A Confused Report: Initial comments on the Communion Sub-group Report - Michael Nai-Chiu Poon

“There are enormous issues going forward in the Anglican Communion, and this document will not help us to address them, let alone solve them. Rather the reverse: it will polarize opinion in deeply unhelpful ways, leaving many in the church to suppose that ‘all evangelicals’ think like this, and so driving many in the centre ground, who properly should be allies in the larger battles we face, into the arms of the liberals and radicals. This document is not a ‘covenant’ in any meaningful sense, except perhaps a covenant with chaos. This is a dark time, and in this Advent season all we can do is wait in the dark in prayer and faith.”  (Bishop Tom Wright,  “A Confused ‘Covenant’–Initial comments on ‘A Covenant for the Church of England.’’

Borrowing Tom Wright’s words, this is a dark time indeed. And darker it is than it was in the Advent.  Then, at least, the “upstarters” who dared to propose the Covenant got immediate and clear illumination from the learned Bishop. This time, I wonder if it would be all quiet at the establishment front.  After all, the presenters of the Sub-group Report (ANCS 4249) are eminent people, led by Canterbury himself. 

This is clear. The present crisis is no longer on ECUSA’s non-compliance. They have chosen to walk apart at GC2006. The Primates should simply follow up their earlier consensus at Dromantine.  The spotlight is now on Canterbury. The present Primates’ Meeting is about his ability – and with this Church of England’s historic role – to lead the Communion.  Is Archbishop Rowan Williams prepared to transform himself from a don whose horizons stayed in the trans-Atlantic, to turn his gaze to the Communion worldwide?  To ponder, as some commentators did, that Canterbury can resign and return to (idyllic) academic life after Lambeth 2008 is nonsense. Those who have taken up the mantle and journeyed afar is no longer be at ease with the “old dispensation”, as T S Eliot put it in the Journey of the Magi.  There is no return for Canterbury as he takes up his office. This is the cost of discipleship.

To begin, the Report is not an easy read.  It contains 2,397 words and 40 passive verbs in 78 sentences. Average sentence length is 31 words. Most readers, especially those from the non- Western world, would find the twisted arguments difficult to grasp. This is not because of any lack of language ability, but because readers today no longer communicate in such a way – except, of course, perhaps in Oxford Union debates, where the drafters may well have their skills honed. 

In presenting the Report in such convoluted format, the Subgroup pays little attention to the faithful in the Communion worldwide.  I wonder how the report will read when it is translated to different languages where there are major concentrations of Anglicans.  How would those legal niceties and processes look after translation?  Would they be still valid? Does not this expose the cultural bias and prejudice in the present Communion,, that as I have argued, the Communion is structured to favour the Anglo-American alliance?

The Report conveys feelings rather than truth.  Note the abuse of English.  What do “extremely seriously”, impressive majorities”, and “fully incorporated” mean?  Why the adjectives?  Proper English is never like that!  How did the group judge the response of GC2006 to “the Windsor Report as a whole” in its resolutions was “positive”?  And how does this assessment fit with the conclusion that the group is “not at all clear whether, in fact, the Episcopal Church is living with the recommendations of the Windsor Report on this matter [on public rites of blessings]”? 

“Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from evil Matthew 5:37).” God’s Torah will break through the webs of interpretations! 

The Report sadly may drive many “in the centre ground” – using Tom Wright’s phrase – to more radical actions.  It is not merely a matter of whether Canterbury can convince his fellow Primates.  He is equally accountable to the faithful.  To insult their intelligence is a grave thing indeed.  “Look not to Cantuar”, as a colleague put it, may prove to win the day.  Such a bitter lesson for church history this would be.

February 2007, Singapore

6 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Graham Kings Says:

    Thanks, Michael, for your response. I agree that the report could have been more clearly written, however, in the USA, Dan Martin from a conservative perspective, has some more hopeful things to say about it:

    http://cariocaconfessions.blogspot.com/2007/02/glass-half-full.html

    and, interestingly, they are ironically echoed by Jim Naughton, from a liberal perspective:

    http://blog.edow.org/weblog/2007/02/take_4.html

    You ask: ‘Is Archbishop Rowan Williams prepared to transform himself from a don whose horizons stayed in the trans-Atlantic, to turn his gaze to the Communion worldwide?’

    Well, before he was a don his D.Phil research already involved looking east to Russia, not across the Atlantic, and since coming to Canterbury, it seems to me, his ‘gaze’ has had to turn more towards the Communion worldwide.

    Yours, Graham

  2. Michael Poon Says:

    Thanks, Graham, for your comments. In response:

    1. On Dan Martin’s comment: well, is “A Glass Half Full” a prelude to a new theology “A Heart half committed: A new reading on the Great Commandment for sophisticated Anglicans”?  The Subgroup interprets GC2006 that perhaps the ECUSA participants themselves did not.  We now live in an age where information is available on web-blogs; did the Subgroup interpretations concur with the rationale used in GC2006, according to the transcripts of the proceedings posted on T19? I don’t think so.

