Thoughts on the Primates Statement from Alexandria and The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Address to Synod
By The Rev. Dr. Leander S. Harding
I have been reading the communiqué of the Primates from their meeting in Alexandria and other documents that relate to this meeting including the Windsor Continuation Group and the documents published by Archbishop Akinola. Below are some reactions in no particular order.
The Anglican Communion is in a state of grave crisis and is broken in a way that is very resistant to reconciliation. The church is broken de facto both within provinces and between provinces. There is a sense of the bizarre and of unreality about discussions that view schism as something that approaches but has not yet come. (The next General Convention of The Episcopal Church may clarify this reality in a stunning way.) The church at all levels is torn and the question now is what degree of reconciliation is possible and what will the de jure structures of a reconciled communion look like. It is a positive development that there is a growing recognition that the current instruments of communion are not adequate to maintain the faith, order and unity of a world-wide church. The emphasis on autonomy by the local provinces across the theological spectrum is hard to square with mutual submission in the Body of Christ especially when issues arise that scandalize large portions of the faithful.
The Anglican Covenant process is still a key ingredient in the rebuilding and renewal of a world-wide Anglican Communion. It is by its nature and ought to be a slow, methodical process that is as Bishop Wright has suggested more like fireproofing a building than fighting the fire. The Covenant will take some years to come to a final form and be widely accepted. Along with this work is the necessary work of strengthening the instruments of communion. All this begs the question of what shall be done in the meantime to fight the fire and limit the damage so that there may be something upon which to rebuild.
All of the suggestions for pastoral care of the alienated orthodox in North America have been too little and too late. The main defect of these proposals is that they are developed without consulting the very people they are supposed to help and are promulgated without a clear signal that those to whom they are supposed to offer relief, see their needs adequately met.
There is something like an allergy in many places in the Anglican Communion to the function of adjudication. I like very much the way in which the Covenant is designed to give member churches a chance to define themselves in or out but surely something is being adjudicated by that process. The Windsor Continuation Group engages in tortuous language to avoid any hint of judicial action and speaks instead of “consequences” and “thinning of communion.” Adjudication and mediation are often seen as stark alternatives with mediation being the Christian approach and adjudication being somehow a failure. It is not sufficiently appreciated that often mediation can only proceed within the context of an adjudication. It is often when disputants realize that a definitive judgment is about to be given that they mediate their dispute on the court house steps. No less an irenic figure than the great ecumenist and missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin said that the church must have the ability to identify and expel false teachers or else it is no church. I do not see how unity can be maintained at any level of the church without an appreciation of the necessity of adjudication and the willingness to enforce the stated discipline of the church. The enforcing of such broad boundaries creates the crucible in which meaningful mediation can take place. The allergy to adjudication particulary to the adjudication of doctrine is one of the things which is making the dispute more hostile and intense and driving people to seek relief in the courts because there is no will to give a godly judgment in the church.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s address to General Synod describes the experience of the Bible Study at the Primates meeting in exactly opposite terms of those used by Archbishops Venables and Orombi. Rowan Williams says that there was a common experience that the other side is still recognizable as Christians attempting to listen to the Lord. Venables and Orombi in their interview on Anglican TV were encouraged that the real differences between Christianity and that “which is not Christianity,” were being brought out into the open so that it could be recognized by all that the Gospel itself was in dispute and so the dispute could move to that level.
There is a calmer atmosphere that has settled on the disputes as both sides recognize that essentially irreversible actions have been taken with the embrace of the new teaching on sexuality on one side and the creation of new ecclesial realities on the other. It is significant that both Windsor Continuation and the Primates and the ABC in his address to synod speak of realities which “will not go away.” Both the Primates and WCG cautiously leave the door open for future endorsement of a new province in North America. I think it is right that the ACNA should work through the existing process for the admission of a new province.
The suggestion for professionally assisted mediation between the ACNA and other orthodox entities such as The Communion Partners churches and dioceses is poignant but necessary. The ministry of reconciliation is the church’s ministry and especially the ministry of its bishops. There is a failure to be grieved here. By all means bring in experts. One hopes they will be recognizably Christian in their approach. That said it is important that those who stand for orthodoxy Anglicanism in North America find a way toward as much solidarity as possible and I think all parties should enter into these negotiations in good faith. I do believe that missionary movements should exercise restraint in the planting of new congregations in orthodox dioceses still in communion with TEC. There needs to be a greater effort to avoid destructive competition in the missionary endeavors of orthodox North American Anglicans. It is however not proselytizing when a group of people in disgust and revulsion at what they regard as the betrayal of the faith by their leaders rise up and leave their parish or diocese and petition an orthodox body for pastoral care and episcope. There is an irony here when much is made of the role of the laity in Anglican polity and the reality of the laity voting with their feet is dismissed and marginalized. There continues to appear to be a lack of understanding of the grass roots nature of what is happening in North America among many of the leaders of the communion.
