Revisiting the Anglican Communion map

05/12/2007 23:18

The Fulcrum Newsletter I wrote and noted on the blog last week - entitled "The Anglican Communion: Mapping the Terrain" - led to a fascinating level of response, much of it critical.

As a result I’ve written two further pieces trying to engage with some of the issues raised. As they are rather too lengthy to put on the blog (though if there is demand then I can) I have posted them up online as PDFs.

The first is a general response on the challenges of mapping. This asks

  1. Is mapping – particularly of this level of complexity - a helpful exercise - particularly at the present moment?
  2. Is the map accurate and helpful?
  3. Where am I/are we on the map?
  4. What do we do with it?

The second has a focus on the main area of controversy in the mapping - the validity and usefulness of suggesting it is helpful to distinguish two approaches among conservatives on sexuality which I then labelled "rejectionist" and "reasserter".

This looks at

  1. Is it accurate and helpful to distinguish two positions on sexuality among conservatives?
  2. Are the names I gave accurate and helpful?
  3. Was the quotation I used an unfair slur on the "rejectionist" group?
  4. Are the distinguishing features I offered accurate and helpful?
  5. Does the distinction help understand the current tensions within the Communion?

I look forward (I think) to any further responses and ongoing discussion either here or on other blogs.


T.F. Torrance (1913-2007)

03/12/2007 07:37

Awoke this morning to find an email with the sad news that Professor T.F. Torrance died yesterday, Sunday, 2nd December 2007.

The first of doubtless many tributes to this theological giant is by George Hunsinger.

For those unaware of the greatness and significance of the man and his life and thought there is the T.F. Torrance Theological Fellowship and the works of Alister McGrath and Elmer Colyer

T.F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography

How to Read T.F. Torrance: Understanding His Trinitarian & Scientific Theology

If you want to hear him lecture (back in the early 1980s) there is a set of MP3s online

Many will join in giving thanks to God for him and praying for his family - many of them of course distinguished theologians - that at this time of their loss they will know Advent hope and the joy of the resurrection.


Mapping the Anglican Communion

30/11/2007 23:19

Fulcrum have just published a piece I’ve written on the current state of play in the Anglican Communion as their November newsletter (also available as PDF)

In summary, I develop my earlier ’four quadrant’ view of different stances and suggest that the spectrum of views on homosexuality can be divided into 4 broad approaches (rejectionist, reasserter, reassessor and reinterpreter) and different views on what it means to be a Communion into three (Windsor’s vision of ’communion catholicism’ and two alternatives of connectional confessionalism and autonomous inclusivism).

I then suggest how these might inter-relate, particularly focussing on Windsor’s response to sexuality in terms of listening and dialogue, constraints on action and good order.

After sketching four powerful agents in the current tensions (the Instruments, the provinces, coalitions of provinces and international networks) I try to show how this analysis helps explain some of the challenges at the current stage of the Windsor process by looking at 3 different levels of challenge to the conclusions offered by the Joint Standing Committee after TEC’s bishops met at New Orleans.


Some interesting articles relating to war

30/11/2007 23:09

Just discovered some interesting articles from recent journals - relating to war, law and terrorism - that are good online resources and you don’t need to subscribe to the journal to read them in full -

From the Journal of Political Philosophy -

Is Terrorism Morally Distinctive? by Samuel Scheffler, Mar 2006

On Following Orders in an Unjust War by David Estlund (with links to most of his other writing), June 2007

From Journal of Supreme Court History

Civil Liberties in War Time by Geoffrey R. Stone (Nov 2003) who argues

I have a simple thesis: In time of war—or, more precisely, in time of national crisis—we respond too harshly in our restriction of civil liberties, and then later regret our behavior. To explore this thesis, I will briefly review our experience in 1798, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War and the Vietnam War. I will then offer some observations.


Inclusive Church - Drenched in Grace

23/11/2007 23:05

Inclusive Church have had their first conference ("Drenched in Grace") this week. Thankfully those unable to attend can share in some of what happened as addresses are being posted - both audio and in some cases texts - online at the IC blog. Thanks to those making these available more widely.


ETS & Evangelicals misunderstanding sola scriptura?

