Monday, June 30, 2008

Taking Up the Gauntlet - At Least to Examine It

The Archbishop of Canterbury has responded to the Statement of the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) and its included Jerusalem Declaration. You can read the statement here. You can read comments on it at all the usual suspects.

Most folks out there – at least, most folks in the basically progressive blogs that I peruse – think this is a good statement. Some think it better than others, of course, but most approve. I certainly think it is clearer than most statements from Canterbury; but then in this case the issues, or at least those addressed in the response, are more political and institutional than theological. However, it seems to me that this will turn out to be an example of how we talk past each other.

Take, for example, this assertion:

The 'tenets of orthodoxy' spelled out in the document will be acceptable to and shared by the vast majority of Anglicans in every province, even if there may be differences of emphasis and perspective on some issues. I agree that the Communion needs to be united in its commitments on these matters, and I have no doubt that the Lambeth Conference will wish to affirm all these positive aspects of GAFCON's deliberations. Despite the claims of some, the conviction of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and God and the absolute imperative of evangelism are not in dispute in the common life of the Communion.

First and foremost, while these “tenets of orthodoxy” may well be shared by “the vast majority of Anglicans in every province,” those who wrote and who signed on to the GAFCON Statement find the differences of emphasis and perspective to be critical. Differences over how we interpret Scripture (largely literally, or largely through the lens of historical critical method); the role of bishops in the Church (pastoral or educational, monarchical or collegial); the authority of the “historic Anglican formularies,” as the Covenant Design Group has described them; the meaning of relationships and boundaries within a communion of churches (Anglican, “Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans” (GAFCON separatists), or others): all of these reflect differences of emphases and perspectives that are significant and formative for those affirming the Statement.

Second, I think it remains to be seen in what form or manner “the Lambeth Conference will wish to affirm all these positive aspects of GAFCON's deliberations.” Once again, there are aspects of both the statement and the Jerusalem Declaration that will have wide support; but hardly all. I sincerely hope that Lambeth will not affirm elevation of issues of human sexuality to the importance of Scripture and the historic Creeds, or even to the level of the historic Anglican formularies. In light of the structure that has been given to this Lambeth, I hardly expect any statement at all. I doubt that the Lambeth Conference will wish to affirm all these positive aspects of GAFCON's deliberations” in any way that the new Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans will accept, or even acknowledge.

Third, the Archbishop comments, “Despite the claims of some, the conviction of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and God and the absolute imperative of evangelism are not in dispute in the common life of the Communion.” The problem with this is that those most committed to this Statement and to FOCA are precisely those who are making the claims. I don’t agree with them, but I believe that they really believe the claims they make. They believe and are committed to the claim that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada (not to mention those who might actually agree) are proclaiming “a new gospel.” They also believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury has essentially lost his moral authority, for lack of exercising moral authority over those two provinces. They will not be persuaded by this statement from this source. The same is true of his later statement, “I believe that it is wrong to assume we are now so far apart that all those outside the GAFCON network are simply proclaiming another gospel. This is not the case; it is not the experience of millions of faithful and biblically focused Anglicans in every province.”

All the issues of division raised by Archbishop Williams’ response are meaningful. His speaking to them will be welcomed by those who wish to retain some possibility of reconciliation, and/or some sense of the Anglican-Communion-as-we-have-known-it. It will, however, be dismissed by those who have despaired of both.

I said in my last post that Canterbury cannot ignore the metaphorical gauntlet thrown at his ecclesiastical feet. To his credit, he has not ignored it. He has perhaps offered some comfort to those who will still work with him. It won’t change the trajectory implied by the GAFCON Statement and the Jerusalem Declaration.

1 comment:

Young fogey emeritus said...

I know that ++Cantuar and many other liberal Anglicans are not at all like Spong: they believe the creeds. That and high churchmanship more like me than the hootenanny ’60s seem where liberal First World Anglicanism is headed.

Derek Olsen, a young person and the most catholic writer at Episcopal Café, and his Episcopal-priest wife are like that. Like in the Roman Church the kids aren't following in the footsteps of the old liberals.

Not 'Aagh! TEC is apostate!', the right's bookend to the left's 'If conservative Christians have the freedom to keep ex-Episcopal buildings, TEC will be forced out of business and gays will be rounded up and murdered!' silliness.

That said, here's my summary of this kind of reaction. It's liberal Protestant condescension: 'Of course you and I can keep these quaint beliefs in a Supreme Being, Trinity, God become man and rising from the dead... as long as our required core beliefs don't contradict modern received opinion (whatever we want to do) in any way.' (BTW the Nazis wanted to update Christianity too.) So orthodoxy or not is as irrelevant to our lives as belief in the Easter bunny.

When it comes to absolutes - and both sides believe there are such - I'll take catholicism over its illogical, unstable knockoff, political correctness.

J.I. Packer, a Christian with whom I've otherwise little in common, is right that because Dr Williams showed his cards before being appointed as believing in gay marriage he's the wrong man to lead right now (even though he's not a Pope who actually runs the Anglican Communion) and should step down. He hates the views of most of his own communion and his fellow liberals say he's betrayed them. He can't win.

Now that the sun has set on the British Empire this church is crashing down under the weight of its contradictions.