A warning on the future of World Anglicanism

Archbishop Robin Eames, Primate of All Ireland, delivered another lecture – this time for the 2005 Pitt Lecture at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. He issued a warning on the future of World Anglicanism.
Here is a short paragraph from the lecture describing a crucial element of Anglicanism. Click below to read the whole lecture, which is long.
The concept of ‘communion’ lies at the heart of Anglicanism. At once it provides us with our raison d’etre and at the same time as giving us our uniqueness provides the basis for much of our self-analysis. Our understanding of KOINONIA, our analysis of what it means and our attempts to share those conclusions with other Christians provides us with our ethos. Our pain over the past few years, well documented across the world, stems from our failure to embrace what we have learned of KOINONIA and to translate that learning experience into practicalities. If we have a virtue it must surely be that there is a transparency about our quest – and we have not hidden our pain from others. It is my submission that in trying to find a way forward Anglicanism will do more than indulge in house-keeping – it will in fact help other traditions to see more clearly what the Easter message means for the institutional Church.
From: Episcopal News Service

Eames issues warning on future of World Anglicanism
ENS 101205-1
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
[Episcopal News Service] The Most Rev. Dr. Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, delivered the 2005 Pitt Lecture at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale October 12, issuing a warning on the future of World Anglicanism. The Archbishop was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in a ceremony at the College.
The full text of Eames’ lecture follows:
Where now for World Anglicanism?
I regard it as a singular honour to have been invited to deliver the Pitt Lecture for 2005 and to receive an honorary degree from an institution which has contributed so much to the theological development and understanding of God’s world. I thank you for this honour and crave your indulgence as I reflect on the future of that part of the Body of Christ to which we belong, the Anglican Communion.
My approach in this Lecture will be essentially personal. Not surprisingly my words stem from over forty years of Anglican Ministry. During those years I have been greatly privileged to find myself at what is usually called ‘the heart of Anglicanism’ through membership of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth Conference, the meetings of Primates as well as being invited to chair the Eames Commission on women in the episcopate, the Virginia Report and the recent Windsor Report on the nature of communion. As Primate of all Ireland for some 20 years that personal journey has allowed me to see the world family of Anglicanism at its best but also at points of crisis; to see how easily an international family reacts to sharp differences – and in the process in the opinion of many, lose its way.
My conviction in reflecting on the way forward for the Communion stems from my firm belief that the core values of Anglicanism have essentials to contribute to the world Church scene and that any erosion of those core values can have a negative effect on our partners, our fellow-travellers, towards the Church for which Christ prayed.
The great English poet T.S. Eliot once concluded:
“the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.”
I cannot escape the conclusion that the search for the sort of Anglican Communion which will emerge from our current complexities may well produce a similar conclusion. In fact any objective analysis of the Anglican journey over the centuries reminds us that discovery of new understandings tend to re-emphasise what we knew all along. Different approaches to, and study of, the nature of authority, the meaning of communion, the relevance of autonomy and the implications of ‘unity in diversity’ may produce new realities for a time – in the end we Anglicans tend to return time and again not to new structures, but to new appreciation of a way of life, an attitude. In short – a being rather than a doing.
The concept of ‘communion’ lies at the heart of Anglicanism. At once it provides us with our raison d’etre and at the same time as giving us our uniqueness provides the basis for much of our self-analysis. Our understanding of KOINONIA, our analysis of what it means and our attempts to share those conclusions with other Christians provides us with our ethos. Our pain over the past few years, well documented across the world, stems from our failure to embrace what we have learned of KOINONIA and to translate that learning experience into practicalities. If we have a virtue it must surely be that there is a transparency about our quest – and we have not hidden our pain from others. It is my submission that in trying to find a way forward Anglicanism will do more than indulge in house-keeping – it will in fact help other traditions to see more clearly what the Easter message means for the institutional Church.
A great deal of corporate energy has been expended in Anglicanism to analyse such concepts as the nature of authority, the meaning of communion and autonomy. In the light of current tensions within the Anglican Communion I believe that we need to develop a wider theological context for the debate on issues which divide.
