Thinking Anglicans

Tom Butler speaks about the primates

Here is a part of the Presidential Address delivered by the Bishop of Southwark, Tom Butler, to his Diocesan Synod on 10 March 2007:

…The same might be said of the Primates Meeting in Tanzania. None of us were there but in a letter to Primates last week Archbishop Rowan observed that the meeting was far from being an easy few days but he believed that it had been a productive gathering with a great deal of honesty. The product of the meeting was a communiqué containing a set of demands to which the American Church must respond by the end of September, and a draft covenant to which provinces are to respond and their bishops are to discuss further at next year’s Lambeth Conference.

We’ll look a little more closely at both covenant and communiqué a little later in our agenda, but now I’d like to reflect upon what might be a flaw at the heart of this approach to our difficulties…

…I may be getting this wrong, but I believe that the Primates have ignored or underestimated the strength and depth of these values in church as well as state in the United States. The church was the creation of popular democracy after the revolution. Church congregations in each state voted as to whether they wished for bishops to be appointed. Still today, bishops in America have no authority to veto decisions of their diocesan councils. African bishops might in some places be in a position to hire and fire their clergy at will; American bishops have no such authority and would regard it as being un-American.

Whatever the issue, then, for primates to instruct or request American bishops to take actions which appear to them to be undemocratic, or exceeding their powers, is to ask something that they are not in a position to deliver without denying their church polity, culture and history, however loyal they wish to be to the Communion.

And here I believe lies the fundamental flaw. The Primates have misunderstood the nature of our communion. From the consecration of the first overseas Anglican bishops there was no intention of creating a kind of Soviet bloc Communion where each province had to march in step with one another.

Listen to this letter of the English Bishops to the Philadelphia Convention in 1786 when they had been requested to consecrate an American priest as bishop. They wrote: ‘We cannot but be extremely cautious, lest we should be the instruments of establishing an ecclesiastical system which will be called a branch of the Church of England, but afterwards may possibly appear to have departed from it essentially, either in doctrine or discipline.’

There was no intention then of creating a branch of the Church of England in America, or an Anglican satellite, and the English bishops were ultimately satisfied in their negotiations with the General Convention and America had their bishops but in way far more accountable to local church democracy than we have ever seen here.

Of course most of the Anglican Churches in the Communion were established in countries which were part of the British Empire, with bishops initially sent out to serve from England. But that was not universally so, and just as the nations achieved independence with their own constitutions, so we see autonomous local Anglican provinces with their own constitutions and systems of canon law.

And just as many of these nations, with others, have voluntarily become members of the Commonwealth symbolically focussed on the Queen, but with no pretence of having authority in one another’s nations, so the Anglican provinces find the focus of their unity in the archbishop of Canterbury, but up until now there has been no sense of having authority in one another’s provinces. That is not the post-Tanzanian meeting climate. We will see later in the year whether the American bishops can find the form of words demanded of them. I could offer them one or two priests from the Diocese of Southwark who are skilled in drafting words which take us to the brink but not quite over it. It might be possible and we might yet all show up at the Lambeth Conference next year.

But whether we do or not, I would like us to return to our roots and ask ourselves, is it our calling to be a Communion where we must march in step, and if one province departs from the others in doctrine or discipline, they must depart the Communion because otherwise the others feel compromised? Or is it our calling to be a Commonwealth of Anglican provinces, uncompromised by the beliefs and behaviour of other provinces, trusting that they know what is best for the Church and world in their particular culture with their particular history and tradition. I don’t hear that argument being made. Perhaps it should be…

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Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
13 years ago

But what provision then against the danger that some (in fact, many) will be unable to see beyond their own limited culture and will treat it as some kind of norm? This proposal would decrease the sum of education and international awareness.

Laurence Roberts
Laurence Roberts
13 years ago

Indeed it should be ! Bravo Tom Butler.

‘…This could be the start
this could be the start of something big ! ….’

(is this from the Beach Boys ?)

NP
NP
13 years ago

Tom Butler asks, “Or is it our calling to be a Commonwealth of Anglican provinces, uncompromised by the beliefs and behaviour of other provinces, trusting that they know what is best for the Church and world in their particular culture with their particular history and tradition…” Not really – that would be a recipe for continuing contradiction in the communion, institutionalising hypocrisy and a retaining a lack of credibility in the eyes of both religious (eg RC) and non-religious people who are hardly flocking to the liberal churches in the UK and US…..despite their “inclusive” message. Someone once said that… Read more »

northern_soul
northern_soul
13 years ago

Thank God for +Tom Butler!

