will be in which koinonia waits to be seen. Some are almost certain to be in one and not the other, but there might be some surprises among the Global South provinces, and Australia might find a way to be in both. NZ might too!

Whether the two (or more?) koinonia agree to relate together in a federation also remains to be seen.

There lies the rub. A significant contribution to the breakdown and thus to the break up Bowman Walton sees as inevitable is the inability of various churches/networks of churches within the Communion to compromise. Compromise is a dirty word in some quarters of Christianity but in the Anglican world it has generally been a way of moving forward, a way of agreeing to disagree while agreeing on what little may be agreed and thus on a new future. That future is always less than the promise each side would like fulfilled, but it is a com-promise, a different promise of a  less than ideal future, but a future together rather than a stand off, let alone a schism.

Could the PM in January lead to as light a compromise as the communions within the current Communion transitioning to a Federation of communions? Will the meeting result in the formalising of the break up which the current breakdown foretokens?

Above I mentioned 'absent a miracle.' The miracle in January 2016 would be that the unwillingness to compromise becomes a willingness to compromise. A super miracle would be the renewal of the Communion as a communion (i.e. all Primates take the eucharist together, all commit to cajoling all their bishops to come to the next Lambeth). A minor miracle would be the retention of some federal relationship between current members of the Communion while acknowledging the existence of different communions within that f/Federation.

POSTSCRIPT: Has the divorce already happened? And are these the reasons why reconciliation is not on the cards soon?


Anonymous said...

Peter, do you really want to use 'absent' to mean 'without' - I see you use 'gotten' later on. These Americanisms! You'll be saying 'in back of' instead of 'behind' next.
Best wishes

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Rhys,
I take it that apart from the infelicities of speech you mention my post is doctrinally impeccable. :)

Father Ron Smith said...

"The Anglican Communion Covenant proposed closer ties throughout the world than TEC had between Mark Lawrence’s South Carolina and Michael Curry’s North Carolina. Conversely, liberals gazing at all things through the lens of sex (eg in the Episcopal Cafe and Thinking Anglicans) cannot welcome any continuation of the koinonia story (eg Anglican Communion Covenant) as the missional outcome of a century-long process." - Bowman Walton -

Interestingly, Peter, (1) North Carolina never intentionally inaugurated the current separation between itself and South Carolina. That was achieved by S.C.'s Bishop Mark Lawrence,

(2) The way the Covenant document was constructed would have forced TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada to resile from their eirenic movement towards the inclusion in their Churches of LGBTQI people. Not even the Church of England wanted this sort of discrimination - they also rejected the Covenant.

(3) GAFCON rejected the Covenant, but not on quite the same grounds. Their grounds were those of wanting to have nothing to do with TEC and the A.C. of Canada - a quite different motive. If the Covenant had been brought about, GAFCON would have had no part in it, so what good would it have done for Anglican Unity?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I don't think Bowman Walton is talking about the actual separation of DioSC from DioNC & rest of TEC: I think he is making the point that when DioSC was inside TEC, the ties between it and DioNC were very loose.

Unknown said...

I take exception the words "Conversely, liberals gazing at all things through the lens of sex (eg in the Episcopal Cafe." We do not gaze through the lens of sex at all. Rather we see through a lens of God's promise and grace, which we have come to believe includes people whose sexuality differs from the norm. We speak from our witness of the faithful lives of our LGBT brothers and sisters, and we see in their lives reflections and examples of the love which originates with and is of God.
Jon White, Editor of Episcopal Cafe

Anonymous said...

Peter, Bowman here. A few brief replies--

(1) Through trial and error, Anglicans may find that the most stable configuration is--

(a) a wide circle around the ABC of absolutely all who have an *historical* claim to Anglican *heritage* (even TEC, ACNA, GAFCON, Anglican Ordinariate, some Methodists). Much less communion, much more reach.

(b) under another AB, a smaller circle of churches willing and constitutionally able (not TEC, not ACNA, maybe ACC) to be in close communion.

(c) Regional and missional groupings under (b) that may adopt other churches, Anglican or not, for their purposes.

Some have suggested that North American provinces or even certain dioceses participate as churches, bypassing TEC, ACNA, and ACC. That would be wise.

Australia and New Zealand could be in all three.

(2) You have understood my reference to the Carolinas.

(3) The three sides of the Anglican sex wars remember the Anglican Communion Covenant debates differently. Advocates for the Covenant said the horse had bolted from the stable, but that an agreed consultation process would be useful in the future; advocates for GAFCON agreed that the horse was gone, and therefore saw no point; advocates for SSM thought the horse was still in the stable, and opposed the ACC to free the horse. Wherever the horse actually was at the time, the partiality of these partisan memories illustrates the deeper tension between those who want Communion and those who Want To Be Left Alone.

(4) Ron implicitly asks what unity is gained if some in GAFCON Want To Be Left Alone. This not unreasonable question is best answered with a deeper one: what unity do evangelical Anglicans in the global south want? For the old Anglo-Catholics, communion was an end in itself, but evangelicals like missions.

Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you , Jon White (Episcopal Cafe), for your affirmative response. I have always cherished ACANZP's fraternal links with TEC - which were strengthened for me - an Anglo-Catholic - with Bishop Katherine's visit to Aotearoa a few years ago. She preached at SMAA at Choral Evensong and was welcomed on the Marae by a local Maori Bishop on that occasion - which was largely ignored by the conservatives in our diocese.

I want us to continue in a fraternal relationships with TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada - precisely because of your eirenic treatment of the Faithful who happen to be part of the LGBTQ community in every Church in Christendom.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jon
Thanks for the response.
I confess I do not much read Episcopal Cafe these days so cannot personally comment on 'lens.'

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Factually it is true that conservatives did not take part but I think that needs some 'perspective': if we took a roll call of events involving outside bishops visiting our diocese I think we might find all sorts of absentees and all sorts of explanations for absence.
It was an awkward visit for me personally: I went to the Evensong but could not fit the marae visit into a busy week involving travelling. As I recall it the marae visit was on the day many clergy observe religiously as their Day Off!

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman for astute clarifications with which I concur re them being a highly likely scenario.

On regional matters, I would be most surprised whatever formal changes may develop, if South East Asia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia and ACANZP ceased to relate to one another.

Anonymous said...

Jon, Ron, Peter; Bowman again.

Interested in broad tendencies of opinion, my brief reference to 'liberals' on Episcopal Cafe and Thinking Anglicans was to readers commenting on the Anglican Communion Covenant, and the meeting next January. I was not thinking about the editors, designers, writers, webmasters, technical staff, interns, etc of either valuable forum.

Jon's comment here and Giles's post today both call attention to something important that has been missing-- stories and storytellers. Giles's post is clever, but we are very far from being resourced for the richly hypertexted church that he envisions. And anyway what we need is to be a somewhat less polarised, hagiographic church where the stories that Jon and Andrew tell are taken everywhere as data of life in Christ lived now.

In a better state of affairs, hip young Anglicans in Melbourne and San Francisco would have a basic empathy for those shaped by the East Africa Revival, and those in East Africa would see that this empathy is real, despite continuing disagreements. Likewise, African exegetes of would read Romans 1, not just reductively as one of the Six Texts, but as a ground for the sort of social critique that Christians in the north have necessarily begun to practise. In a better state, we would see something like ecumenical dialogue among the Communion's seminaries; liberals, catholics, and evangelicals might at least read each other's best books. In such a state, it would be a faux pas to criticise another church's pastoral practise with anything but a more successful pastoral practise, but all would be interested in what works. Neither those who want Communion nor those Want To Be Left Alone have heard and retold the stories we need to hear.

Graham Kings has begun to stimulate the global theological dialogue among Anglicans, especially in the global south. We also need for someone with a record of success-- Jon?-- to stimulate investment in reporting on lives lived in Christ in the several corners of our shared world.


Sooner or later, somebody in that world had to be Katherine Jefferts-Schori, and so she was. Both loving her and hating her can fall short of clear perception of who she has been, what she has done, and why much of this was unavoidable. She was not a figure of unity for Anglicans in a country and Communion with a polarised elites; she was a figure of balance for those zealous for populist churchmanship and social justice; she has been important to liberals of other traditions. I hope that she attracts thorough and intelligent biographers.


If I read Ron's comment aright, he wants to remain in communion with TEC under whatever future configurations may arise. That raises the important topic of bilateral ties between churches. What do they do that a simple resolution of solidarity does not do? Do they undermine close communion? Are they more properly diocese to diocese? They will continue to play a role as Anglican ecclesiology evolves, but I am unsure what that will be.


Peter, the relative unity of your region is one reason for my confident prediction. If there were no good regions, or if they had nothing useful to do, then it would be much harder for Justin Welby to move the Communion from being a Facebook page where churches friend and unfriend each other to being a missional force for good in the world's hard places.

From my vantage point in the US, I can only guess what your untold stories are or what you might do over the next century. Elsewhere, I have expressed the hope that Anglicans there will engage the Pentecostal theological tradition that is taking shape mostly in your region. Not a few here agree with Robert Jenson (American Lutheran ecumenical theologian) in seeing the C22 Church worldwide as Catholic, Orthodox, and Pentecostal. What are you doing about this?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
As the Roman Catholic church becomes (it seems) a little bit closer to Protestantism under Pope Francis, and as Pentecostalism vies with Roman Catholicism for the largest adherents in some countries in my region/corner of the globe, it is indeed a question which way 'Anglicanism' will lean over the next century.

Chris Parsons said...

I like this discussion of finding a narrative that provides an explanatory framework. The conflict between Liberals and Conservatives that has arisen is hard to understand due to the different parties using the same terminology but attaching completely different meanings to these words. The way American Brian McLaren uses the word "Evangelical", for example, is actually in complete opposition to the way Canadian J I Packer would use it. people being up front about what they really mean is always a good start in any process of understanding others!