This has been an intense few days for the thousands of interested Anglicans and others who have been nearly glued to their computer screens and internet connections during the Primates' Meeting in Tanzania. And today has witnessed the peak of that intensity. I can only begin to imagine what it has been like for those behind the "iron ring" in Dar es Salaam. (It calls to mind the closest thing I have ever experienced, which was last June 18 in Columbus, when, as part of my work on Committee 26, I felt like I was in the epicenter of an effort to save the Anglican Communion as we labored over the ill-fated A161.)
The Primates' communique, and the appended "schedule," will be dissected and parsed and exegeted ad infinitum in the days and weeks to come. The document certainly manifests the profound division among those who produced it, which, of course, reflects the division among those who lay claim to the Anglican inheritance. In a conflict of this sort, there are no winners. I am aware this evening that the news from east Africa is the source of grief to many who consider themselves mainstream Anglicans and faithful Christians. They are faced with a horrible dilemma: Betray core convictions which they believe are demanded by the gospel or lay aside their Anglican identity. Behind the carefully crafted language, this is what they are being asked to do. St Paul exhorts us to "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15), and to the extent that it is possible for me to do so without sounding patronizing, I weep with them.
That said, it would be dishonest to imply that I share all their convictions about what lies at the core of the gospel, and believe them to be anything but mistaken about what they call "full inclusion." That's hardly a news flash. I just feel the need to say something about respecting the integrity and sincerity and goodwill of those who are, in the Stand Firm lexicon, "our worthy opponents."
And now, having said that, I feel at liberty to confess that I am very much buoyed by what has been revealed today. I was among those who counseled "reasserters" to have low expectations about this Primates' Meeting. In the seemingly interminable time when the only hard news was the release of the report of the "sub-group" on TEC's response to Windsor, the prevailing mood in the community of conservative Anglicans verged on despair. Against that backdrop, I know I am not alone in feeling like a great weight has been lifted. I find the result exciting not only from having had low expectations going in, but because it exceeds those low expectations by a wide margin. If the covenant proposal is a subtle cat, the "recommendations" attached to the communique are a transparent dog, and a hefty one at that.
Any ambiguity that may have been present in the "Gang of Four" report that was our meager diet for a while there is now evaporated. The specificity of what is being asked of TEC is stunning: Affirm that B033 really is a moratorium, and solemnly promise that same sex blessing rites will not only not be developed church-wide, but that such events will not even be authorized locally. In effect, the House of Bishops is being asked to unilaterally nullify C051. Process purists for whom democracy is a shibboleth will no doubt cry "Foul!", but those who are comfortable letting bishops actually do what they were consecrated to do won't have a problem--at least, not with the mechanism of the request, though many might with its substance.
The term Primatial Vicar is borrowed from the Presiding Bishop's trial balloon from last fall, but that's about the only aspect of the plan that has survived intact. As the Primates propose the arrangement, +Katharine will get to nominate two of the five members of a Pastoral Council, but that's the extent of her practical involvement. The Primatial Vicar himself will be named by the Camp Allen group of bishops, and will be accountable to the Pastoral Council, the chair of which will be a non-TEC Primate named by Canterbury.
There are those who have already complained that this requires TEC to abrogate its polity. Yeah, it does. And for good reason. One commenter on another blog (and I apologize for being too lazy to look up the comment and provide a link) has said that the Episcopal Church is in "receivership." I think that is perhaps an apt description.
The blogger Baby Blue wrote Sunday night, as we were all on pins and needles, that she had heard from a sympathetic source in Dar es Salaam that he was confident the process would end well, but that there would be "a cost." A commenter speculated that this source was CANA Bishop Martyn Minns. This seems plausible to me, since the CANA and AMiA churches and others who have associated with provinces ranging from Uganda to Korea to Bolivia are now having to deal with the fact that the pastoral solution envisioned by the Primates for those who are aliented from TEC involves reconciliation with TEC, and the standing down of foriegn bishops' border crossings. I am personally heartened by this provision, but I know it will be a horse pill for many, especially those who have only recently made a costly decision to separate. Of course, such reconciliation presumes an honest and fair (and expeditious) implementation of the Primatial Vicar arrangement, and no "funny business" on the part of '815'. Within this finely balanced set of exhortations, the cessation of legal action is the final piece of the puzzle.
This can work. Will it? One way or another, yes. But I'm not at this moment sanguine that the House of Bishops will comply with the demands that have been made--either before September 30 or at any time thereafter. If they don't--well, the "schedule" makes it pretty clear what happens next. TEC will lose the Anglican franchise, and it will be replaced. The Primatial Vicar structure will be the replacement-in-waiting.
No doubt some will say that this represents the end of Anglicanism, no matter what happens. If we have a covenant, if we have trans-provincial lines of accountability that actually have teeth, it will no longer be the Anglicanism we are used to. I won't argue with that. But rather than seeing these developments as the end of Anglicanism, I prefer to see them as the beginning. It may be that only now are we embracing that charism with which we have been gifted by a good and gracious God.