July 6, 2006

Whence and whither

I've argued for a long time that the Anglican Communion is neither a federation (which would require some sort of written Articles) nor a world-church (which would require a single hierarchy) but much more in the tradition of the Eastern churches: a communion. (Fr J Robert Wright's essay in the pre-GC Anglican Theological Review reflected this observation as well.)

As I see it, the pressure now is between those who say they want a Communion but are actually pushing for either a Federation or a World-Church. The idea of a fellowship of "national" churches bound by a common tradition and mutual respect and geared for mission seems to have fallen by the wayside under the pressure for more centralized authority or a fractious club concerned mostly with its membership rather than its mission.

The idea of mutual submission, and embracing the Cross of self-denial is wonderful. But it only works if everyone agrees: the emphasis must be on the mutuality as much as the submission. Otherwise we simply become, or create, a structure of domination: precisely what Jesus warned against when he told the apostles that they were not to exercise authority after the manner of the kings of the gentiles. I'm reminded of the quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, who when asked what he thought of Christianity, is said to have responded, "A wonderful idea; why doesn't someone try it." With the present state of affairs, those who laid down their ecclesiastical arms, so to speak, would simply become the victims of the lowest common dominator.

Could we not still function as a loose network united by historical ties, common (or at least related) liturgies, and engagement in mission?

A good idea; why doesn't someone try it.

—Tobias S Haller BSG

9 comments:

Doug Worgul said...

Fr. Tobias,

Your insightful and thoughtful commentaries on the current troubles are the best analysis I've read on the subject. It is a kind of ministry to those of us in search of a vocabulary to use in thinking and talking about all this.

John said...

Tobias,
I think the Gandhi quotation you're thinking of is when he was asked what he thought of Western civilization - "it would be a good idea."

Good thoughts anyway!

pax et bonum

Tim said...

Spot-on! I was just looking at Eph.5:15-21 last night and pondering that "submit to one another" clause.

Gandhi was probably right, too.

DaveGolub said...

You ask: "Could we not still function as a loose network united by historical ties, common (or at least related) liturgies, and engagement in mission?"
The WR describes a different kind of a relationship than what you advocate. The Global South, the Network and more conservative (for want of a better word) want more out of their inter-relationship thatn what you advocate. Rowan Williams' comments assume a more committed relationship than what you propose. Anglicanism is evolving. Why struggle to maintain ties to those whose theology is moving farther and farther from what you are prepared to accept?

Tobias said...

Dear Dave,

Especially in light of the most recent comment from Canterbury at the Synod, all I can say is that what he hopes for seems to me not to be possible. He 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 exists -- and is unlikely to come into existence if the people composing it are the ones who can't agree in the first place!

For at the same time, Rowan is unwilling to step in as the strong-man and simply lay down the law. He seems to hope that a solution will emerge, 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.

So we have a ring of paradoxes: 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; that calls for dialogue but invites withdrawal from the consultation.

And any Covenant that might emerge from the present assembly: If it is strong enough to bind, few will be willing to be bound -- and 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. This is little more than an ecclesiastical tautology: those who will agree will agree, and those who don't won't.

What I beleive could survive is precisely the messy mix that Anglicanism has always been: or at least since Colenso, and even more since 1988: a collection of historically related churches, with bilateral mutual communion, impaired here and there because of gender or sexuality, but willing to cooperate on mission. 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.

So, it is time for an honest, rather than a wishful, appraisal of the situation.

DaveGolub said...

Fr. Tobias
I neglected something in my reply. You wrote: "it is time for an honest, rather than a wishful, appraisal of the situation." I agree but I am reminded of the definition of insanity - i.e., doing the same thing time and again, but expecting a different result. The messy mix is not working. How long should we keep at it expecting a result different from what we have seen?

Tobias said...

Dave,
I suppose I'd have to ask, What result would you want?

It seems to me the Communion is suffering from a kind of OCD or Narcissism -- obsessed with its body instead of focusing on what the body is meant to do -- stuck on the ministers rather than the ministry, the missionaries instead of the mission. We are obsessively washing our hands instead of putting them to work.

God save us from the clarity of simple answers.

Brian said...

I join with others in voicing respect and appreciation for your thinking on this and other topics. But as for the Anglican Communion, I find myself beyond caring and in agreement with the latest editorial in The Church Times (7 July):

"The key benefit of belonging to an international communion is the opportunity it gives for the generous exchange of gifts and ideas among different cultures. If the factions in Anglicanism don't recognise Christ in each other -- and for every Nigerian who wants to expel the 'Global North', there is someone who wants nothing more to do with truculent African Primates -- the game is not worth the candle."

Tobias said...

Dear Brian,

That does rather sum it up. In short, I am willing to be in unconditional communion with ++Akinola, but he will only be in communion with me on his terms (which in my case would require my resignation!). This is the nub of the problem, and the difference between communion and coercion.

I wish I could see a better future for the Communion, but the placation of bullies is not a direction I can go.