I can't say that I'm rushing in where angels fear to tread for the simple reason that I'm hardly rushing in (I think the angels, if they have any sense, still fear to tread where I'm going). The Kigali Communique has been issued for over a week now and I've been spending part of this week twisting my head around it, both in the light of the ecclesial position that the Anglican Communion and in the light of my own hopes and fears about the future of that Communion. The following are some observations.
First, most obviously, there has been plenty of heat and very little light in the response in Anglican blogosphere. Very simple, conservatives are dancing in the virtual streets. Liberals are in a rage at the perceived impertinence of the communique. There are plenty of charges of skullduggery, dishonesty and conspiracy which have been answered by the theological equivalent of 'so's your mother!'. Even the Chapman memo from Jan. 2002 has experienced a glorious (sic!) resurrection as evidence of this conservative plot which has come to fruition at Kigali.
Now, it sounds like I'm dismissive of this whole debate. I'm not. Yet, we have to always keep in mind that both sides are feeling hurt and angry, so sometimes fall into mere polemics, instead of meaningful analysis and discussion. This is natural, but it is, I would point out, fatal, if we have any chance to salvage anything out of this ecclesial mess that TEC is in and which threatens the AC of Canada.
Second, I was actually mildly comforted by Kigali, largely because the Global South primates hadn't gone as far as I feared they might. I honestly thought there was a real possibility that they would simply declare TEC apostate (they kind of did this) and declared a new province in the US on their own. This second point would have finished any attempt to avoid schism and scuttled the AbC's Covenant proposals before they even got off the ground. That would have been tragic because I really do think that these proposals are perhaps the only chance we have to avoiding a scenario where the whole Communion will fly apart in the same way that TEC is well in the process of doing so. Now, I grant you that the Global South primates have not renounced the option of creating that new province, but merely postponed it to the indefinite future. That gives us a breathing space, albeit a short one.
Okay, this comfort that I feel about Kigali is rather a cold one. It is the choice between complete destruction now and impending destruction later. Still, nothing irrevocable has been done yet by the Global South. That is good.
Lastly, even granting that the Global South primates haven't gone as far as I feared, I'm still concerned. I'm concerned because even the threat to set up a new province is deeply problematic. For one thing, the Windsor Report made it clear that this kind of extra-provincial interference is really not on, however understandable it is, given the situation in the TEC. All too often, conservatives forget that Windsor spoke against this kind of interference, even if it concedes that those who have indulged in this kind of oversight have done it from the good motive of giving pastoral support to parishes which cannot accept GC 2003 or their bishop's support for the ordination of Gene Robinson or which face sanctions for their position. Yet, these extra-provincial interventions merely add to the confusion in the American church.
Further, these interventions are deeply problematic as far as ecclesiology goes. If we are a tradition which claims catholicity, then we should be extremely cautious about allowing actions which encourage schism. We are a tradition which, in the words of priest that my wife knew, rejects splitting as a means of theological discourse. I fully grant that TEC (and to a lesser extent, AC of Canada) have already broken into schism with the rest of the Communion because of their actions in 2003/4 and their failure to admit their mistake since. Yet, I don't think compounding the damage helps which is precisely what extra-provincial intervention is doing.
What I mean by that comment is that one of the unintended effects of this kind of intervention is that it saps the strength of the conservative cause within TEC and the AC of Canada. That is, by siphoning off conservatives to alternative Anglican churches, it makes the task of pulling an erring church more difficult for those who decide to stay and fight. Quite legitimately, liberals can disregard conservative positions because they are not, all too often, present in sufficient numbers to make their case. So, what conservatives fear the most, a drift to the theological left, is precisely what must happen because there is no countervailing force to prevent it.
A commentator in the last week or so commented that what Archbishop Williams needs is a moderate conservative voice in TEC (and, again, by implication, in the AC of Canada)which can make itself heard and pressure the rest of the church to greater compliance with Windsor. Extra-territorial intervention is putting that at jeopardy because it siphons off conservatives. Besides, it polarizes politics because it means that liberals simply will come to trust conservative less and less as they increasingly leave and get embroiled in nasty court battles over property (don't get me started on that point either!). Yet, there is hope. There are voices out there who are moderate and conservative (Ephraim Radner, Philip Turner to name two). I hope and pray that more will emerge in the next few months of this breathing space that Kigali gave us.