June 23, 2010

Has Rowan Done Us a Favor?

There has been much discussion on the Internet about Episcopalians being removed from bodies involved in ecumenical discussions. It is difficult to add to what has been said already, but I would like to say a few words to frame the discussion.

There are, I think, two immediate issues: (1) Does the Archbishop of Canterbury have the power unilaterally (or otherwise) to remove people from the bodies in question? (2) Does such removal make sense?

There are secondary issues having to do with doctrine and with the operation of the Anglican Communion, but, today, I want to focus on the second question above and to do so as succinctly as possible.

Rowan Williams has expressed concern about our partners in ecumenical discussions knowing who speaks for the Communion. He doesn’t want to confuse our sister churches, and he doesn’t want Episcopalians expressing views to outsiders that misrepresent the mind of the Communion.

It is important that we unpack this point of view. First, it presumes that there is a mind of the Communion, at least in the sense that the Anglican Communion has an agreed-upon mechanism to articulate such a thing. This has not been the understanding within the Communion heretofore, and anyone advocating such a thing now—Rowan Williams, for example—is trying to implement a radical innovation under the guise of defending the status quo.

Also implicit in the archbishop’s position is the radical and destructive notion that Anglicanism is all about creating doctrinal uniformity, rather than providing space for exploring theological possibilities under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that might lead to a fuller understanding of God’s plan for our world.

If, in ecumenical discussions, we do not represent the Anglican Communion as being characterized by a certain theological diversity—which is what the Archbishop of Canterbury is trying to accomplish by banning Episcopalians from those discussions—we are either misrepresenting the Communion or conceding its transformation into a collection of conventional, confessional churches—not what the world needs us to be, I would suggest.

From my perspective, the very notion of a fixed Anglican orthodoxy is antithetical to the spirit of Anglicanism. (See my paper, “Saving Anglicanism.”) If this is how the Communion is representing itself to the world, The Episcopal Church should want no part of it. Perhaps Rowan is doing us a favor by relieving us from having to misrepresent who we really are. He certainly is telling us by his deeds that his words about the value of The Episcopal Church are just so much empty rhetoric.

The biggest question, of course, is this: If the Anglican Communion is abandoning Anglicanism as we understand it (and as it has been understood in the past), why do we want to be involved in the Communion at all? Do we really believe that being a part of the Anglican Communion is advancing Christ’s mission to the world as we understand it? How does that work, exactly?

As a certain political figure might put it to Episcopalians, “How’s that Anglican Communion thing workin’ out for ya?”



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7 comments:

  1. Also implicit in the archbishop’s position is the radical and destructive notion that Anglicanism is all about creating doctrinal uniformity, rather than providing space for exploring theological possibilities under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that might lead to a fuller understanding of God’s plan for our world.

    Don't you see the problem with this? You don't set any limits here. This statement could be used to justify anything, as long as someone claimed the 'Holy Spirit was guiding them'. But of course even you have your limits. So why say things like this in the first place?

    Can you understand why such language sounds like a con? Are you truly interested in promoting the work of the Spirit, or is your highest allegiance to furthering the cause of homosexual activism?

    Perhaps you should consider making it a habit to not misrepresent who you are in all things, and not just where Rowan is concerned in this matter.

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  2. Obviously, some folks would prefer you do not explore "theological possibilities under the guidance of the Holy Spirit." Apparently the Holy Spirit must be as defined by your critic. Obviously his Holy Spirit doesn't much care for homosexual activism and probably doesn't much care for homosexuals either. Sorry for the ad hominem argument but I guess that's the game we're playing.

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  3. C. Andiron,

    Do you actually believe that the only possibilities are complete uniformity and freedom to believe anything you want? There’s no Anglican via media in that point of view. Surely there is something reasonable somewhere in the middle.

    Anglicanism began with a prototypical fudge, incorporating the theology of both the Catholics and Calvinists in the Eucharist liturgy of the prayer book. Those understandings were (and are), quite simply, incompatible. Unity was accomplished on the basis of mutual respect and tolerance. There is no reason that same strategy cannot be the basis of unity today.

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  4. I have the sense that C. Andiron doesn't trust the Holy Spirit.

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  5. Lionel wrote: "Anglicanism began with a prototypical fudge, incorporating the theology of both the Catholics and Calvinists ... Unity was accomplished on the basis of mutual respect and tolerance."

    As I read my church history, I would say it's a lot more likely that unity was accomplished because Queen Elizabeth I insisted upon it and made it a crime to oppose it.

    Tom Hudson

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  6. Tom,

    Yeah, that probably helped, too.

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  7. Well, if history is supposed to teach us something, this should.
    If Queen EI was wise enough tno insist that Christian life in England was not going to be dissected by extremists and divided by religious wars in HER day, I am astonished that the Archbishop - no mean historian himself - is unwilling to see how that might relate to a much more culturally diverse, and geographically scattered group of churches now!
    But frankly, the world has passed him by anyway - the power of institutionalization to either define or limit our engagement is long past. As our own Presiding Bishop said, all our INFORMAL (ie, all our REAL) connections across the Communion - effective and mutual missional connections based in hope and tust and people-to-people connections - will CONTINUE.
    It hardly matters what he says, He is not a pope, and even if he were, the popes in recent history have discovered just exactly how far imposing uniformity in anything gets them - They try, but it never works.
    It just doesn't matter anymore. The world couldn't possibly care less what groups are in or out of the Anglican COmmunion.
    Nor, I suspect, does God.
    I do believe God cares about the integrity of our obediecne to Jesus Christ - but not whether we are obedient to what ROwan hears - or the Anglican CHurch of Nigeria, but to what WE are able to hear in Scripture, Tradition and Experience - to coin a phrase.
    In the end, to twist another quote: "God will not ask why we were not the NIgerian Anglican Church, but why we were not the EPISCOAPL Church."

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