Wright and right on shifting the balance of power in the Anglican Communion

John Richardson quotes Bishop NT Wright criticising those who are calling for a boycott of the Lambeth Conference. Wright sympathises with the plight of orthodox Anglicans in North America who are

vilified, attacked and undermined by ecclesiastical authority figures who seem to have lost all grip on the gospel of Jesus Christ and to be eager only for lawsuits and property squabbles.

But he goes on to say that

these situations have been exploited by those who have long wanted to shift the balance of power in the Anglican Communion and who have used this awful situation as an opportunity to do so.

I have great respect for Wright as a theologian. But, as I pointed out in a previous post, he is a man of his time and background who seems to have a blind spot, along with many of his fellows in high positions in the Anglican Communion, about recognising that African and Asian bishops have an equal right with British and North American bishops to a share in authority within the Communion. Perhaps they have even more right, in fact, as on average they each represent a larger number of committed Anglicans. Yes, they want to shift the balance of power, but in a completely right way, away from those who are illegitimately hanging on to it as a relic of colonialism and racism towards being more representative of the Anglican churches as a whole.

I read on a blog somewhere recently (and not just at Doug’s April Fool – don’t take my comment there seriously) that Rowan Williams should be replaced as Archbishop of Canterbury by Wright, because he would be best placed to hold the Anglican Communion together. Sadly he would not be, because if he tries to lead it with this attitude he will never be able to reconcile the Africans and Asians with the North Americans.

Meanwhile, as John Richardson and Babyblue report, Bishop Wright in the same talk mentioned some letters which Archbishop Williams has sent to certain bishops. Apparently Williams is trying to persuade bishops who don’t support the Windsor Process and the Anglican Covenant, that is, the least conservative bishops, not to attend the Lambeth Conference. Wright said about this

I am well aware that many will say this is far too little, far too late.

Well, on this point he is a prophet: I for one do indeed say that Williams’ letter is far too little, far too late. The only way of sorting out this mess now is for Williams to go, and to be replaced not by Wright but by someone like Archbishop Sentamu of York who has a chance of gaining the respect of the African and Asian majority in the Anglican Communion.

10 thoughts on “Wright and right on shifting the balance of power in the Anglican Communion

  1. On the other hand it may not be possible to reconcile the Asian and African churches with those in North America.

    You have a good point on equal right to a share of authority, however.

  2. Thanks, Henry. You may have read this before I updated it by adding the part about Williams’ letters. Indeed I wonder if reconciliation is possible at this stage, or even desirable. But I think someone like Sentamu would have a fighting chance of doing so.

  3. Peter — As an outsider, I have watched the situation in the Anglican Communion with great interest. On one hand, I agree with you — the time of Global South has arrived. On the other hand, I think your position is surprisingly naive.

    The ECUSA (and other liberal Northern Anglican communities) also has a right to self-determination. After all, the history of the Episcopalian Church — formed after the Church of England was disestablished in the various States during the American Revolution — is one of independence. In any case, the ECUSA has made clear that any sentimental ties it has to the Anglican Communion take second place to its egalitarian views.

    The point, of course, is that since its founding, the Church of England has been as much about matters realpolitik than matters spiritual. And, when it comes to realpolitik, money plays a role.

    It was my understanding that ECUSA pays for a third of the Anglican Communion’s operations, and donates millions to Anglican churches — most notably in Sudan. ECUSA may not be what it once was, but it still has considerable prestige and resources.

    Now, it has always struck me that Canterbury (like Rome) is a prime example of organized religion (unlike, for example, Judaism, which is most certainly a disorganized religion!) So, I just can’t believe that all of this is a matter of posturing for the inevitable compromise (with all sorts of face-saving rhetoric). Now, if the Church of England episcopate did not play its role in this game of posturing, it would be completely disarmed come Lambeth. This way, all parties are set for the showdown — and thus the miraculous compromise (and “compromise” is the principle that the Church of England was founded upon.)

    Of course, there is a possibility of a schism — but given the stark difference of opinions between the different sides, the only way a compromise can possibly be forged is by heading to the very edge.

    So, my prediction is: Either an uneasy compromise or the status quo will prevail. Less likely is a schism, but it is a possibility. I do not think a Global South takeover is in the cards — not at this point.

    So, let’s wait until July, and see who is the better prognosticator.

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  5. Yes, Iyov, TEC (formerly ECUSA) has the right to self-determination. But the Anglican Communion has the right, and the duty, to set limits to what is acceptable for its member churches. If TEC wishes to step outside these bounds, it should be allowed to go its own way as an independent church, without lawsuits to keep it in the Communion or retain its property.

    You are of course right that there are financial issues involved. In the old days this would have been condemned as simony.

    I am not expecting a Global South takeover. You may be right that some sort of compromise will be reached which will be acceptable to all but the extremists on either side, so avoiding a major schism. I’m not at all sure that is desirable, but then the Church of England has centuries of experience in trying to disprove 2 Corinthians 6:14-16.

  6. I note that according to Ruth Gledhill Archbishop Rowan has not actually written the letters which Bishop Wright said were in the post. I wonder who is responsible for this little terminological inexactitude; Wright didn’t give Gledhill a clear answer.

    I suppose if letters were to be sent to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and her supporters withdrawing their invitations to Lambeth unless they do a major U-turn, that would not be too little, although very late. But I doubt if she will take “suggesting that some others might absent themselves” as a binding instruction to anyone. If Williams doesn’t want her to come, he needs to order her, not just suggest to her, to stay away. Will he do that? Don’t hold your breath!

  7. I am an outsider on this issue but I do agree with the gist of the post that – it would be good to see more efforts globally to have unity in the Anglican church.

  8. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Could this one be the Wright letter?

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