John Shepley looks back at a fateful resolution from a newly formed Instrument of Unity of the Anglican Communion, way back in 1970, and the extraordinary damage that flowed from it

Taken together, the establishment of the Anglican Church of North America (an amalgam of various dioceses and dissident churches which have at one time or another fled The Episcopal Church), and the successful launch in England of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (which, whilst professing to reform the state church from within, is on an inevitable collision course with its prevailing elite) raise a question. Are the so-called Instruments of Unity of the Anglican Communion competent to deliver what their name might lead one to expect? Can they deliver on koinonia? The answer will surely be found in a consideration of their history and past performance.

The Instruments’ are four: the Archbishop of Canterbury; the Lambeth Conference; the Anglican Consultative Council; and the Primates’ Meeting. Only two of these, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference, can claim any antiquity. And though the See of Canterbury dates from before the Reformation, it has only functioned internationally from 1867, when the summoning of the first Lambeth Conference – at the request of the Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and with some resistance from the Church of England – established the archbishop in a presidential role. The other two ‘instruments’ are recent developments of 1969 and 1979 respectively.

No shared Canon Law

The provinces of the Anglican Communion have no shared or common Canon Law. In consequence, these four bodies or institutions have no legal status or clearly defined role. What they are is what they do; or rather what they can get away with. Supplemented in recent times by various commissions’ of similarly ill-defined status (and by the Anglican Communion Office as ‘facilitator’), their role seems to be emerging more as mediators in conflict rather than as agents of policy.

This can be seen most clearly by examining paragraphs A 12-21 of the Windsor Report 2004, which claims to give a snapshot of the ‘instruments’ working purposefully and effectively:

Recent mutual discernment within the Communion

12. The story of ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate provides us with a recent example of mutual discernment and decision-making within the Anglican Communion.

13. The background to the story was a period of debate and disagreement both before and after the ordination to the priesthood of Florence Li Tim-Oi in 1944. The story gathered pace in 1968, when the Diocese of Hong Kong & Macao brought the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood to the Lambeth Conference. The Conference was not ready to respond because, as it stated in Resolution 34, ‘The Conference affirms its opinion that the theological arguments as at present presented for and against the ordination of women to the priesthood are inconclusive’. The Conference recommended that before any regional or national church or province made a final decision to ordain women to the priesthood they should consider carefully the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council.

14. The Bishop of Hong Kong and Macao sought out the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council at its first meeting (in Limuru , Kenya ) in 1970. After lengthy debate the Anglican Consultative Council advised the Bishop of Hong Kong & Macao that if, with the approval of his Synod, he were to proceed to the ordination of a woman his action would be acceptable to the Council, and that the Council would use its good offices to encourage all provinces of the Communion to continue in communion with that Diocese. The resolution passed (for: 24; against: 22).

15. What needs to be noted is that Hong Kong did not understand itself to be so autonomous that it might proceed without bringing the matter to the Anglican Consultative Council as requested by the Lambeth Conference 1968. Furthermore, action was only taken with the co-operation of the Instruments of Unity.

16. The 1978 Lambeth Conference addressed a situation where Hong Kong , Canada , the United States and New Zealand had all ordained women to the priesthood and eight other provinces had accepted the ordination of women in principle. In response, the Conference passed Resolution 21: Women in the Priesthood, which in part stated, ‘The Conference also recognises… (3a) the autonomy of each of its member Churches, acknowledging the legal right of each Church to make its own decision about the appropriateness of admitting women to Holy Orders’. The Resolution also noted that such provincial action ‘has consequences of the utmost significance for the Anglican Communion as a whole’, and that ‘The Conference affirms its commitment to the preservation of unity within and between all member Churches of the Anglican Communion’. This resolution passed with 316 for, 37 against, and 17 abstentions.

17. In 1985 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) expressed the intention ‘not to withhold consent to the election of a bishop on the grounds of gender’. Aware that such a possible action would indeed affect the whole Anglican Communion, the then Presiding Bishop brought the question to the newly established Primates’ Meeting in Toronto , Canada . The Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates requested the Primate of Australia, John Grindrod, to head a committee to prepare a paper for the 1988 Lambeth Conference after requesting the opinions of the provinces of the Communion. This report’s first chapter was entitled ‘Listening as a Mark of Communion’.

