There will be commentary enough in the Anglican blogworld about the layers of meaning discoverable in his statement. What I would like to do here is to juxtapose his remarks with the requests delivered to him by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson. On July 16, with the Convention not yet concluded, they first wrote to him as follows concerning the enactment of Resolution D 025:
As you know, The General Convention voted this week to adopt Resolution D025, “Commitment and Witness to the Anglican Communion”—a multilayered resolution that addresses a range of important issues in the life of The Episcopal Church that clearly have implications for our relationships within the Anglican Communion. . . .
We understand Resolution D025 to be more descriptive than prescriptive in nature—a statement that reaffirms commitments already made by The Episcopal Church and that acknowledges certain realities of our common life. Nothing in the Resolution goes beyond what has already been provided under our Constitution and Canons for many years.
To which Dr. Williams replies:
No-one could be in any doubt about the eagerness of the Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church at the General Convention to affirm their concern about the wider Anglican Communion. . . . even the wording of one of the more controversial resolutions . . . make[s] plain the fact that the Episcopal Church does not wish to cut its moorings from other parts of the Anglican family. There has been an insistence at the highest level that the two most strongly debated resolutions (DO25 and CO56) do not have the automatic effect of overturning the requested moratoria, if the wording is studied carefully. . . .
However, a realistic assessment of what Convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed. The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour, although a significant minority of bishops has just as clearly expressed its intention to remain with the consensus of the Communion. The statement that the Resolutions are essentially 'descriptive' is helpful, but unlikely to allay anxieties. . . .
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and President Anderson had stressed ECUSA's commitment to welcoming LGBT persons into all walks of Church life:
In reading the resolution, you will note its key points, that:
- Our Church is deeply and genuinely committed to our relationships in the Anglican Communion;
- We recognize the contributions gay and lesbian Christians, members of our Church both lay and ordained, have made and continue to make to our common life and ministry;
- Our Church can and does bear witness to the fact that many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters live in faithful, monogamous, lifelong and life-giving committed relationships;
- While ordination is not a “right” guaranteed to any individual, access to our Church’s discernment and ordination process is open to all baptized members according to our Constitution and Canons . . .
And Dr. Williams responds:
. . . [A] blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.
In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. . . .
On July 17, the two ladies from ECUSA wrote Dr. Williams again, with regard to the recently enacted Resolution C 056, allowing bishops a "generous pastoral response" to same-sex couples:
Like Resolution D025, about which we wrote to you several days ago [Ed. note: actually it was just the day before, but we know how time flies when one is busy saving the world at General Convention], Resolution C056 will impact both the life and work of The Episcopal Church and have implications for our relationships within the Anglican Communion. . . .
While the Resolution honors the diversity of theological perspectives within The Episcopal Church, it does not authorize public liturgical rites for the blessing of samegender unions. . . .Resolution C056:
• Calls on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music . . . to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources around the blessing of same gender unions . . . .
• Allows bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where samegender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, to provide a generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.It is now left to each bishop to determine what such a generous pastoral response might mean in her or his diocesan context. . . . The Resolution honors and acknowledges this Church's continuing commitment to and honoring of theological diversity and the inclusion of a variety of points of view on matters of human sexuality.
And Dr. Williams has this to say in reply:
. . . [T]he issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.This is not our situation in the Communion. . . .
The way I read the requests and the responses to them, the score is ABC 2, ECUSA 0 at this point. Dr. Williams has firmly, but politely and gently, told Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and Dr. Anderson "This will not fly in the greater Communion. You are on your own . . .". Only he says it to them much more indirectly:
The second issue is the broader one of how a local church makes up its mind on a sensitive and controversial matter. It is of the greatest importance to remember this aspect of the matter, so as not to be completely trapped in the particularly bitter and unpleasant atmosphere of the debate over sexuality, in which unexamined prejudice is still so much in evidence and accusations of bad faith and bigotry are so readily thrown around.
When a local church seeks to respond to a new question, to the challenge of possible change in its practice or discipline in the light of new facts, new pressures, or new contexts, as local churches have repeatedly sought to do, it needs some way of including in its discernment the judgement of the wider Church. Without this, it risks becoming unrecognisable to other local churches, pressing ahead with changes that render it strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe.This is not some piece of modern bureaucratic absolutism, but the conviction of the Church from its very early days. The doctrine that 'what affects the communion of all should be decided by all' is a venerable principle. . . . It takes time and a willingness to believe that what we determine together is more likely, in a New Testament framework, to be in tune with the Holy Spirit than what any one community decides locally.
