Anglicans and Anglican'ts

Archbishop Rowan Williams (unlike Bishop John of Chelmsford) has not yet responded to my challenge to his advice on communion. No doubt this is because he has been busy with a threat not to the Anglican practice of communion but to the Anglican Communion itself – one which certainly deserves more of his attention than swine flu.

It is nearly two weeks since, in response to the TEC bishops’ decision to end the moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops, I announced (with a question  mark) The end of the Anglican Communion as we know it? Since then Archbishop Rowan has been largely silent on the matter, although it was called “a direct snub” to him. But now he has spoken out in an article subtitled “Reflections on the Episcopal Church’s 2009 General Convention from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion”, published on his website and reported on by Ruth Gledhill.

To summarise, Rowan Williams confirms what I announced. In the future he envisages, the Anglican Communion will look very different, “a two-tier communion of covenanted and non-covenanted provinces”. The latter will have very much a second class role in the continuing Communion, not permitted to represent it to outsiders. In the Archbishop’s words:

perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a ‘two-track’ model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the ‘covenanted’ body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

In referring to those who put local autonomy above a covenantal structure, the Archbishop clearly has TEC in mind, as the subtitle and start of his article make clear. I suppose his “perhaps” reflects a continuing hope that TEC will after all fall into line and sign up to the proposed Anglican Covenant, which will clearly exclude taking unilateral decisions on matters like homosexual bishops. But there seems very little chance of that now.

Archbishop Rowan’s defence of his position on homosexual bishops is interesting:

5. In response, it needs to be made absolutely clear that, on the basis of repeated statements at the highest levels of the Communion’s life, no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ. Our overall record as a Communion has not been consistent in this respect and this needs to be acknowledged with penitence.

6. However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.

7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.

8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church’s teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.

9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. …

Indeed. I hope it never will be the situation that the Anglican Communion accepts gay “marriage”. But I agree that “no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people”.

Archbishop Rowan clearly distances himself from talk of schism and excommunication, referring instead to

two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated.

But this is strong language from the normally very cautious Archbishop, stating a clear position that if TEC does not fall into line and sign up to the Covenant it will no longer have a place in the inner circles of the Communion.

As Ruth reports,

This leaves a church cleverly described as Anglicans and Anglican’ts by Otsota on Twitter.

Well, if the TEC bishops are the Anglican’ts, for once I am proud to be an Anglican.

PS Can anyone explain these words of the Archbishop?:

14. Sometimes in Christian history, of course, that wider discernment has been very fallible, as with the history of the Chinese missions in the seventeenth century.

4 thoughts on “Anglicans and Anglican'ts

  1. John Richardson has also responded to Archbishop Rowan’s article. He makes a good point about Rowan’s use of the term “the Church Catholic”. I think he is right to be concerned about the implications of this, of what might be considered creeping assumptions that Anglicanism is basically Roman Catholicism without the Pope. I see the same behind the Archbishops’ statement on communion and swine flu, which seems to presuppose a generally Catholic rather than Protestant view of the communion.

  2. So, I don’t know how Anglican uses of the term ‘catholic’ compare to its use by other Protestants, nor do I know exactly what the usual significance of the word order and capitalization in his phrase ‘Church Catholic’ is supposed to be, but when I read his statement I interpreted it as simply saying that the Anglican Communion is only one part of the universal Church. It seemed to me that he was suggesting that this should color Anglicans’ theology and practice in two ways: (1) they ought to be careful not to part ways from the doctrine and practice of the ‘Church Catholic’, i.e. from the ecumenical tradition of Christianity, but (2) there are some issues on which consensus cannot be expected across the ‘Church Catholic’, although it can be expected within the Anglican Communion. Thus I read his claim that “a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole” as anticipating an objection: perhaps the Church Catholic doesn’t bless same-sex unions, but sometimes disagreement within the Church Catholic is unavoidable. The response is that there cannot be agreement on this point even across the Anglican Communion, and no body within the Anglican Communion can do something this revolutionary all at once and on its own without effectively breaking communion.

    Is there reason to suppose he intended it differently than this?

  3. Kenny, you may be just about right. But Rowan does seem to be putting more weight on the opinion of “the Church Catholic” than some of us evangelicals are happy with. And I think commenters at the Ugley Vicar are right to point out that there is some inconsistency here with the Anglican acceptance of women priests and bishops. I support that acceptance, but for different reasons: in summary, biblical teaching, as properly understood, does not restrict church leadership to men, but does restrict it to those living according to biblical standards of morality.

  4. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 1

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