I think it became clear to many yesterday that the Archbishop of Canterbury does not have the will or intention to withdraw Lambeth invitations. He certainly does not intend to extend them to the newly consecrated American bishops from Cana, Uganda, and/or Kenya.
The most telling part of yesterday’s press conference was, in my opinion, the Archbishop’s description of the Lambeth Conference as a cross to be born for the sake of Communion. This came in reference to the Church of Nigeria’s request that Canterbury post-pone Lambeth to allow time for the present communion turmoil to subside. The Archbishop of Canterbury said that he is not prepared to post-pone or cancel the conference. Lambeth, he said, is a cross that must be born by all if there is any hope for a resurrected body. But Lambeth would not be a “cross” for Nigeria or anyone else if Canterbury were prepared to extend invitations or withdraw them.
His words, moreover, clearly undermine any sense that the Dar Es Salaam end date of September 30th represents a deadline or that the requests in the communiqué are beyond negotiation. The DES suggested that a failure to meet the requests of the primates by 30 September would impact, in some way, the “full participation of the Church [TEC] in the life of the communion.”
Here is the paragraph in full:
“The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007. If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.”
But the Archbishop of Canterbury described September 30th as simply a date of convenience. The only reason a specific date was chosen, he suggested yesterday, was that the primates recognized the September House of Bishops’ meeting as the last official meeting of bishops before the next Lambeth conference and they wanted to have the position of the American church clarified.
The requests made in the Communique are not demands or ultimatums. There is, he said, certainly room for maneuver and negotiation.
There was, further, no mention or hint of a primates’ meeting between now and Lambeth, emergency or otherwise. Rather, the Archbishop said that he would first await the outcome of the House of Bishop’s meeting, and then await the opinion and review of the Joint Standing Committee present in New Orleans. Then he would send the assessment of the JSC to the Primates of the communion and invite their feedback and advice.
The opinion then, of the Joint Standing Committee:...
Primates Standing Committee
Archbishop Rowan William - England
Archbishop Philip Aspinall - Australia
Bishop Mouneer Anis - Jerusalem and the Middle East
Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori - TEC
Archbishop Barry Morgan - Wales
ACC Standing Committee
Bishop John Paterson - Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
Professor George Koshy - South India
Mrs Philippa Amable - West Africa
Mrs Jolly Babirukamu - Uganda
Mr Robert Fordham - Australia
Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe - Ceylon
Canon Elizabeth Paver - England
Bishop James Tengatenga - Central Africa
Ms Nomfundo Walaza - Southern Africa
For the Anglican Communion Office Staff:
The Revd Canon Gregory Cameron (Deputy Secretary General)
The Revd Canon Jim Rosenthal (Communications)
Mrs Deirdre Martin (Executive Assistant
...Will precede and condition the perception and responses of the rest of the primates who will, apparently, not meet face to face.
In sum, taken together I believe we learned three things yesterday: 1. will not be an emergency primates meeting before Lambeth. 2. The present Lambeth invitations will not be withdrawn 3. The requests of the Dar Es Salaam Communique are not beyond negotiation.
It is true that the Archbishop of Canterbury, during his time in New Orleans, urged the House to reconsider the position of the Episcopal Church vis a vis the rest of the Communion. It is true, as I believe Dr. Ephraim Radner has pointed out, that the Archbishop knew what Bishop Anis was going to say to the House before he said it (although, as a member of the JSC, Mouneer Anis was invited by the Episcopal House of Bishops, not specially by Canterbury). And it is almost certainly true that he wanted it to be said in order to let the House know what a good portion of the Communion is thinking. It is also probably true that the Archbishop was, in the press conference, not so much seeking to speak to American orthodox Anglicans as seeking to smooth episcopal feathers after a particularly difficult morning session.
But despite all of that, and, in case you are wondering, I am far from alone in this assessment, there will be no primates meeting, no withdrawal of invitations, and an ongoing “conversation” with the Episcopal Church. Compromise, said Canterbury yesterday, is after all inevitable.
So where does this leave us?