The WCG resurfaces the idea of a kind of ecclesiological escrow where dissident orthodox groups could find pastoral care and oversight and a measure of recognition in the communion while the covenant process is working itself out. This was rejected by many orthodox when it was initially proposed because it seemed to assume that dioceses such as Fort Worth and Pittsburgh would ultimately be returned to the provinces from which they came and this scheme was seen by the orthodox as patronizing and demeaning. The proposal deserves another look. A provisional structure with the ultimate aim of reconciliation and reintegration is a good idea and could be made credible if the future toward which it looked was not a return to the status quo but the future of a renewed world-wide communion organized around a biblical and apostolic covenant which sets clear boundaries for member churches. Clearly there are some dioceses in TEC as it stands that will not want to belong to such a communion and others that will, and some provisional structure which helps keep as much of the church together as possible until that day should be given a serious hearing. I nominate George Carey or Michael Nazir Ali to administer such an interim judicatory.
There is insufficient face to face, one to one, ministry taking place in the midst of this crisis and a corresponding over-reliance on committees and meetings. Policy statements are important, the creating of workable structures is important but there needs to be more personal ministry by Archbishop of Canterbury and members of his team that takes place alongside these efforts. I am sure there is some going on behind the scenes but not in my view enough.
- Ecumenical observers and consultants should be routinely invited to participate in the councils of Anglicans as they attempt to work through this crisis. Part of fireproofing the house for the future will be more robust ecumenical relationships.
10 thoughts on “Thoughts on Alexandria”
Thanks Leander+ I think this is a calm, helpful analysis of what happened and where we are.
I agree, Leander. Thanks for a very helpful review and analysis.
I too am grateful for your thoughtful comments about the current state of Anglican Communion affairs. I agree with you that “There is a sense of the bizarre and of unreality about discussions that view schism as something that approaches but has not yet come. (The next General Convention of The Episcopal Church may clarify this reality in a stunning way.) The church at all levels is torn and the question now is what degree of reconciliation is possible and what will the de jure structures of a reconciled communion look like. ”
There are times when it seems like Rowan Williams is five or ten years behind the reality that is The Episcopal Church (and in place so many of us once were), but even out of this last meeting seemed to grow closer to getting it, including the challenges that are before the establishment of a new province in North America. That he would actually mention publicly that this is going on and neither dismiss it or ignore it is in fact encouraging.
Thank you for your thoughts that are very helpful. I wish I could share optimism for the Covenant – but it seems highly unlikely that TEC will ever sign a covenant even in theory – and certainly won’t even look at one until Schori is out of office. That in itself, could be quite interesting.
I also agree that TEC is unlikely to sign an Anglican Covenant through any General Convention that is thinkable in the next twenty years but I do think there are a number of TEC dioceses that will be able and want to sign a covenant and maintain their full membership in the communion and the seeing through of that process is well worth the effort in my view.
The Doctor has given an excellent diagnosis. His prescription is not. The patient will surely die before the Covenant medicine will work.
As an active participant in The Conflict for over 30 years, I find it just bizarre that the idea of a non enforceable covenant, twenty years more to go, is any thing but a death sentence for TEC orthodoxy. Does not the good doctor understand that TEO and its apparatchiks will expire from old age before they will consent to another even moderate bishop? Never. Ever Never. In twenty years there will be no Christians in the TEC House of Bishops. To whom, then, will we be able to turn to? The dioceses Dr. Harding enjoin to sign a covenant prior to that time “seeing through of that process” will have long since been abandoned to the TEO.
Refrain from mission work? Abandon the Great Commission while bemused old men dither about? Certainly not, since it represents the only legitimate Anglican mission effort in North America.
I tire of this.
Thank-you, Leander+; very helpful indeed–well-written and -informed, theological, constructive, and sober. I especially appreciate your emphasis on the importance of a covenant for “the rebuilding and renewal of a world-wide Anglican Communion” (#2); your commendation of WCG’s idea of “ecclesiological escrow” (#8); and your plea for “more robust ecumenical relationships” (#10).