In any deeply divided situation of human relations several options can point the way forward to a possible solution. There is the path of reconciliation. There is the path of compromise. There is the path which acknowledges agreement is impossible and that the important issue to then emerge is how such fracture of relationships can be managed with the highest degree of human dignity. Those are the sort of options which appear in disputes in human relationships, industrial relations, community affairs and at an international level between nations. When we face them within a Church situation there are other dimensions which cannot be ignored. The presence of the living Spirit of God, the grace of the sacramental life, the healing power of prayer and the recognition that as the Body of Christ no matter what problems arise we must never lose sight of the ‘big picture’ – our communion with the triune God.
In my experience of Ministry in Northern Ireland I have lived the process called reconciliation. For the people to whom I minister those issues are not merely academic debates. They are matters of life and death. So when I approach any task in the Anglican Communion I do so as one who must acknowledge a fundamental fact of experience: there is pain in division – but there is also pain in healing. Pain in division is inevitable – pain in healing is the cost of seeking to confront things as they are that they may become something better …
As you know the Windsor Report addressed the ecclesiological problems raised by two specific events in the life of our Communion of world Churches. As I have explained on numerous occasions this Report did not enter into the wider theological questions raised. In the light of my conclusions on the role of reconciliation I want to raise a further issue as this tense debate continues.
Can the two wings of Anglicanism, commonly but not always accurately referred to as the conservative and the liberal, find a common and agreed theological ground for developing the debate?
Is it possible that two separated and divergent views could reach agreement on theological grounds through which that debate could develop irrespective of the outcome?
I ask these questions for two reasons.
First, my experience based on active involvement in the crisis has not indicated any agreed or level playing field for considered exchange between the two extremes. Second, as I have sought to explain there are mechanics to any process of reconciliation which must be addressed which will not mean we talk in terms of victory or defeat, of success or failure and yet do not speak of surrender of deeply held conviction. I have seen these mechanics at first hand in community affairs in Northern Ireland. I now ask – what if any application can those principles have in Anglicanism at present? Is there a starting point in theological terms?
I suggest the starting point lies, as was concluded by Windsor, in the doctrine of the Church, the Body of Christ. Throughout the centuries the Christian Church has lived with internal disagreements. Those disagreements are well documented. But the question I feel stems from what I have tried to say about the nature of unity must surely be : what particular disagreements are tolerable within unity? What disagreement can exist without the shattering of lasting unity? At what point does principle in disagreement become so tangible that unity is impossible?
I mention some examples which illustrate this historical dilemma for theologians.
Can we disagree about the nature of God and maintain viable unity of purpose?
There comes to mind the ‘God is dead’ debate and names such as Cupitt, Robinson and Ward.
Can we disagree about the nature of Christ as in the great early heresies and view unity as undefiled?
Can we divide on the nature of the Holy Spirit and The Trinity as in the discussions on the filioque clause and remain in unity?
What did the Reformation theologians say about the unity of the Church when they engaged in disagreement on the nature of man, sin and The Fall?
What does theology say about human behaviour when we recall medieval attention to usury, slavery in the nineteenth century, polygamy in contemporary Africa and now homosexuality in the western world?
What effect in Church order did the ordination of women debate of the early 80’s, or the current debate in the Church of England on women bishops have on unity?
Then there have been issues of inclusion. For St Paul Gentiles as well as Jews, slaves as well as freemen – and we can now add the gays as well as straights?
Where now does one draw lines and on what grounds? Are there levels of disagreement? Are there, as Windsor dared to suggest, priorities of differences? For the purposes of our later discussion – who or what body decides on such issues in our Anglican tradition?
To put this another way for the sake of my thesis : are modern behavioural problems stemming from sexual orientation more important for the Church of God and its unity than ancient theological and philosophical debates about belief? Is polygamy thus a greater problem than the current debate about the ‘reality’ of God? If so, why? Is there justifiable and tangible difference in the importance of such issues? How do we define what is tolerable and acceptable debate and what is intolerable and unacceptable within the Christian body?