18. The Grindrod Report presented two options to the Lambeth Conference: first, to counsel restraint in the hope that the moral authority inherent in a gathering of all the bishops of the Communion would find a response at the provincial level. Second, if a province went ahead, persuaded by compelling doctrinal reasons, by its experience of women in the priesthood and by the demands of mission in its region, and with the overwhelming support of the dioceses, such a step should be offered for reception within the Anglican Communion.

19. In response, Resolution 1 of Lambeth 1988 stated: ‘That each province respect the decision and attitudes of other provinces in the ordination or consecration of women to the episcopate, without such respect necessarily indicating acceptance of the principles involved, maintaining the highest possible degree of communion with the provinces which differ.’ This long resolution went on to recommend courtesy and respect and open dialogue with those who differ, and asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the primates, to appoint a Commission to ensure the process of reception, to monitor and encourage consultation and to offer pastoral guidelines for the churches of the Communion. This resolution passed with 423 for, 28 against, and 19 abstentions.

20. The Commission on Women in the Anglican Episcopate (‘The Eames Commission’) worked throughout the period between the Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998. A monitoring committee of the Commission made a report to Lambeth 1998.

21. Anglicans can understand from this story that decision-making in the Communion on serious and contentious issues has been, and can be, carried out without division, despite a measure of impairment. We need to note that the Instruments of Unity, i.e. the Archbishop of Canterbury , the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, were all involved in the decision-making process. Provincial autonomy was framed by Anglican interdependence on matters of deep theological concern to the whole Communion.

Nothing in this account is strictly untrue but it nevertheless owes more to the Soviet school of historiography than might at first appear.

Not an autonomous province

In 1971, of course, the diocese of Hong Kong and Macau was not an autonomous province of the Communion. It was an extra-provincial diocese under the Archbishop of Canterbury , and part of the South East Asia Council. Both the Council and Archbishop Michael Ramsey advised against the unilateral action which Bishop Baker proposed. Ramsay wrote that if Baker went ahead he should not say that the Archbishop of Canterbury approved.

It is not clear, moreover, that the resolution of the 1968 Lambeth Conference setting up the Anglican Consultative Council had intended to give the Council authority to decide the matter of women’s ordination on its own account. The 1968 Conference was careful to say that the theological arguments were inconclusive on both sides of the case. It requested further discussion in the provinces and asked the ACC to coordinate that process, with the clear intention of returning to the matter at the next Lambeth.

The ACC resolution of 1970 (proposed by an American black and seconded by an American woman teacher at a seminary) was disingenuous in the extreme. It said that if the Bishop of Hong Kong, or any other bishop acting with the approval of his province, decided to ordain women to the priesthood, his action would be acceptable to the Council, and that this Council would do what it could to encourage all other provinces to continue in communion with the diocese where this had happened. A Council which had no authority to speak for the Communion as a whole (as Ramsey later pointed out in his letter to Baker) was giving positive encouragement to a bishop who could not in the nature of the case satisfy the requirements of its own resolution. The motion was carried by 24 votes to 22 (where a change of one vote would have altered the result, as Ramsey also pointed out). The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Council both voted against.

Rewriting history

The authors of the Windsor Report chose, for their own polemical purposes, to portray these events as an exemplary working of the Instruments of Unity. They can more plausibly be interpreted as a cynical exploitation by Bishop Baker of the confusion and incoherence that he knew to characterize them. In any case, the clearly expressed views of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the opinion of the Council of the Church in South East Asia (the province’ to which Hong Kong and Macau belonged) had been ignored by a body which acted in a manner which the Lambeth Conference had neither anticipated nor authorized.

Whatever Baker’s motives in bringing the case, and regardless of whether he would havebeen prepared to respect the vote of the ACC had it gone against him, there can be no doubt of the consequences. The ordinations of Jane Hwang and Joyce Bennett started a process (with subsequent ordinations of women in the United States – illegally in 1974, legally in 1976 – Canada and New Zealand ) which effectively ended the consultation process which Lambeth 1968 supposed itself to have entrusted to the ACC. All that was left to Lambeth 1978 was the enunciation of a doctrine of Provincial Autonomy in orders, which was precisely what Lambeth 1968 had sought to avoid.

The Windsor Report dismisses these consequences with astounding levity: ‘without division, despite a measure of impairment’ Anglicans need to note what is concealed behind this form of words. The Hong Kong ordinations, and the ACC’s concurrence in them, had effectively secured that there would and could be no inter-Anglican theological engagement with the complex doctrinal, ecclesiological and sacramental issues involved. The matter had been reduced to ecclesiastical politics. \ND\

To be continued.