London Times: Schism looms, Exeter warns US bishops

March 24th, 2006 at 7:28 pm

Source: Ruth Gledhill at TimesOnline

The Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish, has delivered an extraordinary speech to Ecusa bishops which makes me believe for the first time that schism might actually be a possibility. Fundamentally, he has told the US bishops that if they consecrate another gay bishop or authorise same-sex relations, the Anglican Communion will break apart, Arcic will be finished and inter-faith dialogue with the Muslims will be at an end.

Two things give this speech added weight. One is that Langrish was speaking at the episcopal retreat of Ecusa’s house of bishops in Kanuga as the representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. So we can assume the views stated here are Dr Williams’ own, which rather supports the inferences that many have drawn from his Guardian interview. The other significant fact is that Langrish is one of the bishops invited to the meeting at Lambeth Palace 24 April, discussed here, to discuss the “critical” stage the Anglican is at in the light of the General Convention in June.

The address was long and doesn’t appear to be online anywhere. It has taken me two days to get hold of it, having heard numerous reports of its significance, but I finally managed to obtain a copy a couple of hours ago. Because it is so late, and I am frankly exhausted, I am just going to post the relevant passages here and let you judge for yourselves. There really is no need on this occasion for me to add any comments of my own. I think you will see that Langrish is capable of speaking for himself.

He began by setting out his credentials. Although he does not know the US well, he has worked for three years in Nigeria, his diocese has strong links with Cyprus and the Gulf and Kenya and has travelled widely as a trustee of Christian Aid. He has also got to know the church in Australia and the South Pacific well in his role as chairman of the Melanesian Mission in the UK. He also displayed his grasp of the jargon-filled liberal-speak of the ecclesiastical intelligentsia, using phrases such as ‘dialogical table’, ‘commanding contextual paradigms’ and ‘meta-narrative’. The US bishops must have been lulled into a truly meta-sense of security when he started going on about the bigger context in Christ, the ‘meta-narrative’ that encompasses us all, and the ‘teasing out’ of the question from the Nigerian bishop: ‘You brought us the Bible, why do you not now believe it?’ But maybe even they felt the earth begin to shift a little when he suddenly mentioned the ‘tectonic change or betrayal’ that must have been brought about in Africa by the ‘paradigmatic shift’ of the ‘presenting culture.’

He then went on to talk about the work of the special commission set up to report on the issues arising from the Windsor Report, primates and ACC and that will report to Convention in June. He did not doubt that the bishops would try to do what was right. ‘Yet, when you do come to a decision about what is right, that decision, whatever it is, will have consequences and almost certainly very profound ones.’ From his remarks, it is clear that the US bishops have been working hard, for example, to address the concept of Covenant in the Windsor report. He sees a three-dimensional aspect to the US commission’s work: ‘structural/canonical, doctrinal/confessional, missional/relational.’ (All sounds very Griswoldal to me.)

Langrish continued: ‘However, to speak honestly, and I am sure that you would not wish me to do otherwise, there were elements in the proposed report and resolutions which, in the language we were asked to us, give me pause for concern. In particular I have real anxieties about the language being suggested for the proposed resolutions concerning future consecrations to the episcopate… As I listened I heard real concerns about both the ambiguity of the language and also the subjectivity of what was being asked for. It is also my belief that the wider Communion will feel the same, although probably for different reasons. It is not at all clear to me what extreme caution may mean, how it would be judged and who would decide. Can you exercise extreme caution and still act in a way that injects further difficulty into the life of the communion? I believe that many will have similar questions about what constitutes a challenge to the communion, or construes whether there are challenges that are acceptable and those that are not.’

This took him close to the ‘heart of the difficulty’ that much of the Anglican Communion, including his own province, had with Ecusa’s actions in 2003. He went on to cite a conversation he had earlier in the week. Someone on the retreat said to him: ‘I do regret I caused you pain, but I cannot regret that I voted for something that brought so much hope and joy.’ Langrish told this person that he did not want regret.

‘It’s something different from regret that is at stake here… in our response to the Windsor Report, the English House of Bishops sought to strengthen the language of repentance, which we believed to be more appropriate than regret. ... let me be clear, we were not seeking repentance in punitive or scapegoating terms, rather as something more clinical and precise - that seeing of an action or behaviour in a new light, the light of new circumstances under God.’

The two actions that needed to be seen in this new light were consecrating a bishop with the intent of creating a bishop for the church catholic without seeking the assent of that wider church catholic, and also ordaining someone to the episcopate ‘who was in a relationship not liturgically sanctioned by the Church, and to that extent at least irregular.’

He said he sees the Anglican Communion threatened by two fault lines, the first being the issue of same-sex relations with the focus on Lambeth 1.10 and the second the nature and future of the communion, with its focus being on Windsor and Dromantine.

‘I suppose one of the major challenges for the Episcopal Church now has to do with whether there are enought of you to stand broadly on the same ground, holding a range of opinions on Lambeth 1.10 but firm in carrying forward the Windsor vision of a strengthened and enabing communion life. This, I believe, is the key question rather than questions about whether the Episcopal Church will either be pushed out of the Communion or consciously walk away. Let’s be clear. On the one hand, noone can force another province or diocese either to go or remain. We are not that kind of church. Yet equally, no diocese or province can enforce its own continued membership simply or largely on its own terms.  There has to be engagement There is no communion without a shared vision of life in communion. So it does seem to me, as I listen to those other parts of the communion that I know best, that any further consecration of those in a same sex relationship, any authorisation of any person to undertake same sex blessings, any stated intention not to seriously engage with the Windsor Report, will be read very widely as a declaration not to stay with the communion.’

He believed he had heard at the retreat a desire for ‘shared life in communion’.

But if that was not the case, the implications were serious, not just for the Communion, but for interfaith and ecumenical relations too.

‘It would immediately become impossible to claim that there was one body that spoke for the Communion as a whole, and several existing relations would be irrevocably altered. All the signals seem clear that for example there would be no further round of Arcic and that the dialogue process with Al-Azhar [with Muslims] would end.’

1 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. mccabe Says:

    “....and several existing relations would be irrevocably altered. All the signals seem clear that for example there would be no further round of Arcic and that the dialogue process with Al-Azhar [with Muslims] would end.’”

    This seems to imply that a marginal relationship with a small segment of the Islamic cummunity is more important then the practice of Christian understanding and love in the Anglican communion? If that is true then do we really have an Anglican communion?