In an interesting position I would think. Division seems even more inevitable than compromise. If the Episcopal Church does not pull back from the brink and, subsequently, Lambeth invitations are not withdrawn from Episcopal bishops and, further, if invitations are not issued to Nigerian, Ugandan, Rwandan, and Kenyan bishops, then there is, seemingly, an insurmountable impasse. The Windsor “Process” will be at an end. While the Church of Nigeria and some others will not, probably, declare independence from Canterbury, they will not meet. They will proceed as if Canterbury did not exist and as if the Episcopal Church is no longer a member of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
All of this, I think, will be perfectly justified and yet terrible.
But there is, to my mind, only one last and quite improbable scenario that might prevent this outcome.
Given that the Archbishop of Canterbury will not act, it is left, and this would only be possible by and through God’s intervening grace, for the Bishops of the Episcopal Church to save the Communion. I never thought I would write that sentence, but it is true. If all (or some) of the bishops of the Episcopal Church were to voluntarily absent themselves from the Lambeth Conference, the Communion might just right herself, at least for the time being.
Dr. Kendall Harmon is the author of this suggestion. He writes:
“For myself, I will consider those in New Orleans serious when they consider offering the Anglican Communion something like this statement:
We realize we have caused huge damage to the whole Anglican Communion and therefore, we, as a body, voluntarily withdraw from coming to Lambeth 2008.
Now please note this means ALL the TEC Bishops. No exceptions. It would allow Dr. Williams to get nearly all (perhaps actually all?) the rest of the Communion to Lambeth, and it would show a sense of corporate responsibility for the wrong.
Yes, I know it is not perfect. I also know that it would only be PART of a solution and that there are many other questions which would have to be addressed. I also know it would only happen by divine intervention.
But only things LIKE THIS will really get us anywhere given the degree of damage, alienation, confusion and struggle.”
In keeping with this idea, Dr. Ephraim Radner suggests a way that that Dr. Harmon’s might take on flesh:
…one thing I am certain of: if the American bishops of all stripes—and their dioceses and clergy—could agree to some response to this situation that would get the larger Communion out from under this fight, he would think this the proper and acceptable course. EVEN IF IT MEANT THAT A LARGE PORTION OF TEC DISTANCED ITSELF FROM THE COMMUNION. He would not be happy with this, but he would find it acceptable, because it would be a way of dealing with a conflict that engaged the mature agreement of responsible Christian leaders, however difficult and costly. The current way of dealing with it—spreading it around the Communion like vomit with a rag—has proven not only costly, but scandalous.
My own hope, in light of this limited sense of the Archbishop’s desires, would be this: that the “Windsor Bishops” resolution be voted upon, and that, following that vote, there be an agreement worked out by which those who cannot, in good conscience (and here Abp. Anis’ plea provides a concrete possibility of direciton), abide by the acknowledged teaching and discipline of the Communion, by which they will temporarily withdraw from the Communion’s formal councils for an undetermined time (5 to 10 years was the suggestion of Prof. Grieb at the last House of Bishops’ meeting, a suggestion greeted with much appreciation); and during this time, those dioceses committed to the Communion’s teaching and discipline will move forward with the Communion’s life, and those congregations and clergy in dissenting TEC dioceses will be put under the oversight of Communion dioceses. When this is done, a formal request will be made to the Primates that those providing extra-geogrphaical oversight give up that role, and fold their congregations back into the Communion-linked dioceses and oversight of American bishops. TEC will not cease to exist (though, as with the Communion, not all will participate in its formal life); it will, rather, exist in a state of partition.
…As I said, a way forward like this would, in fact, be congruent in certain significant ways with commitments of Canterbury, Egypt (and probably other GS jurisdictions), and liberal TEC bishops (up to a point). If there is indeed “room” in the present moment to “maneuver”, I cannot see that I can be anywhere but in this kind of arena of possibility. To be sure, I believe such an arena is too constricting for many to accept.”
