The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent Letter to the Primates


I have read this very quickly. I am astonished that it is so long and convoluted given the significance of the document. On a first read it gives me renewed hope about the ministry of Rowan Williams. Perhaps he is willing to use such office as he has left for the sake of the unity of the communion.

The Positives: he asserts the primacy of scripture and the significance of recognizable ministry and sacraments. He opposes unilateralism in changing scriptural interpretation. He recognizes the authority of the majority reading on sexual ethics both historically and globally. He recognizes that the dispute in the communion is not about homosexuality per se but about the authority of scripture, the nature of ministry, including the episcopacy and that the actions of TEC are communion breaking. He creates a rallying point for the communion at large around the covenant process by insisting that acceptance of a Lambeth invitation means acceptance of Windsor and pledges to personally interrogate bishops who have equivocated about their sincerity. He offers a rallying point which may revive the Camp Allen bishops as a group and thus create a larger remnant in TEC. He offers a personal intervention with TEC and the breaking away dioceses to secure Alternate Primatial Oversight more in keeping with Tanzania.

Negative points: The letter is overlong and written with such finesse that it is lacking in the clarity and brevity that is needed. There will be much reading of tea leaves associated with this letter. The letter seems insufficiently in touch with the pace of change on the ground in the United States and the bleeding away of the Anglican faithful which gives rise to the ministry of the Nigeria etc. The letter takes back much of what it says positively and much of what is entailed in the theology of the scripture and the church which it sets out when he says that he in essence cannot accept that the current disputes represent irreconcilable theologies.

Initial Conclusions: I wish the letter were more clear and more bold but it is the strongest statement from the ABC to date. In my Just War Theory inspired view of the crisis in the Anglican Communion this latest intervention by the established authority ought to be given every chance to work. There is a beginning here that could lead to a larger Windsor compliant remnant in TEC and to ultimate unity between those orthodox who have been pursuing inside and outside strategies. It pushes the covenant process forward and I believe that needs to happen as quickly as possible with as large a gathering of the communion and continuing Anglican bodies involved as possible.

I predict that this very modest drawing of a line and limit will produce further statements of intransigence from many bishops and dioceses in TEC and it will become more clear just how unilateralist and revisionist many dioceses of TEC are. It just may be that the ABC has taken an action that however modest it appears now has placed him irrevocably on the side of a unified Anglican Communion and against unilateral revisionism in faith and morals. I hope that those on the reasserter side will give this initiative some time to work. It could be the beginning of a basis for the widest possible orthodox Anglican consensus and the beginning of bringing into one fleet the current array of life boats.

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