I’ve been surveying the usual suspects, web sites that comment on the present unhappy controversies in the Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion. Although I respect and sympathize with Archbishop Rowan Williams, I have the sinking feeling that his hopeful outlook may not be as well-founded as he seems to think.
This was a reference to RW’s Advent Pastoral Letter. AKMA continued:
I wish I thought we Anglicans could keep together. I will be overjoyed to find that I’m wrong, and I will grieve deeply if “churches will go their different ways, even to the point of competing with one another.” What causes me unease lies in the tone of the observations I find on the various contending sites, and especially on the unwavering confidence the various speakers reflect. I’m especially uneasy when I ask myself, “How would we (or ‘they,’ however ‘we’ and ‘they’ get constructed) know if we (or ‘they’) were wrong?”
For it seems, on the face of things, that of two people saying mutually-contradictory things, one or the other will probably have erred. And if I’m right, if there’s no evident way one or the other party discerning that they might be wrong, how would either recognize their error and seek correction? The disapprobation of the preponderance of Anglican provinces won’t demonstrate that the (majority of the) U.S. church is wrong about sexuality, any more than it demonstrated that the (majority of the) U.S. church was wrong about ordaining women. Since the Windsor Report seems to treat the process leading to the ordination of women (which has become at least a tolerable difference) as exemplary, the U.S. church has some reason to think that its course leading to the consecration of Gene Robinson may mark a parallel path.
But if the (majority of the) U.S. church has gone fatally astray, how are they to know it? One can’t simply repeat that the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals is non-biblical; plenty of what has become common practice was once deemed unbiblical. One can’t invoke the Vincentian canon quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (“that which is believed everywhere, at all times, by all”), not unless one wants to roll back the ordination of women and the possibility of remarriage after divorce (to name but two prominent non-universal points). And even the Windsor Report allows the possibility that the Spirit might effect radical change in the church’s course. That concession obviously doesn’t require that anyone think sexuality constitute such an instance of Spirit-led radical change; at the same time, it evidently holds open the possibility, the mere possibility that the (majority of the) U.S. church’s understanding of sexuality does represent such a surprising change. That being the case, what would count as a reason for the (majority of the) U.S. church to reverse course?
Very recently, the Anglican Communion Institute has recently published a new lecture by Philip Turner, former Dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. This was delivered to a meeting in the Diocese of West Texas.
“THE WINDSOR REPORT: A “SELF” DEFINING MOMENT FOR ECUSA And The Anglican Communion”
(published 23 December)
(Dr Turner is also the author of Shall We Walk Together or Walk Apart? (published 10 November), a talk which has considerable overlap of content with the later version.)
Although Dr Turner holds views which are unequivocally on the conservative side, he is a strong supporter of the Windsor Report:
As my colleague, Oliver O’Donovan, said recently, when placed along side most Anglican Documents, the Windsor Report is decidedly “up market.” In contradistinction to a number of contrary judgments, I agree; and the burden of my remarks will be designed to show that, despite certain omissions and errors (some serious) the report provides a credible way forward both for ECUSA and the Anglican Communion as a whole.
And he has some strong criticisms to make of extremists on the right as well as of those on the left, which bear repeating here in full:
It has become painfully clear to me in the past months that there are those on both the left and the right who, though they would probably deny it, have made a choice to walk apart. The prophets on the left claim the backing of divine providence that has placed them ahead of the pack. They are content to go it alone and simply wait for others to catch up. The prophets on the right claim to be the champions of orthodoxy—charged with maintaining a faithful church in the midst of “apostasy.” They are content to go it alone and await the vindication of God. WR maps a more arduous and painful way forward – one that seeks to create a space in time within which very serious divisions within this portion of the body of Christ can be confronted and overcome.
My starting point is that of WR. I want to map a way forward that keeps Anglicans together as a communion. I want to show what it might mean for ECUSA to make a choice for communion rather than denominationalism and federation. I am consequently saddened by the reaction of those on the left – one that expresses regret but makes it clear that they will motor on despite the wreckage they may cause. I am saddened also by reaction of those on the right who seem to exert more energy thinking about a way forward after ECUSA rejects WR than it does seeking to bring ECUSA to a considered and charitable response to what I believe to be an extraordinarily fine ecclesiological statement.
And again, when discussing the WR’s account of the Anglican “communion ecclesiology” that has shaped recent Anglican ecumenical dialogue, he says:
From my perspective, one can only hail this starting point if for no other reason than the authors of WR feel bound to the ecumenical commitments of the Anglican Communion; and in so doing do not (as is now so common) act as autonomous agents utterly unencumbered by either history of social ties. Nevertheless, it must be noted that many on both the left and the right do not begin their ecclesiological discussions here. Many on the left begin with the church as a prophetic vanguard commissioned to fight within various political systems for the rights of those who are disadvantaged by those systems. Many on the right view the church primarily as the guardian of certain saving truths contained in Holy Scripture and in various creedal or confessional statements. These perspectives, different though they are, lead those who hold them to similar visions of themselves; namely, as advocates and/or guardians who must, before all else, hold to principle.
Where, I wonder, are the leaders, on both the “left” and the “right” in ECUSA, who are able and willing to listen seriously to each other and find a way forward?