By Canon Gary L’Hommedieu, http://www.virtueonline.org
“Does autonomy supersede communion? Or in the interests of a common mission are we willing to subsume autonomy?”
With this rhetorical question the Most Rev. Drexel Gomez, Primate of the West Indies, summarized the question before the member Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion at a clergy conference of the Diocese of Central Florida gathered at the diocesan retreat center in Oviedo, Florida, outside Orlando.
The question is not exactly rhetorical. The implied answer would appear to be, well of course, the purported autonomy of an individual Province (such as the United States) cannot supersede the common mission of a worldwide Communion. That would negate the notion of “church” as a “catholic” entity. And yet, as the mild Archbishop added, “In our present situation The Episcopal Church, through the actions of its Convention, places autonomy above mission.”
The Archbishop is referring to the 2006 General Convention gathered in Columbus, Ohio, where The Episcopal Church failed to “give the assurances requested in the Windsor Report” issued by the Lambeth Commission on
Communion in 2004. And he is referring to the more recent statements by the American House of Bishops in their response from Camp Allen this past March to the Primates’ Communique, which, the Archbishop emphasized, had received UNANIMOUS consent and assent by the Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, this past February. The word “autonomy” became the official battle cry of an Episcopal hierarchy under fire, now with a September 30 deadline.
It would appear that now, in the name of autonomy, The Episcopal Church is poised to throw out the missional baby with the baptismal bathwater.
His Grace, The Most Rev. Drexel Wellington Gomez, Lord Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of the Church of the West Indies & Bishop of the Diocese Of Nassau & The Bahamas (Including the Turks & Caicos Islands), did not come to Central Florida on a bash TEC tour. He doesn’t fit the stereotype of a political rabble rouser. He describes himself as a lifelong Anglican, and one who has remained an Anglican by conviction.
While he sees the future of the Communion as stormy - if not catastrophic - his overriding message is one of hope. “Historically Anglicanism has made an enormous contribution to worldwide Christianity.” The future of the global Anglicanism, according to the Archbishop, is twofold: Windsor, and Covenant.
“There is no question that the future of the Anglican Communion will be Windsor driven. Every Province in the Communion will have to line up under the [Windsor] Covenant. Without something like the Covenant we will continue to drift. The time has come in Anglicanism for us to agree among ourselves that we need to have a way of ordering our affairs and of holding each other accountable. We don’t have it at present, and to pretend we do is foolish, because it doesn’t exist.”
The Archbishop used the partisan terminology of Traditionalist and Revisionist to describe the rival factions within present day Anglicanism. He insisted that he meant nothing pejorative by the use of these expressions
but was merely being descriptive of the two forces competing for ideological dominance within the Communion. He introduced his remarks with his professed belief that he was “among friends” in Central Florida, adding that such was not always the case for him. His candid admission met with enthusiastic applause by participants.
Archbishop Gomez had been invited by the Bishop of Central Florida, the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, and the Clergy Events Committee of the Diocese “to do some teaching and to discuss the shaping of the Covenant and its anticipated role in the Communion.” This he did in great detail, exceeding the expectations of participants.
He began his presentation with a short Bible study on the Parable of the Sower, which he said is more correctly titled “the parable of the four soils.” He listed the four types of soil in the parable: first, the hardened
footpath; second, the shallow soil; third, the mixed soil; and finally, good ground. The elucidated the types in clear detail.
“Each of us has each of the types in us. We need to repent of those aspects of the first three. All of us are called by God to become the person he wants us to become, to enact God’s purpose. That is the mission of the
church. It is not about us, but about God.”
Hardly the fiery rhetoric of someone who goes around blowing smoke.
From there the Archbishop led participants through the Report of the Covenant Design Group section by section and paragraph by paragraph. The Report, or simply “the Covenant”, awaits approval by the 38 Provinces next
He described the Covenant as “the way forward” for global Anglicanism.“The main problem in Anglicanism is the breakdown of trust.” He went on: “There are Anglicans who no longer see the face of Christ in their fellow
Anglicans. Trust cannot be feigned or pretended. It must come from the heart. The commitment to travel together on a common track does not exist” at present.
In spite of recent complaints by Episcopalians that an Anglican Covenant is peculiarly un-Anglican, that it represents something imposed by a Romanesque curia, the Archbishop pointed to the text of the Covenant itself as
clarifying its intention:
“What is to be offered in the Covenant is not the invention of a new way of being Anglican, but a fresh restatement and assertion of the faith which we as Anglicans have received, and a commitment to inter-dependent life such as always in theory at least been given recognition.”
What is missing at present is a mechanism of mutual accountability. The recent life of the Communion has demonstrated the necessity for such a mechanism to be added in order for the historic character of the Communion
In Section 3 of the draft text the Archbishop highlighted two important paragraphs. One contained what he called “the basis for an orthodox hermeneutic” of the Bible. The term “hermeneutic” has received much attention since the Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam this past February.
“In seeking to be faithful to God in their various contexts, each Church commits itself to ensure that biblical texts are handled faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently, primarily through the teaching
and initiative of bishops and synods, and building on our best scholarship, believing that scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures and ways of thinking.”
