Sunday, October 01, 2006

Kigali, Covenant and Communion

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.

Peace,
Phil

14 comments:

Jim said...

Phil,

From the end of one of your paragraphs and the begining of the next:

"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."

Forgive an old analyst for wondering why. I think the "global" is a bit overstated. To date, we have the spectical of the repudiation of the Eygptian statment as various primates stated they did not in fact sign it; and the interesting form of this one. It is not a "comunique" it is not "signed" or "issued;" the various primates merely are listed as either attending or being represented.

I think Nigeria and Ugnada are finding they over-reached. The will to break the communion, especially with others besides the unholy Americans, is neither as widespread nor as strong as they thought. We have a wonderful cartoon image here, of daffy duck sawing off a limb on which he is sitting. Maybe we should buy Daffy a mitre.

In our two polities, decisions require layty and clergy, not merely primates or even bishops. I think that if the conservatives want to claim even lip service to the priesthood of all (true) believers, they might want to consider what it would mean if the primates acted alone. But it does not matter -- ++Akinola as we say down here, "t'aint git the votes!"

FWIW
jimB

Phil S. said...

Sorry, Jim, just using the common nomenclature on the African primates. I take your point, of course, but I didn't have an alternative in my head.

Now, as for the power of certain primates, I also grant you that the fact that Kigali wasn't a ringing endorsement of their position to separate now and that other primates have since diassociated themselves from even as far as Kigali went suggests that the long-term impact of Kigali will probably not change the picture very much. It is a statement that points to a real concern among many primates about the situation, but a reluctance to take any irrevocable steps. That is all to the good and consonant to what I have been saying about it .

Now, as for the question of primates acting alone, I agree largely, although I'm not sure I want to reduce this to a democracy. Yet, it would not be in agreement with the Windsor process or good church order for a Primate or a province to strike out on its own on the conservative side just as I don't think it was conducive to good church order for TEC or AC of Canada to strike out on their own. To me, the question isn't whether many people will follow Akinola or whoever, but what it would cost the church if anyone did. It is schism I'm worried about and, while I concede that it has already happened, I still hope and wish to limit the dammage.

Peace,
Phil

Jim said...

Oh, I was not suggesting you were when using the term "global South." I was suggesting rather that the Uganda -- Nigeria axis is a bit longer on ego and short on provinces.

I agree it would be nice to avoid or mitigate the schism. It may well be that the simple fact that that "global" is so optimisitic will be what limits the data.

It seems to me to be very easy for Bp. Mimms, and ++Nigeria to contemplate their own version of walking apart. It is another thing entire for many of those who are perhaps others.

FWIW
jimB

Phil S. said...

I take your point on the propensity of Nigeria and + Minns to walk apart. Personally, I think that all parties, the TEC/AC of Canada and the Nigeria-Uganda axis, need to go back and re-discover what ecclesiology is all about. If they did, they'd find it a darn sight harder to break into schism or walk apart. Of course, that is just me.

Peace,
Phil

Dave Williams said...

I understand it is very difficult -but I do wonder whether the problem is that Global South and a number of British and Americal Anglicans are setting too much stall on ecclesioligy rather than not enough. Maybe we need to work a bt harder at this one. Can there even be such a thing as ecclesiology in this context. Anglicanism by its bery nature recognises that unity ouside of shared truth is false unity -it is that which makes it a protestant denomination. Remember as well the communion with non anglican evangelicals -how important is that -and which will come first? Unity with other Evangelicals or unity with other anglicans?

Phil S. said...

dave;

You ask whether there can be an ecclesiology in the current situation in the Anglican Communion. I would have to say this is precisely where the ecclesiological rubber hits the ground. I'm not arguing unity for unity sake or even living with differences. That would be a distortion of my position and would also be a flawed theological position.