20/11/2007 23:33

The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) is not particularly well-known to most UK evangelicals. It describes itself as "a professional society of Biblical scholars, teachers, pastors and others involved in evangelical scholarship in order to serve Christ and His Church" which was founded in 1949 and "devoted to the inerrancy and inspiration of the Scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ". Its doctrinal basis is short and focussed - "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory."

The Society apparently has over 4,000 members, publishes a quarterly journal, the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) - recent back copies are accesible online - and has an annual conference which is taking place at present.

ETS has been in the news in recent years due to attempts by certain conservative evangelicals to remove leading theologians such as Clark Pinnock who are seen as too progressive/liberal and because its President, Frank Beckwith, resigned last May on becoming a Roman Catholic.

Christianity Today’s blog reports what is apparently one of the most controversial papers at this year’s conference which was given by evangelical philosopher J.P. Moreland. He has responded to this report (and some of the comments on it) on his own blog where - contrary to the end of the CT report - he has also posted his paper which is entitled How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What can be Done about It

The reason it is controversial is clear from the opening paragraph:

In the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ. And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.

While some evangelicals will find the idea of ’an over-commitment to Scripture’ as odd, in fact the argument of the paper will I think strike most English, certainly most Anglican, evangelicals as obvious (even if those of more Barthian sympathies may be cautious about his strong advocacy of natural theology and natural law). Its apparently contentious nature in a conference of evangelical scholars and church leaders appears from here as another sign of the difference in culture between UK and American evangelicalism (also evident in the ETS focus on ’inerrancy’, a term which has thankfully never become a shibboleth or gained a strong following in British evangelicalism). Having said that, there is perhaps the danger that in certain British conservative evangelical circles the error Moreland critiques is making an appearance. Two of the examples he cites - hostility to charismatic claims and an apparent belief that all that is really necessary for pastoral training, counselling etc is found in the Bible - do apparently have a following and can gain credibility as to their orthodoxy through appealing, however misleadingly, to the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura.

Moreland’s basic argument, however, appears to me to be similar to that which I learned a couple of decades ago as an undergraduate from a book by the evangelical philosopher, Arthur Holmes - All truth is God’s truth. It follows from this conviction that evangelicals need not be frightened of engaging with other academic disciplines, even if the fruits of these disciplines sometimes challenge traditional evangelical interpretations of Scripture. There are, obviously, critiques to be made at times of idolatrous and ideological approaches in academic study but it is also sometimes through learning from those other disciplines that we are enabled to recognise our evangelical blind-spots and discover afresh that God has yet more light to shine from his Word.


Rowan Williams, Decision-making and Bonhoeffer

18/11/2007 17:27

A comment piece by Andrew Brown on the travails of the Anglican Communion and Rowan Williams in particular refers to his address to the last Lambeth Conference (although I think a better analysis of the Archbishop’s position which also cites this paper is, I think, that of Marshall Montgomery on his blog back in August last year).

It is a piece worth reading in full and, thankfully, is online at the ACO site as part of the background papers to the Lambeth Commission -

Address at Lambeth Plenary on making moral decisions - July 22, 1998 - Prof. Rowan Williams Bishop of Monmouth, Wales

The report at the time stated

In an address that prompted rousing applause and a standing ovation from participants, Bishop Rowan Williams (Monmouth, Wales) offered a concluding focus on how the Church could make moral decisions. He reminded his colleagues that making decisions is not as simple as “being faced with a series of clear alternatives, as if we were standing in front of the supermarket shelf". Decisions, instead, are “coloured” by the sort of decision-maker. “The choice is not made by a will operating in the abstract, but by someone who is used to thinking and imagining in a certain way.” He referred to the writing of Welsh philosopher Rush Rhees and British Catholic theologian and moralist Herbert McCabe and summarised their points by stating “[it is] not that ethics is a matter of the individual’s likes or dislikes...On the contrary, it is a difficult discovering of something about yourself, a discovering of what has already shaped the person you are and is moulding you in this or that direction.”

The address is also available on the site of the Anglican Theological Review in which it appeared in Spring 1999 along with an interesting piece by my ACI colleague, Philip Turner, entitled "The "communion" of Anglicans after Lambeth ’98: A comment on the nature of communion and the state of the Church"

A version of it also appears in Robin Gill’s Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics from which I’ve used parts of it in teaching ethics to ordinands.

