By Christopher Seitz, Ephraim Radner, Philip Turner There are also further comments and a heartfelt plea by Ephraim Radner here.
Amongst conservatives in the United States, two different understandings of Communion and how to maintain it appear to be vying for ascendancy in our present season.
One has assumed, and may still assume, that something called ‘orthodoxy’ can be maintained by carving out ecclesial space in a new province. How this may be achieved is conceivably through a variety of means, but one popular avenue is by forging links to primates and other regions in the Communion. The main concern is getting distance from ECUSA and achieving an ‘orthodoxy’ identifiable precisely by its public detachment from this local ecclesial reality.
Another has assumed that the chief concern is with maintaining the highest degree of Communion possible by the necessity of disciplining a wayward province, in whatever form that is proper, through consultation with the same Communion. Here the role of Canterbury, in conjunction with the Primates, and the ECUSA’s historical claim to be in communion with Canterbury and a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, are viewed as the best way to think about discipline within the Body. At issue is not detachment or separation, but the determination of Communion full-stop. Communion is here defined by means of conciliarity, under the authority of Holy Scripture and in the light of received Christian teaching. In the contested area of sexuality, Lambeth 1.10 is the last conciliarly determined statement of human sexuality in this Communion, and compliance with this teaching is a sign of Communion.
In recent days we have seen two statements from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Though the term discipline does not appear in either statement, Archbishop Rowan makes it clear that conciliarity (whose public character is to be determined in a covenant) will in all likelihood result in some ‘opting out’ by those formerly in ‘full eucharistic Communion’ (see address to General Synod). Discipline is, in other words, a decision to forgo the constraints and the hopes of Communion, and the common mission of Christ thereby engendered.
In our view, the problem with the first ‘strategy’ being pursued by conservatives is that it seeks to create a new province by detachment, but leaves unclear what the responsibility for maintaining the Anglican witness in this region is, as a historical and providential fact. It does not want to take up the work of determining the character of Communion, in such a way that those who do not wish to be a part of it can be identified through their own consent and decision. This may result in parallel provinces and putative links to ‘orthodoxy’ in regions beyond the US , but the work of Communion will not be taken up, only moved to a different place for adjudication. Or it will simply be left dangling.
ACI expresses its gratitude to God for the recent statements of Archbishop Rowan and views them as pivotal, charitable, and hopeful. The work is there ahead of us. Many will seek to frame a covenant on terms satisfactory to them, and the larger forces of conciliarity will need then to go to work. In the meantime, we have been given a clear statement that the resolutions of General Convention were incomplete at best and await the adjudication of Communion Instruments. ACI has already noted the difficulty for conciliarity posed by the election of a Presiding Bishop whose public views and actions in respect of human sexuality are at odds with Communion teaching.
This should explain in part why requests are now forthcoming for something being called ‘alternative primatial oversight.’ Whatever else this may mean—and the Archbishop signals his own confusion—they are surely a public statement that the means of Communion linkage for these Dioceses in ECUSA are now disturbed or unclear. Archbishop Rowan does not dismiss these requests, even as he may struggle to know what to do with them, inasmuch as the problem to which they point is real and is bundled with what he understands to be the restraints and the hopefulness of this Anglican Communion.
ACI looks forward to a meeting of Windsor Bishops in the days to come. It is not too soon to begin thinking about what a covenant might look like. Our view is that one could now work toward stipulating what minimal covenant thresholds might be, like Lambeth 1.10, the Windsor Report and Dromantine Responses; these would have to be passed through to reconnect to processes of conciliarity already in place, and so to be a part of a future covenant process. And it is clearly time now to think through what form Communion linkage of parishes through ECUSA, outside of these dioceses, might take, when the status of ECUSA is clouded if not contested. It is to be remembered that Windsor asked certain specific things of ECUSA, and ECUSA responded with seriousness to these requests. What it failed to do was satisfy the requests being made of it, and the election of a Presiding Bishop whose public actions in the area of human sexuality make it unclear how she might constitute ECUSA’s presence at future Primates Meetings.
ACI believes that Archbishop Rowan’s statements offer the clearest vision of the way we must now proceed. We hope that in good time the Bishops of this Communion, here in ECUSA, will gather to begin discussing the best way forward. We must begin the hard work of Communion here on our own side of the pond. Forging links to ‘orthodoxy’ may have served the purpose of expediency at some point in time. Now we are entering a new season, and ‘new occasions teach new duties.’ With God’s help, let us take them up.