Thursday, May 29, 2008

Back to St. Andrew's 5

So, the questions on the St. Andrew’s Draft of the Draft Anglican Covenant continue.

The next question for Deputies is

Section 3.2: Here the covenant focuses on challenges to the Anglican Communion. The voice changes from descriptive of our common life to proscriptive direction of how to proceed when our common life is threatened.
• Do you think it is necessary to articulate processes when communion is threatened and, if so, do you find these processes of consultation and conversation as outlined in 3.2 useful?

These questions address the Commitments related in “Section 3: Our Unity and Common Life” in the St. Andrew’s Draft. This is a long and detailed section, and so I won’t copy it in full. However, you can read it, along with the rest of the Draft, here.

The question posed is really two questions, and they’re important enough to consider separately. The first is, “Do you think it necessary to articulate processes when communion is threatened?” Yes, probably; but that begs an additional question. That is, why ask about circumstances “when communion is threatened,” and why not “when the Communion is threatened?” That makes a significant difference. After all, we experience communion at a number of levels (not to mention in a variety of ways; but that’s a post for another day), and each of those levels has a different structure. At each of those levels (parochial, diocesan, provincial, Anglican Communion, and full-communion relationships - think Called to Common Mission with the ELCA) threats to communion have different consequences. We in the Episcopal Church, and siblings in the Province of Central Africa, are experiencing threats to Communion at the provincial level, with corollary consequences at diocesan and parochial levels. In both provinces those issues (while not the same issues) involve the positions of bishops, diocesan control of property, and divisions within congregations. Both, interestingly enough, involve whether the bishop and diocesan leadership are conforming to or confronting the society around them; and in both events reflect the current cultural experiences of social and political disagreement (and, yes, I am certainly glad to be in a country where this has participants in court instead of in the hospital).

On the other hand, whether either of these difficulties is a “threat to communion” at the level of the Communion depends less on the events than on reactions. So, responses to local cultural conditions in the United States and Canada (acknowledging and embracing our GLBT siblings) become threats to communion, while responses to local cultural conditions in Nigeria (church support for legislation to outlaw gatherings of citizens to discuss rights for GLBT persons) do not because some provinces choose to react while others do not.. If the Anglican Communion is, as the St. Andrew’s Draft says elsewhere, is “a worldwide family of interdependent churches” (2.1.2) or “autonomous-in-communion” (3.1.2), what constitutes a “threat to communion” is in the eyes of the beholder. None of these events within a province are structurally prescriptive for any other province. Thus, a “threat to communion” that has concrete consequences at other levels of our common life only threatens the Anglican Communion by our choice, and not because there are concrete structures or defined relationships to be injured.

If we speak of a “threat to communion” instead of a “threat to the Communion,” it is precisely because the structures of and relationships within the Communion are more than a little ad hoc. Section 3.2 of the Draft tries to give some definition in its first paragraphs:

(3.2.1) to have regard to the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its autonomy, and to support the work of the Instruments of Communion with the spiritual and material resources available to it;
(3.2.2) to respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, while upholding the interdependent life and mutual responsibility of the Churches, and the responsibility of each to the Communion as a whole;
(3.2.3) to spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection to listen, pray and study with one another in order to discern the will of God. Such prayer, study and debate is an essential feature of the life of the Church as its seeks to be led by the Spirit into all truth and to proclaim the Gospel afresh in each generation. Some issues, which are perceived as controversial or new when they arise, may well evoke a deeper understanding of the implications of God’s revelation to us; others may prove to be distractions or even obstacles to the faith: all therefore need to be tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church.
(3.2.4) to seek with other Churches, through the Communion’s shared councils, a common mind about matters understood to be of essential concern, consistent with the Scriptures, common standards of faith, and the canon law of our churches.

And so there is some assertion that with the Communion there is some sense of “common good,” which is itself supported if we “support the work of the Instruments of Communion.” At the same time, there is a sort of duality in the next sentences that may be either a “yes, but” or a “both/and.” There is “constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches,” with “interdependent life and mutual responsibility.” There is to be “openness and patience in matters of theological debate,” while the goal is to “seek... a common mind.” Play with these, and you quickly recognize that whether this is a “yes, but” or a “both/and” makes a great deal of difference.

That brings me, then, to the question of the specific steps for addressing a “threat to communion” described under section 3.2.5. In 3.2.5 and its subsequent details, each church commits

(3.2.5) to act with diligence, care and caution in respect to actions, either proposed or enacted, at a provincial or local level, which, in its own view or the expressed view of any Province or in the view of any one of the Instruments of Communion, are deemed to threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission....

While there are angels (and others) in the details, there is a major headache in the possibility that “any Province or... any one of the Instruments of Communion” might raise an issue, and so interfere with mission even at a local level. We have for some time cherished the possibility that not only the Episcopate but also our “common worship” might be “locally adapted,” per the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral. Between the two, we have been willing to see the goals and methods of mission be locally adapted as well. The possibility that “any Province or... any one of the Instruments of Communion” might call for wider discernment on aspects of local adaptation, and enjoin (whether successfully or not) mission is problematic, to say the least. Indeed, we have seen that displayed often enough in the history of world missions. Too often European or American missionaries have seen it important to convert not only to the Christian faith but also to European or American cultural and social norms.

So, back to the question: “Do you think it is necessary to articulate processes when communion is threatened and, if so, do you find these processes of consultation and conversation as outlined in 3.2 useful?” Yes, I do think it necessary to articulate processes for consultation and conversation when communion is threatened. I think those processes need to be appropriate to the specific details of the structures and relationships relevant to the level within our common life at which the threat is perceived. Unfortunately, the undefined (some would say “gloriously undefined”) relationships between provinces within the Communion make any specific processes, including those in 3.2.5, questionable. Some allege that the Episcopal Church didn’t do the theological work that would explain and support full inclusion of GLBT persons. (I don’t think they’ve been paying attention; but that’s neither here nor there.) I would suggest that the provinces and Instruments of the Anglican Communion haven’t done the theological work to really describe our ecclesiology. Until that done, until we’ve come to a common mind on what we mean by “autonomy-in-communion” with its “constitutional autonomy, interdependent life, and mutual responsibility,” we can’t really define what constitutes a threat to communion, much less what processes should be in place to address it.

Just a few more to go....

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