The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics (Cambridge Companions to Religion)

The Archbishop returned to some of these themes from Bonhoeffer in his Speech at the Opening of the International Bonhoeffer Conference in February 2006 and a sermon in his honour at the same time. In the former he said

‘Is church union and fellowship in the Word and Sacrament created by the Holy Spirit, or is it the union of all well-disposed, honourable, pious Christians whether their observances be German Christian, that of the church committees or that of the Confessing Church? Is church union founded only on the truth of the Gospel or on a love uncontrolled by the question of truth?’ (The Way to Freedom, 112) This is how Bonhoeffer phrases the challenge in 1936, in a paper in which he argues that the whole idea of ‘confession’, taking a stand for truth at the cost of visible unity, needs to be revisited by the Protestant churches in the context of a new threat to Christian integrity. The notion of a status confessionis in the Reformation era is precisely about letting the Church be judged by Scripture, about the Church’s radical readiness for self-criticism; thus the historic confessions cannot just be turned into timeless deposits of truth independent of the Scriptures to which they point. And the Scriptures in a new situation may demand of us a new determination of the Church’s limits. The principle of confession both requires us to recognise that there may be occasions when visible unity matters less than fidelity - and that the point at which this becomes a question will not necessarily be the same from age to age.

It is an uncomfortable message for anyone committed to ecumenism. Just as culture and piety are put into perspective by the immediacy of a threat to the very integrity of the gospel, so is church unity. Yet it is a very difficult discernment that is called for here. It is not that division in the Church is imperative for the sake of some abstract truth; Bonhoeffer is cautious about whether the Reformation disputes over the Eucharist are now quite what the churches should be giving priority to. The issue is whether the gospel of God’s action - and the reality of God’s action - can be manifest and effective. As with the questions about culture and piety, this challenge too requires us to think very carefully about what might constitute a ‘pseudo-church’ - not just a church that teaches erroneous doctrine but one that in its actions and words denies the grace of God.

So that, as with our earlier categories, we have to recognise a question that unsettles both the liberal and the conservative, and which should prompt all engaged in interchurch dialogue to reflect on what it is that might make a pseudo-church. And to answer that, we need not a more exact calibration of the purity of other Christian groups but first a freedom for self-criticism in the presence of Scripture and secondly a keen eye for what is challenging the Church in the contemporary world and what menaces its integrity in this particular environment.

At Lambeth in 1988 he continued with words even more pertinent to where TEC and the Communion now stand

When I reluctantly continue to share the Church’s communion with someone whose moral judgement I deeply disagree with, I do so in the knowledge that for both of us part of the cost is that we have to sacrifice a straightforward confidence in our ’purity’. Being in the Body means that we are touched by one another’s commitments and thus by one another’s failures. If another Christian comes to a different conclusion and decides in different ways from myself, and if I can still recognise their discipline and practice as sufficiently like mine to sustain a conversation, this leaves my own decisions to some extent under question I cannot have absolute subjective certainty that this is the only imaginable reading of the tradition; I need to keep my reflections under critical review. This, I must emphasise again, is not a form of relativism; it is a recognition of the element of putting oneself at risk that is involved in any serious decision making or any serious exercise of discernment (as any pastor or confessor will know). But this is only part of the implication of recognising the differences and risks of decision-making in the Body of Christ. If I conclude that my Christian brother or sister is deeply and damagingly mistaken in their decision, I accept for myself the brokenness in the Body that this entails. These are my wounds; just as the one who disagrees with me is wounded by what they consider my failure or even betrayal. So long as we still have a language in common and the ’grammar of obedience’ in common, we have, I believe, to turn away from the temptation to seek the purity and assurance of a community speaking with only one voice and to embrace the reality of living in a communion that is fallible and divided. The communion’s need for health and mercy is inseparable from my own need for health and mercy. To remain in communion is to remain in solidarity with those who I believe are wounded as well as wounding the Church, in the trust that in the Body of Christ the confronting of wounds is part of opening ourselves to healing.

The implications of this are spelled out in words that doubtless are shaping his response to the current crisis and the issue of Lambeth invitations:

Unity at all costs is indeed not a Christian goal; our unity is Christ-shaped, or it is empty. Yet our first call, so long as we can think of ourselves as still speaking the same language, is to stay in engagement with those who decide differently. This, I have suggested, means living with the awareness that the Church, and I as part of it, share not only in grace but in failure; and thus staying alongside those on the other side, in the hope that we may still be exchanging gifts - the gift of Christ - in some ways, for one another’s healing.

