January 11, 2007

Advice to the PB for the Primates’ Meeting

The next major crisis facing The Episcopal Church in its conflict with reactionary forces within the Anglican Communion is the primates’ meeting to be held in Dar es Salaam in mid-February. In the last three years, our Presiding Bishop has seemingly approached such meetings with nothing more than a hope and a prayer that they will not end as disastrously as they inevitably have. This is a trend that needs to be stopped.

The prospects for the Dar es Salaam meeting are inauspicious. The meeting will be the the first gathering of the primates since the 2006 General Convention engaged in unseemly and obsequious groveling in what was clearly a doomed effort to get the Anglican Communion to leave us alone. It is the first meeting since the General Convention elected a woman to be Presiding Bishop and certain primates suggested that some of her new colleagues “cannot sit together” with her at the meeting. It is the first meeting of the primates since the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference issued its misguided and ignorant pronouncement on the Diocese of Fort Worth’s policy of not ordaining women. And it is the first meeting since the Archbishop of Canterbury announced what appears to be a heavily reactionary Covenant Design Group that will first meet later this month. It is a meeting to which the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church is entitled to attend, yet the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have invited her grudgingly. He is also inviting other “contributors” from The Episcopal Church to attend a session before the formal meeting “in which the situation [in The Episcopal Church] may be reviewed.” (See Archbishop Williams’ December letter.)

There are, therefore, two meetings about which we should be concerned. It is not clear who will be invited to the “session” preceding the primates’ meeting. Will the Presiding Bishop be included? What is the exact purpose of the meeting? Will it have any effect on the agenda or participants of the succeeding meeting? Among other topics, the main meeting, apparently, will deal with the “adequacy” of the General Convention’s response to the Windsor Report, the proposed Anglican covenant, the shape of the 2008 Lambeth Conference and invitations thereto, and the “anxieties” of those in The Episcopal Church concerned about “how they should secure their relationships with the rest of the Communion.” In other words, the agenda is largely about listening to dissidents in The Episcopal Church and disciplining The Episcopal Church for trying to be responsive to the needs of God’s children in a developed, Western society.

Striking the Right Attitude

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, we may safely predict, will not have a fun time in Tanzania. It is to be hoped that she has a strong sense of self-worth and very thick skin; they will come in handy. Her charm, poise, and sharp mind will endear her to some of her fellow primates, but they will be useless with others.

If The Episcopal Church is not to be—as they say in the ’hood—disrespected in Dar es Salaam, ++Katharine must not play the role of disobedient child or indulgent, enabling, codependent spouse. Instead, she must be the strong, confident, yet modest leader of a proud and powerful institution.

Many Episcopalians are perplexed by Rowan Williams’ consistent favoring of the so-called “orthodox” elements of the Anglican Communion over the more traditionally Anglican ones, including the majority faction of The Episcopal Church. Why has a scholar and theologian seemingly forgotten the History of Anglicanism and betrayed what we all thought were his own liberal views? The answer, assuredly, is that ++Rowan wants to “preserve” the Anglican Communion at all costs, and those threatening to destroy it (see, for example, this statement from the Church of Nigeria Synod) are being consistently placated to avoid the schism that many increasingly see as inevitable. By this theory, The Episcopal Church has gotten short shrift—the origin of this phrase is interesting in this context—because it has been a well-behaved child that has not questioned the punishments that its “orthodox” enemies are determined to heap upon it. Until ++Rowan realizes that The Episcopal Church is willing to leave the Anglican Communion rather than betray its principles and be humiliated—see my essay on whether the Anglican Communion is a necessity of our ecclesiastical life—he will continue to treat The Episcopal Church with disdain. It is ++Katharine’s mission in Dar es Salaam to make it clear to the primates—and particularly to the Archbishop of Canterbury—that our commitment to the Anglican Communion is not absolute, and our patience is not inexhaustible. She must demand respect for herself and for her office because failure to command that respect would result in a further indignity against The Episcopal Church and, as we understand it, the Gospel itself.

