Tom on Rowan

Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, has written a commentary on Rowan’s letter to the Communion (pretty much like the rest of the Anglican world has done in fact). The commentary is significant because Tom and Rowan are close and this piece is not just another meandering through the document but should actually act as a guide to what the Archbishop’s thinking was in writing what he wrote. You can read the whole thing here, but here are the highlights.

4. Once we penetrate the complex language, the ABC is also eventually clear that the great majority at GenCon voted, in effect if not in so many words, against the two relevant moratoria. ‘The repeated request for moratoria . . . has clearly not found universal favour’ is a roundabout but ultimately unambiguous way of saying ‘the majority voted against the moratoria’. This puts in a different light the reference in the first paragraph to ‘an insistence at the highest level’ (i.e. a letter from the Presiding Bishop) that the relevant resolutions ‘do not have the automatic effect of overturning the requested moratoria’. That may be true in a strict legal sense, though many will see this as an example of typical TEC behaviour, a grandmother’s-footsteps game of creeping forwards without being noticed. But the resolutions that were passed clearly had the effect (a) of reminding people that the way was in fact open all along to the episcopal appointment of non-celibate homosexuals, and (b) of reminding people that rites for public same-sex blessings could indeed be developed. The ABC is now clearly if tacitly saying, throughout the document, that there is no reasonable likelihood, at any point in many years to come, that TEC will in fact turn round and embrace the moratoria ex animo, still less the theology which underlies the Communion’s constant and often-repeated stance on sexual behaviour. Nor is there any reasonable likelihood that TEC will in fact be able to embrace the Covenant when it attains its final form a few months from now. That is the reality with which the Reflections deal.

5. Section 2 of the ABC’s Reflections addresses the presenting double-headed issue of same-sex blessings and the ordination (not simply the consecration as bishops) of non-celibate homosexuals. Here he basically reaffirms the church’s traditional stance, articulated in Lambeth 1.10 from 1998 but universally held, prior to that, whenever the point had been raised. First, the church cannot sanction or bless same-sex unions. Second, since the ordained ministry carries a necessarily representative function for the life of the church, those who order their lives this way cannot fulfil this representative role – cannot, in other words, be ordained. This is perhaps the strongest statement that the ABC has yet made of the Church’s position, and it should be noted carefully that he refers to the whole ordained ministry, i.e. deacons and priests and not just bishops. This has of course always been the official position of the whole Anglican Communion, repeated again and again by Lambeth Conferences, ACC and Primates and never overturned, for instance, in the Church of England’s General Synod. The ABC’s clear statement indicates once again that the two moratoria here expressed (with the second one actually strengthened) should be explicit prerequisites of Covenant membership. However much people may protest – and they have and will – that in some cases this is honoured more in the breach than in the observance, that is not an argument that the position is wrong, but a challenge to the way the church’s order and discipline currently functions. Creating ‘facts on the ground’ which fly in the face of the church’s well-known official teaching does not, as some suppose, generate a moral high ground; it is a form of dishonesty. If people want to object, they should argue the point, not assume it.

8. Section 3, on the global and local decision-making processes, is a great strength.

(i) Though the ABC does not say so, this is basically a combination of the very heart of the Windsor Report and the one really good section of the Kuala Lumpur Report (Communion, Conflict and Hope, para. 104). At this point the ABC is simply articulating what the Windsor Continuation Group had said clearly before, during and after Lambeth 08.

(ii) The ABC here does three vital things and then homes in on the key point. (a) He insists that this is not (as is often sneeringly said) about bureaucratic or centralized ‘control’; (b) he warns against churches becoming ‘imprisoned in their own cultural environment’ (cognate with the point at the end of my previous paragraph); (c) he broadens the question so as to make it clear that this applies equally to issues such as lay presidency or inviting the unbaptized to receive Holy Communion.

(iii) The key point then is this (his paragraph 13): though some things can indeed be decided by a local church, the decision as to which things can be decided locally is not itself one that can be taken locally. And the criteria upon which the global church can decide this all-important question are (as in Kuala Lumpur) ‘intensity, substance and extent’. This really needs spelling out, but within the ABC’s document, and for that matter the present one, this can be left for another occasion.

9. Within the same section, the ABC makes the vital point that in our ongoing ecumenical work is it vital that our partners know ‘who speaks for the body they are relating to’. If many Anglicans don’t see why these presenting issues should matter, the same is not true for our ecumenical partners, particularly among the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. What is at stake, as well as Anglican identity and ecclesial density (i.e. being a church with a high doctrine of Communion, rather than a loose federation), is ecumenical credibility.

