Monday, March 02, 2009

Beware of the Grinding Wheels

The wheels of Anglican political machinations grind exceedingly slowly. They haven’t caught up with the internet age, and clearly don’t seem to care. The risk, of course, is that events will pass them by, and they will be rendered irrelevant, the effect of their grinding moot. The “progressive” end of the spectrum found the theological baseline enunciated by Lambeth I.10 in 1998, and the attendant listening process therein called for, too slow-moving for their liking, and forced the issue with the actions of General Convention 2003. Their opposite numbers on the “orthodox” end found the organic response of the Communion to the events of 2003 way too glacial, and have been about creating “facts on the ground” in myriad ways ever since.

But here’s the thing about those Anglican wheels: To the same extent that they grind slowly, they grind surely. They grind inexorably.

Practically before the lights were turned off on the General Convention of 2006, with its, at best, ambiguous response to the entreaties of the rest of the Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury weighed in with a pastoral letter to the bishops, clergy, and faithful of the Anglican Communion entitled, The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today. In that letter, Dr Williams made it clear that he had no intention of either initiating or abetting any effort to impose external “discipline” on the Episcopal Church (or the Anglican Church of Canada). One may fault him for not doing so if one is thusly inclined, but he is not culpable of inconsistency.

This is not to say, however, that the Archbishop is heedless of the misconduct of the North American holders of the Anglican franchise; indeed, quite the contrary. But his approach has ever been one of fostering the creation of the conditions under which the Americans would be the ones to “discipline themselves out” of full membership in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Challenge & Hope actually laid out an endgame scenario under which this would take place, with its two-tiered structure of “full membership” and “associate membership” in the WWAC, with the latter unmistakably envisioned as a state akin to “Anglican emeritus,” without seat, voice, or vote in the councils of the Communion.

Nothing that has transpired since Challenge & Hope—particularly and especially the words and deeds of Dr Williams—can be understood properly apart from its relationship to that document. This includes the communiqué from the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania in February 2007, the statement from the House of Bishops in New Orleans in September of that year, Rowan’s presidential addresses at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the report of the Windsor Continuation Group, and the communiqué from last month’s Primates’ Meeting in Alexandria, Egypt.

The latest piece of the puzzle to fall into place was announced by Lambeth Palace today. In fulfillment of one of the key recommendations in the report from the Windsor Continuation Group, the Archbishop has named the members of an initial team of “pastoral visitors” whose job it is to safeguard the interests of besieged “orthodox” minorities in dioceses and provinces dominated by “progressives.” Provinces like the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. In May, the Anglican Consultative Council will convene and presumably be invited to lend its imprimatur to the arrangement and up the ante by establishing a Pastoral Forum along the lines envisioned by the Windsor Continuation Group to the Lambeth Conference last summer, which recommendations seem to be widely endorsed in the final published compilation of reports from the conference’s indaba groups.

Reaction to today’s news has been utterly predictable, with indignant consternation from the left (“See what’s ahead of us if we don’t nip it in the bud right now?”), and derisive yawns from the right (“Uh…Rowan…the horses left the barn a long time ago. Don’t worry about the door now”). Sometimes when you’re taking fire from both sides it means you’re occupying an completely untenable position. Is Rowan short a few credit hours in Rabbi Friedman Triangulation Prevention Training? Or, making both ends of a conflicted relationship angry can mean that you’re doing something exactly right, and that you shouldn’t be discouraged by the shrapnel flying all around your head.

My bet is on the latter scenario.

The next click of the gears will be heard in May, when the Anglican Consultative Council next convenes, in Jamaica. In addition to creating the Pastoral Forum, they will have a look at the next (and final?) draft of the evolving Anglican Covenant, which will not be perfect, but will, I wager, move us unambiguously in the direction of formally recognizing that communion is, in fact, the natural limit of autonomy for the 38 Anglican provinces. After the ACC meeting, all eyes will then turn to Anaheim, where both houses of General Convention will be gaveled to order on July 6th.  It’s impossible to tell from this far out exactly what action or inaction General Convention will take that will move TEC in the direction of “second tier” membership in the WWAC. It may not even be all that clear when the convention is over.

But it will not remain a mystery for long. Because while the wheels do grind slowly, they also grind surely. Rowan Williams may go down in history as a lot of things. But a fool isn’t one of them.


Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

Dan: I have two issues with your post.

1) I have yet to find anyone who is seriously in the "besieged 'orthodox' minorities" camp in TEC. Only those who have threatened the actual institution by attempting to leave with property or non-canonically "leave" TEC as dioceses have been disciplined. I have heard of no one who has been persecuted, much less disciplined, for their 'orthodox' views.

2) It has been made clear that, as currently configured, not even the Church of England can sign it. No autonomous church, neither TEC nor the CofE can place itself under external authority and comply with its canons (or, in the CofE's case, English law). So if TEC is headed for "associate membership" in the WWAC, then so is the Church of England. Not sure how that will work in practice for one of the Instruments of Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury) to be head of a church that is an "associate" member!

My position continues to be that issues of sexuality should not rise to the level that they have, that they are not foundational Christian issues and we should agree to disagree and move on. I frankly don't identify with either side!

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

#2 refers to the Anglican Covenant, BTW.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dan -- great post.

The only difference between me and you is that you think that the purpose of the grinding wheels are to head towards clarity, and I think the purpose of the grinding wheels are to delay things as much as possible until the really rebellious people in TEC have left and the rest of TEC and the COE can get on with being inclusive. They can deal with the primitives over in Africa later.

That scenario is just 1) Rowan delays for another ten years, 2) the ACNA moves forward, and 3) Rowan leaves and hands the whole much slimmer bag over to the next ABC.

I should add that the derisive yawns from me -- which they were -- had nothing at all to do with the leavers who went to the ACNA.

My derision for the New and Improved Latest Version of the Pastoral Visitors is all about what they won't and can't do for the *stayers* in TEC -- other than of course the bishops of a few dioceses who are rather desperate to stave off further departures from their own kingdoms and think this is going to somehow help them prove that they are "doing something."

It won't work. Conservatives who are considering their options of leaving or staying [and again, I'm not one of them -- I'm staying] are going to laugh at this fig leaf, as they should.

But the bishops of those dioceses are certainly going to have to make this effort. And that's what, in the end, this is about.


Anonymous said...


1) "I have heard of no one who has been persecuted, much less disciplined, for their 'orthodox' views." You really do have to get out more. I have personally known conservative priest who are "stayers" in TEC blocked in many dioceses for their conservative views - these aren't folks who wear their beliefs on their sleeves either. If you don't think orthodox clergy and laity are being persecuted then I have some wonderful beachfront property in Kansas to sell you.

2) "non-canonically "leave" TEC as dioceses" - what canon, SPECIFICALLY, Tom, are the disaffiliating dioceses leaving? There isn't one. Of course, the PB and her new personal bishop in San Joaquin have broken canons left, right and center (as one clear and undeniable instance - Jerry Lamb openly and brazenly does open communion at every parish visitation he does, in direct violation of the canons).

Anonymous said...

And while the wheels are grinding, how many members in the church will still be living ... much less able to pay for the up-keep of the church? Look at the demographics; look at the time.

Anonymous said...

My position continues to be that issues of sexuality should not rise to the level that they have, that they are not foundational Christian issues.

But the concept of sin is foundational. If you succeed in defining away sin, you have succeeded in changing something foundational. And that issues of sexuality can be sinful is attested very clearly in both the old and new testaments.