31/01/2011

A different Church

What kind of church?
Washington National Cathedral


The question of whether homosexuals should be full members of the church has been the occasion of conflict or, more exactly, it became the focal point of a much deeper and pre-existing conflict.

The underlying compliant has always been that the western church, of which TEC is seen as the forerunner and epitome, has subordinated itself to secular mores, values and agenda.

Instead, say the conservatives, a church should ground itself wholly in scripture and thence oppose the secular world and its values.

In-and-against
I think this is a false dichotomy.

I would assert that every church is inevitably and inescapably in-and-against the state (both secular society and government). The walls of a church are porous, they allow in secular ways of thinking whether those taught in universities at one end of the spectrum or those held privately beneath the public radar at the other end. Their walls also hold their distinctiveness: the Christian faith (as inherited and as lived), special buildings, clear leadership and most important, communal worship.


Ecclesiology 
I suggest that more fundamental questions are: in the context of in-and-against the state, what is the church itself? What could it be?

The critique from conservatives is that the church should be against the state (both secular society and where they fall short of Christian values, secular governments too). A church should proclaim a redemptive critique of the society in which it is set. I note, for example, the statements of the Church in Nigeria criticising corruption and other aspects of the Nigerian State as well as Western morals.


For these conservatives, the authority, content and imperative with which to make such a critique lies wholly in Scripture.

Liberals are not merely perceived to have failed in this redemptive proclamation but to have taken a spiritually fatal step further. They have embedded secular values and structures in the church itself, displacing scriptural values. Thus liberal democratic notions have been allowed to reshape (some of) Anglicanism along secular lines which are antithetic to the things of God. Conservatives regard this as an ecclesiological impossibility, hence the rhetoric of a ‘new’ faith or religion.

Their alternative is an ecclesial monarchy: as God is Lord of the Church so too archbishops and bishops should be lords within an episcopal church.

Ironically this is particularly important for those who put so much weight on the authority of scripture. The authority of scripture is essentially anarchic: everyone who can read the Bible is their own interpreter and, in citing scripture, everyone has the authority of God.

Therefore those who believe that Christians should come together in ordered communities of any sort and who believe that scripture is the sole and sufficient source of authority for that community have a problem. The problem is solved by making church leaders authoritative and authoritarian.


Thus the Word of God was liberated from the control of the Catholic Church and Protestants then imprisoned the reader.

Mouneer Anis
I believe Bishop Mouneer Anis to be a devout and honest conservative and a good spokesman for that strand of Anglicanism. He is utterly convinced of the exclusive authority of scripture and yet still wants to hang onto the importance of Anglican tradition as far as, and so long as, it accords with his valuation of scripture.

He gives examples of the Church of England, and the Anglican Communion, repeatedly reasserting the centrality and authority of scripture. Be because these statements are not binding they are insufficient. As a result the Church has fallen away from the rectitude it once held into its present morass.

He forgets the deeply Erastian nature of the Church of England from the honestly named 1533 Submission of the Clergy Act onwards. He forgets the legacy of conformity to state and society which the CofE bequeathed to much of the Communion – the CofE rejoiced in being the ‘national’ church in as many meanings as it could sustain. He uses statements from the past, like proof-texts, selectively and in a wholly ahistorical manner.

Anis’ remedy is a conciliar-command structure for the church. Difficult or contested questions should be debated by those with the authority to do so (primarily bishops and primates). Once a decision is reached it would then be binding on all believers. Again, he omits to mention that such powers currently reside in a province (depending on its own constitution) and that to grant these powers to the Communion would be a significant innovation.

He also, incidentally, wishes to ‘start Biblical literacy programs’ - to encourage people to read the Bible and, no doubt, to ensure they do so correctly.

A different church
Mouneer Anis is talking about a different church from the one he has inherited.

Conservatives want a command structure where there never was one. They want a church which is wholly and exclusively scripture-based, though Anglicanism never was. They long for a church whose function is to oppose the standards and values of the society in which it is set, forgetting that the Church of England has always been willingly subordinate to the state.


