The Divide Widens but Rowan seems to be Coming Good…
You may have missed it over the past few days, but the divide in the Anglican Communion has got wider and wider over the previous week. On the 8th the Diocese of San Joaquin voted to leave the Episcopal Church in the US and join the Southern Cone (under Greg Venables). Since then there has been much internet commentary and finally, the beginnings of a response from the leadership of TEC:
My dear brother,
I was deeply saddened to hear of the actions of the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin this past weekend, particularly the declaration that you are no longer part of The Episcopal Church, but are now under the authority of the Province of the Southern Cone. I assume that this means you understand yourself to have departed the Episcopal Church and are no longer functioning as a member of the clergy in this Church.
I would like to have confirmation from you of this understanding of your status. Many interrelated matters depend on that status – for example, your membership in the House of Bishops and the acceptability of pension contributions on your behalf.
You continue in my prayers.
Yours in Christ,
Katharine Jefferts Schori
Can you feel the love and Shalom? In case you think that this is just a nice letter saying “farewell” to a friend you’re very much mistaken. This little innocuous line:
I assume that this means you understand yourself to have departed the Episcopal Church and are no longer functioning as a member of the clergy in this Church.
is a tool to strip Bishop Schofield and those who voted with him to leave of all the Diocesan Property and church buildings. If Bishop Schofield replies and says, “Yes I’ve left”, then KJS will claim that since the Diocese of San Joaquin is part of TEC, Schofield and his chums will have to vacate their offices and churches and community centres and schools because they belong to the Episcopal Church and not really the Diocese. Or, in other words – “All Your Base are Belong to Us” (sorry – I nicked that from here).
However, just before we all begin our wailing and gnashing of teeth comes this little beauty from Lambeth Palace:
The debates about sexuality, significant as they may be, are symptoms of our confusion about these basic principles of recognition. It is too easy to make the debate a standoff between those who are ‘for’ and those who are ‘against’ the welcoming of homosexual people in the Church. The Instruments of Communion have consistently and very strongly repeated that it is part of our Christian and Anglican discipleship to condemn homophobic prejudice and violence, to defend the human rights and civil liberties of homosexual people and to offer them the same pastoral care and loving service that we owe to all in Christ’s name. But the deeper question is about what we believe we are free to do, if we seek to be recognisably faithful to Scripture and the moral tradition of the wider Church, with respect to blessing and sanctioning in the name of the Church certain personal decisions about what constitutes an acceptable Christian lifestyle. Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about this, it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible.
This is why the episcopal ordination of a person in a same-sex union or a claim to the freedom to make liturgical declarations about the character of same-sex unions inevitably raises the question of whether a local church is still fully recognisable within the one family of practice and reflection. Where one part of the family makes a decisive move that plainly implies a new understanding of Scripture that has not been received and agreed by the wider Church, it is not surprising that others find a problem in knowing how far they are still speaking the same language. And because what one local church says is naturally taken as representative of what others might say, we have the painful situation of some communities being associated with views and actions which they deplore or which they simply have not considered.
Where such a situation arises, it becomes important to clarify that the Communion as a whole is not committed to receiving the new interpretation and that there must be ways in which others can appropriately distance themselves from decisions and policies which they have not agreed. This is important in our relations with our own local contexts and equally in our ecumenical (and interfaith) encounters, to avoid confusion and deep misunderstanding.
While argument continues about exactly how much force is possessed by a Resolution of the Lambeth Conference such as the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution on sexuality, it is true, as I have repeatedly said, that the 1998 Resolution is the only point of reference clearly agreed by the overwhelming majority of the Communion. This is the point where our common reading of Scripture stands, along with the common reading of the majority within the Christian churches worldwide and through the centuries.
Thus it is not surprising if some have concluded that the official organs of The Episcopal Church, in confirming the election of Gene Robinson and in giving what many regard as implicit sanction to same-sex blessings of a public nature have put in question the degree to which it can be recognised as belonging to the same family by deciding to act against the strong, reiterated and consistent advice of the Instruments of Communion. The repeated requests for clarification to The Episcopal Church, difficult and frustrating as they have proved for that province, have been an attempt by the Communion at large to deal with the many anxieties expressed in this regard. The matter is further complicated by the fact that several within The Episcopal Church, including a significant number of bishops and some diocesan conventions, have clearly distanced themselves from the prevailing view in their province as expressed in its public policies and declarations. This includes the bishops who have committed themselves to the proposals of the Windsor Report in their Camp Allen conference, as well as others who have looked for more radical solutions. Without elaborating on the practical implications of this or the complicated and diverse politics of the situation, it is obvious that such dioceses and bishops cannot be regarded as deficient in recognisable faithfulness to the common deposit and the common language and practice of the Communion. If their faith and practice are recognised by other churches in the Communion as representing the common mind of the Anglican Church, they are clearly in fellowship with the Communion. The practical challenge then becomes to find ways of working out a fruitful, sustainable and honest relation for them both with their own province and with the wider Communion.
This, trust me, is good. It’s very good. It’s actually bloody brilliant. One might almost think that Rowan read my little piece a month back and then thought, “Crikey, Peter’s right. Let’s start being decisive”.
Of course, this all reminds us that for the revisionists in America, this is all about power, The very thing that the traditionalists are being accused if (wanting to hold onto male, heterosexual, patriarchal power and domination) is now the crime of 815. If KJS really believed in Shalom would she not take the route of Bishop Howe of Central Florida who has developed a framework for reasserting parishes to leave TEC and affiliate with another Province. But no, all we get from 815 is threats and talk of Canons being violated, but not a word of meaningful Scriptural Exegesis.
I guess it all leaves me asking the same question as last Christmas.