Monday, June 7, 2010

Academic Questions

The Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, has issued a statement outlining the steps he has taken thus far to implement the decisions of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which were outlined in the latter's Pastoral Letter to the Communion at Pentecost. In that Letter, Archbishop Williams wrote:
But some decisions cannot be avoided. We began by thinking about Pentecost and the diverse peoples of the earth finding a common voice, recognising that each was speaking a truth recognised by all. However, when some part of that fellowship speaks in ways that others find hard to recognise, and that point in a significantly different direction from what others are saying, we cannot pretend there is no problem.

And when a province through its formal decision-making bodies or its House of Bishops as a body declines to accept requests or advice from the consultative organs of the Communion, it is very hard (as noted in my letter to the Communion last year after the General Convention of TEC) to see how members of that province can be placed in positions where they are required to represent the Communion as a whole. This affects both our ecumenical dialogues, where our partners (as they often say to us) need to know who it is they are talking to, and our internal faith-and-order related groups.

I am therefore proposing that, while these tensions remain unresolved, members of such provinces – provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged. I am further proposing that members of such provinces serving on IASCUFO should for the time being have the status only of consultants rather than full members. . . . Particular provinces will be contacted about the outworking of this in the near future.
And so Canon Kearon is now about the business of contacting the provinces in question: those which "have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies which breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion . . .". Canon Kearon's statement acknowledges that ECUSA, with its confirmation by its bishops and standing committees of the election of the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, clearly falls into that category, but in the current state of flux in the Anglican Communion, which other provinces do? Ay, there's the rub.

Canon Kearon's solution to this conundrum is innovative, to say the least: he will just ask them!
I have written to the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada to ask whether its General Synod or House of Bishops has formally adopted policies that breach the second moratorium in the Windsor Report, authorising public rites of same-sex blessing.

At the same time I have written to the Primate of the Southern Cone, whose interventions in other provinces are referred to in the Windsor Continuation Group Report asking him for clarification as to the current state of his interventions into other provinces.
The replies should be interesting. Although at least four dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada have adopted public rites for the blessing of same-sex marriages to date, no liturgy for such blessings has yet been adopted for the Church as a whole. The Primate of that Church discussed this subject in his opening address to the 39th Session of its General Synod last Friday (emphasis added):
In his 2010 Pentecost letter, the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks of “particular provinces being contacted about the outworking of these relational consequences.” To date we cannot be identified as “a Province that has formally through their Synod or House of Bishops adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently affirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith, and Order”.
"However," he went on, "the Archbishop’s letter also refers to 'some provinces that have within them dioceses that are committed to policies that neither the province as a whole nor The Communion has sanctioned'." The Archbishop, however, gave no indication of what he proposed to do about such provinces, and Canon Kearon's statement to the Communion does not, either. That does not stop Archbishop Hiltz from venting some spleen in his address to the 39th Synod about "interventions" in his province in particular, about the "informal" resort to same-sex blessings in other provinces, and about discipline throughout the Communion in general:
One is left wondering if provinces whose Primates continue to interfere in the internal life of other provinces and extend their pastoral jurisdiction through cross-border interventions will be contacted. To date I have seen no real measure to address that concern within The Communion. I maintain and have publicly declared my belief that those interventions have created more havoc in the Church, resulting in schism, than any honest and transparent theological dialogue on issues of sexuality through due synodical process in dioceses and in the General Synod. I also wonder when I see the word “formally” italicized in the Archbishop’s letter. It leaves me wondering about places where the moratoria on the blessing of same sex unions is in fact ignored. The blessings happen but not “formally”. As you will have detected I have some significant concerns about imposing discipline consistent with provisions in the Covenant before it is even adopted; and about consistency in the exercise of discipline throughout one Communion.
Well, to give him credit, Canon Kearon also states that he has sent an inquiry to the Most Rev. Gregory Venables, to ask for his province's official stance about intervention in other provinces:
At the same time I have written to the Primate of the Southern Cone, whose interventions in other provinces are referred to in the Windsor Continuation Group Report, asking him for clarification as to the current state of his interventions into other provinces.
"Clarification", after the formation of ACNA, is certainly in order. The joining of the province of the Southern Cone by the withdrawing Dioceses of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth was on a "temporary, emergency basis" -- presumably so that they would not have to be without primatial oversight. But now those dioceses have joined ACNA, and have their own Primate, in the person of the Most Rev. Robert W. Duncan, and their own College of Bishops. Nevertheless, some of ACNA's constituent members continue to place importance on maintaining communion with the see of Canterbury, which they do through the Anglican Province of Nigeria and other affiliations.

