Contrast to the present scenario the weeks following the confirmation of the election of V. Gene Robinson as bishop by both Houses at General Convention 2003. It was a very different ++Cantuar who summoned an emergency meeting of the Primates at Lambeth Palace three weeks before the date of the proposed consecration of a partnered gay man as bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA). The Primates, including ECUSA's own Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold III, assembled on short notice, and had no difficulty whatsoever in issuing the following communiqué, signed by everyone present -- including Bishop Griswold:
The Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Moderators of the United Churches, meeting together at Lambeth Palace on the 15th and 16th October, 2003, wish to express our gratitude to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, for calling us together in response to recent events in the Diocese of New Westminster, Canada, and the Episcopal Church (USA), and welcoming us into his home so that we might take counsel together, and to seek to discern, in an atmosphere of common prayer and worship, the will and guidance of the Holy Spirit for the common life of the thirty-eight provinces which constitute our Communion.
At a time of tension, we have struggled at great cost with the issues before us, but have also been renewed and strengthened in our Communion with one another through our worship and study of the Bible. This has led us into a deeper commitment to work together . . .
Whatever has happened to that "deeper commitment to work together"? Keep that question in mind as we continue to contrast then with now. The communiqué proceeded to lay out the extent of the problem:
At this time we feel the profound pain and uncertainty shared by others about our Christian discipleship in the light of controversial decisions by the Diocese of New Westminster to authorise a public Rite of Blessing for those in committed same sex relationships, and by the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) to confirm the election of a priest in a committed same sex relationship to the office and work of a Bishop.
These actions threaten the unity of our own Communion as well as our relationships with other parts of Christ’s Church, our mission and witness, and our relations with other faiths, in a world already confused in areas of sexuality, morality and theology, and polarise Christian opinion.
Next, it addressed the consensus that had operated until these recent events:
As Primates of our Communion seeking to exercise the “enhanced responsibility” entrusted to us by successive Lambeth Conferences, we re-affirm our common understanding of the centrality and authority of Scripture in determining the basis of our faith. Whilst we acknowledge a legitimate diversity of interpretation that arises in the Church, this diversity does not mean that some of us take the authority of Scripture more lightly than others. Nevertheless, each province needs to be aware of the possible effects of its interpretation of Scripture on the life of other provinces in the Communion. . . .
We also re-affirm the resolutions made by the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues. . . .
And now, considering that Presiding Bishop Griswold signed onto this document, come the most remarkable paragraphs of all (emphasis added):
Therefore, 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.
To this extent, therefore, we must make clear that recent actions in New Westminster and in the Episcopal Church (USA) do not express the mind of our Communion as a whole, and these decisions jeopardise our sacramental fellowship with each other. . . .
Bishop Griswold was unfazed by any of this; he also signed on to the Primates' predictions of what would occur if he went forward with his consecration of Bishop Robinson, as planned:
. . . [M]any Primates have pointed to the grave difficulties that this election has raised and will continue to raise. In most of our provinces the election of Canon Gene Robinson would not have been possible since his chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop.
If his consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). . . .
The communiqué concluded with this telling paragraph, and citation to Scripture:
It is clear that recent controversies have opened debates within the life of our Communion which will not be resolved until there has been a lengthy process of prayer, reflection and substantial work in and alongside the Commission which we have recommended. We pray that God will equip our Communion to be equal to the task and challenges which lie before it.
“Now I appeal to the elders of your community, as a fellow elder and a witness to Christ's sufferings, and as one who has shared in the glory to be revealed: look after the flock of God whose shepherd you are.” (1 Peter 5.1, 2a)
When Bishop Griswold proceeded to lead the "consecration" of "Bishop" Robinson just three weeks later, a sense of betrayal overtook many of those primates who had assembled on short notice at Lambeth Palace. The life of the Communion, as predicted, has never been the same since.
Although both the Archbishops of Uganda and of the Province of the Indian Ocean have called upon him to do it, the Archbishop of Canterbury has summoned no special meeting of the Primates this time in response to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's letter announcing her intent to officiate at the consecration of Canon Glasspool on May 15. Apart from an incredibly insipid response from the Lambeth secretariat, and a videotaped message to the Global South to South Encounter which urged them to avoid any precipitous action, Canterbury's response to the latest development has been more remarkable by its silence than by anything actually said or done.
As a primus inter pares, ++Cantuar has certain limitations upon his ability to take disciplinary action against another province of the Anglican Communion (see this post for more on this point). There is, however, a world of difference between acting unilaterally and taking steps together to defend common ground. Until the last meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council about a year ago, one might have thought that ++Cantuar regarded the Anglican Covenant, which after all grew out of the common ground of the Windsor Report, as common ground as well.
His inept defense of the Covenant at that meeting, however, gave cause for concern. And I am sorry to say that his conduct in respect to the Covenant ever since that meeting has been the equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.
At one time, it was thought that the Global South would see the Covenant as a means of saving what they thought was essential about the Anglican Communion. But as this series of interviews with their Primates indicates, that is true no longer (with perhaps one or two naive exceptions). The Covenant as it currently stands is unsatisfactory to them, chiefly for the reasons outlined by Bishop Mouneer Anis in his letter resigning from the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates.
There is no further drafting process in place for the Covenant. It has been submitted to the Provinces as is, for an up-or-down vote. As things now stand, it looks as though a majority of provinces, both orthodox and heterodox, will reject the Covenant in its current form. And then what happens? Does the "first tier of the Anglican Communion" -- the ones in covenant with each other -- consist only of those provinces (and dioceses) who are most blind to (or who are most willing to overlook) what is really going on?