The Archbishop explained, “Scripture must continue to speak to what is prophetic,” and not the dominant culture. This contrasts with the Revisionist hermeneutic of “love” which wants to “bless” whatever the culture approves. Archbishop Gomez commented, “Love as a hermeneutic is a delusion - a self-delusion.”
Archbishop Gomez’ presentation was hard-hitting and illuminating throughout. The audience of diocesan clergy and lay leaders was not accustomed to frankness that was not politically charged and manipulative, after the
manner of American politicians, which seems to be mimicked by leaders in the church. His criticisms of recent American Primates, including the present Presiding Bishop, were withering, but without the scorn and sarcasm his audience was accustomed to—or perhaps even had developed a taste for.
One moment in the morning session brought the house to a standstill. In a long series of illustrations of the principle that “Covenant is making promises and keeping promises”, Archbishop Gomez related how TEC has earned
the distrust of the rest of the Communion. He recalled how former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold had agreed that proceeding with the consecration of Gene Robinson would “tear the fabric of the Communion at the deepest level,” then thirty minutes later told a press conference that the American Church had no intention of canceling its plans to proceed with the consecration a month later.
His next illustration was the real shock. He explained that at the recent Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Archbishop of Canterbury had broken the usual precedent of decision by consensus and required each of the Primates to stand and declare whether or not he (or she) agreed to the text of a Communique that contained the Primates’ shared commitments for the future. Each of the 34 Primates said “yes” to the Communique. The American Primate, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, said “Yes, but I’ll have trouble selling it” to her fellow American bishops.
The point is, as Archbishop Gomez stressed, she said “Yes.” She could have, but did not, issue a minority report. When she returned, and when the House of Bishops Convened in March, Jefferts Schori claimed she had only consented to present the text of the Communique to her bishops. She took no responsibility for agreeing to it. One of the conference participants recalled she had claimed that “she never signed it.” Archbishop Gomez cut
in: “None of the Primates signed it.” The Primates’ Communiques are never signed. Their verbal responses are taken at face value. The Presiding Bishop’s public statement that she hadn’t signed it would appear to be a deliberate misrepresentation of the process.
One of the diocesan clergy stood in stunned amazement, and fluttering with emotion said he didn’t realize the extent to which we had been lied to. Bishop Howe stood, and with equal emotion insisted that the Presiding Bishop
may very well have believed that she was agreeing to deliver the message and not that she was agreeing to the content itself, and that we should be very careful not to infer that she was lying.
Archbishop Gomez interrupted the Bishop: “Sir, that was not the question she was asked by the Archbishop.” Presumably the lady Primate had been quite convincing, so that the members of her house had the same picture as the rest of us as to how agreements were expressed in Dar es Salaam.
The clergy of Central Florida reacted as if they had heard about the Primates’ Meeting for the first time. This tiny detail made the prior accounts of the Meeting seem like hearsay. A fog had lifted. The Archbishop’s message about a breakdown of trust was not simply a political tactic, used to weaken the position of an adversary. It was shockingly real.
It was not a “tasty morsel”, the kind which titillates gossipers. The response was shock and grief.
The Archbishop had brought a clarity to Central Florida and to the American church that was shocking in that those who heard him had forgotten how long it had been since they had heard simple truth. Facts, even when they are sobering, can be inspiring and bracing. Hope at a way forward, even amongst unimaginable odds, seemed tangible and real. We realized that we have been awash in conflicting whirlpools of spin. Not everyone has been out to deceive us. But those who would help us parse out the truth have themselves been deceived - and have not known it.
The presence of one humble man, whose commitments are clear, whose assumptions about the truth are stated up front, whose love for something greater than himself or his own cause or faction, had an electrifying effect on a bewildered and discouraged clergy - many of whom shared his particular theological commitments at the outset.
The way forward will be long and hard. If the American church is “isolated” from the rest of the Anglican Communion (to use Gomez’ term) after September 30, other Revisionist Provinces will follow - not as a unified body or a political block, but as fragments eroding off the main body. The impact upon the Anglican Communion as it is reconstituted will be devastating. God’s mission will have been diminished, if not squandered. But a robust
Anglicanism will redouble its strength. Those portions of the Communion that thrive on mission and evangelism will continue their present explosive growth. After all, they have a message of life to their communities and culture. Those portions that rest on the laurels of an earlier triumphalism will jump in at the head of the parade of the secular culture, without noticing that the culture itself is headed toward an abyss. They will be the dead left to bury the dead.
“The Episcopal Church has to decide whether or not it will go with the rest of the Communion or whether it will go by itself. There are Revisionists and Traditionalists. It is quite clear now that the Revisionists are in the majority. The Traditionalists have to decide, do we continue in this group or go another way,” said Archbishop Gomez. “Global Anglicanism will not be led by Akinola. He only has a few years left to retirement.” The question before Traditionalists, according to the Archbishop: “How do I maintain contact and structural alignment with global Anglicanism?” He did not answer that question.
American Traditionalists have been waiting for someone else to answer that question for them. If God is judging the Western Church and allowing it to disintegrate, perhaps he is also judging the orthodox for their passivity. Perhaps he is waiting to empower them to embrace, to rejoice in, the truth - what might otherwise be called, the strength of one’s convictions.
To repeat Archbishop Gomez’ refrain: “There is no question that the future of The Anglican Communion will be Windsor driven.”
—-The Rev. Canon J. Gary L’Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for VirtueOnline.