Coming Apart at the Eames

Concerned that events in the United States might presage similar incidents in the Church of England – or facilitate them – the Council of Forward in Faith wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his capacity as the originator of the Eames Commission on ‘Communion and Women in the Episcopate’ hoping that he would reassert the Eames principles in a situation where such a reinforcement is clearly much needed. The following copies the correspondence to date:

TO: The Archbishop of Canterbury,

Lambeth Palace,

London SE1 7JU

March 11 1996

Dear Archbishop,

I have been asked to write to you on behalf of the Council of Forward in Faith to express the Council’s concern about recent events in North America.

You will no doubt be aware of the visitations recently made by the Suffragan Bishop of Washington, Jane Dixon to parishes in the diocese opposed to the ordination of women as priests and bishops. These visitations, which have invariably included celebrations of the Holy Communion have been made despite the protestations of the parishes in question through their vestries and wardens (and in the case of Washington, the Ascension and St. Agnes, in spite of undertakings previously given by the diocesan bishop, Ronald Haines to the priest-in-charge, Lane Davenport).

There can be no doubt that Jane Dixon’s conduct in these matters, supported by Haines, contradicts in the clearest possible way the guidelines set down by your own Commission on Communion and Women in the Episcopate (chaired by Archbishop Robin Eames). They mark a clear abandonment of the position adopted in 1977 in the Episcopal Church which, like our own Act of Synod, accorded a recognized place to those unable, for theological reasons, to accept this innovation. They are a step towards the intolerance which we understand is soon to be imposed in that church, by means of a regulation enforcing acceptance of women’s ordination on all office holders, both clerical and lay.

Whilst we accept that the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot interfere directly in the affairs of a church and diocese over which he has no jurisdiction, we are nevertheless convinced that a condemnation, by you, both of Dixon’s intolerance and of the impending exclusion from office in the Episcopal Church of those who so recently were assured of an honoured place in it, would carry considerable weight. It would, at the very least, give heart to those in the United States who are being harassed and harried by their fellow Anglicans for no better reason than that they remain faithful when others have not.

We believe, what is more, that such a condemnation would not be without effect in the Church of England.

Failure to censure those who ignore the recommendations of the Eames Commission in other provinces cannot but fuel speculation that, in the middle or long term, they will not be respected England either. If the Eames Commission findings are not to seem merely platitudinous and ineffectual then, we believe, they must be strenuously upheld and defended. Who better to uphold and defend them than the Primate in whose name the Commission was called into being?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has an increasing international role, about which you yourself spoke, quite recently, in New York. Your intervention in the Sudan, your influence in Rwanda, and your visit to former Yugoslavia have shown an admirable willingness to be involved, for the sake of justice and the gospel, in places and problems where you can have no more than a moral authority. We believe that the intolerance which is increasingly souring the life of the Episcopal Church in the United States demands of you a similar witness to the truth, and we call upon you to make it.

With all good wishes

Yours sincerely,
Geoffrey Kirk
On behalf of the Council of Forward in Faith.

TO: The Archbishop of Canterbury,

Lambeth Palace,

London SE1 7JU.

March 23 1996

Dear Archbishop,

Thank you for your secretary’s response to our letter to you of March 11.

Mr. Deuchar concludes ’…Your letter has been copied to the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion ….and to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church….I am sure they will send you substantive responses to the points that you make’.

With respect, we can only conclude from this that there was some unfortunate misunderstanding of our letter; and we hasten to apologise if its lack of clarity has resulted in confusion. Of course the Secretary-General and the Presiding Bishop will have views on the Dixon affair, and may well be happy to express them to Forward in Faith. But they are not the people in whose name the Eames Commission was called (though they are, in different ways, people to whom its findings were addressed). What I fear we did not make sufficiently clear is our concern about the status of the recommendations of the Commission and your commitment to them.

The Canon opines that’…the Archbishop is in no position to make substantial comments about ecclesiastical order and behaviour in another province of the Anglican Communion. These issues are of a quite different nature from those which have recently brought his involvement in Rwanda, Sudan and Bosnia.’

Perhaps, sir, you could help us understand the implications of the Canon’s statement, and in so doing own it (or disown it) personally. Does the Canon really mean that the Archbishop is free publicly to comment on all reconciliation proposals but his own; freer to make statements about secular politics than about Church order; and in a better position to influence non-Christians than fellow Anglicans? And if so, what does that say about the current status of the Eames Commission recommendations, the possible status of any future Commissions (The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Communion and Homosexuality in the Episcopate, peradventure?), and the reliability and permanence of the provisions for dissent (largely undergirded by the thinking of Eames) which are at present in place in England?

We believe that these are questions being urgently asked by members of Forward in Faith and we believe that they are questions which only the originator of the Eames Commission (and not the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, who was never a member of it), can answer.

In our letter of March 11 we asked you, sir, to take a stand witnessing to the need for tolerance and reconciliation according to the principles of your own Commission. If you believe that your office constrains you from making that witness, we ask, at least, a direct reply to these important questions.

Yours sincerely

Geoffrey Kirk

On behalf of the Council of Forward in Faith