Pluralist
13 years ago

Since March 10 the argument has been made – that the current approach of the Archbishop of Canterbury has already failed (a few loose ends to clear up) and the Bishop of Southwark was on the radio himself arguing for a spiritual commonwealth, otherwise known as a loose federation.

kieran crichton
kieran crichton
13 years ago

Precisely.

Now we know that there is one bishop in the Church of England who understands, and even respects, the cultural underpinnings of TEC.

Is he alone in the Church of England?

Weiwen
13 years ago

I have to say … I’ve been hearing a bit of nationalism amongst some of the statements of the American bishops, and I don’t like it. It’s useful for rallying the troops. And of course, the Primates are smart people and should have guessed what an American response to their demands for foreign oversight for some Dioceses would be (ie, something like the Boston Tea Party). However, we are Christians and Anglicans as well as Americans, Brits, Nigerians, etc. Nigeria’s archbishop is confusing conservative Nigerian values towards homosexuality (which by the way were probably made more conservative by colonialism) with… Read more »

Andrew Brown
13 years ago

This is important, or could be, because it is the first time any English bishop has hinted at the rather obvious fact that the General Synod would — if addressed as the American bishops have been by a foreigner — tell him to stuffed. The proposed covenant is one of those sets of rules which we can all be very keen on others following; but it is worth remembering that it descends from the efforts to stop women priests in the Seventies and Eighties. We wouldn’t have them to this day if the matter had depended on a majority vote… Read more »

Chip
Chip
13 years ago

Why just an excerpt from the bishop’s address? What else did he say and where can we find the full text?

Simon Sarmiento
13 years ago

I have no idea where the rest of this address can be found on the web. My attempts to locate it have been fruitless.

Andrew Carey
Andrew Carey
13 years ago

Tom Butler’s suggestion amounts to a step backward in what the Communion has understood itself to be. Since the post Second world war period, Anglicans have attempted to understand themselves as a communion rather than a federation of autonomous provinces. This was driven by the formation of Anglican structures such as the ACC, and by dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. Much of the impetus for this gradual coming together came from the Episcopal Church of the USA. Andrew Brown is wrong in saying that the covenant comes from attempts to stop women priests. In fact, the rapid development of… Read more »

Cynthia
Cynthia
13 years ago

“I’ve been hearing a bit of nationalism amongst some of the statements of the American bishops, and I don’t like it.” Could you cite examples? All I’ve seen is our bishops saying that we can’t respond to the Tanzaia demands without violating our own rules, our own polity, but perhaps I’ve missed something. How would the C of E respond if, when Canterbury is vacant again, TEC and Canada and New Zealand demanded that the next ABC be popularly elected by lay people, priests, and bishops from a slate proposed by those provinces? Oh, and do this to our deadline,… Read more »

Ford Elms
Ford Elms
13 years ago

“would we be less or more likely to say that we have no need of each other at times of controversy?”
Which of course, is exactly what’s happening now anyway, so what’s your point?

drdanfee
drdanfee
13 years ago

Yet again in our posted conversations we are informed by Mr. Shell and NP that they alone – because they are conservative realignment folks? – have a unique trans-cultural, trans-historical view or understanding of what simply we all must do, think, be, live, believe, and worship. Even the most astute among us may find it difficult not to choose their preferred brands of believer conformity when faced with their vexed alternative of devolving into nothing but subjectivity and chaos. But TB’s remarks are still profoundly to the historical Anglican point. These very frameworks for stating our presupposed dilemma ignore TB… Read more »

Viriato da Silva
Viriato da Silva
13 years ago

Christopher Shell asks, “But what provision then against the danger that some (in fact, many) will be unable to see beyond their own limited culture and will treat it as some kind of norm?” Yet the commonwealth/federation understanding is driven precisely by the concern by the majority of Anglicans in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Scotland, Wales, etc that churches operating in conservative/traditional milieux in Africa, Asia, etc are “unable to see beyond their own limited culture” and are “treat[ing] it as some kind of norm.” (A “norm,” btw, espoused by only a minority within the churches of the USA,… Read more »

Simon
Simon
13 years ago

The rest of Tom’s address to the Diocesan Synod (of which I am member) was on other matters not related to the Communion. That’s why its an excerpt.