And this is why schism is inevitable.

Undoubtedly some kind of modus vivendi over homosexuality could have been worked out, given time, not least because the vast majority of people are bored with the fight and want to get on with life. We could all learn to agree to disagree over degrees of in-or-against the state practised in the different national settings of the church. The re-assignment of power in the Communion as a result of the conflict is being worked out through the Covenant at the moment.

But conservatives want much more. They want a new church, one never before seen in Anglicanism. Their ecclesiology will not fit into the same shoe as the majority ecclesiology of Anglicanism. Therefore there must be division. Working things out is not an option.

Only this won’t be another Great Ejection, more like a dribbling apart.

30/01/2011

Covenant count: 3 provinces have signed

ACNS tells us that more provinces have signed up to the Covenant,
Archbishop John Holder
The Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies has announced that his Province has adopted the Anglican Communion Covenant. It is the third to do so officially, the others being the Anglican Church of Mexico and The Church of the Province of Myanmar.
It may be that Archbishop John Holder of the West Indies is doing so on a false prospectus:
“Our understanding is that it is not an exclusive document; it does not exclude, but rather it helps to lead people to reflect on their role as Anglicans, and identify their responsibilities as members of the Communion.
“There are no penalties involved if you do not follow the Covenant and that’s an Anglican approach. We try and keep away from penalties. It is not punitive. It invites the members of the Communion to follow a different way, to remember their responsibilities to other members of the wider community, to respect where others are in their journey.”
Or - and I guess this is where South Africa is coming from - these are the terms on which the Province has assented: and any attempt to promulgate penalties will be ignored.  Only that will be in the time of a new generation of Archbishops and who can tell what they will do, being given a power they do not currently possess.

Or, more cynically, this is the public line to convince people they have no reason not to sign.  It is, after all, a fair statement of what the Covenant says - just so long as you ignore (a) the origins of the idea, (b) the publicly stated goal of excluding The Episcopal Church in the US and the Anglican Church of Canada, (c) previous drafts of the Covenant and (d) the institutional framework within which the Covenant will be implemented.

And given the role of the previous Archbishop of the West Indies in creating the Covenant it would have been most impolitic not to join in.

Ramsey wouldn't have liked it

Archbishop Michael Ramsey
Jared C. Cramer over at The Lead has a thoughtful critique of the Covenant based on his study of the theology of Michael Ramsey.  It's worth reading in full.

He contrasts Ramsey's understanding of relationship between living faithfully within the tradition we have received and the documentary inheritance of faith.  For example,
Ramsey consistently praised the “non-confessional” approach of Anglican Christianity, glad that the truth of God expressed in the creeds is a sufficient standard for Christian belief. ...
When Ramsey was in ecumenical meetings, he had deep doubts about the possibilities of engaging the profoundest matters of theology through “high pressure drafting,” asking, “Why should such procedures be the medium through which the Holy Spirit speaks to the Church?” (James B. Simpson, The Hundredth Archbishop of Canterbury (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 134)
Cramer's final paragraph says,
... One can clearly see the mechanism for separation in the Anglican Covenant, but it is much harder to see the mechanism for deep and abiding relationship. An approach to unity based upon forced policies and lists of doctrine and church principles results in precisely the same problem that created the sin of schism: the idea that one’s own perception of Christian faith is the one that is normative. At the end of the day, however, neither the Primates’ Meeting, nor the (Anglican Consultative Council, nor the SCAC, nor any other group will succeed in telling one bishop or group of bishops with whom they should consider themselves in Communion or in strained relationship. The unity which the Covenant purports to seek will remain out of reach.
Yes. Exactly. But will Ramsey's present successor, whose mind is at least as subtle as Ramsey's was, get the point?

24/01/2011

How authority is transferred

Signing the Covenant will slowly, inexorably convert the Anglican Communion from a family of Churches into one global Church.