    2. Re Williams, thanks for the reminder. I am more concerned with his apparent failure to communicate and consult with Anglicans outside of the West. Would he expect the faithful in the whole Communion understand the Report?  This is not because of his lack of intelligence. He simply thinks once he got his idea right, he can communicate it in his academic style.  This would not do. The present crisis is not jsut about the survival of COE and ECUSA establishment; it ahs to do with the faithful around the world. 

    William’s gaze perhaps is turned to “building bridges” with Muslims around the world in the so-called interfath dialogues. What is more urgent is intra-Anglican conversations. How can he suppose he can communciate and bridge bridges around the world without attending to the Christianity as interpreted by the Anglicans in those places.  To do this, he has to travel, stay in places longer, and conduct conversations with the local Christians.

    Btw, I look forward to responses from Fulcrum on the Report.  I hope it would be as incisive as the ones Bishop Tom Wright wrote before GC2006 and to his fellow evangelicals in December.

  3. Weiwen Ng Says:

    Dear Michael,

    The Episcopal Church did NOT choose to “walk apart” at GC 06. We chose to respond to the Windsor Report, even though it was at the expense of our LGBT members. We chose to do this because we are trying to commit to a process of engagement, although it is difficult for us.

    I agree that the report on TEC’s compliance is very heavily fudged. Instead of crying that the Anglican Communion is biased against those for whom English isn’t a first language, I’ll offer an alternative take. The Sub-Group fudged their response because they realize that this is a difficult issue for Christians worldwide. The Episcopal Church is trying very hard to incorporate LGBT members as faithful Christians. We do this because they are our sisters and brothers.

    And yet, the Diocese of Singapore declared in 2003 that all Episcopalians who supported the consecration of Bishop Robinson (whose orders you do not recognize) are not your brothers and sisters in Christ.

    I was born in Singapore, but there is a reason I have not set foot in an Anglican church there since I was confirmed in an Episcopal church in the US in 2005. The reason is that Anglican leaders in Singapore, and elsewhere in the Global South, are utterly obsessed with homosexuality. They are more obsessed with homosexuality than most of the actual homosexuals I know.

    Additionally, I am ashamed of the actions of the Primates who walked away from Holy Eucharist today, one of whom is the Archbishop of SE Asia, Archbishop John Chew. For Anglicans, as I understand it, the Eucharist is what brings us into communion with each other. We do not demand that our doctrines be identical before we come to the table to break bread. By believing the opposite, I think Archbishop Chew and his colleagues are making Communion about them. They are effectively saying that they will throw the crockery around the room and scream until they get their way.

    The Episcopal Church did not choose to walk apart. Seven Global South Primates chose to walk apart - a lot fewer than last time, thank God. If these seven Primates want to, they can declare that the rest of the Anglican Communion has walked apart. In clinical psychology, there is a term for that: delusions of persecution.

  4. richard collins Says:

    Michael,

    Thanks for posting on this.  Clearly the communion needs to be able to communicate clearly to all its members and if the subgroups report failed in this regard then this is a critique worth making (and worth hearing by those who draft such reports!).

    However, I personally believe that the report was a very cany bit of work.  Whether TEC ‘meant’ to abide by the Windsor Report is not as important as the fact that GC06 (the democratically accepted process by which TEC defines its positions, thus binding itself) HAS legislated an effective cessation on ‘communion offending’ consecrations to the Episcopacy.

    Church history shows how, at times, critical decisions of ‘Orthodoxy’ were decided by ‘narrow margins’ and often in the context of some quite turbulent political and relational waters.  Should we expect anything less from a God whose ‘modus operandi’ within his fallen creation is to bring Resurrection through Crucifixion?

    The key point is that now TEC has its own INTERNAL ‘canon’ which supports the thrust of the Windsor Reports recommendations.  Such a canon (like all historical standards) can act to ‘expose, rebuke and encourage’ (2 Ti 4.2) and it’s my prayer that many more within TEC will come into the ‘communion middle’ because of it.

    Yes the language is ‘political’ and ‘subtle’ (=‘fudged’ to some!), but God works in mysterious ways and my take is that ++Rowan is ABC ‘for such a time as this’.

    With love in Christ,

    Richard
    UK

  5. Sold Out For Jesus Says:

    God is working.  We may be confident of that reality.

  6. Graham Kings Says:

    Dear Michael,

    You asked for a Fulcrum response to the Communion Sub Group’s Report. It is written by Andrew Goddard and co-published with the Anglican Communion Institute:

    http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=192

    Yours in Christ, Graham