Friday, May 28, 2010

Rowan Williams Pentecost Letter

Rowan Williams has published a Pentecost Letter to the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion. In it he outlines the way that consequences for breaching the Windsor moratoria will move forward.

I have some thoughts on this, and may comment more extensively in the future.  In brief, I have been concerned that the three primary offenses/moratoria identified by the Windsor Report (“moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union”, the “moratorium on all such public Rites [of Blessing of same sex unions]”, and the “moratorium on any further [cross-provincial] interventions”) have been unduly viewed as equally upsetting to church unity. In fact, the first two offenses have made the third necessary as an unfortunate and temporary recourse.  Williams recognizes, however, that no absolute equivalence of faults should be interpreted from his statements:
...when a province through its formal decision-making bodies or its House of Bishops as a body declines to accept requests or advice from the consultative organs of the Communion, it is very hard (as noted in my letter to the Communion last year after the General Convention of TEC) to see how members of that province can be placed in positions where they are required to represent the Communion as a whole.  This affects both our ecumenical dialogues, where our partners (as they often say to us) need to know who it is they are talking to, and our internal faith-and-order related groups.

I am therefore proposing that, while these tensions remain unresolved, members of such provinces – provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged.  I am further proposing that members of such provinces serving on IASCUFO should for the time being have the status only of consultants rather than full members.  This is simply to confirm what the Communion as a whole has come to regard as the acceptable limits of diversity in its practice.  It does not alter what has been said earlier by the Primates’ Meeting about the nature of the moratoria: the request for restraint does not necessarily imply that the issues involved are of equal weight but recognises that they are ‘central factors placing strains on our common life’, in the words of the Primates in 2007.  Particular provinces will be contacted about the outworking of this in the near future.

Members of ACNA, AMiA, and other renewal movements seem to be provided space for making their case, although the continued reality of consequences for their actions remains.  I think that this is appropriate, and that a spirit of repentance should pervade the Anglican work that is currently going on in North America.  I do not believe it is appropriate to call our work "schismatic", but it has certainly proceeded against the requests of global Anglican bodies, and I don't think that we need to be afraid of affirming this tragedy and taking responsibility for it, even as we affirm the Gospel work that is being accomplished in it.

One reason why I take the cross-provincial ministry to be appropriate is because it is reactive to a situation of disunity, and it stands as a temporary effort with the goal of moving towards further unity in the Gospel. This also leads to a consideration of the fact that offending provinces will be restricted from the official ecumenical dialogue of the Communion.  In a conversation with Tony Hunt and Mike Dagle on this, I mentioned the fact that, really, ecumenical dialogue has already been stalled for years because of the Anglican crisis.  The ARCIC suspended dialogue with the Anglican Communion soon after Robinson's consecration, in order for the Communion to sort out necessary discipline issues.  The Russian Orthodox Church has made explicit statements about its willingness to work specifically with "the members of the Episcopal Church in the USA who clearly declared their loyalty to the moral teaching of the Holy Gospel and the Ancient Undivided Church."  And as the ACNA has taken shape, other communions have indeed retained ecumenical connection with these Anglicans apart from official Anglican Communion channels.  In many ways, it seems that all of the provisions Rowan Williams now offers for ecumenical bodies has long since been, more or less, common practice. This leaves out consideration of ecumenical discussion with other Protestant denominations,* of course, but my rather limited sense is that these sorts of talks go on at a number of different levels, and global Anglican policy for official ecumenical dialogue will not especially impede other ongoing engagements. 

All that said, this seems to be an important development as the Anglican Communion continues through the process of discernment and discipline.  The next moves will come (less importantly) from the global reaction to the letter and (more importantly) from the Anglican governing bodies as they incorporate this call into future policy.

*I am not one of those people who feel the need to distinguish Anglicanism from Protestantism.  We are as Protestant as the Evangelical Free Church, regardless of incense, apostolic succession, or whatever else distinguishes us.  We are also perfectly "Catholic", as are all Christians baptized into and adherent of the faith. 


  1. I recall a certain Evan Keuhn on a blog thread once complain that the way someone used the word "theology" to include nearly any intellectual exercise meant that since theology meant everything, it in fact meant nothing.