On the surface the appointment of a practising gay bishop to the diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church USA and the blessing of same sex relationships in New Westminster, Canada, plunged Anglicanism into a crisis. That crisis was manifested by dramatic statements, at times vitriolic words and public denunciation of opposing opinions. In media terms – and how the media has enjoyed itself – north America was portrayed as the focal point of liberalism and the global south the defenders of conservatism. Those terms soon became synonymous with others as the ecclesiastical fury gained momentum : other aspects and identities which themselves evidenced the complexities, contradictions and dilemmas of a Communion in crisis. As time passed it was not possible to limit the struggle to a confrontation between a liberal embracing north and a reactionary and conservative south. Within many Provinces, not least here in the United States, issues about pastoral recognition and protection of minority groups, justice and episcopal leadership burst to the surface as attitudes, concerns and apprehensions long dormant for other reasons became focused on the sexuality question. With few exceptions the Anglican north and west began to recognise the extent of internal diversity which had existed long before the name of Gene Robinson became known internationally.
Then let us look at the tapestry before which our problems exist. The Anglican Communion at present consists of some 80 million believers across the world. We have proclaimed a historic relationship of inter-dependence and a historic communion with the See of Canterbury. We have advanced the joint theological approaches of Scripture, tradition and reason, we have proclaimed the centrality of Scripture and our ecclesiology is based on episcopacy and synodical structures. Yet beyond these features there is another principle which has developed as the cement of our autonomous and diverse world family.
The words ‘Bonds of affection’ are the most overworked attempt to describe what has held the Anglican Communion together. These words have been a useful but not necessarily a clinical description of how a truly international body of autonomous Provinces could relate. Pressures on those bonds have come from many directions down through the years but of late have greatly increased. When communion meant identifying with each other as agreeing partners who all thought alike, bonds of affection were adequate. But with rapid growth in size, growth of cultural difference and search for structure their inadequacies and limitations became obvious. They were a basis rather than a working entity. They were adequate when there were identifiable aims and common purpose. They were happily used and embraced when the Anglican Communion wanted the religious world to see and indeed envy a cohesive family led by an Archbishop of Canterbury. They were adequate when agreement existed simply because there was no division. But they proved inadequate when pressures built up. As divisive issues surfaced they became what bound together only those Provinces which agreed with each other.
What was the nature of those pressures?
First we need to be aware of their historical context. For first generation Anglicans the notion of Empire stemming from a mother country and a mother Church ‘Anglican’ equated completely with colonialisation. The Book of Common Prayer and the concepts of Anglican episcopacy bound the dioceses of the Church of England to the colonies. The missionary outreach of the Church of England was the Communion. This is how you do it – this is how it works – this is what you need – was the message. The context of the first Lambeth Conferences made it plain that the mother Church and mother country offered the benefits of English piety, English social structure and religious Englishness and the expansion of the Empire also meant expansion of a Canterbury-based establishment. The eclipse of colonialism was also the eclipse of the influence of the Church it brought.
In that significant period the missionary societies were the first to realise the change of emphasis. It was no longer ‘do it our way’ but a gradual recognition that growth of cultural confidence, the shedding of colonial power and the rising tide of local independence called for a co-operative, supportive and diverse ministry in which the mother Church among others would provide support for the new concept of indigenous ministry. Without realising it a quiet revolution was taking place in Anglicanism. From the early blue-print of Englishness the Anglican Communion was discovering local autonomy: discovering – but not yet recognising. Little of the documentation I have examined of this period fully appreciated the magnitude of the consequences of this change. Pictures on the walls of my home of successive Lambeth Conferences illustrate some of this transition. Pictures of bishops attending Lambeth Conferences demonstrated this change most vividly to the outside world. The colour of skin, the emergence of growing numbers of non-white bishops, spoke eloquently of an irreversible trend. The new confidence, the challenge of local strength and new elements of diversity should have spelt out warning signals that ‘bonds of affection’ needed much more if this quiet revolution was to produce a continuation of the concept of what I call ‘practical communion.’ Add to that doctrinal controversies over the question of women in priesthood and women in the episcopate which was to produce in the early 80’s the seeds of division and the stage was set for the current difficulties over sexuality. But that is itself an over-simplification of historical development. For other things were happening of equal significance.
