With a vision for unity and truth
ATTENDING the press launch of an Anglican Communion Report is. I have to tell you, a bizarre experience. When the Report is being presented by Archbishop Robin Eames, it reaches the furthest realms of unreality.
Eames was presenting the Windsor Report in a room far too small for its occupants in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. He had clearly spent the preceding night passionately kissing the Blarney Stone. The result of these osculations was a cheerful fluency which facilitated the avoidance of any question of substance. Of no one, since it was first applied to WE Gladstone, has Disraeli’s description been more applicable: ‘A sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity’.
And so it was less with rhetorical skill and more with the sheer volume of words that he managed to obfuscate the fundamental absurdity of the Report.
The Lambeth Commission, the Archbishop told the incredulous press, had not been asked to consider the truth or falsehood of any proposition about human sexuality
— merely to map out a way forward for the Church. (One official later courageously compared the Report’s findings to the Middle Eastern ‘Road Map’, thereby unintentionally conveying his own fears about its success.) The vaunted unanimity of the Commission was based on its sentimental attachment to unity (‘bonds of affection’), rather than on a common agreement about truth.
The Report is full of phrases which expose this wilful separation between truth and unity:
The Episcopal Church (USA) [is] invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges’ (para 134, italics mine).
Change, then, is envisaged as virtually inevitable. The teaching of the Lambeth Fathers is viewed as at best provisional. Truth, for the members of the Lambeth Commission, is not revealed, but contingent upon circumstances. And sadly there is no acknowledgement that just the opposite is the view of those opposed to the innovations being addressed.
‘very many people in the Anglican Communion’, says the Report (para 29), ‘could neither receive the ministry as a bishop in the Church of God of a person in an openly acknowledged same gender union.’
It is a sentence littered with prejudicial
presuppositions. ‘Union’ in this context is an impossibly loaded term. ‘For this cause a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, so that they are no longer
two but one flesh’ (Mark 10.7—8] The words of Jesus are grounded in a theology of creation. For traditional Christians the term ‘union’ describes that relationship and that alone. Nor do traditional Christians reject the appropriateness merely of those in openly acknowledged same sex relationships. They believe that all such relationships disqualify those who sustain them from apostolic ministry. They cannot lightly condone a doctrine which openly encourages perjury and deceit.
The language of Archbishop Eames at the press release was all about ‘process’ and ‘pilgrimage’. As he must know, this is dangerous language for a Christian. Though we have been taught that the full truth will only be revealed at the end of the journey, when in the beatific vision we see God as he really is and know ourselves as we are known, it is not true that there are no certain and indubitable guides, pointing the way to that desired end. The scriptures, as interpreted by the tradition of the Church, are that guide. If they mean anything at all, then it must at some stage be possible to say, with Pope John Paul, that in some mailers Ecciesiam facultatem nullatenus habere (the church has no authority whatsoever). In the inchoate ecclesiology of the Lambeth Commission that time need never come.
The doctrine that unity trumps truth (or as an American bishop recently put it, ‘heresy is to be preferred to schism’) is a direct and fatal denial of apostolic truth and ministry. Apostles are ones sent, and sent with a message. The message comes from God through Our Lord Jesus Christ and is given to the apostles and theft successors to be faithfully transmitted. ‘As the Father sent me, sol send you,’ says Jesus (John 20.21). ‘You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true,’ says Paul to his apostolic vicar and spiritual son (2 Timothy 3.14).
The choice which lies before Anglicans is stark and plain: either Balkanization or the adoption of a some kind of magisterium which can reassert the primacy of scripture and the tradition. The choice, however, may already unconsciously have been made.
Anglican Provinces are said to be ‘episcopally led and synodically governed’. But the truth is different. Synods, with a sense of their own parliamentary-style omni-competence, are not easily ‘led’ by bishops; and bishops, in a political system which seeks to clip their wings, feel vulnerable and exposed if they act against the current consensus.
This is poignantly expressed in the Windsor Report when it discusses the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
‘At present, there is some lack of clarity about the level of discretion that the Arch-
bishop has with respect to invitations to the Lambeth Conference and to the Primates’ Meeting. This Commission is of the opinion that the Archbishop has the right to call or not to call to these gatherings whomsoever he believes is appropriate, in order to safeguard, and take counsel for, the well-being of the Anglican Communion. The Commission believes that in the exercise of this right the Archbishop of Canterbury should invite participants to the Lambeth Conference on restricted terms at his sole discretion if circumstances exist where full voting membership of the Conference is perceived to be an undesirable status, or would militate against the greater unity of the Communion’ (para
So far so good. In certain limited circumstances the Archbishop is to be accorded sole discretion, though many would say that he already had it.
But the Report goes on: ‘to ensure that he does not feel exposed and left to act entirely alone, but in a way which is informed by suitable persons… we … recommend the establishment of a Council of advice to assist him
such a body might be formed from any existing council of the Communion, possibly the Joint Standing Committees of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting’ (para 112).
What is given with one hand is taken back by the other; what sounds like a change for the better (or at least a change) proves in reality to be just more of the same. Fear of an ‘Anglican Pope’ — as though such a role (which has developed continuously over more than a millennium and a half) could be replicated in a single generation — has resulted in the primus inter pares having fewer independent powers than he had to start with.
What is plain for all to see, through the verbiage of this lengthy report, is that an appeal to sentimental attachments is no foundation for any sort of collegial relationship. ‘THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE’ (John 8.32) proclaims the logo of the Anglican Communion on the cover. It is a pity that the members of the Lambeth Commission had not paid more attention to it. Probably Robin Eames, with his fatal fluency, thought that anything expressed in so few words must be worthless and trite. But the truth will out:
that a church which can only proclaim the truth on its own authority, and at the conclusion of an unseemly internal wrangle, is one which can expect to divide and die.
In that order.
Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St Stephen’s, Lewisham, in the Diocese of Southwark