Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Things May Be Better Off Than We Had Feared

This past Friday I wrote about the Second Report from the Windsor Continuation Group, and their suggestion that the Communion might benefit from a “Faith and Order Commission.” All the Reports of the WCG are now available on line, including the Third Report, which includes a suggestion for a “Pastoral Forum.”

With my concerns, I was interested to see this comment by Bishop Christopher Epting, retired of Iowa and Ecumenical Officer for the Episcopal Church. He’s in Lambeth, and he has more experience in these discussions than I, so I found his perception of the Faith and Order Commission meaningful and reassuring.

I have no real problem with the Communion-wide “Faith and Order Commission.” It is not intended (as the press had said) to be like the Vatican “Holy Office” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) with all kinds of powers to censure and discipline. It is simply the rolling together of the current International Anglican Doctrinal Commission and the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations (upon which I serve).

I don’t think merging them is a great idea — there is more than enought theological and ecumenical work for both Commissions — but this has been a done deal for some time, partly because of the cost of both Commissions. We need some kind of clearing house to which to refer matters of doctrine and discipline for discussion. The fact that we have not had such a thing in the past is why The Episcopal Church did not do more “consultation” in matters theological dealing with issues of human sexuality years ago.

He goes on to say, on the other hand

The suggested ”Pastoral Forum” is more problematic. It’s to be chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury and serve as an advisory group to the various Provinces when there are internal disputes and difficulties which affect the whole Communion. Such schemes have been tried (or at least floated) in recent years and have always failed. I’m not sure why this one will have any greater chance of success.

The WCG report described the Pastoral Forum idea in some detail, but the essential points are that the Pastoral Forum would “engage theologically and practically with situations of controversy as they arise or divisive actions that may be taken around the Communion;” and “would be responsible for addressing those anomalies of pastoral care arising in the Communion against the recommendations of the Windsor Report.”

I might have had more concern myself about the “Pastoral Forum,” if someone hadn’t noted how much it seemed like the Panel of Reference. In fact, does the WCG Report specifically connect it to the Panel of Reference, but it’s composition is much the same. Members would be appointed by and report to the Archbishop of Canterbury (oddly, the Report speaks both of the Archbishop as “President,” of an “episcopal chair” that he would appoint). It would be intended for consultation, and members could travel to meet with those concerned in disagreements.

In any case, and again, I do find the connection and similarity to the Panel of Reference does lower my blood pressure somewhat. Last year, I made the following comments about the work of the Panel of Reference:
  • The Panel of Reference has established a history of recognizing the institutional, provincial integrity of the Episcopal Church...

  • The Panel has established a pattern, in what few results we have from them, of preferring a return to established institutional boundaries while efforts at reconciliation are pursued. This pattern, expressed explicitly in this report, would strongly encourage maintaining within the Episcopal Church those dioceses and congregations that have sought to leave, at least until the Panel responds.

  • The Panel has also established a pattern of withholding consideration while issues are being pursued in civil courts. With their preference for maintenance of the status quo ante, this would maintain real property within institutions of the Episcopal Church, again at least until recommendations were received...

  • As the Panel is a creature of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he could hardly ignore the Panel’s recommendations. Neither, I think, could he issue any sort of “peremptory judgment” while the Panel consideration was in process (including excluding American bishops from Lambeth).

We might consider any Pastoral Forum in that light. A forum for consultation, with members that would respect the traditional respect within the Communion for provincial differences and local needs, would be much preferable to the juridical process in the Appendix to the St. Andrew’s Draft of the Anglican Covenant.

Of course, we don’t know how this will shake out. Indeed, we won’t really know until these matters – the final reports of both the Windsor Continuation Group and the Covenant Drafting Committee - are presented next year to the Anglican Consultative Council. But while we wait, as ready as we are to challenge unreasonable ideas, we should also be ready to consider at least ideas that might turn out in their implementation to be reasonable after all.


Unknown said...

What worries me is what will happen to any of these proposals when all the bishops are not present and we are reduced, once again, to the self-proclaimed tyranny of the primates.

Another worry is that there appears to be no real challenge to the Windsor Report being thrust upon us as a new commandment that must be followed. I fear they really don't want input from all of us, that is not their ecclesiology and they wish it weren't ours. It's much easier (and predictable) to hear only the primates.

It may not be better than we had feared for now, but there's so much more to come-- and without as many voices in the room.

Marshall Scott said...

No, that is true.

I'm heartened by subsequent presentations on Scripture. However, you're correct: we have to wait to see quite a bit more.

Christopher said...

I am most troubled by the fact that all of the theologians who would think through, consult, examine, etc. are bishops or archbishops. Where are the many knowledgable laity? Again, the way both of these commissions/councils are set up tends to remove them from the realities of real life and those who are most engaged in the work of mission in the world--and it isn't bishops and archbishops contrary to what seems to be suggested by this structuring. It is too reminiscent of Rome.

Marshall Scott said...

christopher, I think that is an important question. Our tradition bas been to lean heavily on scholars, most of whom were not bishops (although, I suppose, most were priests; still....).

There are certainly scholars who are not bishops on the Inter Anglican Theological and Doctrinal group. On the other hand, other than Dr. Poon, I don't know of any non-bishop scholar who's getting much attention (J. I. Packer may be a large fish, but he's in a very small pond.) We might consider how we might raise their visibility. After all, I've gone "looking for scholars" periodically.