I recognise that the Episcopal Church (USA) views itself in historical terms as part of the revolutionary movement which broke away from colonial interest. Back in the eighteenth century this Church began a process which is now taking on a new significance for other parts of our world-wide Communion – namely, how to inculturate outside the ‘English’ pattern. This was done on a primarily democratic model. But not alone in a historical context for ECUSA but now for the Communion as a whole : our history may indicate the development of means to inculturate beyond the English scene – the problems of today on which we focus stem in many ways from the results of that process. How do we hold diversity together? Or as some are now asking – is that ‘holding’ a price too much for them to pay?
The historic significance of Canterbury itself for generations the fulcrum of those ‘bonds of affection’ continued to be acknowledged in spirit. But post colonialism and with its questions about the ‘happy band of brothers’ was being replaced by the machinery of independence. Autonomy and in the case of the Anglican Communion, provincial autonomy enshrined in provincial synodical and constitutional enactment was beginning to raise questions about the nature of the relationship between autonomous freedom and central allegiance. This development was to place new emphasis on cultural as well as doctrinal divergence. While ‘bonds of affection’ for the historic significance of Canterbury continued it now existed alongside a new reality. Was the real issue now as much about the nature of historic affection for and authority granted to Canterbury and a changing world picture of growing cultural and therefore doctrinal practice? I have heard the question asked : has the centre of Anglicanism moved to somewhere south of the Sahara? I have been present when without loss of historic affection for the See of Canterbury voices have been raised and opinions expressed which have compared the ‘old world of Anglicanism’ with ‘the new realities of Anglicanism.’ Where were the structures to embrace this new pressure? Did we give adequate thought to what structures were needed to hold the line of relationships when the respective parts of that relationship was moving into unchartered waters? Historically we had always refused the notion of central authority. We did not want anything akin to the central curia of Rome. Successive statements by Lambeth Conferences and meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council said so. Anglicanism we believed then could survive on those traditional ‘bonds of affection’ because we wanted it to survive – because we had a relationship based on agreement to fundamental principles which worked simply because we had never had real disagreement? I have examined reports of synodical debates in several Provinces of our Communion held during this period and I am convinced the scenario for our present divisions was being painted. But we did not recognise it. Anglican ecclesiology was developing along two lines : Provincial autonomy and Provincial independence. Those two concepts were not necessarily identical.
But there was a third element. Growth of autonomous confidence with its jealous protection of cultural as well as doctrinal freedom inevitably asked questions about the structures which allowed ‘bonds of affection’ to continue. All was well when there was general agreement. The distress signals arose when we did not agree on everything. The events in ECUSA and in particular the diocese of New Hampshire in 2004 lit a fire. But I have often asked myself ‘was this a division waiting to happen’ and ‘if it wasn’t sexuality questions which would divide the Anglican Communion so vividly and dramatically would it have been something else?’
Here we need to emphasise not just tensions between Provinces but also within Provinces. In the run-up to Windsor the Lambeth Commission saw such tensions at first hand. Despite developments since Windsor those tensions continue to exist within Provinces, within dioceses and indeed within parishes.
I cannot over-emphasise the strength of conservative feeling about the identity of authentic Christianity as being “Biblical Christianity.” Undoubtedly this is an authentic Christianity in its culture. To a conservative Anglican it is the key issue. But what alarms me about our current crisis is the failure to engage in dialogue on an agreed playing field between two apparently opposing views. If Anglicanism is to maintain a global community dialogue on an agreed transparent basis is essential. Sadly, so far I have found little evidence that such a process is taking place.
Such questioning brings me to another and perhaps more controversial issue.
Is the real question about authority rather than sexuality?
Not just authority in terms of the authority of interpretation of Holy Scripture, but authority to be ‘in communion’ among diverse and autonomous Provinces while we’re growing not only in numerical strength but growing in the confidence to question what communion meant if it maintained a historic allegiance which satisfied ‘the old world’ but could not address the divisions of ‘the new’?