Terence Dear
Terence Dear
13 years ago

Bishop Butler is right, except that I don’t think the Primates have misunderstood the nature of the AC – they have deliberately set out to create a new form of Communion with themselves in charge (a world-wide Church, in fact, that would be recognised as such by Rome). The irony is that the Primates Meeting as an institution is profoundly un-Anglican; it must be abolished if the Communion is to survive. At the end of the day, this whole business is about trying to retain a patriarchal view of Creation (and therefore of the Church) in which women and homosexuals… Read more »

John-Julian, OJN
John-Julian, OJN
13 years ago

Recently I was doing some study and research on the Massachusetts Bay Colony – the early colonial Puritan footprint in America. I found a culture there which was highly authoritarian, strongly patriarchal, broadly misogynistic, xenophobic, intolerant of diversity, law-driven, slavery-practising, and fostering a belief in witchcraft and demons. I realized that it took America almost 300 years of social and cultural development to reach the place we are in today, and that almost none of present day cultural norms would have been in the least bit acceptable to that earlier colonial culture. Then I further realized that my conclusions about… Read more »

Malcolm French+
Malcolm French+
13 years ago

Christopher Shell said: “But what provision then against the danger that some (in fact, many) will be unable to see beyond their own limited culture and will treat it as some kind of norm?” Indeed, that could be a problem. But let’s be clear – that is a knife that cuts two ways. Those foreign prelates atempting to put the American Church into receivership claim that it is the Americans and the Canadians subordinating the Gospel to their own societal norms. But one can argue with equal validity that, for example, the Nigerians are doing the same. And in the… Read more »

Caliban
Caliban
13 years ago

Good sensible statements from +Tom Butler, of the kind that we have come to expect from him. But then of course – he *is* the Bishop of Southwark. It’s what he does.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
13 years ago

The important issue is if the AC is undergoing a change from it’s historical federational nature who has the power to decide and direct that change. The primates group seem rather determined to cease such power. It looks like they are not going to be able to do that without substantial opposition. I think it is likely that the outcome of this process will be the existence of more than one international body with a historical Anglican heritage. Personally, I don’t find that to be a particularly troubling prospect.

Burl Stoutmack
13 years ago

Bishop Butler is so on point. Another aspect of the life and history of TEC that Anglicans in provinces founded with bishops sent from Britain may not be fully aware of is that the sort of English Calvinist Evangelicalism we all know so well now, has been largely NOT a part of the American Episcopal experience. Indeed, in the USA evangelicals were free to leave the CofE and set up on their own (often established) churches (the Congregational Church of Massachuestts was disestablished in 1837) without being ‘unEnglish’. Breaking away from the Episcopal Church was a very American thing. With… Read more »

Pluralist
13 years ago

Churches with very different polities can come to agreements, each in their own way, if they have sufficient ideological agreement. And the Anglican Churches do not on key matters, with some in one direction and others in the other. These disagreements are ever more widespread covering more issues. The Archbishop of Canterbury clearly dropped all his personal views for the purpose of his office except one – unity – and has tried to develop instruments of order to pull Churches together. But all the emphasis is the other way, and it won’t work. Or, if it is made to work,… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
13 years ago

NP queried the validity of Tom Butler’s comment “…is it our calling to be a Commonwealth of Anglican provinces, uncompromised by the beliefs and behaviour of other provinces, trusting that they know what is best for the Church and world in their particular culture with their particular history and tradition…” Actually, that is one of the main reasons I chose to align myself with the Anglicans when I first started going to church. I loved the mish-mashy casserole of different perspectives and priorities, and greatly respected the female assistant minister in my local parish. I found this to be biblically… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
13 years ago

Further, there is a misguided notion that Adam was meant to rule over Eve in perpetuity. This form of theology does not acknowledge that Adam’s ruling over Eve was a curse that was meant to be healed. The relationship was meant to be tranformed from that of master to that of husband. (Hosea 2:16 and Isaiah 54) These souls actively fight that reconciliation and healing happening. Nor should it mean that Eve had to become perfect or that Adam should not desire Eve. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, so God created a woman… Read more »

Awdry Ely
13 years ago

Thank you to Bishop Butler for his contribution to this ongoing debate. Persoanlly I feel the model of a ‘spiritual commonwealth’ to be a very good one. The more judicial approach being suggested cannot in reality succeed.

These are interesting days and the creative space for debate on issues is enlarged and enhanced by people like Bishop Bulter.