10. Many will not regard the language of a ‘two-track’ Communion as a strength. Some have objected that this is forcing apart what ought to be held together. Others, conversely, have sneered that ‘two-track’ sounds like a vote for pluralism pure and simple, a kind of ecclesial version of ’70s pop-psych ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’: you go your way, we go ours, and we’re both just fine as we are. But the ‘two-track’ option is not intended as an indifferentist, shoulder-shrugging thing (though no doubt some who find themselves in the incipient Track Two will want to see it like that). To say ‘two-tier’, as some have done at earlier stages in the discussion, implies that the two are still ‘tiers’ of the same thing, whereas ‘tracks’ may be going in quite different directions. And it is one ‘track’ rather than the other which will possess the coherence to work together in full solidarity, not least in ecumenical relationships.

21. A Way Forward?

(i) How do ‘Communion Partners’ sign on? The question presses, as in the ABC’s paragraph 25, as to how dioceses, parishes and individuals within TEC will be able to sign the Covenant and thus not only align themselves, but be recognised by the wider Communion as aligning themselves, with that wider Communion itself. The ABC is certainly here referring to the ‘Communion Partner’ bishops, and to the parishes and individuals who take the same line that they do. As the ABC says, ‘there should be a clear answer to this question’, and actually the ABC himself is now the main person, if not the only person, in a position to give a clear and authoritative answer. But some proposals here may perhaps help.

(ii) The Anaheim Statement: In his second paragraph, the Archbishop notes that a substantial minority have indicated their dissent from the position taken by TEC as a whole. The document they have produced (‘the Anaheim Statement’) could now form something of a bridge between the present confusion and the not-too-distant future when the full Covenant will be available for signature. Some reports indicate that bishops who voted with the majority in Gen Con are now realising the predicament they’ve put themselves in and are starting to sign up to Anaheim instead.

(iii)  What about Parishes and Individuals? But here’s the problem: it is one thing for bishops and their dioceses to be ‘Communion Partners’, recognised by Lambeth and the wider Communion as full ‘Track One’ members. (That carries its own problems, but if the diocese is the primary unit, as the ABC has insisted, it is clearly possible.) But how a parish in a non-signing diocese, or an individual in a non-signing parish or diocese, can become a ‘Track One’ Anglican, recognised as such globally, remains to be seen. Many in that position neither want nor intend to join a movement like ACNA, nor should they be put in a position where they have no other option. But a way forward must be found.

(iv) Getting from Here to There: Covenant Sections 1-3. The Covenant, when completed, will provide a line in the sand. However, we do not need to wait until Section 4 is redrafted. The first three sections are already completed and agreed, and they (especially Section Three) already prohibit the kinds of things which General Convention has done, and which many TEC bishops are doing. These three sections could be signed and adopted right away by CP bishops and dioceses as a signal of their intent.

(v) Getting from Here to There: Anaheim. The Anaheim Statement itself could also function as a preliminary rallying point around which more may gather than had initially been supposed. Perhaps, indeed, signing this statement, along with Sections 1-3 of the Covenant, could function, ahead of the availability of the final version of the Covenant, as a prerequisite for participation, from this moment on, in representative Anglican functions and bodies and, not least, in bodies that deal with the Covenant itself and the future of the Instruments. That would give actual and practical expression to what the ABC has now said. Indeed, unless something like this is implemented at once it will be hard to sustain trust in the ongoing process.

(vi) Interim Structures? We need some interim structures to get us from where we are to where we need to be – and not only in TEC, but also in Canada and perhaps elsewhere. But we need these now, not in six months, let alone six years. The Communion Partner bishops should perhaps restate their willingness to provide, with the permission of the relevant Diocesan, alternative episcopal relationship and cover for parishes in Dioceses whose bishops might find their relation to the wider Communion to have changed. The now largely discredited ‘DEPO’ system (‘Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight’) may have been a signpost, albeit one that didn’t seem to be capable of working well at the time, towards some kind of a solution. Issues of polity should, if possible, be dealt with at a provincial, not a global, level.

(vii) Urgent meetings? Ideally, the CP bishops, and perhaps some of the Rectors, should meet with the Archbishop to discuss some kind of a revived DEPO. The ABC could then invite others, including both representatives of TEC leadership on the one hand and ACNA on the other, to further meetings to work out agreements that would avoid future confusions or accusations. There is a need, perhaps, for a call to mutual respect, and maturity of decision-making, in recognition of where things now stand. There is no point pretending things are otherwise than they are. We have come to the tipping point, and wisdom suggests that all involved take counsel in recognition of that.