Since ACNA itself is not yet recognized as a province of the Communion, do these affiliations (such as CANA) constitute "interventions" in violation of the Windsor Report? The Archbishop of Canterbury did not recognize CANA's bishops as members of the Communion when he extended invitations to the 2008 Lambeth Conference. It would therefore be somewhat awkward and inconsistent for him to claim now that Nigeria has violated the Report by deputizing its "bishops" to serve in the United States.

And is the case of Rwanda also different? Its Anglican Mission in America has made it clear that it is about the business of planting new churches, not poaching former Episcopal ones (pace All Saints Waccamaw). Nevertheless, Rwanda's House of Bishops, too, has recently sent a strong signal that it will not be weakening its ties with AMiA any time soon.

In any event, the case of Rwanda may be academic. I cannot find anyone from that province who is currently serving on any ecumenical body of the Anglican Communion. And although Nigeria has a representative on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission of Unity, Faith and Order, Canon Kearon did not say he had sent him a notice that his membership had been downgraded (probably for the reasons I just indicated). He declared that thus far, letters had only gone to ECUSA members serving on such bodies.

But Canon Kearon cannot leave well enough alone. He is determined to sail into uncharted waters, in advance even of the adoption of a Covenant, by posing a further "two questions":
Looking forward, there are two questions in this area which I would like to see addressed: One is the relationship between the actions of a bishop or of a diocese and the responsibilities of a province for those actions – this issue is referred to in the Windsor Continuation Group Report para 48.

Secondly, to ask the question of whether maintaining within the fellowship of one’s Provincial House of Bishops, a bishop who is exercising episcopal ministry in another province without the expressed permission of that province or the local bishop, constitutes an intervention and is therefore a breach of the third moratorium.
Note that he does not say "which the Archbishop would like to see addressed", or "which the mechanisms to be established by the Covenant might want to address". Nor does he indicate who will investigate these two questions for him. The Report of the Windsor Continuation Group which Canon Kearon references was just as ambiguous as to the persons or bodies which would be asked to look into what should be done in this area (italics added):
48. In cases where a see has, by its actions, impaired Communion, it has now become appropriate to explore what relational consequences should be formally expressed or put in place by the Instruments of Communion. The possible nature of such consequences are explored in relation to the Covenant in the Lambeth Commentary on pages 24 and 25. Further work remains to be done on who should take action to formalise any such consequences and whether they should be applied at the level of diocese or Province.
In short, do not look for any definitive answers to Canon Kearon's first question any time soon. And what about his second question? Do we have any points of reference here? It seems to me that if Canon Kearon wants to go down this road, he will be getting into a very murky swamp.

Many at 815, no doubt, will read Canon Kearon's second question as geared again toward the Province of the Southern Cone, whose House of Bishops extended membership privileges (of voice, but no vote) to Bishops Schofield, Iker, Duncan and Ackerman. (Archbishop Venables also appointed the just-"deposed" Bishop Duncan his "primatial vicar", but that designation lasted only until his election as bishop of the Diocese one month later.) And for the same reason, they will see the question as pointed at the Province of Nigeria, whose primate is the head of CANA. But do any of the bishops in ACNA or CANA "exercis[e] episcopal ministry in another province without the expressed permission of that province or the local bishop"?

Now, that is a knotty canonical question. I doubt that even Professor Norman Doe himself would have a ready answer. Bishops Schofield, Iker, Duncan, Minns, et al. are certainly exercising episcopal ministries, but are they doing so "in another province" of the Anglican Communion "without the expressed permission of that province"? The churches and the dioceses in which those bishops serve have each withdrawn from ECUSA. One does not need to ask "permission" of a body to which one no longer belongs -- to do anything.

Should Canon Kearon or the Windsor Continuation Group venture down this path, the Instruments of Communion will of necessity have to wrestle with the many technical and legal questions that are currently bedeviling local courts in at least four of the United States just now. And no matter where they come down on the issue, the Instruments of Communion will divide, rather than unify, what remains of the Communion at that point. For if they decide the issue in 815's favor, that will signal their irrelevance to the Global South, and to the great numerical majority of the Communion's members. And if they decide in favor of ACNA, there is no telling what ECUSA would do in retaliation; at a minimum, it would probably reject the Covenant, and try to form a new "Communion" of its own.

But surely this question is academic: that is, it sounds substantial, but it has absolutely no practical consequences. (Nigeria and the Southern Cone each have exactly one member each on IASCUFO.) To ask it, however, is to shine a spotlight on what is wrong with the Anglican Communion today. For the very act of contemplating it as a question capable of an answer in these times is to assume that things are continuing to proceed as they always have before. Its asking ignores, in short, the tremendous waves of change that are carrying everything to new ground as we speak.