I am suggesting that in traditional Anglican approach to theology there must be a new and urgent focus on first the Christian view of Creation and second, the Christian understanding of salvation. Whatever one’s sexual orientation may be we are part of creation – and we all need salvation. If our view is that homosexuality has been a part of the created world from the start and thus ‘without sin’ we need to engage at new levels of sensitivity with those who accept that it entered with man’s first fall and so is sinful. Surely if unity is not to be fractured beyond recovery this Augustinian approach must be a first rather than a final stage. At the present stage of the Anglican crisis what could be termed ‘a stand-off’ exists between the two wings. As long as there is no agreement on approach we will not be able to develop any lasting basis for dialogue – and my thesis is that dialogue is essential whatever form it takes under God.
There is one point I feel I must make at this stage of my reflections.
In the current divisions of Anglicanism it is now obvious to me that all the discussion of what ‘communion’ means, all the discussion of what autonomy involves, and even within the debates on the nature of authority in the Anglican Communion, our conclusions are and must be temporary. But at the root of all these debates are fundamental questions. How important is the Anglican Communion as a structure? How important is the Anglican Communion as a relationship? Is it possible to be Anglicans and dismiss the idea of a world body however it is related to its component parts?
I want to advance the case which has somehow taken second place at present for the essential connection between being Anglican and accepting the existence of an Anglican Communion. That body may change in form – but is its existence essential to what I see as accepted, classical Anglicanism? In other words – can we be Anglican outside acceptance of a structure of the Communion?
The Anglican air is full of suggestions, demands and proposals on the way forward. I venture to add one more.
Anglicanism needs to develop a theology of what constitutes Christian relationships. That theology transcends ecclesiology, structural reform – and it most certainly transcends much of the evidence of sharp division we have seen in the last few years. In my international work for the Communion the saddest experience I have encountered has been the tone of much of the exchanges between fellow Christians. Anger can be justified in human relationships. But surely there is all the difference in the world between righteous indignation and bitterness of word or action. The Christian world has observed anger in international relationships and rightly condemned it as a negative and corrosive force between nations and international leaders. But when it came to what should have been dialogue in charity I was saddened by the tone of what I came across in the exchanges within the Anglican Communion following the events in the dioceses of New Hampshire and New Westminster. No one recognises more than I do the depth of feeling on all sides of the arguments. Good people of principle were sharply divided. Fear dictated reaction. But where was the love of Christ, the love for Christ and the love for one another in some of the statements I read? This confrontation was not even between different traditions or denominations. It was actually within the family of one part of the Body of Christ, the Anglican Communion.
In presenting our findings in the Windsor Report we appealed for a combination of charity, patience and understanding throughout the Anglican Communion as we awaited reactions to our proposals. The Archbishop of Canterbury has himself spoken of the need for ‘calm’. Were such appeals realistic? It is evidence if evidence was needed of the depth of feelings on all sides of our current controversy that since Windsor was published the scene has moved on but not in ways which have increased hope of healing.
Much of the current crisis in Anglicanism turns on attitudes to the authority of Scripture. Interpretation of Scripture itself and its relationship to tradition and reason is one thing – it is quite a different matter when it is allowed to become an integral part of the process of cultural approach to communion. In the preparation of the Windsor Report I was made acutely aware of arguments on all sides which owed much of their persuasive nature to what was seen as the norm of cultural experience in north and south, east and west. A liberalist view spoke of the culture in which life-styles shunned by a conservative culture were now the norm. Many submissions I read in the production of Windsor quoted cultural approaches. I well recall the argument from certain Provinces which spoke of the climate of opposition to a liberal interpretation of Anglicanism from their Moslem and Hindu neighbours.
Of course all this was evidence if evidence the Lambeth Commission needed that cultural development across our Communion had become an equal if not a dominant ingredient within the ‘bonds of affection.’ In saying that I need to be aware that conservative Anglicanism resents any argument that places cultural difference above questions of theological principle. They argue obedience to God’s Holy Word must not become eroded by reference to cultural difference. The liberal argument of course takes the view that cultural diversity has a great deal to say about what I would term the ‘freedom of Anglican autonomy.’ Am I alone in thinking that at the root of those clashes, irrespective of our personal allegiances or preferences, lies the failure of succeeding generations of Anglicans to accept that there are parameters to divergence in scriptural interpretation, there are boundaries to ecclesiological autonomy and there are limitations to what a world family of vague technical relationships can endure and still remain a cohesive entity. I do not in any way question the depth of sincerity of the conservative or liberal Anglican in any way. I seek only to try to decode the pressures which were to produce reaction to New Hampshire and New Westminster.