I agree with Drs. Harmon and Radner. Such an act of selfless sacrifice on the part of the House of Bishops would certainly demonstrate a commitment to the sort of honesty and integrity to which Archbishop Mouneer Anis appealed:
My friends, if you really believe that the truth revealed to you is different from that shown to the rest of the Communion, then you need to uphold that claim with boldness even at the risk of losing unity. If you think it is right and necessary to ordain and consecrate practicing homosexuals and that you should bless same sex partnerships or even marriages, you should be true to what you believe is right and accept the consequences….If you don’t commit yourself to the Dar Es Salaam recommendations would you be willing to walk apart at least for a period during which we continue our discussions and dialogue until we reach a common understanding, especially about the essentials of our faith? Forgive me when I say that for many of us in the Communion, we feel that you have already walked apart at least theologically from the standard teaching of the Communion.
At the same time, it would not demand that the Episcopal Church relinquish her (dubious) claims regarding the absolute autonomy of provinces. She would absent herself “voluntarily.”
There is some difference between the two approaches. Dr. Radner suggests an agreement whereby the Windsor Bishops and dioceses and those parishes in non-Windsor dioceses remain fully engaged in the Communion while Dr. Harmon seems to want even Windsor bishops and dioceses to absent themselves.
Dr. Harmon’s idea would rightly require orthodox bishops, parishes, and clergy to share in the collective responsibility for the failure of the Episcopal Church. But Dr. Radner’s suggestion also provides a possible avenue for reconciliation between those beyond the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church and those within. Those Windsor Bishops currently within the Episcopal Church would, in accordance with DES, negotiate a place for those beyond to return. They would not return to the Episcopal Church in its current unified state, but to a voluntarily partitioned and distinct Windsor body. Given the voluntary absence of non-Windsor bishops from the life of the communion, this could, possibly work.
Of the two, I tend to agree more with Dr. Radner’s approach than Dr. Harmon’s. I do not think the orthodox are innocent of Communion blood in the sense that our past complacency has, in large part, led to our present turmoil. At the same time, an across the board voluntary withdrawal of both Windsor and non-Windsor bishops would I think, symbolically, suggest a sort of moral equivalence between the orthodox position and the heterodox one.
How would we get there from here?
I think the first step would be for the House of Bishops to consider resolutions that specifically articulate the DES requests. That would mean that the MacPherson resolutions would need to come to the floor of the House intact.
This would allow, perhaps for the first time, the Episcopal Bishops to deal honestly with Communion requests. At General Convention, the House of Deputies disallowed even the consideration of a substitute proposal that would have put Windsor language on the floor. The House of Bishops now has the opportunity to revisit Windsor honestly and forthrightly.
A vote on the MacPherson resolution would identify those bishops willing to live within the boundaries of Communion standards and teaching and it would identify those unwilling to do so.
The second step would be for those bishops unwilling to live within the Communion standard, to do a very courageous thing. They would need to step away; to remove themselves from the councils of the Communion. Such a move, as Archbishop Mouneer Anis noted yesterday, would not at all mean an end to “dialogue”. The honest distance between Christians and Muslims or Protestants and Catholics promotes rather than hinders conversation. Clear identity allows for engagement and debate. Obfuscation hinders it.
The third step would be for the Church of Nigeria and others to attend Lambeth without their newly consecrated American bishops. I agree they should, by rights, be invited. But I think that a voluntary decision not to attend by non-Windsor bishops should prompt an equally sacrificial decision on the part of orthodox primates and bishops.
The place and position of Cana, AMiA, ACK and Ugandan bishops would need to be an important part of the discussions at Lambeth and beyond Lambeth. Eventually, with the partition of the Episcopal Church along the lines suggested by Dr. Radner, a new structure including all of these jurisdictions should be a workable possibility.
The problem of course is that all of this hinges on the willingness of the House of Bishops to act with honesty and integrity. For that reason, I do not think the above scenario likely.
But I do think, as I have been reminded this week, that despair is a sin. For that reason, however unlikely, while there is still time we must pray, work, and hope for an outcome such as the one above that does not compromise Windsor, that does not betray the Gospel, that includes discipline (even if it is self imposed) and that is shot through with the charity of Christ.