The seriousness of the current situation, however, is clear from one of his other appeals to a common language or ’grammar of obedience’ - his contribution in 2005 to the General Synod debate on Windsor when, in reflections on unity and truth, he said

We all know that there are some moments when the church, or parts of the church, take risks. They speak for a church that which doesn’t yet exist, so they believe, out of a conscience informed by scripture and revelation. At the Reformation, our church and many others took that kind of risk. and we have to be candid, in our decision to ordain women to the priesthood we engage in something of that sort of risk. The trouble is, that risk really is risk. You don’t and you can’t know yet whether it’s justified. The church is capable of error and any local church is capable of error, as the Thirty-Nine Articles remind us forcibly. So if one portion of the church decides that it must take a conscientious risk, then there are inevitable results to that. There are consequences in hurt, misunderstanding, rupture and damage. It does us no good to pretend that the cost is not real. So I don’t think it will quite do say, if anyone does really say this, that a risky act ought to have or can have no consequences.

Of course it does and we are dealing with those consequences now. There is when such a risky act is taken that there is or there will be the church’s act or decision. We don’t know, and meanwhile the effects are serious and they are hurtful. And part of the cost involved in the repercussions of recent events is, I think, that it has weakened if not destroyed the sense that we are actually talking the same language within the Anglican Communion. Rightly or wrongly, and there will be very different views in this chamber on this subject, that has been what has happened. People are no longer confident that we are speaking the same language, appealing to the same criteria in out theological debates. And the deep lost-ness and confusion that arises from that and the anger that arises from that is something that does not in any sense help the long- term health of the body or our search for truth together in the Body.

That these connections between unity, Bonhoeffer and Lambeth 2008 are real is clear from his March 2006 interview with the Guardian which included the following exchange -

The guest list for the 2008 Lambeth Conference presents Williams with a very great headache. It is surely inconceivable that he would ban Bishop Gene Robinson (the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire) from attending while extending the warm hand of welcome to Messrs Akinola and Malango. At what point does Williams bump up against the irreducible core of his socially liberal values and decide there is something more valuable than unity?

He reaches for a rather startling historical parallel. "It’s a dangerous comparison, because it sort of ups the stakes a bit, but I’m very struck by what (the German theologian) Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in the middle 30s about the division of the Church over the Aryan laws in Nazi Germany."

The reference is to the split in the German Church when the Confessing Church - a breakaway group of German Lutheran (Evangelical) Christians - split from the state Lutheran Church’s support of Hitler. The leaders were persecuted - Bonhoeffer was hanged - and in 1939 the movement was suppressed until the end of the war.

"Bonhoeffer says both that it’s extremely important not to try and work out in advance every circumstance in which it would be necessary for the church to break, and that it’s important to have the freedom and the clarity to know when the moment comes, and there just isn’t a formula for that, I think he’s saying.

"He felt in 1935 the moment had come, that he was faced with a context in which he just couldn’t see a common Christianity between himself and the German Christians who accepted the racial laws. He just couldn’t see what it meant for them to think they were a church at all. That’s pretty drastic, but he says you’ve got to have the ability to say that at some point ... I wrestle with that text constantly, I must say."

Williams recently took part in services to mark Bonhoeffer’s centenary in Germany and Poland and says these texts "were sort of pounding in my head". So there might come a moment when he decided the Anglican communion could no longer be held together? "There might come a moment where you say, ’We can’t continue, we can’t continue with this.’ I don’t know when or if."

It is a signal of the difficulty of reading Williams, that there is confusion about how the analogy plays out in his mind - ie, which side in the present near-schism mirrors the Confessing Church of Bonhoeffer? Liberals might assume that Williams would finally break with the Africans and conservative evangelicals. But close Rowan-watchers believe the reverse is true.

They point to a meeting at Lambeth in September 2003 between Williams and six American conservatives who were planning to split their church - plans now rather further advanced. In the course of this, Williams suggested that they call themselves "The Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes". One of the American delegation later claimed that Williams had not only suggested the name, but linked it explicitly to Bonhoeffer’s struggle.

