Frank Griswold’s Poodle?

AN ERA CAME TO AN END this last month. Charlie Brown’s creator, Schultz, died on the day that the very last Peanuts cartoon strip appeared. Gone forever is the perceptive child’s view of events from Charlie, Lucy, Linus and their friends. I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Gospel according to Peanuts, but I couldn’t help wondering what Charlie Brown might have made of the church authorities’ reaction to the Galilean carpenter who confronted them nearly two thousand years ago.

Jesus, of course, hadn’t been to any of the recognised rabbinical schools. His ministry was to say the least ‘irregular’ and he didn’t show the required courtesies to the religious establishment. Talk of a brood of vipers and whitewashed tombs was hardly going to endear him to them. He challenged their teaching and denounced their doctrines (on the Sabbath and Corban for instance) as plain wrong. It must be the supreme irony that those who called loudest for Jesus’ execution were the senior clergy of his day – those whose job it was to promote the worship of God and obedience to his laws – and they had got it spectacularly wrong. Charlie Brown would certainly have had some pithy observations on such a grotesque travesty.

Fortunately, over the last two thousand years, the church authorities have been completely reformed and they are now much more enlightened. So it comes as no surprise to see the reaction to the consecration of two highly respected American church leaders by two orthodox Anglican archbishops.

Bishop Frank Griswold, is not a ‘happy camper’. He has led a chorus of protest from the Primates of the Anglican Communion at what he calls the breaking of church order.

The Primates of South East Asia and Rwanda defended the consecrations of the two missionary bishops to the United States as an ‘interim action’ on behalf of faithful congregations living amidst the ‘apostasy’ and breaches of discipline in the American Episcopal Church.

Both Primates came under severe pressure and faced questions about the legality of the consecrations with revelations that there were only two consecrators rather than the usual three, and claims within Singapore that due process had not been followed. One English bishop told me confidently that the Canon Law of Singapore had been breached, but it hardly seems credible that an Archbishop wouldn’t know the terms of his own Canons.

The Archbishop of Canada, Michael Peers, stated: “The recent ‘irregular’ ordination in Singapore is, in my opinion, an open and premeditated assault on Anglican tradition, Catholic order and Christian charity.”

The new Primate of Australia, the Most Rev Peter Carnley, described the action as ‘wicked’ and said that such ‘vagrant’ bishops were ‘irregular’ and ‘unlawful’ within the Anglican Communion.

A statement from the Primate of Tanzania, Donald Mtetemela, the Southern Cone’s Maurice Sinclair, and the Archbishop of Sydney, Harry Goodhew took issue with the actions. “We are disappointed that our friends acted against our clear advice and we cannot approve such a step as they have taken at this time.”

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed his regret. A press statement read, “It has come as a grave disappointment to the Archbishop, as it is his view that such consecrations are ‘irresponsible’ and ‘irregular’ and only harm the unity of the Communion”.

In his response to last week’s ‘irregular consecrations’ in Singapore, American Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold criticised evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics in the Episcopal Church for manufacturing talk of a purported crisis. He protested that all was well in his backyard.

However Bishop Keith Ackerman said, “In 1974 when 11 women were illegally ordained, some of the same people who today are calling the Singapore Consecrations “illegal” called the Philadelphia ordinations “prophetic.” I am certain that the reverse applies, too. It is a matter of perspective. Had not so many Diocesan Conventions and Bishops repudiated several of the key actions at Lambeth, one wonders if the Singapore actions would have happened.

Primates closing ranks to defend Bishop Griswold’s crumbling empire make a distasteful spectacle. Clearly many of them have felt obliged to say the things they have said out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to the club. But surely just as honour among thieves has its limitations, collegiality must have limits. How then can Primates continue to have Lambeth Conferences where they pass resolutions by large majorities and then defend provinces whose diocesan synods feel free to engage in wholesale repudiation of most of the package?

If the Primates’ meeting in Portugal in March is not to be their last before the Anglican communion unravels, one hopes they might reaffirm orthodox teaching and call to account those who tolerate departures from it in their own provinces. In order to deal wisely and effectively with the underlying causes of the present situation, the Archbishop of Canterbury will need a firm resolve, determination and the prayers of faithful Anglicans everywhere. Playing Griswold’s poodle would be a recipe for disaster.

Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.