Canon Kearon, and the Instruments for whom he works, may have the luxury of making that assumption, and of indulging in that ignorance, for a year or so yet. If they have not started asking the right questions by then, however, it will be too late. I have already forecast the fate of such a blinkered approach, in this post. With each passing day, that fate draws closer.

[UPDATE: Meanwhile, back at ECUSA, 815 (through its unofficial spokesperson, Jim Naughton) has responded to the news -- that letters went from Canon Kearon to five of its representatives appointed to various ecumenical bodies -- as only ECUSA can: with "talking points" designed to convey, at one and the same time, their contempt for, and indifference to, the Archbishop's actions:
These talking points from the Episcopal Church's Office of Public Affairs have been in the works for a few weeks. They are the latest in a series of releases on church governance and other issues, and might have gone quietly into that good night had the Archbishop of Canterbury not provided a news peg. . . .

And speaking of the Archbishop of Canterbury, isn't his decision to unilaterally exclude Episcopal representatives from ecumenical dialog in the Anglican Communion a fairly decisive blow to arguments in favor of an Anglican Covenant?

If you support a covenant because you think the Communion needs to be able to enforce a single-issue magisterium against church that treat gay and lesbian Christians as full members of the Body of Christ, Williams has just demonstrated that in his mind, if no one else's, he already has such authority. So a covenant is unnecessary.

On the other hand, if you fear a covenant because you are concerned that it might be used as a tool to exclude gay-friendly provinces from the councils of the Communion: Ta da! Turns out we are heading in that direction so quickly that Rowan Williams isn't even worried about waiting for the darn thing to be approved.

So, a covenant is either unnecessary, or greatly to be feared.

Where do we sign?
The document continues in the same vein (with emphasis added):
The member churches of the Anglican Communion are joined together by choice in love, and have no direct authority over one another.

The Most Rev. Rowan Williams is the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of the Church of England. While acknowledged as first among equals and spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop does not have direct authority over any Anglican Church outside of the Church of England. . . .

. . .
On the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori represents the Primates of the Americas and Bishop Ian Douglas represents the Anglican Consultative Council [sic!].

. . .

Quotes from the history books

Presiding Bishop William White, the first Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (1789), said that the Church of which he was a prime architect was to contain “the constituent principles of the Church of England, and yet independent of foreign jurisdiction or influence.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Charles Thomas Longley, who convened the first Lambeth Conference, said in 1867: “It has never been contemplated that we should assume the functions of a general synod of all the Churches in full communion with the Church of England, and take upon ourselves to enact canons that should be binding upon those here represented. We merely propose to discuss matters of practical interest, and pronounce what we deem expedient in resolutions which may serve as safe guides to future action.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Campbell Tait noted in 1875 about the Lambeth Conference: “There is no intention whatever on the part of anybody to gather together the Bishops of the Anglican Church for the sake of defining any matter of doctrine. Our doctrines are contained in our formularies, and our formularies are interpreted by the proper judicial authorities, and there is no intention whatever at any such gathering that questions of doctrine should be submitted for interpretation in any future Lambeth Conference any more than they were at the previous Lambeth Conference.”

Resolution 49c from the 1930 Lambeth Conference notes: “Churches in the Anglican Communion are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.”
Comments: Until his recent ordination to the episcopate, Bishop Ian Douglas was a clergy member of the Standing Committee, and one of nine members elected by the Anglican Consultative Council; his ordination now makes him ineligible to continue to serve on the Committee. This is the first time anywhere I have seen Katharine Jefferts Schori described as representing (among others) Archbishop Venables, and no doubt he is even more surprised at the description of her authority than I am.

The Archbishop of Canterbury should realize from this that he is not dealing with responsible adults, but with spoiled children who have been given access to the candy of respectability for too long.]


  1. From a communion political perspective, Canon Kearon's questions don't matter --- he can ask all the questions he likes, but no one need take notice of them, nor indeed answer them. He is a church civil servant, not a decision maker.

  2. The question that lurks behind the Archbishop's and Canon Kearon's letters is who are the decision makers for the Communion. The "penalties" imposed in these two letters may be seen as very much like those that could be imposed under the terms of the not-yet-adopted-by-anyone Anglican Covenant. Is this perhaps a trial run, a dress rehearsal?

  3. The really simple question is: will the Global South attend any meeting of the Western, White, communion where all the representatives of ECUSA are still there but as "consultants" without vote.

    Well we already know the answer to that: no

    So in terms of fixing the communion, this action does nothing and achieves nothing.

    The idea that the GS would continue to attend meetings even with the CoE, which has approved pensions for same-sex partners of clergy, is just as foolish.