Counterlight
Counterlight
13 years ago

I keep hearing all these pronouncements about the health of the Episcopal Church, that it is shrinking and dying and that people are staying away in droves. I have yet to see this. Our notoriously liberal little parish inducted 15 new members on Easter Vigil, the most we’ve had in 9 years. I hear of other similar parishes around the country baptising/ confirming/ receiving as many as 35 to 40 new members that same night. In my 25 years as an Episcopalian, most of the parishes that I’ve belonged to or visited were healthy and full of hopeful enterprising people,… Read more »

Weiwen
13 years ago

I see now that this is the Bishop of Southwark speaking, and Southwark is very far from the US. Apologies.

My point stands, though. I wouldn’t characterize it as egregious, but I should still ask my Episcopal brethren to remember we are Christians as well as Americans.

Cynthia, no one specific example I can pick out right now. I just worry that our Global South brethren will interpret little phrases here and there as nationalism, which won’t endear us to them.

NP
NP
13 years ago

no drdanfee, not my view alone – see the requests of the Primates and the ABC, see Lambeth 1.10…..remember TEC’s revisionist views are shared by only a small minority of Anglicans.

NP
NP
13 years ago

Counterlight – you may need to look more broadly than your own experience eg TEC’s statistics on national membership trends

Hugh of Lincoln
Hugh of Lincoln
13 years ago

I like Tom Butler’s idea of a Commonwealth of Anglican Provinces. This would allow each province to develop in line with its own customs.

Former bishop of Durham David Jenkins called for the scrapping of the Anglican Communion over its attitude towards gays a few years ago.

He has a point. So much time and resources have been wasted over pointless communiques and the setting up of oppressive bureacracies.

It’s good to talk and to listen, but a covenant designed to suffocate anything which liberates people, imposed by a patriarchal curia must be resisted at all costs.

Andrew Carey
Andrew Carey
13 years ago

Ford Elms quoted me and then said: “”would we be less or more likely to say that we have no need of each other at times of controversy?” “Which of course, is exactly what’s happening now anyway, so what’s your point?” My point is simple. We haven’t yet said we have no need of each other. There’s still a possibility that out of this mess the Anglican Communion will stand. This is precisely because the Communion is more than a commonwealth. We wouldn’t have bothered trying to stay in communion if we were a loose federation. We would already have… Read more »

Ford Elms
Ford Elms
13 years ago

“We haven’t yet said we have no need of each other.” No indeed, those actual words haven’t been spoken. But the scheming to replace TEC with some sort of Fundamentalist compliant body was exposed a couple of years ago. The designs of those who hide their lust for power behind the Word of God are pretty clear. Actions speak louder than words, Andrew, there is a loud conservative group, I hope a minority despite their public exposure, whose actions speak very loudly indeed. +Akinola certainly seems to think he has no need of us. There are those who would argue… Read more »

Kurt
Kurt
13 years ago

“With the exception of Governor [Thomas] Jefferson’s disestablishment which did disposess the Church of England of its properties in Virginia, these departures actually strengthened the Episcopal Church whose either rather high or very latitudinarian theology was an alternative to the prevailing theology of the former Pilgrims, Puritans or other ‘dissenters’. The Calvinist evangeilical stance so well known in England and other provinces is not a very significant part of TEC’s experience, particularly in our post revolutionary period.”—Burl Stoutmack Right on, Burl! This is something that I’ve been trying to explain to folks on this site for a year and a… Read more »

ChrisM
ChrisM
13 years ago

This all sounds very interesting and even plausible but the concern is not simply inter-Provincial, ie whether individual provinces should have the latitude to pursue “what is best for the Church and the world in their particular culture…” but also intra-Provincial, ie what happens to those dioceses and parishes who find themselves out of step with, and at the mercy of, the majority view of their particular province? It seems to me that much of the current bitterness and rancour arises as a result of the latter.

Pluralist
13 years ago

_We would already have entirely lost an interchangeable ministry and all lines of communication between many of the provinces._

No we wouldn’t. There would be agreed lines of communication between different provinces, and interchangable ministry between them. But there is not agreement between some of these, and nor should there be when there is a basic ethical clash between them.

Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
13 years ago

There is nothing endemic about Nigeria’s current societal norms. 100 years back they would have been very different. Their current norms have not a little to do with their embrace of Christianity in millions upon millions, with the transformation that brings.

counterlight
counterlight
13 years ago

NP, Statistics or not, I see a much healthier religious life in the current Episcopal Church than I ever saw in the Methodist Church of my Texas childhood. Sure, the churches were packed in 1965, because people felt obliged to attend whether they believed (my grandmothers), or not (my parents). I see smaller congregations today filled with people happy to be there, instead of large congregations full of people killing time until Sunday dinner. I don’t care if the whole continent of Eurasia agrees with me or not. I don’t care if the Episcopal Church is down to me and… Read more »

Jim Pratt
Jim Pratt
13 years ago

“My point is simple. We haven’t yet said we have no need of each other. There’s still a possibility that out of this mess the Anglican Communion will stand.” Andrew, The discussion here, and especially on T19 and Stand Firm, suggests otherwise. There are a good number — on both sides — who are eagerly awaiting and applauding the disintegration of the Communion. Primates are avoiding communion with one another and actively trying to build alternative structures in the US to replace TEC. Yes, there is hope that the Communion will hold together. But so many have said “I have… Read more »

Pluralist
13 years ago

It’s interesting about Episcopalianism defining itself against New England (etc.) Puritianism. That Puritanism was a moving target. In what sense, for example, was W. E. Channing, and inheritor of that stream, still a Puritan (after Calvinism and Arminianism)? Well there was a battle. People like Emerson and Thoreau were excluded by the new Unitarians who wanted good relations with other Christians. The Unitarians also split. When back together, and what was left of Transcendentalism fully back within, the Unitarians later with Univeralists became a very liberal denomination. It would be interesting to chart parallel movements in the Episcopalian Church. One… Read more »

Kurt
Kurt
13 years ago

Although the present Diocese of Massachusetts is generally Low Church Latitudinarian today, 300 years ago it was considered more High Church, and the church architecture of the period reflects this. Newport, RI architect Peter Harrison based his designs for the altar and reredos in King’s Chapel in Boston (and the Ark of the Covenant in Touro Synagogue in Newport, 1759) on plate 108, of Batty and Thomas Langley, The City and Country Builder’s and Workman’s Treasury of Designs, one of the most popular architectural pattern books of the period. (The Unitarians have retained two candlesticks on the altar, but have… Read more »

Ford Elms
Ford Elms
13 years ago

“Their current norms have not a little to do with their embrace of Christianity in millions upon millions, with the transformation that brings.”

Like the transformation that causes them to claim that there was no homosexuality in Africa before the coming of the Europeans, and that homosexuality is a Western invention designed to oppress the black man? Like the transformation that causes Tunde Popoola to behave the way he does on this website? Yeah, great fruits of the Gospel there!

Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
13 years ago

I am not up on that at all. Where have you read about pre-European African homosexuality?

Ford Elms
Ford Elms
13 years ago

Christopher, From various places on the net, mostly. Here are few sites I found Googling ‘gay’, ‘africa’ and ‘precolonial’. These are of varying quality and politics, one is a bit strident. The Washington Post article is good, if heartbreaking: http://www.keithboykin.com/author/africa.html http://www.thewitness.org/agw/macauley121604.html http://www.geocities.com/ambwww/GAYS-IN-AFRICA.htm http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/23/AR2005102301163.html I don’t consider personal blogs to be reliable, but you will find other key words you can search. Given the positions you have taken here, I’d suggest it behooves you to be “up on” homosexuality in Africa, both pre- and post-colonial. Furthermore, does your question imply that homosexuality in Africa is in fact a post colonial thing?… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
13 years ago

Hey, I was only asking for information, which you have provided in great quantity – thanks.

Mind you, what human failings were *not* present in precolonial Africa? – and other places too for that matter? So: what would all this prove?

Ford Elms
Ford Elms
13 years ago

It would prove that those who claim homosexuality is a Western import designed to oppress the black man are guilty of misleading people, of distortions of the truth, and are motivated by something other than zeal for the Gospel. It would mean that politics and propaganda are more important for them than truth and honesty. It would prove that they are not interested in truth, but in justifying their own anger at the colonialists who enslaved their ancestors and using misleading propaganda to stir up people in their cause. Regardless of one’s politics, falsehood is falsehood, and the use of… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
13 years ago

Agreed. Of course, one would also need to investigate so far as possible whether the *forms* of homosexuality indicate a western influence, and also percentages of homosexuals pre-imperialism.

Hugh of Lincoln
Hugh of Lincoln
13 years ago

I’d be prepared to bet my bottom dollar that percentages of homosexuality has not altered much in our entire evolution. Just look at our nearest cousins, our fellow primates for evidence.

Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
13 years ago

Well, if we all behaved like animals (and of course many of us do) then I agree with you, Hugh. But civilisation is essentially about not necessarily following one’s most basic instincts, but rather subordinating these to the common good.

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