A (Temporary) Solution for the Anglican Communion

Very long in its full version but very much worth the read…… Fr Gavin

In the recent flare-up of hostilities between the (choose one) conservatives/liberals – reasserters/reappraisers – left/right – traditionalists/(post)modernists

over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s summary removal of ECUSA clergy/scholars from the various ecumenical dialogue groups, I began to despair whether there would be any way possible to bridge the widening gap.

For simplicity’s sake in what follows, I choose to designate the warring factions arbitrarily as “the left” and “the right”. There is no epistemological disparagement or praise intended in these labels; they are simply the shortest ones at hand, and are readily understandable to anyone.

What exactly did the Archbishop do? There are two versions, one coming from the right, and one coming from the left:

The Right says that the Archbishop appointed the people to the various commissions by authority granted when they were established, and so they serve at his pleasure. The power of appointment subtends the power of de-appointment, i.e., of removal. He does not have to give any explanation for his act, but he did, nevertheless: he expressed the very reasonable expectation that those speaking for the Communion be able to represent and articulate what an overwhelming majority of its members believe. (The Episcopal Church [USA] has at best only 2.5% – 3% of the churchgoers in the Anglican Communion — but it wants to speak its version of the Gospel [“those partnered in same-sex relationships are just as holy in Jesus’ sight”] to other faiths as though it were an established doctrine of the Communion. The Archbishop’s removal of ECUSA’s members from the ecumenical commissions reflects nothing other than that, coming from such a minority church, they present exactly the wrong impression of who speaks for the Communion as a whole, in tune with the frequently expressed wishes of its vast majority. [N.B.: I do not for a moment suggest or insinuate that the individuals whom the Archbishop removed actually espouse ECUSA’s view of the Gospel; it is just that they serve in the Episcopal Church, and that is enough. As a member of that same Church, I, too, would not expect to be appointed to a position where I was to appear as speaking for the whole Communion when I belong to a Church that advocates the exact opposite viewpoint, and is haughtily proud of that fact. My national Church shames me, but as I have explained before, my local church still makes me proud to be a member of it.])

The Left is all over the map on this. Some claim that those who were appointed have “tenure” until they choose to resign on their own, and thus the people affected can simply refuse to stand down. Others claim that the power of appointment / removal is lodged elsewhere in the Instruments of Communion, such as with the Anglican Consultative Council, because it is more “democratic.” Still others assert that only a Pope could fire anyone from an ecclesiastical position, and they reason that since the Archbishop of Canterbury is no Pope, ipso facto he cannot remove anyone. The bottom line for the left, however, is that the Archbishop has acted arbitrarily / unlawfully, because no matter how small their numbers, they are entitled to just as much respect for their support of same-sex relationships as is anyone else in the Communion. They conclude from this event that if such arbitrary actions are what the proposed Covenant would allow to take place, then they want nothing to do with any Covenant.

I believe this is a fair and objective summary of the opposing views on this subject. The bottom line is that the right recognizes the authority of the Archbishop to act, and is thankful that he finally acted. The left, on the other hand, concedes no such authority to the Archbishop, and regards his action as arbitrary and unlawful — and what is worse, discriminatory.

Now this discrepancy in views presents a very interesting analytical problem. Let me don my “right-cap”, and ask the left: “Although you are a small minority in the Anglican Communion, you are asserting the right to have the bishops whom you decide to elect and ordain be recognized as legitimate bishops throughout all the churches of the Communion. (You were predictably “outraged” when the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to allow Bishop Robinson to participate in the 2008 Lambeth Conference.) So if you claim the right arbitrarily to elect as a bishop whomever you want, a bishop whose orders must be recognized throughout the Communion, why are you so put out when others act arbitrarily (in your view) as well? Is this not a double standard on your part? That is to say: the whole Communion must allow you to do whatever you decide is right, but no one else can do what they decide is right, if it goes against what you believe?”

Or stated another way: is the left saying that the Anglican Communion is a fine organization as long as it allows us to decide who may be one of its bishops, or which of us may speak on its behalf, but it becomes a tyranny / arbitrary magisterium when others decide that those whom we declare to be bishops, or see named to ecumenical councils, are not to be recognized as such in the Communion as a whole? Where is the “fairness” in that? It is a case of “Heads we win, tails you lose.”

Let’s face it: the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA wants to claim the sole power to decide who is a bishop in ECUSA, and the House of Bishops has been her willing enabler. At the same time, however, she wants all the other provinces to respect the decisions she makes in that regard. And it is that expectation which gives rise to the problem, because both she and the majority of Episcopal bishops steadfastly refuse to follow their own Canons in confirming and in removing their colleagues.

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