The Anglican Communion is composed of 38 individual church bodies. Each of those provinces in the Anglican Communion is autonomous. ... It governs itself. It's in relationship with other members of the Anglican Communion because of our shared heritage, because of our shared form of worship and to a large degree to our shared theology and understanding of Scripture and tradition.
We don't all believe everything in the same way. We never have and never will. There are parts of the Anglican Communion that don't ordain women and think it wrong to do so, yet we remain in communion and relationship and in mission partnerships together.
We've always had a variety of ways of being in relationship together, and I don't think that will change.
On the other side are grouped the forces who have understood the phrase "autonomy in communion" to describe an independence that is limited by interdependence:
. . . as a body we deeply regret the actions of the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church (USA) which appear to a number of provinces to have short-circuited that process, and could be perceived to alter unilaterally the teaching of the Anglican Communion on this issue. They do not. Whilst we recognise the juridical autonomy of each province in our Communion, the mutual interdependence of the provinces means that none has authority unilaterally to substitute an alternative teaching as if it were the teaching of the entire Anglican Communion.
(One of the phenomena in this tug-of-war which continues to amaze me is that the same person -- Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold -- could sign on to the latter statement as a member of the Primates Meeting, and then switch sides to lead the opposite forces as they pulled the Anglican Communion apart.)
Thus on the one side are those who, like our current Presiding Bishop, recognize almost no limits on any Church's autonomy within the Anglican Communion, while on the other side are those who, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Durham, and many others backing the Ridley Draft of the Anglican Covenant, contend that no single Church within the Communion has the right to determine for itself what matters are for it alone to decide. The former group stresses "autonomy in communion", while the latter group stresses "autonomy in communion."
The Anglican Communion Institute and the Bishop of Durham have published a thorough discussion of the issues involved on the former's Website. They reach the not-surprising conclusion that by its actions since 2003 (as most recently reaffirmed by GC 2009), ECUSA has already made the decision to reject the Covenant as currently formulated (in the first three Articles as approved by the Anglican Consultative Council this past May):
An Anglican church cannot simultaneously commit itself through the Anglican Covenant to shared discernment and reject that discernment; to interdependence and then act independently; to accountability and remain determined to be unaccountable. If the battle over homosexuality in The Episcopal Church is truly over, then so is the battle over the Anglican Covenant in The Episcopal Church, at least provisionally. As Christians, we live in hope that The Episcopal Church will at some future General Convention reverse the course to which it has committed itself, but we acknowledge the decisions that already have been taken. These decisions and actions run counter to the shared discernment of the Communion and the recommendations of the Instruments of Communion implementing this discernment. They are, therefore, also incompatible with the express substance, meaning, and committed direction of the first three Sections of the proposed Anglican Covenant. . . .
Equally unsurprisingly, the forces tugging for autonomy as uppermost reject this analysis, and maintain that nothing precludes them from retaining ECUSA's full independence of decision while signing on to the Covenant (so long as the provisions of the as-yet-to-be-finalized Section 4 meet with no objection):
The purpose for drafting a Covenant is not to ensure that all who agree to it will think and act alike and so because of that uniformity of thinking and doing stay together . (If that were the purpose, it is doomed from the start.)Father Tobias Haller develops his look-only-to-the-future, not-to-the-past theme further:
The purpose of the Covenant is to ensure that we will stay together precisely when we have differences — that we won't start flying apart the next time some contentious issue comes along, as no doubt it will. The Covenant is designed to deal with future disagreements, not to settle the differences of the past or present. (Some suggest that this cause is equally doomed from the start.)
Fortunately, the language of the Covenant is not about settling the controversies, but about living with them. It is about the manner of life to be followed by the Communion as a whole, its chosen lifestyle, if you will: shall it be one that embraces difference of opinion under a loving and overarching charity; or shall it give in to the old fissiparousness that has plagued Western Christendom from long before the Reformation?
In short, How best can the Many be One.
What this viewpoint overlooks, however, is what the current divisions are doing to prevent the Many from being One right now. If the purpose of the Covenant is to address only future differences, then why should anyone expect that it would succeed in doing so, if we are unable to resolve the current ones? Or, stated another way: What is there in the proposed Covenant that would lead to any different outcome if in the future another Church should decide to walk its own path?
If our only course forward at present is to live with what ECUSA and ACoC have done in the matter of same-sex blessings and ordinations, then why have a Covenant at all? What would prevent, say, the Anglican Province of Australia from using that "solution" as a precedent to charge forward with lay presidency over communion? A Covenant that would paper over the current differences that divide us would be no different from having no Covenant at all.
The dichotomy which Father Haller draws is, I beg to differ, a false one:
Paul the Apostle provided one answer: unity in Christ in which the various organs of the body retain their different gifts and functions, and yet are part of one body, under one Head, who is Christ, and in whom unity emerges not from uniformity, but through fellowship, a vibrant fellowship that relishes its own heterogeneity and delights in its manifold gifts.
The ACI provides the other sort of answer, the uniformity that seeks to place some other thing in God's place -- unity itself idolized into a Golden Calf, to which difference is sacrificed, beaten to a homogenized pulp.
This overstates the case, I submit. I have seen no one on the "communion" side of the tug-of-war elevate the goal of unity to an idol which would replace God as the focus of the Anglican Communion. To characterize the opposing view in that way virtually ends the dialogue.
To say that the Communion should just go forward and live with the differences that ECUSA and ACoC on their own have made is indeed to declare the debate over. It is to express complete and total disagreement with the unanimous statement from the Primates' Meeting in 2003 quoted above, and to brush aside everything that has occurred since, from the Windsor Report to the statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury following GC 2009.
Other reactions from the "autonomy" crowd to the analysis by the ACI and the Bishop of Durham have been far less charitable than Father Haller's, and there is no need to link to them. They all come to the same conclusion: "What's done is done -- we're not going back. Live with it." To which the more intemperate add: "-- or run the risk of being regarded as an antiquated bigot." (Only the word I have seen most commonly used is not "bigot", but one that begins with "h".) The same message (without the intemperate part) is implicit in the most recent remarks of the Presiding Bishop, quoted above.
To an objective viewer of the current situation, the perspective is not unlike that of a time traveler who has returned to watch an event unfold, the outcome of which he already knows. The Anglican Communion has already broken up, only the participants dare not acknowledge the fact yet. The Archbishop of Canterbury does not want to admit defeat, while ECUSA and ACoC do not want to declare victory -- just yet -- because to do so would force all others to take a definitive stance. And the other provinces of the Communion are left to find their own way through the muddle in the meantime.
A Communion of Churches preaching opposite doctrine is a mockery -- a self-negating nullity, and not a "communion" at all. The rest of the religious world can see this -- only the current Anglican Communion cannot. The only greater mockery would be to have all 38 of the current provinces sign on to a "Covenant" and declare that they are all still "in Communion" while each continues to go its own way in matters of doctrine.
In another post, I shall return to this question of autonomy, and what it entails for those who still wish to sign on to the Covenant.