(viii) What about ACNA? All this raises, then, the question of ACNA itself (and, indeed, other would-be Anglican bodies). Without some kind of clear steer on the issues just raised, we can expect that ACNA will continue to attract individuals, congregations and perhaps even dioceses. This is, indeed, already happening. However, though the situation on the ground is often confused, ACNA has expressed a clear willingness to work with the Communion Partner bishops towards whatever greater good may come. And ACNA itself has shown itself eager to sign the Covenant when it is complete. All this will go into the melting pot of whatever new alignments the Communion will discover over the coming months. It is important that bridges, not fences, be built during this period.

So basically, Tom says what I said yesterday. I will now remove my smugness and go and spend the weekend with the in-laws!

4 Comments on “Tom on Rowan

  1. I would just like to draw attention to one thing which leaped out at me when I was reading the above comments:

    the decision as to which things can be decided locally is not itself one that can be taken locally

    Surely the CofE (as a separate body) was founded precisely on the opposite principle, that of the complete independence of the national church from any outside decision-making process or authority? Have we now officially and formally abandoned that position, or just drifted away from it? I am genuinely curious, not trying to carp at Tom or the archbishop.

    • That quote concerning local decisions was actually one of my favourites, and seemed pretty obvious from first principles, until I read the above comment.

      As to the Church of England, it might depend on which reformation to which you are referring. Henry’s reformation, that was certainly the chief principle. Edward’s or Elisabeth’s? I’m not so sure. The belief of Cranmer, Jewel, Hooker (at least as far as I have read and understood them) was that the Church of Rome had clearly departed from the faith of the apostles, and that the Church of England was returning to it; and that was the guiding principle behind their reformation.

      Also, there is one important difference between the reformation and now. `Local option’ implies that the matter is to a certain extent indifferent, and either position is valid and it is up to the local church to determine what is most beneficial in their own situation. The reformers did not consider the matters which separated the Church of England from the Church of Rome to be second order. In other words, they did not regard the protestant doctrines on transubstantiation, justification etc. to be adiaphora, but essential. Neither the Romans nor the Reformers argued that justification is `local option:’ each appealed to the fathers and to scripture, thinking that the other side was dead wrong in their interpretation of them, and demonstratively and dangerously so. In our current time, however, part of the dispute is about what is essential to the Christian faith and what is not. TEC has been arguing (perhaps `declaring’ would be a better word) that this issue is adiaphora, and they have been merely adapting an indifferent aspects of Anglicanism to their own context. Thus the Bishop of Durham’s comment applies to our current situation (to an extent) but not to the Elizabethan and Edwardian reformations, at least from an evangelical perspective.

      But it is an interesting thought, and well worth considering.

      • Thank you for this, Nigel. But I think the decisions taken in the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I (and especially the way they were taken) must be seen as implying they continued to accept the independence of national churches even if that wasn’t the theological point they were trying to make. It seems to me that it is also implied by the retention of the royal “supremacy” instituted by Henry, even if toned down a little by Elizabeth. Whether you are head or a governor, if you are supreme it means no one else has the right to overrule you.

  2. “Creating ‘facts on the ground’ which fly in the face of the church’s well-known official teaching does not, as some suppose, generate a moral high ground; it is a form of dishonesty. If people want to object, they should argue the point, not assume it”.

    I’ll guess I’m not the only one who’s a little tired of hearing Tom Wright talk of ‘creating facts on the ground’. The problem seems rather that the ‘facts on the ground’ (ie gay priests who have been ordained some time and may well have partners) already exist but that there’s a lack of honesty about this. Would it be too tactless to ask Dr Wright what proportion of clergy in his diocese are gay, and of those, how many have partners? And what he intends to do about any partnered gay clergy there may be, given what RW’s reflections say? Presumably he should have some idea of the answer to the first question, given the Bishops’ guidelines on civil partnerships and 1991’s ‘Issues in human sexuality’…

    …it’s just a shame that knee-jerk reactions like mine here, especially from a lay person at some distance, is not much help. But then again maybe there is some validity in asking such questions – Dr Wright (like many others, including me in different ways in my own life) may well be complicit in this “form of dishonesty”.

    “If people want to object, they should argue the point, not assume it” – again I doubt I am the only one wanting to scream. It hardly needs saying that the point has been argued, over and over, without agreement. Perhaps what Dr Wright means is that ‘they should argue the point, and not act until those who disagree are persauded either to change their minds, or that this is something on which we can agree to disagree’ – but he doesn’t say so.

    OK, I’ll stop – am not sure I have anything halfway sensible to say here, just frustration.

    in friendship, Blair

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