If this interpretation is right, it suggests that Williams may be mentally preparing for the possibility of siding with the African churches and the conservative evangelicals rather than the liberals within the Anglican Communion. In any event, the time left for contemplation and constructive ambiguity may be short.

The Archbishop has had another 18 months since then for ’contemplation and constructive ambiguity’. There can be little doubt that there has been much of the former and that Bonhoeffer is one of the saints who will have guided his thinking and praying. The time now is very short and whatever is done will have to be constructive rather than marked by ambiguity. We can, however, probably be clear that whatever is said by the Archbishop in the next few weeks about Lambeth 2008 as we enter Advent it will not seek to be a final word which brings the tensions and the need for ongoing dialogue and listening to an end. As Humphrey Southern concludes in his interesting study of the Archbishop’s theology from back in 2003 - The Impossibility of the Last Word: The Theology of Rowan Williams -

"Oppression", wrote Archbishop Rowan in the essay entitled ‘Remorse’ in his book Lost Icons, "is a situation where people don’t talk to each other; where people don’t find each other difficult". We are certainly at a point in the history of our Communion when some of us are finding each other "difficult" (to say the least of it!) and it may be that some will feel that the only way out of the difficulty will be by closing down the conversation. I do not believe that Rowan Williams will be happy to see that "last word" moment arrive and I, for one, will be one of those praying earnestly that it does not.


Global Warming

18/11/2007 14:51

As reported by the BBC and others, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, has emphasised the need for government action on global warming in the light of latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).Their fourth report (with helpful 23 page PDF summary for policymakers and various resources for press and others) is the ’synthesis report’ following earlier reports on the physical science basis (Feb 2007), impacts, adaptation and vulnerability (April 2007) and the mitigation of climate change (May 2007).

This is, thankfully, an area which is beginning to lead to action by Christians including serious theological analysis. Although I’ve yet to read them, there are two interesting looking volumes just published here in the UK -

Nick Spencer (who works for the important new think tank Theos) and Robert White have published Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living

Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living

Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics at Edinburgh University has written the more heavyweight A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming (reviewed by Jo Rathbone of Eco-congregation at Ekklesia)

Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming

Michael Northcott’s work on the subject can be sampled online in

The Climate Narratives of Noah and Joseph

"As the Garden Withers, the Desert Grows"

To hear Nick Spencer and Bob Wright speak more about the subject you can watch these You Tube videos by the Jubilee Centre on

The Reality and Consequences of Global Warming (Professor Bob Wright)

Responding to Global Warming (Nick Spencer)

Why Christians Should Care for the Environment (Prof Bob Wright)

Sustainable Living (Nick Spencer)

Bob Wright also has the accessible Cambridge Paper - "A Burning Issues: Christian Care for the Environment" - while Christian Ecology Link has the helpful little leaflet - Climate Change: What Can Christians Do?


Petitions on human-non human hybrids

17/11/2007 22:44

I have just got an email originating from a leading Christian bioethicist relating to petitions responding to the new proposed legislation that would permit scientists to create ‘true hybrids’ ie embryos that would have a human parent and a nonhuman parent.

Although these embryos - like human embryos - would have to be destroyed at 14 days I really find it hard to understand what kind of creatures we would have made and how the law and ethics should think of something that is, say, a half human half pig embryo

As the author of the email says:

I believe that we are in danger of following Dr Moreau in the novel by HG Wells, who says of his animal-human creations, ‘I went on with this research just the way it led me… I have never troubled about the ethics of the matter.’

The petitions can be signed at

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent medical researchers from creating human animal hybrid embryos"


"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ban experiments involving the creation of hybrid human/animal embryos"


TEC's Divisions

17/11/2007 21:24

Over the last few weeks there have been major developments within TEC as it becomes clear that now dioceses and not just parishes are feeling unable to continue in their existing relationship with the national church.

We have seen a decision by the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the context of a strongly-worded letter from the Presiding Bishop and a short but illuminating reply from Bishop Bob Duncan (and a response from Bishop John Howe).

A similar exchange has now taken place between the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Jack Iker of Forth Worth (a diocese, unlike Pittsburgh, that is also strongly opposed to women’s ordination and whose convention meets this week-end).

