Over this past week, I've been thinking about an article I ran into by Rev. Phillip Turner on the Anglican Communion Institute pages. Entitled ECUSA's Choice, it sets out an argument which I think is an important one. So, I want to spend a little time unpacking the argument a bit. I do encourage my readers to read the full article, but, hopefully, my comments will also be helpful.
The core of Rev. Turner's position is that, while we claim to act as a catholic communion, most of those who want to preserve that claim, 'progressive' or conservative, actually subvert and distort that reality beyond recognition.
'Progressives', while they are right to ask questions about what are and are not 'church-dividing' issues, presumes, in their concept of communion; a theological/ethical pluralism which suggests that "the demands of enculteration require adaptations in one part of the communion that may not be appropriate in other parts..." So, the key words emphasized by 'progressives' are love, service, respect (including dialogue in the face of disagreement) and hospitality. Doctrinal and moral agreement are, thus, not central to the basis and nature of communion. This encourages the autonomy of local churches and, hence, as I would suggest, the claim by ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada's claim that they can legislate on same-sex issues without consulting the rest of the communion.
On the other hand, Turner points out that conservatives identify communion with compliance with the traditional formulations of Anglicanism: THe Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, the Articles of Religion and Canon Law. So the focus is on the creedal, confessional, liturgical and legal content of communion.
Rev. Turner argues that both positions, while they have some justification, are flawed. He notes in respect to the 'progressive' arguments that he can't quite see how one can be in communion within the body of Christ and still be in intractible disagreement about what that common participation atually means or how members of one body can be so autonomous that they are unwilling to concede a discipline designed to ensure unity of witness and purpose in that body.
Traditionalists, Rev. Turner argues, are making a similar, if opposite, mistake in that they dismiss the human instruments of accountability for a particular form of doctrinal position. He notes that the choice between these two positions is a choice between "a committment to God's open future and...dedication to God's sacred past".
The Rev. Turner argues for a different approach. He dismisses the alternative of just hunkering down and waiting for the storm to past as, he suspect, most individual churches and church members are currently doing. He argue that we can't ignore the issue of what communion is because it is central, not only to to our understanding of church, but also to our salvation. As he notes "God is after the redemption of all things and the "unity, communion, and radical holiness" of his people are, as it were, the first fruits of this redemptive plan" As a result, Rev. Turner argues that the view of communion in the Windsor Report, while not without problems, is more sound than either of the above alternatives because Windsor tries to hold the relational aspects of communion (placing the good of the body over the individual parts) and the aspect of upholding a common confession in tension. The separation of either of these elements is damaging to any concept of communion and, certainly, does not agree with the concept of the church that we have been handed down to us.
What I like about this article (to which this summary has not given justice) is that it really is interested in trying to work out what communion means. Rev. Turner points out, rightly I think, that both sides have decided to 'walk apart' from each other and that the pathway to unity is a hard and narrow road. Rev. Turner calls on us to walk it and I pray that we, the Anglican Communion, learn how do that.