A year ago I could not have predicted such an outcome. That is the difference which a lack of direction and leadership on the part of ++Cantuar over the past twelve months makes. For better or worse, there is a perceived vacuum at the center of the Anglican Communion, and the usual suspects are moving swiftly to take advantage of it. The Diocese of Utah has nominated a partnered gay man for its diocesan, and there most certainly will be other such nominations -- and elections -- in the year to come.
Those on the left excel at projecting their own views and beliefs onto others with whom they disagree. For example, take this observation by one such blogger (bold added for emphasis):
I am more and more persuaded that we ought not be afraid. We don't have to develop strategies to make sure that the Anglican Covenant is either approved or not. It is enough that we understand that no matter its approval by our Church wide synod (General Convention), those who are set on a power grab by the Primates don't really care a fig how our vote goes. They have already dismissed TEC. What they are interested in is a coup by so called "orthodox" Primates, usurping the powers of the various instruments of Communion unto themselves.It is ironic, to say the least, that an attempt by those representing the great majority of Anglicans in the Communion to resist an overthrow of the majority's views by a left-wing minority would be described as being carried out by "those who are set on a power grab." A majority, after all, is already "in power", and does not have to grab it (from itself). The last I knew, moreover, the Primates themselves acknowledged at Lambeth in 2003 (see quote above) that "recent actions in New Westminster and in the Episcopal Church (USA) do not express the mind of our Communion as a whole, and these decisions jeopardise our sacramental fellowship with each other. . . ."
Only in left-wing la-la land could an attempt by the majority to reiterate what had been previously decided by majority vote be called a "power grab" -- because that is what the left wing itself desires most to do. It wants its minority views not only to be respected throughout the Communion; it wants them to stand on equal footing with those of the majority. "Never mind what the majority voted -- what we stand for can never be adjudicated by a simple majority vote." To which I respond -- then why did you agree to a vote? Under your view of the matter, you all should have walked out of Lambeth 1998.
But all of the left's hypocrisy in this matter is fodder for a separate post. For the present, it suffices to say that (a) the left will never consent to abide by the will of the majority, until it itself forms that majority; and (b) ++Cantuar's failure to recognize this reality, and to protect the decision of the majority in any meaningful way, has undermined the trust previously placed in him by that majority.
Let us not get tangled up in abstruse discussions of what "the majority" actually means, in the context of the Anglican Communion. I fully recognize, as a canon lawyer, the complexities of the arrangements that comprise the Anglican Communion. It is not a democratic society, and there are no issues decided by "majority vote", as there are in Parliament, or in the United States Congress -- which decisions then become legally binding on all.
What I am saying reflects the simple fact that in every Anglican province, there is a procedure for expressing the will of that province -- either through its Primate, through its synod/assembly/convention, or through some combination of the two. And in matters of Scripture and its interpretation, the episcopal tradition of the one, true, catholic and apostolic church holds that such matters are entrusted to bishops to determine. In other words, there is no "majority vote" by all on the meaning of Scripture, if that vote would of itself override episcopal tradition in its interpretation. The "majority" (if they be bishops) can always vote to uphold that tradition against heresy and heterodoxy. But it takes years and years -- often centuries -- for any new majority of bishops to form themselves around any new interpretation of Scripture.
In those terms, therefore, the "majority" of the Anglican Communion voted at Lambeth 1998 to uphold the traditional interpretation of Scripture. There was a minority who dissented from that vote. Ever since, however, they have acted as though it were their prerogative not only to dissent, but to make their views the standard to which all within their jurisdiction must conform, regardless of whether it represents the views of the "majority" of the Anglican Communion or not.
It was the unquestionable role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the protector of that majority within the Communion, to deploy every means at his disposal to uphold and support their traditional interpretation of Scripture. To leave that role to lesser figures is to invite anarchy within the collegial Communion -- which is quite a nadir, when one comes to think about it.
What has heretofore been collegial now becomes adversarial. Provinces jockey for a "control" that never existed before. In the process, they undermine, subvert, attack, and extend or withhold support, in a decidedly uncollegial fashion. Such is the life to which ++Cantuar's failure to lead as a "first among equals" has brought the Communion entrusted to his care.
Were I to try to sum up the current dismal situation which ++Cantuar's passivity has brought about, I could do far worse than to employ these words spoken by one of the Primates most affected by that betrayal, the Most Reverend Gregory J. Venables:
First of all, although the Covenant is a wonderful effort, it looks as if it’s not going to succeed because it doesn’t really get to grips with what the problem is. There are two versions of Christianity: the original version and the new version, which isn’t true Christianity. It does not address [the problem], and we are not going to resolve it. Really, the Covenant seems to be a way of holding together a marriage which is no longer a marriage.Amen. And to invoke again for the benefit of the bishops of the Anglican Communion the words of its first bishop, St. Peter, so correctly invoked in their communiqué of October, 2003: "“Now I appeal to the elders of your community, as a fellow elder and a witness to Christ's sufferings, and as one who has shared in the glory to be revealed: look after the flock of God whose shepherd you are.”
Also even if we sign the Covenant and believe that there is enough there to work through the problems, the Anglican Church does not have a structure to implement how it would be worked out. We haven’t got a leadership, we haven’t got anybody who can say right now that we’ve done this, this is what’s going to happen.
And the worst thing about it is that now it looks as if there is going to be a standing committee which could fulfil that role -- but the standing committee is representative of the problem, rather than the solution, so it doesn’t look very hopeful.