[We should not] ignore or minimise the . . . danger of so responding to local pressure or change that a local church simply becomes isolated and imprisoned in its own cultural environment.. . .
In recent years, local pastoral needs have been cited as the grounds for changes in the sacramental practice of particular local churches within the Communion, and theological rationales have been locally developed to defend and promote such changes. . . . But it should be clear that an acceptance of these sorts of innovation in sacramental practice would represent a manifest change in both the teaching and the discipline of the Anglican tradition . . .
To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. It would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent 'community of Christian communities'.
Here is the subtext: "In other words, +Katharine and Bonnie, your way leads to a federation of autonomous churches. I want no part of that. What I lead is a community of churches in the Anglican tradition, and I am not about to let you hijack it. See those words 'the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches'? A global consensus, 'such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity'? That is what is driving me. It is spelled 'C - o - v - e - n - a - n - t.'"
Dr. Williams uses the word "ecumenical" no less than eight times in his response. That is no accident. Remember that he had a "friendly meeting" with the Pope in May 2008, and that he arranged for a deliberately strong ecumenical delegation at Lambeth later that summer, including the Vatican's Cardinal Dias, whom he invited to speak to the assembled bishops. He has his eye on the main ecumenical prize --- a greater unity between Canterbury and Rome (not a complete reversal of the Reformation, but a full recognition of Anglican orders would be a good start). The path of ECUSA leads emphatically away from this prize. (The Church of England itself threatens to derail it as well, if it approves women as bishops; but remember that Dr. Williams weighed against the measure in Synod, reminding everyone about the "heavy and serious ecumenical cost" of going forward.)
He not only says that the path of ECUSA is contra-ecumenical; he suggests that bishops of ECUSA will no longer be appropriate representatives for the Communion in ongoing ecumenical talks (Bishop Epting, please call your office):
There is also an unavoidable difficulty over whether someone belonging to a local church in which practice has been changed in respect of same-sex unions is able to represent the Communion's voice and perspective in, for example, international ecumenical encounters.
This seems to me to be the chief point of the Archbishop's message: ECUSA can abandon any hope of ecumenical relations if that is its choice, but we in the Anglican Communion will do everything in our power to keep that door open, and stay in dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. And to facilitate the Communion's process in that regard, Dr. Williams has his hopes pinned on an Anglican Covenant. His piece, after all, is entitled: "Communion, Covenant, and our Anglican Future" (emphasis added):
As Anglicans, our membership of the Communion is an important part of our identity. However, some [sc. ECUSA] see this as best expressed in a more federalist and pluralist way. They would see this as the only appropriate language for a modern or indeed postmodern global fellowship of believers in which levels of diversity are bound to be high and the risks of centralisation and authoritarianism are the most worrying. There is nothing foolish or incoherent about this approach. But it is not the approach that has generally shaped the self-understanding of our Communion – less than ever in the last half-century, with new organs and instruments for the Communion's communication and governance and new enterprises in ecumenical co-operation.
There is that word "ecumenical" again --- "new enterprises in ecumenical co-operation." No, they shall not be derailed by whatever ECUSA chooses to do on its own. For the Covenant process represents a mutual desire for accountability in Communion --- the exact opposite of what General Convention expressed in its "me, me" Resolutions D025 and C 056:
The Covenant proposals of recent years have been a serious attempt to do justice to that aspect of Anglican history that has resisted mere federation. They seek structures that will express the need for mutual recognisability, mutual consultation and some shared processes of decision-making. They are emphatically not about centralisation but about mutual responsibility. They look to the possibility of a freely chosen commitment to sharing discernment (and also to a mutual respect for the integrity of each province, which is the point of the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions). They remain the only proposals we are likely to see that address some of the risks and confusions already detailed, encouraging us to act and decide in ways that are not simply local.
They have been criticised as 'exclusive' in intent. But their aim is not to shut anyone out – rather, in words used last year at the Lambeth Conference, to intensify existing relationships.
Only those who demand that their way be accepted by everyone else could feel "excluded" by the talk of an Anglican Covenant. For the Covenant will be an expression of what Anglicans have in common, and not of what is driving them apart. But there is to be, as yet, no talk of throwing anybody out --- the Covenant is not in final form yet, and so ECUSA will have one last chance to sign on if it chooses:
It is possible that some will not choose this way of intensifying relationships, though I pray that it will be persuasive. It would be a mistake to act or speak now as if those decisions had already been made – and of course approval of the final Covenant text is still awaited. For those whose vision is not shaped by the desire to intensify relationships in this particular way, or whose vision of the Communion is different, there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness – existing relationships will not be destroyed that easily.
