Monday, June 07, 2010

All Form and Blessed Little Substance

Since last week, we have been looking at two primatial pastorals. The first was the Pentecost Letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The second was the Pastoral Letter from Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. The usual suspects have been having the expected discussions. (For my favorites, check  here and here.)

My contention is that much has hung on what the Archbishop meant in his letter when he wrote

I am therefore proposing that, while these tensions remain unresolved, members of such provinces – provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged.

I have been saying that much hangs on that word “formally,” emphasized in the Archbishop’s own text. It was in response to this that the Presiding Bishop wrote in her letter,

We are distressed at the apparent imposition of sanctions on some parts of the Communion. We note that these seem to be limited to those which "have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion." We are further distressed that such sanctions do not, apparently, apply to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviors in private. Why is there no sanction on those who continue with a double standard? In our context bowing to anxiety by ignoring that sort of double-mindedness is usually termed a "failure of nerve."

Well, it appears that we now have an answer, or at least a partial answer, to the question of what "formally" means in the letter from Canon Kearon. That is, we know where we stand "formally," because we have (or, critically for Canterbury, our House of Bishops has) consented to the election and ordination of a partnered lesbian to the episcopate. Of course, we knew where we stood before.

So, what about the others, those who have taken actions and may have rescinded them? Apparently, they get to report for themselves, if it's at all vague. Canon Kearon writes, "I have written to the Primate of the Southern Cone, whose interventions in other provinces are referred to in the Windsor Continuation Group Report asking him for clarification as to the current state of his interventions into other provinces." So, nothing to Nigeria, or to Uganda, or to Kenya, perhaps because they have transferred authority to ACNA? Somehow, that whole issue seems unclear, at least to the good Canon. One of his remaining questions is, "whether maintaining within the fellowship of one’s Provincial House of Bishops, a bishop who is exercising episcopal ministry in another province without the expressed permission of that province or the local bishop, constitutes an intervention and is therefore a breach of the third moratorium." That would seem to simply eliminate at a stroke most of the "interventions" that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have suffered. How is it that this is unclear in Canterbury?

And, of course, there is nothing about “to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviors in private.” While such things are certainly happening in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Church of Canada, perhaps the most egregious example is the Church of England. There “formal” accommodation has been made for civil partnerships even for clergy (although there is the fig leaf of asking the clergy to be celibate within such a relationship). However, reporters within the Church of England tell us often how many such relationships, including those of clergy, are blessed in the Church. However, to address that would require the Archbishop to address his own house.

I could say, “It’s easier to focus on what is formally done, and ignore the informal,” but the fact is that this is where the Episcopal Church has been on the moratorium on blessing same sex couples. We have not blessed in General Convention blessing such relationships, but a number of dioceses (including my own) have approved processes for doing so. At the same time, we haven’t denied officially that such things happen. We’ve only denied that we have taken any “formal” action, at least until this last General Convention (and even that was no more sweeping than to allow a “local option”). However, to ignore what was “formally” done because it was “formally” undone, especially when it was only undone after establishing a new ecclesial entity within a member national church, certainly seems perfidious.

I have come to the conclusion that the Episcopal Church should concentrate on maintaining communion with the Church of England and membership on the Anglican Consultative Council, and if not signing this Covenant results in a “second-tier” membership, so be it. However, having so narrowly applied the consequences of all the actions that have divided the Communion, when so many have participated, can only seriously undermine trust in Canterbury, not only in the Anglican provinces in North America, but throughout the Communion.


Grandmère Mimi said...

The ABC has entered a thicket full of thorns. How, in heaven's name, will Rowan and his minions sort out which of the provinces has "formally" or "informally" breached the moritoria? They make the effort here, but the results, as you say, will not be satisfactory.

Marshall, whenever I visit my family in Kansas City again, I'd like to share a meal with you.

Marshall Scott said...

Grandmere, it would be a privilege. You can email me from my Profile page.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Marshall, I will get in touch the next time I visit the family,