Of course it will always carry the DNA of its heritage - not least its anglo-centric culture, its propensity to fit comfortably, complacently with secular power structures, and its manner of grumpy accommodation to changing times and circumstances - it will never be another Roman Catholic Church or World Lutheran Federation.

But it will become a single Church and the Standing Committee will slowly mutate into its government.  You may think this is a good thing, but I don't.  I would like those who do think this development is desirable to campaign for it openly and honestly.  But the opportunity for them to do so has now passed.

The key mechanism by which authority and power will be transferred from currently autonomous churches to the centre lies in section 4.2 of the Covenant.

Photo by Scott Gunn & pinched from KinnonTV
Any signatory may question (4.2.3) a decision or actions of another signatory body or, indeed, decisions or actions they are considering taking.  In itself this would seem to be a good and proper means by which mutual accountability is effected. It sets in motion a process (albeit one that is currently opaque) with the possible result that the central organs of Anglicanism will make a determination of the issue. As things stand at present they can't impose their determination - merely recommend 'relational consequences' (4.2.7).

But don't be deceived.  Once a determination is made it will be 'the teaching of the Anglican Communion', even if no province enforces 'relational consequences'.  From that point on there will be two classes of teaching: (1) official, Communion-wide teaching and (2) local, provincially authorised teaching.  Anomalies will become more visible. The pressure will only be in one direction: to harmonise teaching across the Communion and to do so by seeking more and more central decisions.

I guess that relatively few disputes will in fact trigger the official conflict resolution mechanism.  More likely provinces will look over their shoulders, will self-censor and will seek the informal opinion of the Standing Committee before they act.

And, steadily if unevenly, official, Communion-wide teaching will grow and local decision amking, and confidence in local decision making will shrink.

I also guess that, as soon as the tension drops and decisions are no longer measured as homophobia/homophilia, the very bitterness of the conflict from which we are beginning to emerge will entice all provinces to be more sensitive to one another.  Junior players in today's war will become the Archbishop-Generals of tomorrow. They will seek to effect the lessons they thought they'd learned while fighting.

So: formal determinations, informal organisational actions and personal predilections will all tend in one direction: centralisation.  And once powers have stepped, drifted, been gifted to the centre they will not be returned.

Perhaps, looking some way ahead, the following generation will rediscover the term 'subsidiarity'; perhaps some archivist will read the Windsor report and find it there.   But by then it will be too late, the Anglican Communion will have been rebadged as The Anglican Church.

23/01/2011

To go forwards, look back

Bishop Mouneer Anis
The widely respected Bishop of Egypt, Mouneer Anis, has pushed another nail into the Communion's coffin.

In a conference speech he calls for a return to true Anglican values that are both Scriptural and conciliar.  Yet in asking to go back he is in fact setting off in a new direction.

He shares the general conservative analysis that in many parts of the Communion there was a generation of clergy and laity who were not grounded in Scripture and who do not believe in the credal essentials of the Christin faith.

But he also sees more of value in the Anglican tradition than many conservatives appear to.  In particular he would like to see the Lambeth Conference and the Primates' Meeting playing a truly conciliar role, giving them authority in matters of faith and order, including the interpretation of Scripture.

Not in Communion as constituted at present, of course, too much trust has been lost and too many have strayed from the orthodox path. And Lambeth 2008 lost almost every shred of its conciliar character with the mistaken idea that 'indaba' meant talking to no conclusion.

He calls on the churches of the Global South, together with other orthodox dioceses, to recover their Anglican heritage and remake it: new conciliar structures would set out the Anglican faith scripturally, definitively and authoritatively.

Bishop Anis is a man of integrity and ability.  He is standing with those who no longer have time for the Communion as it stands and who will no longer be distracted from his task by its time consuming dysfunctionality.

So (if Bishop Anis' words are heeded) the irony will be that the Covenant, nominally designed to hold the Communion together, will come to bind those who never wanted it in the first place.  Those who wanted a Covenant to discipline TEC and other provinces will go off and establish their own, conciliar framework.

