September 28, 2015

Parallel Anglican Universes?

I was taken aback Friday when I received the weekly newsletter from the American Anglican Council. (For those unfamiliar with the AAC, I should explain that it is an organization whose goal has been to turn The Episcopal Church to “orthodoxy” or, failing that, to liberate as many Episcopal assets as possible for a conservative “Anglican” church in America. It is, in other words, a kind of ecclesiastical terrorist group.)

Image from Ashey essay
Image from Ashey essay
What amazed me was the lead essay by the Rev. Canon Phil Ashey, CEO of the American Anglican Council and, apparently, a priest of the Anglican Church in North America. The essay is titled “Archbishop Welby, What Will You Do about It?”

The essay begins with the complaint that one of the judges of the South Carolina Supreme Court, which recently heard oral arguments from the Episcopal Church in South Caroliina—the remnant of the Episcopal Church diocese—and the breakaway group led by deposed bishop Mark Lawrence, is an Episcopalian and is prejudiced against the breakaway plaintiffs.

Ashey proceeds to lament the Episcopal Church’s propensity to sue breakaway churches and dioceses and tries to position the dissidents on the ethical high ground by suggesting that they are usually defendants who would prefer to negotiate settlements. (Ironically, it was the breakaway group that initiated litigation in South Carolina and who clearly picked a judge expected to be friendly to the group’s case.) Christians should not sue Christians, he asserts. Of course, our legal system was largely designed by Christians. But never mind. The argument about who sues whom, of course, is silly, since thieves don’t usually sue their victims.

Ashey laments that the Anglican primates, in their 2007 meeting in Dar es Salaam, considered, but did not pass, a resolution calling for an end to property litigation. “Some have said,” he continues, that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby intends to use the January primates’ meeting he recently called to complete the disciplining of the Canadian and American churches that was left undone in Tanzania.

What? I thought. My impression was that Welby’s intention was to create a looser Communion, not to return to the failed project of enhancing uniformity among Communion churches. That was not precisely what the press release from Lambeth said, but it seemed to be the sense of what was being told to reporters informally. (See my essay “Anglican Communion II?”)

In the end, I don’t know what to believe. Is the Archbishop of Canterbury playing both sides, suggesting relief from the constant bickering to Western churches while suggesting to the Global South that their goal of disciplining those same churches might again be on the table? This sentence from the Lambeth press release may explain the “[s]ome say” in Ashey’s essay: “Our way forward must respect the decisions of Lambeth 1998, and of the various Anglican Consultative Council and Primates' meetings since then.” How is that possible in a looser Communion?

Is the meeting in January intended to loosen the ties that bind Communion churches to one another, or is Welby trying to finish what Rowan Williams could not? Is Ashey living in a parallel universe, or have liberals mistaken Welby’s intentions? It is beginning to seem that Welby has scattered bait to bring both sides together. If he is successful in bringing everyone to the table, does he have a plan, or is the January meeting a total crap shoot?

Update, 1/10/2016. I fixed a minor grammatical error in the final paragraph.

1 comment:

  1. I find Adrian Hilton's piece helpful, though obviously we are all like the group of blind men trying to describe an elephant.


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