Then, the wider Communion context of these moves has become clear with the decision of the province of the Southern Cone (Dave Walker has his humorous take on the province) to welcome into their provincial structures those bishops and dioceses that depart from TEC. The key part of the motion reads

WE the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America meeting in Valpariso, Chile, in November 2007 welcome into the membership of our province on an emergency and pastoral basis those dioceses of the Episcopal Church taking appropriate action to separate from that Church. We do this in order that such dioceses may continue in the mainstream of the Anglican Communion and be faithful to its Biblical and historic teaching and witness; and we pray for God’s grace and help to resolve the painful, critical situation in our beloved Anglican Communion.

They have already embraced Bishop Don Harvey, a retired Canadian bishop and leader of the Anglican Network in Canada where the situation looks like it will worsen rapidly given today’s decision by the Diocese of Niagara to bless same-sex marriages (following similar decisions in the dioceses of Ottawa and Montreal).

The next and most significant conflict is the Diocese of San Joaquin. Unlike Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, its diocesan convention has already taken the first step to free itself from the structures of TEC and so its forthcoming convention next month could make it the first diocese to achieve the necessary agreement of two consecutive synods. If it were to accept Southern Cone’s invitation this would, among other things, raise the question as to whether its Bishop, John-David Schofield, would have his invitation to Lambeth withdrawn and whether the Archbishop of Canterbury would recognise any TEC replacement bishop for the diocese. A sense of the situation in the diocese is gained by the important pastoral letter to be read in all churches of the diocese tomorrow and the following Sunday.

It is also becoming clear from the law-suits in the Dicoese of Virginia (relating to parishes that voted to join CANA, the Nigerian missionary convocation under Bishop Martyn Minns) that the Presiding Bishop is determined to take a strong line of resistance to parishes leaving for other provinces (blog reports from BabyBlue). What is particularly interesting is that she prevented the diocese reaching an amicable agreement with the parishes in relation to their buildings and the crucial problem for her was apparently that they would be used by another part of the Communion. If they had gone to another denomination or even to a secular organisation it appears there would not have been such a problem. A similar emphasis was clear in the conditions laid down as part of the proposed Episcopal Visitors scheme - parishes seeking it and bishops involved in it must reject all attempts of churches to move into another province (such as was done, with the bishop’s agreement, by Christ Church, Plano which, under David Roseberry, moved from TEC to AmiA under Rwanda).

It appears that the powers-that-be in TEC are determined to prevent any existing parish or diocese claiming to be part of the Anglican Communion unless it remains within TEC. The theological and ecclesiological argument that is being put forward is that of the tradition of only one episcopal jurisdiction within a territory. This is clearly incredible - it only makes sense when there is a commitment to shared common counsel and shared understanding of the faith and the point is that for those parishes and dioceses and for the provinces taking them into their polity this no longer exists with the structures of TEC. Furthermore, the willingness to allow other denominations to take over property does not fit with this understanding.

In trying to understand the real rationale behind this I was reminded of part of the biography of Gene Robinson (Going to Heaven) which I read recently. At one point (p209), his predecessor as Bishop of New Hampshire - Bishop Doug Theuner - is reported recalling part of his early training as a bishop

He told an amusing story from his early days as a bishop, when a group of bishops were invited to spend time with the American Management Association in New York over a period of several months. The AMA had never worked with a group of religious leaders before, and the man in charge finally told them, "We’ve tried to tailor a program specifically for you, and we’ve tried to match it up with our normal experience in the business world, and we’ve determined that the category you come closest to, in terms of what we’ve done before, is "regional managers of a small corporation"

This business and management model gives, I think, the best explanation of what is going on. In the American religious market place, TEC’s niche has been that in being Anglican/Episcopalian it offers a mix of historic church tradition (liturgy, bishops, vestments, historic buildings etc) and wider international bonds through the Communion. That, particularly in recent decades, has been combined with a particular "inclusive" stance on key social and ethical issues. In offering this profile it is only now "a small corporation" but one of its claims is that it is - in this understanding - also the sole recognised national branch of a genuine and large multi-national. Its "market share" and "franchise" will, therefore, be greatly threatened if parishes (and now dioceses) escape the legal and constitutional structures of TEC and are able to continue to offer the Anglican combination of historic church tradition (not just in terms of ecclesiological order but also catholic faith and morals) and being part of an international communion within the church catholic. That is why the central offices of the "small corporation" at "815" are doing all they can to prevent their "regional managers" either departing (as in Pittsburgh etc) or allowing their parishes to depart amicably with their property (as in Virginia etc).