And if ECUSA refuses to sign it? There still will be no final moment for its role in the Communion --- it will just shift slightly, to a non-covenanted level:
But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with 'covenanted' provinces.This has been called a 'two-tier' model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.
(Note that the Archbishop speaks again of certain disqualification from "official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes . . .". UPDATE: Bishop Epting coincidentally just put up a post in which he confirms that ECUSA is laying off his "Associate for ecumenical relations." To that small extent, at least, ECUSA and Archbishop Williams seem to be on the same track.)
This is classic Rowan Williams --- the "peace negotiator" I described in this earlier post. Doing whatever is necessary to keep everyone at the table, even if it is a two-tiered one, and even if only those at the upper tier are qualified to represent the Communion in ecumenical interchanges, he blames no one, criticizes no one, but simply describes where their actions will take the group as a whole, and what sort of picture will result. As Giles Fraser puts it in a passage I quoted in the post just linked:
To put it at its starkest: peace is better than truth. Of course, this is not a description that advocates of this position would recognize. In typically Hegelian fashion, they reject the suggestion that peace and truth stand in opposition to one another. This is why, when the Archbishop is charged with sacrificing truth for unity, as he often is, his comeback has consistently been that unity is a means by which truth is made visible, that we come to truth through the process of uniting conversation. In other words the 'struggle to conceive of a structural wholeness nuanced enough to contain what appeared to be contradictories' applies even to the apparent antithesis of truth and peace.
Thus, in the remainder of his response, Dr. Williams begins to spell out the consequences of ECUSA's marching to its own drummer. In considering what follows (and what has preceded it), one has to bear in mind that he is just the Archbishop of Canterbury, and not the Pope. He may be a metropolitan within the Church of England, but within the wider Communion he has no powers save that of moral suasion, and the power to withhold invitations to Lambeth and to the Primates' Meeting. And finally, one has to bear in mind that British custom and etiquette demand that he leave unsaid what he really means to say. If the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies are not able to read between the lines, he will wait until the next occasion presents itself to make things a little clearer. For the present, however, he is content to offer one last carrot, and one last stick. First, the carrot, i.e., an indirect message to ECUSA's Bishops that should they want to consider some sort of action in September that would make clear their intention not to agree to any more elections or consecrations that could threaten the wider Communion, then he certainly would be receptive to it (bold emphasis added):
It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. It is right to hope for and work for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained as between different visions of the Anglican heritage. And if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely.
And then the stick --- not overt, mind you; just a gentle hint at what he might decide to do in order to accommodate dissenting dioceses who want to subscribe to the Covenant, even if ECUSA does not:
It is my strong hope that all the provinces will respond favourably to the invitation to Covenant. But in the current context, the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. It is important that there should be a clear answer to this question.
Might this last bit even be an indirect signal to ACNA? A means, in short, for it to cross the threshold of the Communion without having to go through the bureaucratic obstacles of the ACC? (Remember, the goal is to keep everyone at the table.) It certainly will be interesting at General Synod next February when the motion to recognize ACNA comes to the floor. (Hint to ECUSA's Bishops: read carrot again, then read stick, and then carrot once more.)
The ball thus is returned to ECUSA's court --- but with a precatory spin added to its trajectory:
All of this is to do with becoming the Church God wants us to be, for the better proclamation of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. It would be a great mistake to see the present situation as no more than an unhappy set of tensions within a global family struggling to find a coherence that not all its members actually want. Rather, it is an opportunity for clarity, renewal and deeper relation with one another – and so also with Our Lord and his Father, in the power of the Spirit. To recognise different futures for different groups must involve mutual respect for deeply held theological convictions. Thus far in Anglican history we have (remarkably) contained diverse convictions more or less within a unified structure. If the present structures that have safeguarded our unity turn out to need serious rethinking in the near future, this is not the end of the Anglican way and it may bring its own opportunities. Of course it is problematic; and no-one would say that new kinds of structural differentiation are desirable in their own right. But the different needs and priorities identified by different parts of our family, and in the long run the different emphases in what we want to say theologically about the Church itself, are bound to have consequences. We must hope that, in spite of the difficulties, this may yet be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth for all who value the Anglican name and heritage.
Amen, Dr. Williams. We in the traditional wing of the Episcopal Church must hope, indeed.
[UPDATE 07/29/2009: In a move that some have suggested might even have been "choreographed", the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has come out with a statement in support of the Archbishop's ecumenical reflections. Others, like the Very Rev. Nicholas Knisely, blogging at Entangled States, have picked up on ++Rowan's aspirations to keep the Anglican Communion in meaningful conversation with Rome.]