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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