As will surprise no regular reader, I have been following all the discussion regarding the Communique of the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania, with its attached Schedule and draft Covenant. There is, as always, a great deal of argument (most of it civil, most of it thoughtful) about the meaning and import of the documents, and of specific passages of them. If you want to see the breadth of opinion, I commend you to all the usual suspects.
There is, however, one thing on which everyone agrees. By the end of September of this year the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church is expected to respond, based on its corporate interpretation. That response is expected to include steps for action.
And with that in mind, and with the short time before the March meeting of the House of Bishops, perhaps we need to be involved less in abstract interpretation, and more in recommendations. After all, time is passing, and thoughtful decision making takes time in and of itself. We outside the House (and I imagine those inside the House) will not come to consensus of the “best” interpretation, but they inside the House will come to some functional interpretation. And everyone expects that functional interpretation to be made incarnate in action steps.
Tobias Haller of In a Godward Direction has offered his suggestions. It’s thoughtful and pretty thorough. I often think the inside of his head is better organized than mine, and this is suggestive of that.
On the other hand, I think there is plenty of room for other, less fully organized, reflections (and I’m sure he would, too). After all, in many settings the first step in decision making is brainstorming, laying out all possibilities, even if farfetched. Certainly, some ideas are ultimately rejected as impossible (which might mean literally beyond capacity, and might mean simply too painful to carry out); but some may seen as possible, and even as useful, that hadn’t been imagined before.
In that light, I would like to make two suggestions.
First, the House of Bishops can propose its own draft for an Anglican Covenant. It would not be the first, as I have noted elsewhere; and while the model proposed in Tanzania has some cachet because of its source, it is currently a model, circulated for study. The House of Bishops could gather its own Committee and suggest an alternative. That could only be seen as active interest and participation in the Covenant process, without seeing any previous model as privileged. It could describe the House’s understanding of how autonomy and responsibility are balanced in “interdependence.” It might express an opinion on the relative authority of statements of Primates meetings and of actions of the Anglican Consultative Council. It could conceivably be available for the June meeting of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and the July meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England. While acceding to this or any model of a Covenant would require action of General Convention, this is certainly within the capacity and authority of the House of Bishops.
Second, the House of Bishops might call for more meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council. Within our polity in the Episcopal Church we believe that the priesthood of all believers and the movement of the Spirit within each baptized person require all orders of ministry to be represented in any binding decision. We could call for the same incarnational action on the part of the Communion, lived out in more frequent meetings of the ACC. I believe the Primates Meetings have taken on the image of being more important than the ACC in no small part simply because the Primates meet more often and so issue more public statements. Since we might be called upon to spend more money to make it happen, we should express willingness to do so.
Third, the House of Bishops might decide as a body that American bishops will voluntarily withdraw from the next Lambeth Conference, just as we voluntarily withdrew from the last meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. This should be balanced with a decision not to withdraw from the next or future meetings of the ACC or from meetings of the Primates. I think this would have value for a number of reasons.
- It would define our withdrawal in terms of our interest in mission and peace, and not in someone else’s terms of “discipline.” It would include our understanding that this was not rejection of the Communion, that we were choosing to “fast for a season,” and not to “walk apart.”
- It would get the Archbishop of Canterbury off the hook well ahead of a crisis, without requiring him to refuse to invite any or all of our bishops. While it is unclear just how much Archbishop Williams agrees with actions of General Convention, allowing others to continue to pressure him does not serve us. While he might or might not be grateful (at least publically), that’s not the point. It shows respect for his office and our own emotional security by refusing to participate in a tug of war for paternal recognition.
- It would pressure possibly schismatic bishops within the Episcopal Church to declare themselves. If the House has expressed its mind that no Episcopal bishop will attend Lambeth, any bishop who participates demonstrates decision to leave the House. Those who are committed to reconciliation, to remaining the loyal opposition within the House, will be willing to share in this fast for that purpose.
- It will save a lot of money. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t contribute to supporting the Lambeth Conference, paying for all those other bishops to attend. I think we should. Our dioceses will still save a lot of money for mission in not paying the expenses of our bishops. Paying for others while not attending ourselves follows the Gospel model of going the extra mile. It may also “heap coals of fire....”
- While there is risk that Lambeth without our bishops will make statements and take positions that we cannot accept, no one will be able to claim our bishops were complicit. Indeed, it will be hard to declare any position as “the standard of teaching for the Communion” if such a large segment of the bishops of the Communion do not participate. Considering that our bishops are a minority at Lambeth, such statements may be expected if we do attend. This would at least undermine the air of dignity and authority of such statements.
- Declaring early that this is under consideration will give others in the Communion to express their feelings about our participation in Lambeth. Some bishops in the Global South have expressed willingness to see us excluded, however that willingness might be qualified. It would be interesting to hear whether others had a commitment to seeing us included.
Those are some of my suggestions. Anybody else have anything to toss up?