I’ve just started reading Miranda Hassett’s recently published study, Anglican Communion in Crisis, which seems to be arguing that it was precisely such a recognition of the importance of the wider Communion that marked the major shift in the strategies of conservative Episcopalians since the late 1990s and (although I remain to be convinced by some of her analysis - may blog when I’ve finished) it appears that the success of this alongside TEC’s fractured relationships with so much of the Communion has left TEC’s structures with no option but to seek to maintain its "monopoly" by using all its internal legal and other provincial powers against those who, out of commitment to the Communion’s teaching on sexuality, distance themselves from TEC.

Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism

This perspective also explains the extraordinary shift in the wording of forms from TEC’s lawyers in relation to pensions where, as Richard Kew, has pointed out

no longer does the bishop put his signature to the document saying that this new ministry constitutes "an extension of his or her ministry under my ecclesiastical authority." Now it continues, "advance the mission, and do not violate the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church."

This whole mind-set is of course simply further evidence of what many saw expressed in the actions of GC 2003 and the decision of the Presiding Bishop to proceed with the consecration of Gene Robinson after signing the Primates’ Statement at Lambeth in 2003 - the schismatic tearing of the fabric of the Communion to make TEC into an American denomination among the many thousands of others. There is no recognition that TEC’s identity comes from it being part of the universal church and that historic Anglicanism recognises the presence of that church not simply in provincial structures that enforce their own constitution and canons and have historic ties with other provinces but in and through dioceses headed by bishops who profess and defend the catholic faith and seek to be in communion with all those who do likewise. Archbishop Rowan Williams’ important recent letter to Bishop John Howe (a Windsor bishop faced with parishes in his diocese seeking to break away from him not because of his actions but because of the actions of the province) emphasised the importance of the diocese and diocesan bishop in Anglican ecclesiology

I would repeat what I’ve said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing - which is why I continue to hope and pray for the strengthening of the bonds of mutual support among those Episcopal Church Bishops who want to be clearly loyal to Windsor. Action that fragments their Dioceses will not help the consolidation of that all-important critical mass of ordinary faithful Anglicans in The Episcopal Church for whose nurture I am so much concerned.

Breaking this up in favour of taking refuge in foreign jurisdictions complicates and embitters the future for this vision.

While the concerns about ’taking refuge in foreign jurisdictions’ also has some force when applied to dioceses, the ecclesiology here makes clear that ultimately ’the provincial structure’ is not primary but the diocese and so presumably dioceses are free - if in conscience they believe they must - to detach themselves from one legal provincial structure in order to affiliate to another.

The tragedy is that TEC’s refusal to respond adequately to The Windsor Report and its rejection of the Pastoral Scheme proposed by all the Primates at Dar means that we are now entering what Archbishop Rowan Williams described (in August 2006, before Dar) as his nightmare scenario:

What will happen to the six or more dioceses in America that have asked for alternative primatial oversight? I don’t know yet. We are working intensively on what this might mean. I don’t want to make up church law on the back of an envelope, because in fact it’s a very complicated situation.

It would constitute a split in the American church. Indeed, and quite a serious one. And I have great concern for the vast majority of Episcopal Christians in the US who don’t wish to move away from the Communion at all, but who don’t particularly want to join a separatist part of their Church either. I want to give them time to find what the best way is.

But these dioceses and the group around them won’t hold out in ECUSA for too long. No, and it is perhaps a rather larger group than some have presented it as being. I know too that if Canterbury doesn’t help, there will be other provinces that are very ready to help. And I don’t especially want to see the Anglican Church becoming like the Orthodox Church, where in some American cities you see the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church. I don’t want to see in the cities of America the American Anglican Church, the Nigerian Anglican Church, the Egyptian Anglican Church and the English Anglican Church in the same street.

It would have reverberations in the Church of England too. Clergy and congregations would have to decide where there loyalties lie. Indeed, and my nightmare is that action is now going forward that will tie us all up in law courts in ten years, in disputes about property. That would take so much energy from what we’re meant to be doing.


Items: 11 - 20 of 36

<< 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 >>

Search site

© 2008 All rights reserved. Updated Dec 2008