Monday, July 09, 2007

The Passion of Archbishop Gomez

I have read the address of Archbishop Drexel Gomez to the General Synod of the Church of England. I encourage that it be read in full. I’m not going to do a point by point analysis, but I do have some reactions to share.

First, I will say there is much in here to appreciate. Archbishop Gomez argues passionately for the Covenant process, and for the first Draft produced by the Design Group he chairs. He makes some comments that I think will be helpful. His expectation that there will be at least two more Covenants, developed over some time, is an important comment. So is his recognition that there are already voices critiquing the current Draft, and that there are more voices to be heard. His reference to the recognition by some that the Draft is too centered on the Primates, and has too little voice for the laity, is reassuring, if not enough to change my opinions.

I think the Archbishop does describe the state of the Communion pretty well. He is remarkably clear in distinguishing concerns from facts. Note, for example, this passage:

Rumours abound that there are plots to carry forward in some provinces a bold agenda on gay marriage, and to require toleration of it across the Communion. Other rumours inform us that the primates are plotting to impose a “collective papacy” on the Anglican Communion. Bishops and archbishops are taking over the care of churches outside their own provinces; new jurisdictions are being erected and bishops are being consecrated and set up in a spirit of competition. People are taking up more and more extreme positions and then defending them; no matter how well founded or sincere the objections.

The allegations that progressive Anglicans want to force something on traditionalist Anglicans are only that: allegations; and “rumors” is as good a word to describe them as any. And, notwithstanding that there have been voices from a few Primates that seem to elevate the Primates’ Meetings to a conciliar if not a curial standard, concerns of progressives that this is what most primates want are no more than rumors, either. On the other hand, boundary crossings and “interventions” are facts, as are the voices that have elevated rumors to projections.

I disagree with some of the Archbishop’s descriptions and assessments of his own work. My reassurance at the statements I cited above notwithstanding, my reading of the plain text of the Draft Covenant as it is does not show me an adequate description of what it means to be Anglican, or an accurate description of the functions of the Instruments of Communion. The Draft does not describe accurately what I have inherited as an Anglican. It does indeed propose inordinate authority for the Primates’ Meetings. It introduces this and other innovations into the life of the Communion. As it stands now, I continue to see this Draft, and especially reaching to the Primates’ Meetings as the central forum of the Communion, as choosing a bad expediency, driven by a false urgency. (You can read my reflections at greater length, look under “Labels” and select “Study Guide.”) I appreciate his expectation of further discussion and revision; but I will reserve judgment on the process until we see a final draft.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of this speech is his argument for the concept of a covenant within the tradition of God’s people. Once again, he argues passionately and articulately (and, I think, accurately) that covenants have been essential moments in our history as Christians. His articulation of Biblical tradition and current agreements will still beg for some the question as to whether we need another covenant. That is, if we can all recognize that we all participate in the “new covenant in my blood,” do we really need a contemporary articulation on paper to which we all append our signatures? However, his description of the situation is, I think, apt: “I have no doubt that it would be lovely to go back to a day when we relied on no more than the affection generated by our mutual inheritance and care. But I’m afraid that those days have gone….”

And that, I think, will be the tragedy of Archbishop Gomez. The facts he recognizes, that mutual non-recognition exists among provinces of the Communion, made incarnate in impaired communion and provincial boundary violations and new bishops for new quasi-diocesan entities, may well have already gone too far. The Covenant process as first envisioned in the Windsor Report, and for which the Draft has been prepared, may well founder on the hard coasts of primates and other provincial leaders who do not care to wait, to pursue a process of several drafts and more than several years. He argues passionately and reasonably for a process that may well not be capable of accomplishing what he wishes: thirty-eight provinces with roots in the Church of England coming to some agreement of what it means to be Anglican, and of how we will relate to one another. Terms may be reached – I believe will be reached – but some will agree to one set of terms, and some to another. It’s looking more and more like there when the dust settles there will be more than thirty-eight “provinces,” but fewer – perhaps far fewer – than thirty-eight in any one communion. He will, I fear, experience that other meaning of “passion”: he will put his heart into a goal that cannot be reached. He will suffer disappointment and grief, and we will all be suffering with him.

We are an Easter people. I am an Easter person, and I do believe that from all this turmoil and from the radical change – the loss - of the Communion-as-we-have-known-it we will see God raise a new manifestation of his Church. I believe God will work in all of us, and all of us will, by God’s grace, see some sort of new birth, even if we have no idea yet quite what it will look like. But before we can get there, we will experience passion – passion as emotional investment and passion as suffering. I fear Archbishop Gomez will be disappointed, as we will all be disappointed, in the changes that will come. It is by faith, trusting in the covenant God has always established with us in Christ, that we will go on to see new birth.

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