In the light of this situation we are told a break-up of the historic Anglican Communion is inevitable – if not essential. To advance this view we now see proposals for groupings which can share one overall concept of Anglicanism and an exclusion from new structures of those who are interpreted to be in denial of true and traditional Anglicanism.
I cannot overstate the dangers I see in such developments. Not alone do I view them as leading to a fragmented concept of the Communion we have inherited from generations of worship, witness and practice, I see them as a threat to the very word Anglican itself.
Let me quote paragraph 157 of the Windsor Report:
“There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart… we note that there are, in any human dispute, courses that may be followed : processes of mediation and arbitration : non-invitation to relevant representative bodies and meetings: invitation, but to observer status only; and as an absolute last resort, withdrawal from membership…”
Since Windsor was published events have taken place which have removed the sentiments of this paragraph from the realms of speculation to the realities of possibilities.
Among the most recent developments is one which I feel not only questions the future ecclesiological scene in Anglicanism but illustrates much of the concerns contained in the Windsor Report.
The Anglican Church of Nigeria has announced changes to its Constitution. Originally its Constitution stated that “the Church of Nigeria shall be in communion with the See of Canterbury and with all the dioceses, provinces and regional churches which are in full communion with the See of Canterbury.” This wording is now superseded by the omission of reference to the See of Canterbury and speaks of communion with “all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the historic Faith, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
This wording not only removes what the Windsor Report described as “the pivotal” role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the instrument of unity but perhaps of greater significance challenges the concept of Communion as understood throughout Anglican history. Acceptance of an individual Province’s view of orthodoxy becomes the basis for relationship. Further the revision of its Constitution states that in all questions of interpretation of faith and doctrine the decision of the Church of Nigeria shall be final.
As a Primate of the Anglican Communion I find the implications of this revision most serious. Am I alone in interpreting such wording as the removal of established bonds of communion and their replacement by a Provincial-only wide authority which will set its own criteria for whoever or whatever it considers worthy of a communion relationship? If this is so I find it is in direct conflict with much of the contents of the Windsor Report but more importantly in conflict with what I term ‘the Windsor spirit.’ Further I feel it is in direct contrast to the stand taken by the Primates of our Communion in their Dromantine communiqué.
Windsor appealed for a Communion-wide process which contained corporate striving to find the Will of God in contentious and divisive issues. Windsor was not a Report in isolation. It envisaged a process. Localised Provincial authority based on the cultural and historical experiences of one Province were not advocated as part of that process. In contrast to this development I took encouragement from the reported remarks of the Bishop of Egypt:
“After the unilateral action of ECUSA, all African bishops accepted the Windsor Report as the way ahead. This remains the right process and should not be delayed, nor anticipated unilaterally.”
I have to add to these concerns the views of Windsor on the threat to communion of cross-provincial interventions, in cases where parishes are opposed to their diocesan bishop, without agreement and co-operation. This equal threat to ‘bonds of affection’ is illustrated by Nigeria’s intention to establish “Convocations and Chaplaincies” outside Nigeria to cater for “like-minded faithful.” Again this intention cuts across the agreed statement at Dromantine by the Primates which placed a moratorium on cross-provincial interventions.
Placed in its Provincial context it is arguable that such developments as this in one of our numerically strongest Churches can be understood on grounds of frustration, alienation and bewilderment. But placed in the context of the Communion at large I feel concern as to its implications for other Anglican entities. It raises questions of principle – it underlines the need to find that level and agreed playing field for which I have appealed. It also has something to say about contemporary understandings of ‘bonds of affection’ and ‘relationships’.
The path ahead for all of us is difficult to predict. Perhaps my final plea as I look to the road-map for our Communion is one other aspect of the ‘big picture’. What is all our division and argument doing to the first priority given to the Body of Christ – the witness to a Gospel of salvation, compassion and care for a world of desperate need.
At the end of the day if that priority suffers much more will be at stake than internal differences among those who “would seek the face of Christ.”