A Presiding Bishop’s Checklist

No doubt, ++Katharine will be required to make many decisions in Tanzania that will call for quick but careful thinking. She can plan in advance to make certain moves, however, and to steer clear of some obvious pitfalls. Here is a short checklist to aid her meeting planning:
  1. The Presiding Bishop should privately and politely ask the Archbishop of Canterbury for an apology for suggesting that she is present only by his sufferance. He had no right to exclude her, and to have suggested otherwise was an affront to her and to the church that she represents.

  2. I have assumed that ++Katharine will be included in the “session” that ++Rowan has announced will take place before the primates’ meeting, but this is not totally clear, nor is the exact purpose of the gathering or whether other primates will be present clear. The Presiding Bishop should certainly protest if she is excluded. She probably should not walk out and return home, however, as we do no want to lose the symbolic value of having the primates sit down at the same table with her (or not!).

  3. Assuming that the “session” is some sort of fact-finding affair, ++Katharine should protest, even to the point of declining to participate, if the American invitees do not fairly represent The Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop, of course, represents the entire Episcopal Church, so that a meeting of, say, Katharine Jefferts Schori and Robert Duncan, would be wildly unrepresentative. (Significantly, at this meeting, the Archbishop of York will represent the Church of England, since, in a very real sense, the Archbishop of Canterbury represents the whole Communion.) Assuming that all the American participants are bishops—another assumption ++Rowan has given us no data to evaluate—there should be nine +Chanes, +Brunos, and +Jenkinses to every +Duncan, +Iker, or +Salmon. Moreover, it will be hard to justify excluding Bishop Robinson, whom the primates constantly talk about but never talk to.

  4. Looking now at what is presumably the main event, ++Katharine should insist on being treated as an equal by the primates generally and by ++Rowan in particular. Other primates should not receive special dispensations such as being seated at another table because their “theology” does not allow them to sit at the same table with ++Katharine. Jesus, remember, had no such sensibilities. One hopes that the Presiding Bishop will not have to walk out of the meeting to preserve her dignity and the honor of The Episcopal Church. Support for her being treated decently should be discussed with other sympathetic primates in advance of the meeting. Episcopal News Service should be prepared to document any indignities the primates try to visit upon its leader.

  5. I’m sure that ++Katharine does not need to be reminded that the primates have no right to discipline The Episcopal Church or to exile it from the Communion. Our church has suffered enough at the hand of the self-important autocrats at this meeting, and ++Katharine should refuse to be a part of any discussion even that requests concessions from our church. I would suggest that ++Katharine announce to the group that The Episcopal Church rescinds its decision not to participate for a time in the Anglican Consultative Council and will never again consider a similar request to be in order.

  6. Now a word on some of the particular matters to be discussed at the primates’s meeting. I would hope that ++Katharine will make it clear that all bishops of the Communion must be invited to Lambeth. In particular, if Bishop Robinson is not welcome, it is likely that no loyal Episcopal bishops will attend. She should also make it clear that The Episcopal Church will not likely approve any Anglican covenant that places any ecclesiastical authority above that of the General Convention. She should reiterate the fact, repeatedly articulated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, that he has no authority over The Episcopal Church. She should emphasize that the primates and the Archbishop’s Panel of Reference, likewise, have no such authority.

  7. I think it likely that Bishop Griswold was able to sign communiqués of the primates' meetings only because he was able personally to interpret them in a manner that was not inimical to the interests of our church. This was not, in the end, helpful. Our new Presiding Bishop should sign no document which she believes could in any way be construed as contrary to the interests of The Episcopal Church. In practice, she will likely be unable to sign anything having to do with current controversies within the Communion. So be it.
Good Luck!

Bishop Jefferts Schori has a difficult task ahead of her. If all goes well, she may be able to reverse, if not of the dissolution of the Anglican Communion, then at least the abandonment of the principles that made Anglicanism a significant force for good in the world. Saving Anglicanism, even from itself, will not be easy, but doing so would represent a great victory for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The prayers of loyal Episcopalians are with you, ++Katharine. Good luck!

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