I learned recently that the seminarian from Virginia Theological Seminary whom I inherited when I first became rector of St. Paul’s in Alexandria has been made a bishop of the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA). (St. Paul’s is also the parish in which john Spong did some of his seminary field work.) I find myself having quite strong reactions to this news. My reactions are not so much about him, but about the reality that the conservative evangelical club, of which he was a part, have pretty much all ditched the Episcopal Church. (Along with some questions about just how many bishops this breakaway movement needs.) I have valued being part of a broad church, even sometimes at the expense of moving fast on matters on which I have already become clear in my own mind or heart the ordination of women, for example, or the proper place of gay and lesbian people in the church). I am not worried that the Episcopal Church will become a liberal sect because I suspect that many people of a conservative instinct are not necessarily willing to be led by schismatic evangelicals, or their African friends and sponsors, when push comes to shove.
I do think it is possible that we will continue in some kind of ‘impaired relationship’ within the Anglican Communion, indeed that the whole of the communion will be ‘impaired’ in some way, but that at least we will be part of something more broad than an American or even North American fellowship. This remains important to me even though I have no vision for what has been called ‘institutional unity’ and that is not what I prayed for during the week of prayer for Christian Unity in January. Nevertheless, I do not trust the leadership of any version of church to take fully into account other expressions, emphases, theological commitments, enculturation of the gospel and so on, without some kind of discipline or necessity about that work.
There is much talk of the proposals for an Anglican Covenant (offered originally in the Windsor Report). I do not get the sense that this idea has real legs, but it is important to those evangelicals and other conservatives in the communion who want to hold things together around Canterbury rather than some other location or person, with them in it and the Episcopal Church out of it (or ‘second tier’ as was floated at one point.) I think that if it takes a covenant with disciplinary clauses in it to keep some semblance of Anglicanism together, then the Anglicanism that is kept is dishonest Roman Catholicism with differences of taste about worship, for example, or perhaps some theological quibbles about Marian devotion, or some such thing. These of course are matters that were manageable differences within Anglicanism before the ordination of women and the existence and place of gay and lesbian people became an issue for what seems to be a boys club.
The whole business is strained as much by the condemned ‘foreign incursions’ as by anything that TEC has done to ‘weaken the bonds of affection’ in the Communion. It appears that the constitution of the Province of the Southern Cone who are so busy taking ‘real’ Anglicans under its tiny protective wing requires that such action be approved by the Anglican Consultative Council, a body in which we are ‘voluntarily’ reduced to observer status for the time being. I wonder how Archbishop Venables found his way around that one, or did he?
It has been easy enough for the conservative evangelical and allegedly orthodox (sometimes known as ‘conevo’ PR machine to keep the focus on America while ignoring Canada and elsewhere. I think the looming issue is England. That is a place where the Archbishop of Canterbury may exercise both impreium and auctoritas and cannot avoid doing so by saying “I have no ability to adjudicate or influence the outcome of disputes so I am not going to.” England seems to me to be just as divided as anywhere else, but the constitutional issues make separation and schism extremely complex. It is one of those occasions where I am glad that the C of E is a state or ‘official’ national church. It means that the few remaining Christians in that country must keep talking to each other if they wish to be part of ‘The Church’. More on the leadership of the ABC later.