or how to keep a squabbling family together when the children refuse to follow the rules
Ivan Aquilina has been reading Archbishop Rowan Williams’ recent Reflections and offers his own reflections upon them
On the 27 July 2009, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued his reflections on the outcome of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, held earlier that month in California.
While most of the media was reflecting some hysterical voices from within the Communion shouting heresy and schism, and finding innovative ways of how to tear the body of Christ apart, the Archbishop offered his measured and balanced response.
In these reflections the Archbishop shows that this is no end of the road, that we need to reflect and respond in a sensible and truthful manner, without giving way to those whose personal agendas drive them for apocalyptic measures and multiple stockpiles of mutual accusations. It was always the wisdom of the Church of England to follow the mean between the two extremes.
The reflections of the Archbishop are in the style of an Encyclical letter addressed to all members of the Anglican Communion. In 26 numbered paragraphs the Archbishop offers his wise and godly counsel to those ‘who value the Anglican name and heritage’ [§ 26]. The Archbishop offers the Anglican Communion two points for reflection.
The first point, presented in § 4, shows that within the Communion the arguments to support same-sex unions are being couched in the language of fundamental human rights. The Archbishop joins all men of good will in pointing out that LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered] persons need to have their dignity respected and their place in the Church guaranteed, and the moments in which the Church fell short of this must be acknowledged with penitence’ [§ 5].
However, the Archbishop resolves that within the household of faith, the same-sex unions issue is not one of human rights, but one which sees if the Church is free to recognize such unions.
Using the Anglican measure of orthodoxy – Scripture, Reason and Tradition – the Archbishop concludes that the recognition of such unions by the Church is unlikely, given the
lack of consensus among all Christians. As these unions go against the teaching of the Church Catholic they cannot have the authority of the Church nor the Communion, and those who practise them are not in a position to represent the Church (as ordained ministers) to the local or the whole Church [§§ 8,9].
The Archbishop concludes his reflection on this first point by explaining that changes in society do not mean a change in the discipline of the Church.
The Archbishop writes gracefully in such a way that the reader is allowed to appreciate his writing and arrive at one’s own conclusion. I am deeply grateful that such a masterful theologian writes so humbly and enables me to make my own reflection within his.
I am taken with the way in which the Archbishop speaks of Scripture, Reason and Tradition and how these bar us from following the spirit of this passing age and guarantee to us the necessary freedom to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who continues to live in his Church.
However, I wonder how he did not pick this same argument which Forward in Faith has been consistently offering to the wider Church as regards the admittance of women to the three grades of Holy Orders.
Why should this solid argument be applied only in one instance, and not in another, in two cases which both have to do with faith and morals; two cases which go so deep at the heart of what it means to be the authentic Church of Jesus Christ?
The second point made by the Archbishop in his reflections is introduced in § 11. This point deals with the healthy way in which a local church can make up its mind on a sensitive and controversial matter.
The key to these opportunities provided to a local church can be found in the local church taking into consideration the discernment and judgement of the wider Church so that the local church can remain recognizable to other Christians [§ 12]. The Archbishop regards, quite rightly so, as venerable the principle that says that: ‘What affects the communion of all should be decided by all’ [§ 13].
The Archbishop illustrates the greatness of this principle by explaining that in a New Testament framework what is determined by all is in tune with the Holy Spirit more than when a local church decides on its own.
The local church
In § 14 the Archbishop explains that a local church working on its own in front of local pressure becomes isolated in its own cultural environment. This I take to mean a serious loss of the freedom granted to the church to proclaim the liberating Gospel of Christ. I believe that when a church loses this freedom it ceases to be the church that Christ wants it to be.
The theological vision of a local church is shaped by ecumenical discussions [§ 15]. In going its own way a local church ceases to be recognized, andto accept local pressure without challenge (especially on matters of sexuality or sacramental practice [§ 18]) would be to abandon global consensus amongst Anglicans, and hinder ecumenical activity which derives from the dominical commandment of becoming one.
Enjoying the balanced structure of this second point I wonder once more how this is not equally valid in the matter of the ordination of women. How can one forget the strong words of Cardinal Kasper, not once but twice, and the message of the Russian Orthodox Church, after the 2007 July General Synod?
Forward in Faith, since its inception, was again consistent in offering this vital point to the wider Church. The fact that it fell on deaf ears is a worrying sign, as in my opinion it betrays the impatience of liberals in regularizing what goes against Scripture, Reason, Tradition and the bonds between a local church and the Church Catholic.
From § 19 the Archbishop discusses what life might be like in the Communion now that a local church is indicating very strongly in going its own way. While some prefer a loose federation of local churches, this goes against what the Communion has understood of itself, especially in the last fifty years. The best practice resulting from the last fifty years is one of mutual responsibility [§ 20]. This responsibility intensifies existing relationships [§ 21].
Reality shows that some are opting out of mutual responsibility, but this does not mean that existing relationships can be destroyed or that some will be cast, as some on both sides of the divide would wish, in the outer darkness.
Those opting out of mutual responsibility are paving the way for a two-fold ecclesial reality. One would be a covenanted Anglican body, sharing in what the Church should be and how it should behave, and the other would be an association of local churches in mutual partnership and solidarity with the other covenanted provinces. Those who opt out of the covenant will not be able to Speak for the Anglican Communion in international ecumenical/ interfaith dialogue [§ 22].
Avoiding hurtful and unhelpful words such as schism or excommunication, this will be a two-style way of being Anglican. The two tracks need the freedom to be what they believe God is calling them to be. Holding these two in tension, though not the best approach, would stimulate mutual respect for those who hold differing theological convictions.
This might create an engagement that leads to a new era of mission and spiritual growth (outside the battlefield into the mission field) of those who value the Anglican name and heritage [§ 26]. I am deeply grateful for these wise and positive reflections. The Archbishop is trying to keep together in Christ even those who hold irreconcilable ^^ positions. For some this does not go far enough; for others it feels like a betrayal by an Archbishop who once may have put things differently. It is true that the office makes the man and I see that here the Archbishop is offering reflections stemming not only from the depths of his wisdom but also from his experience as leader of the Anglican Communion.
To those who clumsily advocate Anglican fudge, I suggest that this is an Anglican solution. What is still unclear for me is whether this Anglican solution can be also owned and recognized by the Church Catholic. This is the place that some of us working within the Act of Synod find ourselves. Can this Anglican solution be owned and recognized by the Church Catholic?
Maybe having a two-tiered ecclesial solution will help both parties to remain in integrity and provide the necessary freedom to become the Church God wants us to be, while working together as far as it is possible.
I believe that a structural solution as consistently offered by Forward in Faith can be an Anglican solution that eventually might be owned and recognized by the Church Catholic. This might ensure that those ropes necessary for the moorings mentioned in § 1 become bonds of charity rather than ropes of strangulation. \ND\
The full text of the Archbishop’s reflections, entitled ‘Communion, Covenant and our Anglican future: Reflections on the Episcopal Church’s 2009 General Convention from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishops, Clergy and faithful of the Anglican Communion can be read on