Sunday, July 16, 2006

Settling Dust

I've been holding off for several weeks from writing any comments about the events in Anglican World during and since General Convention. I've held off because, as I noted in an earlier post, there was really too much dust in the air from the various combatants going at each other to figure out just what has happened and what it all is going to mean. I'm not entirely sure that the dust has lifted (certainly not in Anglican blogosphere, where the sandstorm doesn't look like it is going to abate before the Second Coming), but I can now see a few metres ahead of me, so I thought it useful to think about what I've managed to see.

First, ECUSA (is it still ECUSA???? Or is it officially TEC??) has elected the first female primate, Rt. Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schorri. I admit that I had to smile at Archbishop Williams' reaction which was, in effect, 'oh, my aching head' because he knew what was coming. That, in itself, wasn't any reason not to go ahead with a female primate. In the last elections for a primate in Canada, the leading candidate (Bishop Victoria Matthews) was a woman, but she had to drop out because of health reasons. Yet, I do think there are reasons to worry about this new Presiding Bishop. It isn't that she's a woman or even that she made the now infamous 'Jesus, Mother of God' comment (strictly speaking, that image has been in the mediaeval mystic tradition, although Bishop Schorri had to have known that it was going to annoy the conservatives). It is, rather her lack of commitment to the Windsor process which worries me. The fact that she continues to argue the effective separation of ECUSA from the Communion because of its polity and the fact that she permitted two same-sex marriages in her diocese (yes, I know. Only two. But, remember that Windsor didn't ask for a reduction in the number of these blessings, but rather a moratorium). On the positive side, she seems not to have pushed orthodox parishes very hard and she hasn't closed the door to discussions. We'll have to see how she grows in the job, but the opening signs aren't encouraging.

Second, ECUSA had real difficulties with figuring out to what degree it could be compliant with the Windsor Report, so, as a result, they managed not much. Let me say that I appreciate what was done, but, really, ECUSA still isn't in line with the Windsor Report's recommendations. Nor does it look like it is interested in doing so. This has serious implications for the future of the Anglican Communion and for the orthodox who remain in ECUSA.

Third, the implosion of ECUSA, which has been clear since General Convention 2003, seems to have picked up pace. The biggest reason is that the much vaunted Anglican Middle simply failed to make its presence felt. The result wasn't a one-sided convention, but rather gridlock. The fact that any answer to Windsor was formulated strikes me something of a miracle, even if that answer was half-hearted. Indeed, that answer was, in some parts of it, only achieved through procedural manouvers, not by consensus. On this issue, at least, ECUSA is so deeply disfunctional that it is hard to feel optimistic about the future. As Fleming Rutledge pointed out on a recent post on her blog, how can one expect reconciliation when one side so dominates the scene and ignores/mocks the opposition. How indeed.

Fourth, the result of General Convention has led Archbishop Williams to issue his strongest statement about the current situation regarding ECUSA and the rest of the Communion. I applaud his irenicism and his firmness in noting that ECUSA hasn't really satisfied the Windsor process and his defence of the conservative minority of ECUSA (that, they are inspired by legitimate concerns, not irrational fear). What hope I have for the Communion is the efforts to get a Covenant process started will succeed because, if nothing else, we'll have some idea of what is and is not acceptable degrees of autonomy in provinces. I know this is hardly music to liberals' ears, but, frankly, as a Communion, we need to decide what we stand for and why we are staying together. Historic ties to the Church of England the archdiocese of Canterbury are simply too flimsy ground to base a Communion. If we don't make this definition, we'll just relive these battles on new issues which just would be tedious and distract us even further from our real mission: preaching and incarnating the Gospel

Fifth (and last), we have also been watching the positioning of Nigeria as the leader of conservative separatist elements inside the Communion. This started before General Convention 2006, but has accelerated since. I do not, however, share the almost hysterical attitude to Archbishop Akinola, who has become, in the eyes of many liberals, the epitome of the power-hungry cleric, exploiting the present crisis to create a ecclesiastical fiefdom of his own. Yet, I'm also not a fan either. His ordination of a Nigerian bishop in America is less than helpful and is in breach of the Windsor process. I deplore that, even if concede that the motive of protecting a marginalized conservative Episcopal wing helps explain it and, possibly, to mitigate the offense. Set next to the gaping wounds created by ECUSA and Anglican Church of Canada, this is a lesser wound, but it is bad enough. Triage procedures dictates that we should deal with the more serious wounds first, but it doesn't mean that we can forget these either.

This is where my thinking has brought me so far. I haven't lost hope that, as a Communion, we'll navigate through this mess mostly intact, but it is going to take us a long time to do it. Meanwhile, I'll just go back to staring through the sandstorm to figure out what precisely is going on out there. I'm not sure that dust is settling any time soon.


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