July 7, 2006

Bondage and Discipline

The most recent comment from Canterbury seems to express a fervent (or wistful) hope rather than to offer a real possibility. +Rowan appears to want a stronger Communion in which everyone signs off on something to which they all agree to be bound. But clearly the problem is that no such document yet exists -- and is unlikely to come into existence if the people composing it are the ones who can't agree in the first place! Or at best, this is merely a way to ratify the divisions.

For Rowan is unwilling to step in as the strong-man and simply lay down the law of what he thinks the Covenant should be -- even in draft form. He seems to hope that a solution will emerge from the primeval soup of discord, but I sense that his "solution" will prove merely to be a label on the problem -- a handy name for the disease rather than a cure. If this is Samuel waiting for David to get back from the sheepfold, I'm afraid he will have a long wait.

We have been cycling in rings of paradoxes since the Windsor Report: a collegial-minded leader at the head of a fractious collegium, one which alternately insists on the rights of the individual members ("What touches all must be affirmed by all") but then wants to impose limits on who is in and who is out if they assert those rights; that calls for dialogue but invites withdrawal from the consultation; and so on. I've noted all of this before.

As for any Covenant that might emerge from the present cast of characters: If it is strong enough to bind, few will be willing to be bound -- as it is the very ones calling for such bondage and discipline who also most vehemently insist on being the definers of the limits: the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), for example, has made their position abundantly clear.

So this is little more than an ecclesiastical tautology: those who will agree will agree, and those who don't won't. If everyone just gives in to the lowest common dominator, well, then we might have peace, but at what price? What does it profit any of us to gain a Whole-World-Church at the cost of our ability to minister effectively where we actually are?

What I believe could survive -- if we would get off the Utopian kick for a new model -- is precisely the same old messy mix that Anglicanism has always been: or at least since Colenso and the very first Lambeth Conference, admittedly more since 1988 and 2003: a collection of historically related churches, with bilateral rather than universal mutual communion, impaired here and there because of gender or sexuality, but willing to cooperate on mission.

Can even that survive? You will note that it is also the Global South that has introduced problems with the latter: in the Ugandan rejection of any support even for the corporal works of mercy if they come from the tainted hands of North American Episcopalians. I ask again: who is causing the tear in our church's fabric?

So, it is time for an honest, rather than a wishful, appraisal of the situation. It is either, to my mind, a "weak" communion that is strong on mission, or a hobbled and divided -- and I dare say split -- communion in which the institution is secure and the mission flounders.

WWJD?

Tobias S Haller BSG

3 comments:

Tim said...

`the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), for example, has made their position abundantly clear.'

Personally I don't think enough has been made of the change in that church's constitution, to avoid `communion with Canterbury' but make some statement about `those with traditional orthodox beliefs' or something instead.

What defines the Anglican Communion at the moment, if not `in communion with Canterbury'?

If we were to go for some core+associate two-tier system (OK, +Rowan casts doubt over the term `associate', but anyway...) then wouldn't Nigeria belong in the associate category, based on their constitutional change - if at all?

Fr Joseph Frary said...

For a long time I hoped we were or were about to become a 'communion'in the Orthodox mode, but without any sort of core agreement (except that neither bishops nor Jesus Christ are positive evils) that no longer seems possible.
As a result of the Righter debacle, I wondered what the 'core beliefs' of ECUSA/Anglicanism could be said to be. But shortly, that seemed to be too vague, so I began to think in terms of what may be called 'hard core beliefs' and these could be stated negatively. What cannot be believed and remain a member of a body. For example, a Nazi cannot believe that Jews are the Master Race; a Muslim cannot believe in the Trinity; an Orthodox Jews cannot believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah. The hard core beliefs do not need rules/laws: they simply don't happen. So what are the hard core beliefs of Episcopalians? Not belief in God, for their are proud Atheists that find their home in ECUSA (and in the Church of England). As nearly as I can make out, there are only two: one cannot believe bishops are an evil and on cannot believe that Jesus Christ is an evil. That is all.

Tobias said...

Fr Frary,
It seems to me you are confounding the beliefs of individual members of the church with the profession of the doctrine of the church itself. I dare say you will find athiests (as you put it) in the Roman Catholic Church -- who remain for whatever psychological or social comfort the church still provides them in the absence of any personal faith. But the faith of the church is more than the quirky beliefs of any number of its members.

The Righter 'debacle' as you put it merely established what every first-year seminarian knows: there are doctrines that are central to the faith, and others that are peripheral -- there is, in short, a difference between dogmatic and pastoral theology. Matters of sexuality have, until recently, always been addressed under the latter -- and recent efforts to move sex into the categories of dogma has led to some rather unfortunate conclusions: not a few of the self-styled orthodox are seen to be spouting what looks not a little like gnosticsm or a form of lightly-baptized hieros gamos paganism.

The current to-do has come about because some want to make the issue of the imperfections of a minister (as they see them, and indeed as important as they may be) a matter of core agreeement -- and that at least a certain bishop is a positive evil. As you note, it is on that premise that the communion is splitting.