The important announcement this last week by Archbishop Justin that he is inviting Anglican Communion Primates to attend a meeting in Canterbury next January (and, controversially, also the ACNA Primate for at least part of the meeting) has led to an enormous amount of speculation and agitation (see, for example, comments on Thinking Anglicans or the Episcopal New Service). One widespread belief, pushed particularly by Andrew Brown at the Guardian, is that the plan is for the “breakup” (later softened to “loosening of ties”) of the Communion. Many seem to want a move to a more “federation” approach and even to think this is the likely outcome, perhaps even favoured by the Archbishop. So Ruth Gledhill writes, “The move towards a more federal model, an Anglican Federation along the lines of Europe’s Lutheran Federation, is a much better model for the Church in today’s world” and from New Zealand Peter Carrell, writes on ABC Changes Communion to Federation.While at the moment much is unclear – and that is in part because in order to get as many as possible to the meeting, there cannot be a pre-determined agenda, let alone outcome – the statement itself and the background to it give little evidence to support such claims of a radical paradigm shift.
Most important here is that the Archbishop states
Our way forward must respect the decisions of Lambeth 1998, and of the various Anglican Consultative Council and Primates’ meetings since then.
This has been seen as a reference to the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 on sexuality and it clearly does include that (and presumably the consequent moratoria) but the scope of it is much wider and more significant. Throughout that period the Instruments have also clearly developed and supported a vision of life in communion where autonomous provinces recognise their interdependence and the importance of their common counsel. In the period referred to in the statement this would include the Virginia Report, the Windsor Report, the work of the various post-Windsor groups, most notably that working on an Anglican Communion Covenant, and the work of the IATDC and IASCUFO, all of which have been welcomed in decisions by the Instruments. It is very hard to see how a paradigm shift to a “looser” or “federation” model in any way shows “respect” for decades of theological and ecclesiological thought about what it means to be “a fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” identified in part by being “bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference” (a definition going back toResolution 49 of the 1930 Lambeth Conference).
It is also far from clear that such a shift would either get much support (outside some of the liberal Northern primates) or offer a practical solution. Not just GAFCON but many primates from the wider Global South remain of the view that the solution to the continuing crisis (based around a Primates’ Council and Pastoral Scheme for traditionalists in North America) was put forward at the Dar Primates Meeting in 2007 but never implemented, in large part leading to GAFCON forming. The Archbishop has refused to accept their view that this must be the starting point of any new gathering – that meeting will be nearly a decade old once the Primates meet, much has happened, and very few current Primates attended that meeting despite it being one which had a very high number of newly installed Primates. Justin Welby has rightly insisted, following extensive visits and conversations, that the meeting must find its own way forward face-to-face. But in talking of respecting the decisions of previous Primates’ meetings he has shown he is aware how many Primates still think that the proposal put forward there continues to provide a model for how best to proceed.
The sad reality is that support for something like the Dar approach has increased following the decisions earlier this year by General Convention (and to a lesser degree the Scottish Episcopal Church). These demonstrated that some provinces are now seeking to repeat the pattern of taking provincial action which disregards the mind of the Communion but in relation to the even more important question of Christian teaching on marriage. Some Global South provinces who were becoming more amenable to moving on from the painful history since 2003 and starting afresh (particularly with a new Presiding Bishop) are now clear that the fundamental problem of TEC unilateralism remains a serious one. That is one reason they have sought and secured a place for Archbishop Foley of ACNA during the meeting.
The way forward after January is unlikely to be simply a reversion to an earlier attempted solution, whether the Dar Primates’ model or the Anglican Communion Covenant in its present form. It is, however, even less likely to be an agreement from the Primates that they need to embrace a “federation” model of global Anglicanism. This effectively abandons any claim to respect provincial interdependence (not to mention any doctrinal or ethical basis for unity which is clearly so important for many of the provinces whether in terms of the Jerusalem Declarationor the broader wording in Section One of the Covenant). Instead it gives unfettered freedom to provincial autonomy on the basis that we must all simply “agree to disagree”, thereby put the past divisions behind us, and then, it is argued, still continue to meet together when gathered by Canterbury and maintain the bonds which have held us together and are so vital for many provinces in their difficult contexts. That may be what some hope for or even expect from this initiative but it would be to reconstitute global Anglicanism as a body which not just tolerated but was shaped by a vision of what it means to be the church of Christ (not just to be Anglican) that the Communion has consistently rejected.
This view of the way forward for the world-wide Anglican Communion, offered by Andrew Goddard on the ‘FULCRUM’ web-site, is a recognisably conservative anti-gay understanding of what Mr. Goddard thinks is best for the Anglican Communion. His understanding is so obviously influenced by the agenda of GAFCON, ACNA and various other dissidents from TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada’s stance on ‘Inclusive Church’ as to make interesting, if disturbing reading.
How much the FULCRUM and other conservative elements in the Church of England, who tend towards the ‘Sola Scriptura’ ethos, will be able to affect the outcome of the upcoming Primates’ Meeting called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in January, 2015, cannot yet be known. Certainly, REFORM does not stretch to the outright homophobia of the oddly-named “Anglican Mainstream’ sodality in the UK and North America; but it does embrace the climate of ‘Welcome” to entities like ACNA in North America, whose ‘Archbishop’ has been invited to the ‘Primates Conference’ by the ABC – even though he is not officially a member of the Anglican Communion, (though co-opted by Gafcon as a member of its own private Primates’ Conference) having helped to set up a (Gafcon-supported) Church, in opposition to the U.S. Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada, in North America.
It seems, from Mr. Goddard’s article, that he would have preferred the adoption of the ‘Anglican Covenant’ by all Provinces of the Communion. However, even his own province, the Church of England, rejected that outright.
What the Covenant would have effected, and this is the reason it was rejected by most Provinces – even the Gafcon Provinces – is this; it would have enforced a contractual legal construct, that would have prevented any individual action by any of its constituents to pursue its Gospel mission in the way it thought best and most pragmatic for its own constituency. This certainly would not have suited the GAFCON Provinces, who have already expressed their own doctrinal ethos in their own ‘Jerusalem Statement’ of Faith – which differs from the agreed status of the Lambeth Quadrilateral that allowed for local cultural initiatives for mission.Whatever the Gafcon Primates may say about this, it was their action that actually broke the bonds of affection that used to form the basis of the Communion. This may be the matter the ABC needs most urgently to address – if there is to be any reconciliation.
What seems to have been overlooked by REFORM and Mr. Goddard, is that their is no legal embargo on any Anglican Province preventing its local Constitution from processing and enacting its own policies in canon law, that is not, necessarily, the will or purpose of any other Province. After all, the Gafcon Provinces have decided to assist their local governments to pursue the legal disenfranchisement of the human rights of LGBTQI people. This is not a policy that any of the western Provinces of the Church would likely want to follow.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site.
Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional.
regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.