Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church, comprising 800+ clergy and lay deputies and meeting with the House of Bishops every three years at the General Convention, the Church’s governing body, has issued a statement in response to the Primates’ CommuniquÃ©.
Here is a couple statements that I find particularly poignant:
Their CommuniquÃ©, however, raises profound and serious issues regarding their authority to require any member Church to take the types of specific actions the CommuniquÃ© contemplates and whether they have authority to enforce consequences or penalties against any member Church that does not act in a way they desire. The type of authority for the Primates implicit in the CommuniquÃ© would change not only the Episcopal Church but the essence of the Anglican Communion.
All Anglicans must remember that the second Lambeth Conference in 1878 recommended that “the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.”
This has been the tradition of the Anglican Communion. To demand strict uniformity of practice diminishes our Anglican traditions.
She used the word “recommended” rather than other words such as – “mandated,” “declared,” “established” â€“ more in line with the Tradition of Anglicanism. Lambeth is not a body that establishes official doctrine for The Anglican Communion and all provincial Churches within it. It is not a “Curia” or a “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” This has been repeated over and over again as the factual and historical Tradition of Anglican governance, yet reactionaries against the decisions of the last two U.S. General Conventions keep pushing and pushing as if the bishops assembled at Lambeth had such power.
Of course, as their relentless drive to so establish Lambeth continues, it will become the de-facto decision making body with â€œauthorityâ€ unless there are those with enough backbone to say, “NO, this is not what Anglicanism has been and this is not what Lambeth is!”
Too many of the Primates want monarchical power, IMHO. Some already are prince-bishops in their own provinces. That is their prerogative, but their insistence that this Church conform to their structures and concede to their demands within the time-frame they established cannot be done, at least officially as a decision of The Episcopal Church.
This is what Bonnie Anderson seeks to preserve, I think â€“ decisions in this Church are made through the two governing bodies of General Convention comprising bishops and then the clergy and laity. We have no prince-bishops. The bishops can decide to do what they will do, but it cannot be the official policy of The Episcopal Church unless both houses approve such a policy. The demands of some of the primates will necessitate a change in the governing structures of this Church and the Anglican Communion generally. Some of the very honest, smart, and capable â€œreassertersâ€ (those who wish to reassert current understandings of homosexuality and methods of biblical interpretation and application), like Fr. Dan Martin, concede this. In fact, it will mean the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it, and a beginning of something we canâ€™t really conceive of.
I believe that at least this Church, and any others who agree, should maintain Anglican structures as they have always been. There should be freedom within the Communion of the various provinces to govern themselves as they see fit and to engage their cultures with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as best fits. It is not a “one size fits all” approach, and some will not rest until they attempt to squeeze everyone into their own girdles. The â€œInstruments of Communion,â€ should remain consultative to the See of Canterbury. If ++Rowan Cantuar cedes his authority to these presently advisory bodies, well, the change in the Communion will be great. Why not, then, simply swim the Tiber?
This kind of wished for structure is very myopic and short-sighted as a goal and vision. This is a no-win situation for those groups who have established this goal as their mission. They may succeed in getting a single policy Communion-wide of what Scripture says about, say, homosexuality, but they destroy the essence of the Anglican Way in so doing. A second problem concerns the many people within the reactionary groups.
In their call for the U.S. Church to obey the dictates of foreign bishops, it is likely that in the future when those foreign bishops do something they don’t like or declare something to be true with which they disagree, they will bolt from under those bishopsâ€™ authority, too. It really isnâ€™t about a Catholic notion of authority, but more about the imposition of their perspective and alignment with like minded people/bishops/primates. It is opportunistic and expedient and it betrays the outward claim of being obedient to faithful bishops. They will be obedient to those who already agree with them and tow-the-line. We saw this attitude in the comments of many â€œreassertersâ€ when the ACC sub-committee report was issued concerning TECâ€™s response to the Windsor Report. It wasnâ€™t what they expected or agreed with, and many were ready to remove themselves from under the influence of even those bishops/primates they were just extolling.
Within American culture, it is too easy to give allegiance to someone when that person agrees with your already established position. It is too easy to reject that authority when conflict develops. Very American, this tendency is, and very Congregationalist, but we are not Congregationalists and we are not American-Evangelicals – we are Reformed-Catholics and Anglican-Evangelicals. For clergy in this Church, our vow is not to obey our bishop only when we agree with him/her. There are no qualifications. We are to obey, as understood within our structure of non-monarchical bishops. This is a very different understanding of the authority than in other provinces. If I decide I can no longer uphold my vow for some reason, and the bar for that conclusion must be high, my responsibility is to humbly remove myself from his/her authority, not to attempt to impose my will upon him or his diocese. Too many American clergy seem to feel they can repudiate their canonical bishop and align themselves with foreign bishops on whim, and that this Church must accommodate them against our own Canons.
The Primates cannot, as far as it goes, dictate the beliefs of the common person in the pew, the clergy, or bishops. People may have to shut-up, and there will be a semblance of commonality and “unity” (really conformity), but the reality is that in the hearts and minds of many of the faithful will reside something different. Rome is a good example. The official policies, doctrines, and dogmas of the Church of Rome are clearly spelled out and the hierarchy demands acquiescence and compliance of all members for fear of censure or ex-communication. Yet, it is quite clear that the vast majority of common folk simply ignore much of the official dogma – contraceptive use, for example.
This will be the case with most of the half of the Communion that does not agree with the Global South Primates and the reactionary bishops in our own province if they are successful in attempting to impose their particular form of Scriptural interpretation and application, their particular theological position on homosexuality, and their form of governance upon this Church. They may be successful. If they are, they will have destroyed the Anglican Way.
Change is inevitable, but not all change is good. In my opinion, the kind of change required in our structure to comply with the Primates’ demands and to our ability to decide how best to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ within our own culture will be very bad (and this opinion of mine is irrelevant to the whole issues of homosexuality). We will lose our distinctiveness within world Christianity. It is this distinctiveness that drew me to Anglicanism to begin with! While I do think the leadership of this Church does not always act in ways that are “Catholic” and holds theological opinions I don’t necessarily agree with, I will champion our current governing structure and advocate for their ability to hold opinions different from mine. I oppose the changes to Anglicanism and to our Church that seem to be necessary to comply with the Primatesâ€™ CommuniquÃ©.