An Honest look at the Archbishop of Canterbury's essay on General Convention 2009: "Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future"
(via AAC email update)
There is much to affirm in the Archbishop of Canterbury's reflection on the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church:
- In response to assurances by the leadership of TEC that nothing has changed, his stated assessment that Resolutions D025 (gay bishops) and C056 (same sex blessings) will neither repair broken bridges with other provinces nor allay anxieties that these resolutions are prescriptive and not merely descriptive (para. 2);
- His declaration that "a blessing for a same sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic or even of the Communion as a whole," and that persons living in such unions "cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle." (paras. 8 and 9);
- His declaration that changes in societal attitudes are not reasons in and of themselves for changing the discipline of the Anglican Communion (para. 10);
- Reaffirmation of the venerable principle that "what affects the communion of all should be decided by all" (para. 13), that innovations in either sexuality or sacramental practice without regard to that principle threaten to end Anglicanism as a "theologically coherent community of Christian communities" (para. 18), and that local pastoral needs and "context" are insufficient to justify such unilateral action by a province (paras. 11-17).
On the other hand, despite the overwhelming evidence presented to him in our Primates Report, and the Presiding Bishop's opening declaration that confessional Christianity is a heresy, and Calvary merely a "waypoint" among other ways, it is not clear whether he recognizes that TEC's theological convictions are a false Gospel. Despite TEC's denial of the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of all - a principle which the Church of England has affirmed at its General Synod (1) and which TEC specifically rejected at this General Convention - he seems to suggest that these "deeply held theological convictions" are well within Anglican Christianity and deserve respect! (paras. 24 and 26). And he is quick to reassure the innovators that "there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness" (para. 22).
In response to TEC's actions at GC 2009, Dr. Williams is advocating a "two-tracked" Anglican Communion. For those of us who watched him argue passionately for the paradigm of "Communion with autonomy and accountability" at ACC-14, his essay is a sad but necessary acknowledgement of the reality we have known for some time, that there is a "torn communion" dominated by TEC and its proxies, and a robust and growing "Confessing Communion" largely in the Global South.
The Bishop of Durham has addressed this subject in his analysis of Dr. Williams' statement:
"Many will not regard the language of a 'two-track' Communion as a strength. Some have objected that this is forcing apart what ought to be held together. Others, conversely, have sneered that 'two-track' sounds like a vote for pluralism pure and simple, a kind of ecclesial version of '70s pop-psych 'I'm OK, you're OK': you go your way, we go ours, and we're both just fine as we are. But the 'two-track' option is not intended as an indifferentist, shoulder-shrugging thing (though no doubt some who find themselves in the incipient Track Two will want to see it like that). To say 'two-tier', as some have done at earlier stages in the discussion, implies that the two are still 'tiers' of the same thing, whereas 'tracks' may be going in quite different directions. And it is one 'track' rather than the other which will possess the coherence to work together in full solidarity, not least in ecumenical relationships."
The real question is which Communion will the ABC choose to work with? Which one will he try to build the future of Anglicanism upon? If he is genuinely interested in an Anglican Communion which has at its heart covenanted provinces with "intensifying relationships," will he continue to legitimize the false gospel of TEC and its proxies? When they show up to the councils of the Communion (as they most certainly will) - to the Joint Standing Committee, the ACC, and inter-Anglican ministry networks - will he welcome them? Will he allow their representation to continue to undermine the very Covenant processes he publically champions? Or will he finally turn to the orthodox within the Communion and build with them upon their uninterrupted commitment to a vision of Anglicanism that is biblical, catholic and conciliar?
The false gospel of TEC presents a clear and present danger to the Anglican Communion. TEC considers it both a theological imperative of justice and a cultural imperative of "manifest destiny" for TEC's leadership to spread this false gospel to the rest of the Anglican Communion. It has already infected, perhaps fatally, some provinces in the Global North. Jesus said, "let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No,' 'No'" (Matt. 5:37) +Rowan Williams' "Yes and no" will not stop the spread of this false gospel - even and especially to the mother Church of England.
The Bishop of Durham seems to have finally recognized this imminent threat, and for this very reason asserts: "It is thus up to the Archbishop himself to move swiftly to implement what he himself has said, counting on support from bishops around his own Province and the whole Communion." Can we count on the Archbishop to consult with the orthodox Covenant-affirming Primates, especially the GAFCON Primates and FCA Bishops regarding implementation? Can we count on the Archbishop to work with the GAFCON Primates and FCA Bishops to provide the same Covenant connection and Alternative Oversight to the orthodox that those now in ACNA sought unsuccesfully from him - and the rest of the Communion, including the Bishop of Durham - for the last six years? In the face of his very public denunciation of "cross-provincial interventions," and the moral equivalency he drew between the actions of TEC and the pastoral response of the GAFCON Primates, can we expect the Archbishop to make an about-face?
What can we actually expect from the Archbishop of Canterbury?
The orthodox leaders of the "Confessing Communion" must now insist upon a robust theology of the Church that goes beyond the Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Proposed Covenant and beyond the Covenant processes. If the Archbishop of Canterbury wants to avoid the same unilateralism and colonialism imposed on the Communion by TEC, he must now actively work with the orthodox leaders of the "Confessing Communion" to address the theological and ecclesiological issues that will be at the heart of an Anglicanism for the next 100 years -an Anglicanism that will have the theological coherence to work together in full solidarity with our ecumenical partners.
We therefore renew our call to the Anglican Communion to prayer, and especially for theologians from the Confessing Communion to come together as soon as possible to both rebut TEC's distortion of the early church's baptismal theology and to articulate a theology of the church that will sustain a biblical, confessional and conciliar Anglicanism for the next 100 years. Pray for the leadership of the Confessing Communion to refuse to accept representation by TEC and other innovators in the very Councils and processes of the Anglican Communion that the innovators seek to subvert. Pray for Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.
And to our friends, our North American brothers and sisters in Christ, who are being systematically litigated and canonically abused into oblivion, to those who with Jeremiah and Daniel-like callings remain in TEC to witness for the faith once delivered - and to those bishops, clergy and lay deputies with whom we broke bread, and prayed, and laughed and grieved every day at General Convention, please know this:
The American Anglican Council stands with you. We are praying for you. We thank God for your witness at General Convention. And we stand on God's promise for you and all of us in the Anglican Communion:
"'For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. J. Philip Ashey, J.D.
COO & Chaplain, American Anglican Council(1) the Church of England General Synod directed its House of Bishops at their February 2009 meeting to report back on "their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain's multi-faith society, and offer examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none."