22/01/2011

Primatial boycott

Global South Primates in Singapore last April
The primates of the Global South have set out (at least some of) the reasons they are not attending the next Primates' Meeting in Dublin.

Of course they point to the consecration of Mary Glasspool - and TEC's refusal to listen to the entreaties of other parts of the Communion - as the occasion for their decision.

But the complaint which evokes most of their righteous indignation is the manner in which the Dublin Meeting has been planned:
... there was hardly any timely and intentional prior consultation and collegial engagement of all concerned (or at least as many as reasonably possible) in preparing for the Meeting to ensure certain degree of significant and principally legitimate outcome to hold and move the Communion together. In light of the critical importance of the Meeting, the preparations are gravely inadequate. As it stands, the Meeting is almost pre-determined to end up as just another gathering that again cannot bring about effective ecclesial actions, ...
They asked for the meeting to be postponed, but they were disappointed.  Or, in other words, they were not able to dictate the agenda or the outcome or the timing.

They also set out their unconditional terms for their continued engagement in the Primates' Meeting and, I guess, other Communion processes:
Unless and until there is unequivocal commitment to honour the agreed basis of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 and implement the decisions of previous Primates’ Meetings (2005, 2007, 2009) expressed in the respective Communiqu├ęs, especially that of Dar es Salem 2007, it will only lead to further erosion of the credibility of the Primates’ Meeting and accentuate our failure to honour the work already done by them. (emphasis added).
It remains to be seen how many will actually boycott the meeting. I guess the number and the names will accurately reflect the line of schism. My suspicion is that the most hardline will absent themselves and leave, but that a fair proportion of conservative Primtes will attend and remain, maybe covenanted and certainly dissatisfied - but it will be clear that TEC will remain in the Communion and the western liberals will have won.

But the legacy will be unhappy for years to come.

17/01/2011

Creeds, orthodoxy and the Covenant

There are, I think, three groups of questions about the relationship of creeds to orthodoxy:

First, substantive questions:
What must be believed?  What may be believed?  What must not be believed?
Second, interpretative questions:
In what manner must or may or must not these beliefs be held?
Third, determinative questions:
Who decides? And by what mechanism?
The creeds were devised as a way of dividing orthodox from heterodox, friend from foe, in the first four hundred years, give or take, of the Christian Church.  They were originally working documents purporting to encapsulate and express truths which were eternally present but only contingently expressed.

Standing stones on Lewis
By use and antiquity the creeds' propositions have become the inner citadel of What Must Be Believed.  They set out the core intellectual framework of Christianity.  Assent to the Apostles' and Nicean/ Constantinopolitan Creeds is a prerequisite of knowing oneself and others to be orthodox.

The Athanasian creed is widely accepted but out of fashion. Many are uncomfortable with the 'damnatory clauses' that top and tail it.
(In 1872 Archbishop Tait declared to Convocation that ‘not a soul in the room or in the Church of England takes the damnatory clauses in their plain or literal sense.’ The clauses caused ‘distress and alienation of mind’, he said, and were heard as ‘savage words’.)

But the Creeds are not clear like a line on a map.  I suggest that the the individual clauses of the Creeds, and the Creeds as a whole, mark the borders between orthodox and heterodox like standing stones on moorland, way-markers in a complex geography.  All the stones are pretty mossy and chipped by now and, though some have slipped over and smaller ones have fallen from view, most are still clearly visible.

What has changed, repeatedly, is the intellectual and social landscape in which the stones are set.  Sometimes that change has been slow and barely noticed by those who trek across it.  At other times change has been convulsive. This is nothing new, nor is it new to say that the pace of change is quicker too.  I believe this latter observation has been made since the early nineteenth century but it could well have had a longer history. However, it is this combination of shifting contexts and ancient stabilities that make orthodoxy both possible and inexorably problematic.

Therefore:

How do we remain faithful to the witness of the standing stones whilst the landscape is changing around us in unpredictable ways?
And how do we do so in a world which is changing in both different directions and at different speeds in different parts of the world?
The Church of England has only had power to determine its own doctrine from 1974 (in the Worship and Doctrine Measure) and only had this confirmed by the courts in 1992 (over the ordination of women as priests).  Now it's too late: ecumenical agreements and rapid globalisation mean that the CofE is no longer sufficiently autonomous to state and sustain its own doctrine.

