February 9, 2011

After Dublin—Part 1

Peter Carrell recently wrote a telling post called “Global Forum of Independent Anglican Churches” on his Anglican Down Under blog. Peter is unhappy about the recent Primates’ Meeting in Dublin and the description of the Anglican Communion by the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. David Chillingworth, as a “communion of independent churches.” The comment was made at a press conference following the Dublin meeting. (Audio of the press conference is available on the Web. The remark was also reported by George Conger.)

Peter offers a very helpful insight in this paragraph:
When we named ourselves the ‘Anglican Communion’ we named ourselves as much for our potential as for our existent reality: we were becoming a communion, our bonds of affection were deepening from meeting to meeting. But sooner or later we were likely to meet a test of that becoming, of those bonds. Would we pass the test in a manner which deepened our communion or impaired it, which developed interdependency or revealed independency?
I take this as an admission that the “interdependence” spoken of in the Windsor Report and the paragraphs of that report that offer a tortured argument to the effect that autonomy is not independence—Peter reproduces paragraphs 75–80 of the infamous report—are simply disingenuous. While purporting to represent Communion reality, the Windsor Report in fact builds its own parallel universe of a reactionary global church so fervently desired by the least progressive elements of the Communion.

Participants in the Dublin meeting, freed of the direct influence Global South troglodytes, appear to have recognized that they have been had. The Communion is a fellowship of independent churches, despite what the “orthodox” have claimed it is or what the likes of Peter would like it to be. The radical elements in the Communion are not the churches of the United States and Canada, but those of Uganda and Nigeria and, of course, their accomplices on the Lambeth Commission and Covenant Design Group. If the Windsor Report represented a move away from a voluntary, collaborative Communion and toward an authoritarian one, the Dublin meeting represents a return to, as Peter dismissively calls it, conversation.

Peter sees “interdependency” and “independency” as mutually exclusive. Mark Harris, also responding to recent posts on Anglican Down Under, suggests otherwise. Whereas I see Mark’s point, I can also see why Peter does not buy it. He argues in a comment that, for him, interdependency necessarily entails mutual accountability. Unfortunately, mutual accountability is virtually impossible to achieve in the absence of an objective standard by which performance can be measured. (Need I say that the proposed Anglican Covenant does not set forth an objective standard of either doctrine or behavior?) In most political situations—disputes within the Anglican Communion are certainly political in nature—“accountability” is a euphemism for intimidation or extortion, and it is seldom mutual.

I accept Peter’s distinction and look for the Anglican Communion to be returned to a fellowship of independent churches. When The Episcopal Church was formed after the American Revolution, after all, our founding fathers did not think of themselves as being other than independent of any other ecclesiastical body, though that independence did not prevent interactions with other bodies. I see no reason to surrender that independence now and many reasons not to do so.
In my next essay, I plan to discuss the notion of interdependence, which is really a call for theological uniformity, in greater detail.


  1. Hi Lionel,
    You write beautifully and clearly!

    I note that you happily speak about the communion in terms of a 'fellowship' but in the next post quibble over translating koinonia in 1 John as 'communion' instead of fellowship. I suggest they are (in this context) synonyms!

    I accept that in the present atmosphere too much about 'accountability' is political. But I would want to look ahead to better times when accountability was something we gladly enter into across the communion in the same way that we are meant to enter into accountability locally (e.g. me to my bishop; members of Synod to Synod; etc).

  2. Peter,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I think I acknowledged that the translation of koinonia is not inappropriate. In context, however, it is too clever by half.

    I suspect we both long for better times.


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