My own position is that schism, by definition in Scripture, is sinful. Now, I fully grant it may be necessary under certain clearly defined conditions, but that doesn't mean that it makes the action any less sinful. In this case, my own position is that we had better leave every stone uncovered before we decide on splitting and I simply don't think I've done it yet. I don't care to make judgements of other conservatives, although I do wonder what would have happened at GC 2006 if more conservatives had toughed out that last three years and appeared as an organized and cohesive body. That may have proved impossible to do, but one wonders some days.

Peace,
Phil

Jim said...

Dave,

You wrote in part, "Anglicanism by its bery nature recognises that unity ouside of shared truth is false unity -it is that which makes it a protestant denomination. "

Several issues here. First, "Anglicanism by its bery nature recognises that unity ouside of shared truth is false unity" is not a description of the Anglican history and is not a part of its essential nature. If you look at the Lambeth Quadrilateral, you will see something very different.

I live on the Anglo-catholic side of the street, Phil lives on the evangelical. We don't agree on every element of the faith, and yet I think we agree on each other's Christianity and we certainly do not want to divide.

Finally, contrary to the non-Global South and its Pittsburg led American allies, the Anglican community is not now and has never been a denomination. It is a collection of provinces that share a prayerbook a way of addressing God, each other and the process of prayer.

FWIW
jimB

Dave Williams said...

Hi,


As far as Anglicanism's very nature -the point is that Anglicanism has chosen to define itself as not Catholic -it cannot avoid the pretence that when peopel disagree, they must always stay in the same organisation and not relate differently to each other.

Phil I appreciate your difficulties -that schism is itself a sin. But try my point of view. I want fellowship with my brothers and sisters -indeed I'm training at an Anglican College. But I want to be sure that there is a bottom line where your unity with me will come before your unity with people that I cannot claim unity with. That may be tough to hear -but I cannot claim unity with Spong or Robinson I don't even have the clothing of denominational structure (in the broadest sense of the word for those that don't want to be a denomination). What I'm saying is don't become so focused on maintaining structural unity that you endanger spiritual unity with those who have a far closer relationship to you based on shared beliefs about scripture, salvation, evangelism etc.

Dave Williams said...

Sorry to comment twice but I wonder if the big problem is that the option being presented is one of schism rather than wider church unity. Does there need to be a bigger discussion involving free church groupings about what is going to be the shape of Evangelical Christianity going forward? A shape that shouldn't be seen as requiring Anglicans to fit the FIEC or Grace Baptist model for example

Jim said...

Dave,

You wrote in part:

"As far as Anglicanism's very nature -the point is that Anglicanism has chosen to define itself as not Catholic -it cannot avoid the pretence that when peopel disagree, they must always stay in the same organisation and not relate differently to each other."

Umm,,, where and by whom on whose authority? We define ourselves as not Roman certainly, but that is another matter entire.

And we certainly do not as an entire community identify ourselves as evangelical!

FWIW
jimB

Dave Williams said...

Hi Jim,

I wonder if you are taking me as saying more than I am saying. It boils down to

Firstly you've already done schism (From the Roman Catholic Church) and any decision you run with now will mean unity with one group of people and schism from others. Secondly Church Unity is broader than the needs of the Anglican Church. and any decision you run with now will mean unity with one group of people and schism from others. I'm sure we agree violently on that!

Yours

Dave

Jim said...

Hi Dave,

Well, were one of our Greek friends here they would say the same thing about the Romans. ;-) And there in a problem, as they have a point.

I agree, and I am certain Phil agrees that the whole, mystical body of the church has to be considered a unity when we say, somewhat blithely (sp) at times, "the church." But, it is also true, that words, symbols and meainings change over time. A perhaps prosaic example.

In another portion of my life, I have served as a high level volenteer for Boy Scouts. I was assisting a troop that needed a new Scoutmaster as it evaluated candidates. One of the questions the committee decided to ask was what the individual's religous faith was and how they practiced it. One of the candidates said, "Well I used to be a Catholic, but now I am a Christian." To say the least, the RC members of the comittee were apalled.