Icon depicting Emperor Constantine
(center) and the Fathers of the
First Council of Nicaea (325)
as holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan
Creed of 381 - Wikipedia
The Covenant offers only the beginnings of a mechanism for determining doctrine. Any party to the Covenant may question the actions of another if it has concerns. The mechanisms that then follow are only sketched in and will have to be (endlessly) elaborated - but they do look as though they have the potential to be a quasi-judicial mechanism for determining doctrine.

Will it work?  It won't.  I can say this with confidence having looked at the Church of England's attempts to use courts to determine doctrine in the nineteenth century.  

Leaving all theology aside there's a simple matter of group psychology.  Say Province A is convinced that Province Z has stepped beyond the bounds of orthodoxy.  It asks a court - or Covenant mechanism - to determine that Province Z is heterodox.  The process decides Province Z is not unorthodox.  Result: Province A is livid, they refuse to accept the finding, and instead attack the whole process.  In effect Province A cedes authority over doctrine to the central mechanism only when it supports their own a priori convictions, never when it finds against them.  

The inability to resolve doctrinal disputes without a shared mechanism leaves everyone exhausted and frustrated. Ironically, though by no means inevitably, it's more likely to keep people together. The attempt to do so within a shared mechanism is likely to stoke up resentment, deepen difference and fuel dissension. In a globalised world the conflicts will be global: every blogger and their cat will want a say, every Chancellor and Vicar General will guard their interests with vigour. 

The standing stones will still be there. But until the day there is one Great Church (as envisaged by some ecumenical Protestants just after the Second World War) no church will be big enough to make definitive judgements.  In fact the opposite tendency is stronger: attempts to enforce agreement generate schism.


15/01/2011

Dear Archbishop

all just too much
Lesley Fellows, moderator of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

After a while, having received no reply, the letter was posted on the NACC blog:
Firstly, the Covenant creates a two-or-more-tier Communion, as we know that some Provinces will not or cannot consent to it. ...  Jim Naughton has said that the Covenant institutes "governance by hurt feelings". This seems counter to the gospel imperative of not judging others, but bearing with them and concentrating on the logs in one's own eye. A two-tier Communion does not represent unity.
Secondly, it seems unlikely that one can 'make forceful the bonds of affection'. ...  The Anglican Covenant is in reality a contract between parties where the trust has broken down. It may seem to you that this is the only way forward, but a better option is to remain a single-tier Communion, allow people to leave if they must, but keep the door open for their return. Any alternative position cedes too much power to those willing to intimidate by threatening to walk away.
Thirdly, in many countries, such as England, centralised institutions are breaking down and being replaced by networks. ... The Anglican Communion, which is a fellowship of autonomous churches, is well placed to thrive in the challenges of this age. If we adopt the Covenant, then we will be less able to be mission-focused in our own culture because we will be constrained by the Communion's centralised decision-making. ... At this point in history, we need more flexible relationships, not a tightening of bonds.
I implore you to reconsider your support of the Anglican Covenant. I have the greatest respect for you as a person of God and for the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. However, I feel the Covenant is in a way like suicide - it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. ...  [here in full]
The letter concludes saying with a request for dialogue with the Archbishop,  I guess that's not going to happen.  After all, the less he says publicly the lower the profile of the issue and the fewer hostages to fortune he will give.  And, anyway, he talks to important people.

No more Anglican Information

The group which was Anglican Information have decided that their work is done.

There will, therefore, be no more posts from them.  I, for one, will be sad as this (admittedly episodic) blog will be considerably impoverished as a consequence.

Anyone (whether from that group or otherwise) who would like to contribute comments, perspectives, news from other parts of the Anglican world - whether African or otherwise, whether regularly or occasionally - is warmly invited to get in touch.