Peter’s alternatives are not really as disjoint as he implies. I can argue for the independence of The Episcopal Church without insisting that Episcopalians not participate in Anglican bodies or asserting that the concerns of other churches never be taken into account. Interdependency within the Anglican Communion used to be about coöperation and mutual respect, not about doctrinal uniformity across the Communion. (See my post “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence.”)
It is the former and more benign understanding of interdependence that I wrote about in “Musings on Communion Agreements.” That interdependence—“interdependency” and “independency” sound odd to the American ear—need not imply the absence of autonomy or independence is implicit in the Episcopal–Lutheran agreement “Called to Common Mission.” I quoted from that communion agreement in “Musings,” and it is worth quoting again here. I won’t say more about it; the passage speaks well for itself.
We therefore understand full communion to be a relation between distinct churches in which each recognizes the other as a catholic and apostolic church holding the essentials of the Christian faith. Within this new relation, churches become interdependent while remaining autonomous. Full communion includes the establishment locally and nationally of recognized organs of regular consultation and communication, including episcopal collegiality, to express and strengthen the fellowship and enable common witness, life, and service. Diversity is preserved, but this diversity is not static. Neither church seeks to remake the other in its own image, but each is open to the gifts of the other as it seeks to be faithful to Christ and his mission. They are together committed to a visible unity in the church’s mission to proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments.Like it or not, however, in contemporary Anglican parlance, “interdependent” means committed to a doctrinal uniformity that avoids offending the sensibilities of some ill-defined Anglican majority. (Jim Naughton called this “governance by hurt feelings.”) It is assumed in many parts of the Communion that achieving this type of interdependence is a good thing. I believe otherwise.
The Anglican Covenant and InterdependenceThe Anglican Covenant, whose adoption has become the Archbishop of Canterbury’s raison d’être, begins curiously, with an Introduction that, according to Paragraph 4.4.1, “shall always be annexed to the Covenant text, is not part of the Covenant, but shall be accorded authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant.” The Introduction is clearly intended to be a theological justification for the Covenant, and its odd status allows it to assert that justification while discouraging serious scrutiny of the argument.
There is a good deal of scripture cited in the Covenant draft, and nearly all of it occurs in the Introduction. (See “Scripture for the Ridley Cambridge Draft,” which is an introduction for my compilation of all the Bible passages cited in the penultimate draft of the Covenant.) Given the political nature of the Covenant, this is not surprising.
Reading the Introduction for the first time, I was immediately put off by the verses with which it begins, 1 John 1: 2–4. I could not identify the Bible translation from which the text was taken. Virtually every translation renders koinonia (κοινωνία) as “fellowship,” whereas the text in the Covenant draft renders it “communion.” Whereas such a translation is not unreasonable, it is surely manipulative. The word “communion” is intended to invoke, if only subconsciously, the Anglican Communion.
In fact, I believe that no strictly theological argument can be advanced to support a specifically Anglican agreement to achieve doctrinal uniformity. One can perhaps use scripture to support an argument for unity—however one wants to define that concept—among Christians generally, but for Anglican unity? What book of the New Testament addresses Anglicanism? Anglicanism, in fact, is a Christian strain born in schism, the antithesis of unity and interdependency.
But surely doctrinal uniformity within Anglicanism would be a good thing! On one hand, it would strengthen Anglican witness to the world, and, on the other hand, it would make Christianity, though still divided, somewhat less divided.
The first argument comes to us from the fifty-million-Frenchmen-can’t-be-wrong school. In fact, fifty million Frenchmen will be wrong if one of them is wrong. The argument for orthodoxy, “right opinion,” presupposes that one can identify with certainty the opinion that is right. If you can’t, and if you insist on uniformity, everybody may well be wrong. This is a major argument for diversity over uniformity. Of course, those who argue for uniformity usually are convinced that they know the truth. But, allowing diverse opinions about doctrinal questions that are not easily resolved actually increases the probability that somebody is right and that, if there is any ultimately right answer, the Church eventually will discover it.
Likewise, the second argument isn’t as strong as it seems to be. If one accepts that there should be a single Church, unified in all its beliefs, then all of Christianity should be involved in determining those beliefs. Insisting on determining truth within any subgroup—within the Anglican Communion, for instance—could well make defining common doctrine among all Christians more problematic, as the distribution of opinion within the subgroup might be quite different from that within the larger Church, thus skewing the ecumenical dialogue.
I believe that the vision of a universal Christian Church possessing all truth is an arrogant fantasy, the modern equivalent of building the Tower of Babel. God’s truth is infinitely more complex and subtle than we can imagine. It is all we can do to aspire to discern God’s will for the here and now!
Anglicanism and InterdependenceIn many ways, Anglican churches are much like the churches of other Christian denominations. (I’m not going to get into the “we’re not a denomination” argument, which is a special form of Anglican arrogance.) Many churches that look much different from our own accept the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the creeds. Some even have, if not bishops, at least people who perform what we consider episcopal functions.
What is it that makes Anglican churches special? One is hinted at in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral; the other is not even mentioned there. The unnamed characteristic of Anglicanism is its emphasis on corporate, liturgical worship. Besides its connecting us to our past, this saves Anglicanism from self-righteous (and self-serving) personal piety and from the natural human tendency to attach ourselves to charismatic leaders with insufficient regard for the reasonableness of what those leaders do and say.
Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of Anglicanism, however, is its recognition that both ecclesiology and theology need to be adapted to particular peoples and eras. It is this fundamental Anglican insight that the advocates of Anglican uniformity are seeking to destroy.
This last point is more important than is commonly acknowledged. When I was a computer science professor seeking to be a more effective teacher, I became aware of the body of literature about differences in the psychological makeup of students. Those differences result in students’ preferring different styles of learning. I despaired, however, of providing each student with the learning experience that would prove most effective to his or her educational progress.
Churches, on the other hand, do a much better job than colleges and universities of catering to human variability. The proliferation of diverse churches that so many Christians decry actually manages to provide the mechanisms to proclaim the Gospel to all people, not just people like you and me. Whereas I cannot imagine worship without our rich heritage of Episcopal hymns, I know people who hate hymns—hate music, even. Those people should not be Episcopalians. They can be fine Christians in some other tradition, however, and I thank God that there are others who can take the Gospel to them.
I freely admit that the Church of the Province of Uganda is not ready for gay bishops. (It doesn’t even seem ready to oppose the execution of gays or the punishment of straight people for befriending gays. I pray this will change over time.) The situation in America is different, however, and Anglicans in Uganda should have little to say about it and much to learn from it. If Episcopalians do not lead the movement for social justice for sexual minorities—do not uphold the dignity of all human beings—Episcopalians will be diminished thereby, and the moral leadership of The Episcopal Church will likewise be devalued.
The Episcopal Church and, I would hope, other Anglican churches should resist the misguided call to interdependency in the Anglican Covenant, at least to the extent that it is intended to reduce diversity in the Communion in favor of uniformity. As I have said elsewhere, we should commit to saving Anglicanism at all costs and to saving the Anglican Communion if at all possible.
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