It’s not every day that a Primate of the Anglican Communion gets involved in a blog conversation. Most of us like to flatter ourselves that some of the big hats read our offerings (I personally believe that the person at the ACO who reads my contributions – I can see them when they happen – is the great bearded one himself) but that they actually get involved in the chats and comments?
That’s exactly what Greg Venables, the Primate of the Southern Cone has done by commenting on a thread on Stand Firm (as I report below). He was writing in response to some worries about the GAFCON meeting in June (splendid website by the way don’t you think?) and his remarks are fascinating, giving a clear insight into the thinking of those behind the Holy Land gathering. Let’s have a closer look:
++GV says: You seem to have laid out several examples of why Lambeth attendance is imperative. If the game is still afoot and the possibilities that you have described are still in play, is there not an obligation for the orthodox to endeavor to bring these things about? Don’t these possibilities simply dwarf even the best possible outcomes of every HOB, GC and Primates Meeting to date?” If you really believe it crucial that key orthodox primates attend Lambeth please pray seriously because there is pretty well no possibility at present
Having given much time and energy to the debate and seen how little things have changed they are now getting on with the mission of the church where they are. Hence the silence from several for some months now and the planning of the conference in the Middle East next June. Lambeth is no longer a priority whereas the gospel is. Canterbury and the western leadership believe we still are part of one body and just need to find out how to live with that and that’s why there is talk of professionally facilitated dialogue.
Basically, the orthodox Primates have had enough. They’ve seen a Windsor Report, a Dromantine Communique, a condemnatory ACC resolution and a Dar Es Salaam missive come and go without a hint of change from the stance of TEC. If all these instruments have failed, why should they believe that Lambeth 2008 will succeed?
The absence of trust in the Communion is the fruit of our experience. Also, the consciousness that this is a western driven agenda which is paternalistic and has little if any understanding of other cultural styles.
The problem is there have been too many ” just this once” occasions.
There is a disillusionment with the system and Canterbury, born of experience and interpreted as betrayal and a not very subtle paternalism. Therefore several have decided that it’s no longer worth going down that road. There is no alternative plan other than the discerning of God’s will. Neither is there a group identity other than being brethren (or whatever that is in politically correct language) either to make this decision or to act together afterwards. The Global South has no defined membership. Yet being God’s people we know he is guiding us even if we have no real sense of what that might mean in the future. Part of our problem has been to do with well-intentioned westerners trying to help us with a western agenda.
The problem is Canterbury and the trust is running out. While Rowan sends out seemingly positive messages of conversation and dialogue he is in actuality inert and dangerously passive. As one leading organiser of GAFCON pointed out to me this afternoon, the Windsor Report clearly stated that those who caused the tears in the Communion to take place (the consecrators of Gene Robinson) should not be permitted representative functions in the instruments of unity. Yet that is exactly what an invite to Lambeth 2008 is – it is a representative voting role for a Bishop. Even Tom Wright agrees that that’s what the Windsor Report asked for, so in which case why is Rowan issuing invites to people that the Windsor Report says shouldn’t be coming?
This is the issue – Rowan, like it or not, is not doing his job. Furthermore, leading members of his team are telling TEC that it’s perfectly OK for them to carry on regardless with same-sex blessings and other ACO officials are resident clergy at churches where controversial gay communions take place. These key staff members are not censured nor is there a public retraction. Why should the orthodox leaders believe that Rowan will act positively when he lets his staff say exactly the opposite?
Little is expected from that quarter since so far it’s been disappointing. There is no more trust, a sense of betrayal and a sadness at the paternalistic tone to everything. There is no desire to resign membership of the Anglican Communion or to walk away but simply a sense that Lambeth will be more of the same and therefore not worthwhile. Non attendance at Lambeth cannot be taken as resigning. I share your pain re the implications but it will be difficult to change the decision, which was taken long before all the recent things had been written or said.
I wrote a while back that Rowan needed to step up to the mark but from reading these comments of Venables it might already be too late. Unless Rowan takes action now, before Lambeth 2008, he may not have an opportunity to do so afterwards.
And forget all the liberals spitting about GAFCON being Schismatic and the Bishop of Jerusalem being ignored. The Diocese of Jerusalem is bankrolled by TEC so regardless of him getting a letter on the 24th of December (which he did I am very reliably informed), he’s not going to be happy with it because his financial backers won’t be happy. As for schism, Augustine pointed out very clearly that schism happens when those who believe the same things split (i.e. Donatism was not a division over doctrine but church discipline). What we have in contrast in the Communion is two very different theologies – one Biblical and one Pagan.
So what now? The remarks of Venables are very clear. Unless Rowan acts to discipline TEC (something he claims he cannot do but in fact he can do by simply withdrawing Lambeth 2008 invites; a power he has alone and therefore an option for discipline that he has always had, putting paid to the lie that he is simply a figurehead and nothing more) he will find that other leaders in the Communion will begin to enact that discipline without him.
Who, I wonder, will blink first?