Sunday, June 11, 2006

Being Anglican

The last few shots across the bow have or are being fired in blogosphere as ECUSA approaches its General Convention; the first since the contentious and controversial GC 2003 which has helped to trigger a major crisis in the Anglican Communion. Along with, I'm sure, every other Anglican blogger, I wanted to make my own comments before all sorts of things hit the fan.

I should note that I write not as a member of ECUSA or even as particularly knowledgeable about internal ECUSA politics, short of knowing about the issues and some of the personalities involved. Yet, I am an interested observer because my own province, the Anglican Church of Canada is about a year away from its own General Synod which likely is going to be contentious as well and for much the same reasons. The situation up here in Canada (excepting, of course, New Westminster) has been calmer and less divisive. I think the reason for that is that there is a perception that the no irrevocable decision has been undertaken. The furthest General Synod did, after agreeing to study the problem for a few more years, was to affirm the integrity and sanctity of same-sex unions. That was far enough, thank you very much, but it did stop short of open defiance of Lambeth 98 etc, etc.

Yet, what is fascinating about this last series of articles is how much liberal articles have been drawing a line in the sand and claiming that what is at issue is our very identity as Anglicans. Now, this argument plays out in various ways, but the dominant way has been to argue that the changes to the Communion suggested by Windsor Report and by the recent Covenant proposal will change our Anglican identity. I understand the argument and I concede that these commentators are right. Constitutionally, these documents are asking for substantial change. Yet, I must confess to finding these constitutional arguments a bit tedious because, at the end of the day, I don't think they are central to our identity as Anglicans at all.

So, what, if not constitutions, is the core of our communal identity? I think we can start approaching by recognizing that Anglican is really not a noun, but actually an adjective. When we are using the word Anglican, we are really talking about the Anglican (Communion), the Anglican (Church) and Anglican (Christians). Being Anglican is not the central part of our identity. At least, it shouldn't be. We are a church who worships using a rite derived from the Church of England as it emerged out of the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries. We are Christians who worship and theologize out of this tradition which we believe is linked to the apostolic traditions in an unbroken line (yes, Roman Catholics beg to differ, but this is our claim, not theirs).

So, what does that mean? It means that the last court of approval is not the constitutions of our individual churches, or even any Covenant which might emerge out of the Windsor Report process. The last court of appeal is how we've learned to be the Church, first from Scripture and from a long history of being the Church (the good, the bad and the ugly) in the world. This is one reason why I like the Windsor Report is that it referred the issue of our division to precisely the right area; the ecclesiological instead of the constitutional. It helps, I suppose, that I happen to think the ecclesiology of the Windsor Report is bang on and consistent with what the Bible tells us about how we are to be the Church.

I'm not saying that constitutions and covenants are unimportant. I am saying that they are only secondary to ecclesiological considerations because they flow from them. Now, I'm sure that some readers may think I'm quibbling here, but I do think the distinction is important because it settles down to how do we work out this argument. As you might expect, I don't think it helpful to merely play dueling constitutions or to argue that each individual province is functionally independent and can proceed on its way regardless of what other provinces think. I'm very unclear how we could say that is a body of anything, much less of Christ.

We are bound by ties of affection and support, as the New Testament makes clear, which means we have responsibilities to each other to maintain the communication lines and to do nothing that will cause the others to stumble. We have forgotten that and the place to remind us are Paul's Letters or Jesus commission of the disciples in the Gospels. Scripture is our foundation, and, then, only secondarily, constitutions, prayer books and the like. So, Scripture is precisely where we all, liberals and conservatives, need to start from. We are, ultimately, Christians before we are Anglicans, so we need to go back to the basic level to work out how this Anglican Communion is supposed to work.

I will continue to pray for ECUSA as it enters General Convention that wisdom and the Spirit will prevail in its deliberations. Amen.

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