A modest proposal

Considering the last post I made, I just read this post from the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv.

Date: Sat, 04 Sep 2004 16:52:31 -0400
From: Tobias S Haller BSG
Subject: [HoB/D] A suggestion for impaired communion
The recent meeting of the Provincial Secretaries of the Anglican
Communion leads me to believe that the predictions from conservative
columnists about the collapse of the communion may be somewhat
exaggerated. All but a handful of the 38 provinces of the Communion were
represented at this meeting, and of those, apparently only two (Uganda
and Nigeria) stayed away as an expression of their attitude towards the
Episcopal Church, with which they have severed “communion.”
In all of the discussions concerning the present crisis, however, I have
yet to hear a good and precise definition of exactly what “commuion”
means. I hope this may emerge from the work of the Lambeth Commission.
In the meantime, people talk about communion in “nominative” terms, that
is: what does our communion consist of; what is its nature; is it like a
federation or a coalition; and so on. My response is to suggest we treat
communion, or being in communion, in a more _verbal_ sense: What does a
communion _do_; how does it work?
As I have noted in the past, when determining whether one is “in
communion” or “out of communion” with another ecclesial body, the first
thing you look to is the mutual recognition of ministers and their
ability to _function_ as such within the various constituent member
churches or provinces of the communion. Thus we move from ontology to
action. And this is also where talk of “impaired” communion has
practical implications.

Now, “impaired communion,” when you speak of it in the “nominative”
sense, is like “partial virginity.” But if we look at it “verbally” we
can understand its practical implications, in particular as it relates
to the sharing of ministers. As I have noted in the past, the movement
to ordain women in some parts of the Anglican Communion severed this
ministerial link that some would say is essential to any definition of
ecclesial communion. This impairment took various forms, from at one
extreme an unwillingness to recognize women as even capable of being
ordained (even from some within the provinces where this was affirmed
and allowed), to a willingness to allow for local option and toleration
of such ministers’ functioning as long as they restricted their actions
to their own provinces, to other provinces that fully recognized the
ministry of ordained women.
But even at the beginning, the impairments were essentially bilateral:
that is, only those churches or provinces that didn’t ordain women felt
they had to be in “impaired communion” with those that did. The center
could still hold, interestingly enough, even when the center province
itself (Canterbury as part of the Church of England) did not recognize
the ministry of women in the episcopate. Yet Canterbury extended the
invitation to women bishops to attend the Lambeth Conference even though
Canterbury itself, and some of the other bishops at Lambeth, did not in
their own minds or provinces allow or (in some cases) approve of the
ministry of women bishops. The first Eames Commission addressed this
concern, which limited the “impairment” of communion to the bilateral
acts of those provinces who refused to license or allow women to
function as ordained persons, while allowing that _on the whole_ — and
via Canterbury — the communion recognized their ministry as legitimate
and good _within those provinces that did so._
I realize that some reject any likeness between the present crisis and
that surrounding the ordination of women to the episcopate. But the real
issue I am addressing — and which the Lambeth Commission was charge to
address — is not the question of sexuality, but the question of
communion. And I do not see why exactly the same solution could not be
applied in the present situation, since the earlier crises concerned one
of the cornerstones by which communion is most commonly defined, while
the present disagreement is about a matter of pastoral theology no more
momentous than the similar differences of opinion on divorce and
remarriage or polygamy. That is, communion would be impaired for those
who feel it necessary as a witness to their point of view, and be
complete where it is complete as far as the individual bilateral
relationships between member provinces go, but _as a whole_ the
communion, via Lambeth and the other instruments of unity, would
continue to function much as it has for the last century or so. Thus, as
Archbishop Rowan has noted, Bishop Robinson could not (at present) be
licensed to function in the Church of England (due to the English
canonical restrictions), echoing his predecessor Archbishop Robert’s
words about Bishop Harris. But, as with Bishop Harris, Bishop Robinson
would be welcome to attend Lambeth. Those that would choose not to
participate in Lambeth because Bishop Robinson is invited would need to
take responsibility for their own actions and do as they see fit,
keeping always in mind the admonition “not to neglect to meet together,
as some do.”
If the whole is not more than simply the sum of its parts, then we do
not have a communion, but a confederation. And if the whole _does_
nothing but is simply an entity whose bear existence is the end and goal
— well, that strikes me as coming perilously close to idolatry. If
communion is what is wanted, and if it is _for_ something, then that
means modeling the behavior of Christ and honoring all the members, and
respecting their ability to make decisions for their own governance and
life, even if those decisions are not applicable in other particular
instances, nor indeed universally in the Communion. I hope as well that
the members of the communion can come to the place where they continue
to collaborate on the many other projects that serve the people of God
and the world, even while disagreeing on this matter of sexual ethics.
Communion, then, means the willingness to treat each other as members of
the body, even when we disagree. It is about staying together, as a
family does, in spite of differences. And what makes a family, the
Gospel teaches us, is primarily based on what the members do, how they
treat each other, rather than on who is related to whom by blood. The
church, after all, is a family in which all but one of the children is
In the long run I hope that the Lambeth Commission will hold the course,
to preserve the Anglican Communion as it has been functioning for so
long, as a fellowship of autonomous churches bound by affection and the
Holy Spirit rather than by law. And where affection is strained, to hope
for the grace of God’s Holy Spirit to compensate for our lack of charity.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.