Thursday, April 01, 2010

Dr. Poon on the Anglican Communion: Second Reflection

There’s a reason that I have styled these responses to Dr. Poon’s paper “reflections.” It is that I am not the scholar that Dr. Poon is (as kind as he’s been in his interest in my opinion), and his paper certainly deserves a proper scholarly response.

However, I also appreciate the value of responses that are thoughtful but not scholarly. For several years I was a member of the Internal Review Board in the hospital where I worked. While I developed over time some expertise in the informed consent process, the scientists made clear that they also appreciated “questions from ignorance.” Occasionally I did raise something they hadn’t thought about, but more often I helped them see what they needed to explain in greater detail.

With that in mind, several questions from ignorance have come to mind. The first is to look at the historical review. Dr. Poon begins at a familiar point: “Two ecclesial actions precipitated the present disputes. In 2002, the Diocese of New Westminster decided to authorize services for same-sex unions. In 2003, the Episcopal Church (USA) appointed a priest in a committed same-sex relationship as one of its bishops.”

Beginning with those events makes some sense, but I wonder if others wouldn’t make just as much. For example, what might it have meant to begin with Lambeth 1998, and specifically with the events around Lambeth resolution 1998-1.10. This shaped the context within which subsequent events occurred. What might that context have looked like had a different report on human sexuality been presented? It has been reported that there was a report that was displaced by resolution 1.10. What might that context have looked like had all provincial/national churches actively engaged in the listening, assurances and pastoral ministry to gay and lesbian persons enjoined in items c. and d. of resolution 1.10? What might that context have looked like if no measure had been passed, and Resolution 64 of Lambeth 1988 were to stand, reaffirming a call from Lambeth 1978 (Resolution 10) for “deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research,” and in light of that calling for “each province to reassess, in the light of such study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude towards persons of homosexual orientation?” Interpretation of, and actions based on those interpretations of Lambeth 1.10 (both its content and its authority) would seem significant for understanding the import for the Communion of events of 2002 and 2003, as well as the Singapore ordinations and formation of the Anglican Mission in the Americas in 2000.

Here’s a second question. There are differences of opinion about the authority of the Windsor Report, and about the Report of the Windsor Continuation Group. Both were produced by bodies appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Windsor Report was received by the Primates Meeting at Dromantine, while the WCG Report was received by the recent meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. However, there are also differences of opinion about the authority of the See of Canterbury and of the other Instruments. Indeed, Dr. Poon’s paper refers to differing views on Canterbury in paragraphs 21 and 22. These differences would also seem to affect understandings of the Windsor Report and the WCG Report as normative documents for the Communion.

It would seem to me that it is in fact a theological project – an ecclesiological project – to describe appropriately the authority of the See of Canterbury, as well as the other Instruments, in relation to the member churches. There have been numerous statements in Lambeth resolutions about the limitations of Lambeth, from the first meeting. A number of Archbishops of Canterbury, Rowan Williams included, have made clear their own senses of the limitations on their jurisdiction. It would seem a theological project, and not a management project, to determine and offer for reception understandings of the forms and limits of authority of the various Instruments.

That is, as Dr. Poon notes, the direction given by the Anglican Consultative Council to the Inter- Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO):

to undertake a study of the role and responsibility in the Communion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting; the ecclesiological rationale of each, and the relationships between them, in line with the Windsor Continuation Group Report (Resolution 14.09g)

Is there not, then, grounds to wait and see the results of this work, and to offer that for reception, as critical to understanding relations in the Communion generally, and the functions of the Instruments specifically? Would not this work offer our best or at least our first interpretive lens for the Covenant’s descriptions of the Instruments and their roles?

Now, Dr. Poon has a concern about the next resolution from the ACC meeting:

The Anglican Consultative Council, in the light of the Resolution 14.08 of ACC-14 on the WCG Report, asks that the report of the study undertaken by IASCUFO includes a study of the existing papers developed within our Communion and of current best practices in governance for multi-layered complex organizations, and makes recommendations to ACC-15 on ways in which the effectiveness of the Instruments of Communion may be enhanced. (Resolution 14.10)

His interpretation is that the theological project will be undermined if not actually displaced by a managerial treatise. He comments, ““Best practices” and “enhancement” are corporate-world speak. This Resolution took a managerial view of the instruments. But ecclesial deficit and corporate failing are two different matters altogether.” Granted; but perhaps the theological review and the managerial review are not mutually exclusive. It seems unlikely that the Communion will cease to be multi-layered and complex, whatever the results of the theological work. Even with this concern, wouldn’t our historic practices of reception within the Communion suggest waiting to see the IASCUFO report before dismissing it?

I’m sure I’ll have other questions from ignorance, but these seem like reasonable questions to start with.

2 comments:

desertcat said...

My question from ignorance is whether Dr. Poon and others understand the word "election." Bishops in the TEC are elected - chosen by vote of their dioceses and approved by the HoB and Standing Committees of all dioceses. That is far different than having one person point a finger at someone and give them the job of bishop. Or in their theology, do Dr. Poon and others who insist on continuing the use of "appointed" instead of "elected" believe that only God can elect anyone for any reason -- salvation OR a bishop's crozier?

Marshall Scott said...

desertcat:

We Episcopalians have often looked at that word "appoint," and asked whether folks in other provinces understand that we elect. I think many do - I think Dr. Poon may - and that they fall back to the archaism of referring to the position as "an appointment." I wonder if they care about the process, in that sense. Disagreeing the the results, they would think a Crown committee or an episcopal nominating committee would be no less prone to error as a diocesan convention.

I think you're pointing to a different issue, though, that I don't think we really have talked about, and that I'm coming to. It is the cultural difference between personhood is inherent to an individual or is defined by the community. I want to reflect on that, because I think that's an underlying dynamic that I think we're as oblivious to as our critics are.