Let's unpack as they say, his answer. First, to him as an American (now in a pentacostal church, Catholics in which category he would lump Anglians and Eastern Orthodox, are going to be left behind come tribulation time. We are not "Christians." He is not sure about Baptists!

Second, he would outright laugh at the idea of a wider evangelical community if it were to include his faith today and anything even faintly liturgical.

All of that is because he reads "catholic" and "liturgical" as denoting a faith other than the real one he is in which he sees as "Christian."

So, when we talk about the udivided church or the communion of saints, it is, I think, important to remember that a lot of folks in it, even ignoring the heretic of Nigeria, think we are not in it.

FWIW
jimB

Phil S. said...

Dave;

You bring up some useful points. Let me explain myself a bit more in reaction to your answers.

First, I'm really not interested in the institution of the Anglican church any more than you are. This would be a distortion of my position over the years, but you wouldn't necessarily know that, given that you've only just run into me. It isn't that our institutions are unimportant, but they are emphatically not the focus of any unity worth the word.

Second, you are presenting (ably) quite a Protestant ecclesiology. Now, that is fine and all, but I have reservations around the central assumption behind your arguments: namely, that call for fellowship for those who believe as we do. My concern here is that, while this ecclesiology is time-honoured, it leads to increased factionalization because it is based on the assumption that we all have to, more or less, agree with each other. Okay, so great, we agree on the same-sex blessing issue (I'm pretty sure we do, at any rate), but do we agree on (for instance) double predestination, for instance? At what point, do we then, split? This is, in many ways, the Protestant curse and it is primarily what I'm reacting to in my own ecclesiology which has taken on rather a more catholic hew over the years.

Third, I am not arguing unity for the sake of unity. I concede that there are times when schism is necessary, even if I still regard it as the product of human sin. Arguably, we can't avoid schism in the present situation for the very good reason that it already happened in 2003 for TEC with the ordination of Gene Robinson.

My own position about impending schism is that it may prove necessary for me to leave the Anglican Church of Canada (my own denomination), but, so far, nothing irrevocable has occured to my church yet (yes, there was the sanctity issue and the New Westminster debacle), so I feel I'm called to stay in. In 2004, my wife and I seriously considered leaving, but we decided against it partly for the above reason, but also because I believe we needed to 'earn our way out'. That is, we felt we needed to express our opposition to the current trend in AC of Canada and to work for retaining unity.

Fourth, you raise a good point that schism is a moot point because we are (in essence) already schismatics. As a result, you argue that our decision is which direction do we want to join to and which to reject. This has a point because, since the Reformation certainly, catholic ecclesiology either has to make an exclusive claim as the only Christian church or accept making very little sense in the multi-denominational universe.

Yet, I still don't think that is good enough. Our unity is not, as I noted, in the denominatinal structures we build, or in the trans-denominations loyalties such as evangelicalism or even in the propositions of our belief. We are, however, tied to each other through the Holy Spirit and that trumps all these other loyalties. Current church divisions are a scandal in the very Greek sense of the term (a cause to stumble) and weaken our ability to witness to the world. Creating more schisms simply won't help.

I've banged on for quite some time, so I think I'll bring this discussion/rant to a close. Incidently, though, if you're still trying to wrap your head around what I'm saying, you should hunt up either articles or books by Ephraim Radner (based out of the States). This is where a major influence is for me.

Peace,
Phil

P.S. Don't worry, Jim, I haven't forgotten you :).

Phil S. said...

Jim;

Thanks for keeping the discussion going. Just a quick comment. I do largely agree with you on the assumption of the mystical body being a unity. I also note that the here and now church is also a mixed church; sinners and saints. More to the point, if it is working well, sinners who are working towards becoming saints. That is messy endeavor, but a necessary one, if we take seriously Jesus' life and the apostles mission to the world.

Peace,
Phil