In a particularly fine episode of The West Wing (which, for the record, I still miss), President Bartlett is playing chess one evening with Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn while frequently stepping out of the room (Sam's office) to play "chicken" with China, which is gearing up for a military confrontation with a U.S. aircraft carrier off its coast. The chess match becomes a microcosm of the international crisis, and the discussion of one leads to a discussion of the other, and vice versa. The President's sage advice to his protégé is, "See the whole board. See the whole board." In other words, don't think simply in terms of your next move (and still less of merely reacting to the moves of your opponent). Think several moves ahead. And see the whole board.
It was an eventful day at the Lambeth Conference. In this final week, substantive issues are finally floating to the surface. The Windsor Continuation Group has released all sections of its report, and the bishops have had an opportunity to discuss it in what amounted to a plenary session (though I don't think that's what it was officially). It reaffirms earlier calls for moratoria on the consecration of non-celibate homosexual bishops and on the blessing of same-sex unions. The Episcopal Church has arguably already agreed to the former (B033 from GC '06). As to the latter, some (namely, the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting, and, according to his remarks in an interview at the outset of the conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury) have contended that it was also agreed to at the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans last September. However, this interpretation has been expressly denied, many months ago by the Bishop of New Hampshire, and only today by the Bishops of California and Washington.
The proverbial other shoe, of course, is that those who have become involved in ad hoc episcopal oversight arrangements (let's call them the GAFCON Community) need to assume the "parade rest" position and stay there for a bit while the dust settles, then start thinking in terms of reconciliation with their proper geographic provinces—the implicit assumption, of course, being that these provinces will have committed themselves concretely to the other moratoria.
As a means of facilitating the implementation of this scheme (and I use the term in the non-pejorative British sense), two new bits of bureaucratic infrastructure are envisioned: a Faith and Order Commission, which will presumably be the arbiter of just where the theological boundaries of the Anglican big tent actually are, and a Pastoral Forum, which would effectively be a Court of Appeal which would assist (and I'm honestly not meaning to be cynical here) in the process of reconciling parishes and dioceses that are part of the GAFCON Community with their respective provinces by creating what has been likened to an "escrow," a sort of holding tank for these entities to live and move and have their being while everything is being sorted out.
And while this is all taking place, the Anglican Covenant would be developed and adopted, and thus provide the context and framework in which everything can play out safely.
This is a broad stroke summary, I realize, but ... hey … anyone reading this blog has probably already digested the primary sources anyway, right??!!
Well, response from the left—which is to say the mainstream of the Episcopal Church—has been swift and predictably adverse. I could have told you that without even reading any of the responses, but, in fact, I have—on blogs, on the HoB/D, and from some of the American bishops themselves. Response from the right, particularly the "GAFCON Community" right, has ranged from immediate howls of ridicule to cautious appreciation for the content of the proposals clothed in deep skepticism about their implementation.
Nobody in Canterbury, or anywhere else in the Anglican world, is seeking my advice tonight. For pretty much precisely that reason, I'm going to give it anyway. Not so much to my friends who hold what they believe are "inclusive" and "progressive" positions—I cannot presume to advise my worthy opponents—but to my GAFCON friends, whom I esteem even as I do not share some of their perceptions. And my advice is this: See the whole board. See the whole board.
Rather than indulging in dismissive reactivity, look a few moves ahead. Let's assume, for the moment, that the Lambeth Conference formally approves and commends something that looks pretty much like the Windsor Continuation Group's proposals. (I don't know whether it's safe to assume that or not, though I hope it is.) It would mean that there would be great pressure on Fort Worth and Pittsburgh to hold back from pulling the trigger on their separation from the Episcopal Church as they commit themselves to the care of the Pastoral Forum and allow the process to work itself out. That will sting, and will require some maturity and restraint.
But hang with me here. What happens next? The General Convention, less than a year away, will act on these proposals in some fashion. Everyone who believes GC will respond positively please raise your hand.
I don't see any hands.
So where does that leave us? It is now worth observing that the WCG report specifically mentions the Communion Partners Bishops in TEC as … well, let's quote them exactly:
We are encouraged by the planned setting up of the Communion Partners initiative in the Episcopal Church as a means of sustaining those who feel at odds with developments taking place in their own Province but who wish to be loyal to, and to maintain, their fellowship within TEC and within the Anglican Communion.
Anyone want to connect the dots? My GAFCON Community friends are keen on seeing TEC "disciplined" in some concrete way. So am I. So are most other "communion conservatives." What the Lambeth Conference is, one hopes, on the brink of setting up is the instrumental means by which the Episcopal Church will be the agent of its own discipline. (For the record, I have seen this one coming since virtually the last day of General Convention in Columbus two years ago.) By rejecting (what I might, in an anticipatory fashion, call) the Lambeth Plan, TEC will be "self-selecting" itself right out of the full membership in the Anglican Communion. And what is now known as the Communion Partners Initiative will form the safety net into which parishes and dioceses (and possibly individuals?) who find themselves in the Episcopal Church but who do not wish to be of it in the sense of its reduced status within the Communion may allow themselves to fall.
For orthodox Anglicans in North America, the end game envisioned by the GAFCON community is not all that different from the end game envisioned by the Lambeth Plan. The latter is just a whole lot better, because it has the potential to preserve the Anglican Communion in some semblance of continuity with the form in which we already know it and love it, and preserve the highest level of unity among the highest number of Anglicans.
See the whole board.