    That's sort of the way I feel about how you use "catholic" to mean pretty much any Christian. In which case we might as well just start saying "universal" as it has about the same vagueness.

  2. What else would "catholic" mean other than "universal", Tony? And why should we understand the full universality of the Church to be a vague thing? It strikes me as no more vague than the Church's "sanctity", "oneness", or "apostolicity".

  3. I take catholicity and unity to be connected with the visible continuity of the Church through the ages. It's not that we accomplish our own unity by some "merely human" struggle, but unity in the NT, especially in Paul and John, is not a simple given, it is something that needs to be worked at, something that requires submission to appropriate leadership and one to another.

    Churches are constantly being exhorted to be unified, be of one mind and one faith, to overcome divisions.

    So our "universality" is not something that simply "is" on account of the
    Spirit regardless of our structural divisions. It is something still needing to be realized.

    So call them what you will, I call them Protestants, those who feel their ecclesial life doesn't depend on other Christians from whom they are estranged: Because "we all have the same Spirit, right?" The Protestant asks, "What divisions?"

  4. But what exactly is the estrangement with which you're concerned, Tony? I agree that there are real problems of disunity in the Church, and that we need to retain an attention to visible structures rather than simply reference a common "spirit" with which we are all aligned. But what are some marks of this visible unity? Recognition of orders? Open communion? And where do we find that? In most any Protestant church you go to, communion will be open to all of the baptized. While superficial denominational structures separate churches, sacramental sharing is, by and large, recognized. There's nothing "invisible" about this. Similarly with recognition of orders... while full intercommunion and recognition of orders amongst Protestant churches is limited, there is no sense in which the orders are recognized as invalid, which is the view from Rome.

    If these aren't solid, visible situations of unity in which Protestants have succeeded and Roman Catholics have failed, I don't know what is. If, happy day, Benedict XVI inaugurates a situation where Anglican orders and eucharist are recognized by Rome, how would this be much different than the sort of visible unity that is quite decidedly underway already in the Protestant churches? Does eucharistic sharing or the recognition of orders just not count as really "visible" unless it has the stamp of a particular church (that under the hierarchy of the bishop of Rome) on it? That strikes me as not so much a visible focus, but rather a provincial one.

  5. "I am not one of those people who feel the need to distinguish Anglicanism from Protestantism. We are as Protestant as the Evangelical Free Church..."

    See, I knew I liked you Evan. I don't know how committed you are to ACNA/AMiA but I hope you continue to lend your talents to this ragged group. As far as I can tell we definitely need some good, working academics thinking through these issues (in contrast to so much of the 'Anglican blogosphere'.

    As far as the catholicity discussion I'm inclined to affirm both of you. Since I don't take the limits of "the church" to be defined by apostolic succession (I just haven't heard a biblical or theological argument that convinces me to) I lean towards Evan's construal. Still, it seems to me there has to be another sense of catholic. Anglicanism is definitely more catholic than the Southern Baptist church I attended while living in West Virginia even if I understand that congregation to be suited within the church catholic. I guess in that sense I'm using catholic as something like "in continuity with the dominant historic witness and from of the church". Maybe that's a bit weak but I'm inclined to hang on to both of those senses of catholic.

  6. I'd like to reflect on all this further, but for now, with respect to this comment thread, I'm reminded of Bishop Kallistos Ware's sentiment that "we can say where the church is, but cannot say where the church is not. I would say, however, that it is in [FILL IN THE BLANK] that I perceive the fullness of the faith.” He of course filled in the blank with Eastern Orthodoxy.

    What this portrays on the surface, it seems to me—and despite an Orthodox argument to the contrary—is some kind of Branch Theory. And this brings together both Evan's and Tony's concerns—we can say that the true church is both radically universal (i.e., consisting of all the baptized) and modestly particular (i.e., to my mind, [fill in the blank] contains the fullness of the faith).

  7. I know this is a very old thread, and I already had another extension of this conversation with Evan in another venue, but I wanted to make a note on what Chris said.

    I think that is a very helpful way of parsing it, though I'm not sure I actually believe that Anglicanism contains the 'fullness of the faith;' it is where I felt I could live with integrity in communion with a global fellowship.