I have been wondering about what Anglican disarray means in the great scheme of things. I’ve recently read three reviews (but not yet the book itself) of Miranda K. Hassett’s Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism (Princeton, 2007) The thrust of what all reviews call ‘well researched’ is that the future of Anglicanism lies in Global networks of affinity rather than national or diocesan boundaries. It is pointed out (whether by reviewers or the author, I’m not certain) that there is some surprise that this line is being taken by African Anglicans and their allies rather than more ‘liberal’ Christians. I think this is both right and problematic. It is right in the sense that many Anglicans gave up global relationships to the evangelicals with the redefinition of mission that occurred (at least in America) in the 60s. The assumption was that Anglicanism itself, expressed by communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference etc. is and was an ‘informal network based on affinity’.
At All Saints’, In spite of having been ‘fired’ by the Diocese of Western Tanganyika (but only after the Bishop came to visit us –which makes me wonder what about our identity as a parish is not clear from our website which he had studied extensively before coming to see us—any clues or thoughts would be welcome) we continue to find ways to stay in touch with that part of the world, supporting an Anglican related, but independent AIDS ministry in Kusulu; funding the education of the Reverend Fred Kalibwame at Uganda Christian University (an institution in a diocese and province that will not accept our money directly and which teaches as though we are the devil’s representative on earth); and hoping to find ways to support the continuing education of the Reverend Emmanuel Bwatta (who spent six weeks with us a few years ago) in the event that he can attain a high enough standard of English to attend Sewanee (which is apparently acceptable to his Bishop.) It is my hope and expectation that our current disagreements will not define us for ever and that we will still need to be related to leaders in Africa who are willing to stay in relationship even through clear disagreements, so that the important mission of the church can continue with neither their nor our cultural imperialism ruling the day. I am also on the lookout for some kind of international network that we might be able to join (or perhaps found and fund) that would transcend the informal networks of the church in developed countries.
The problem I see with Hassett’s vision (again, based solely on reviews) is that these informal networks need to be connected somehow and it is not clear that the conservatives (conevos) are going to allow Canterbury to be the point of connection unless Canterbury comes down clearly in support of their ‘view’ to the exclusion of others.
The leadership of the ABC is something of a mystery to me. He taught me theology (along with many others –not a supervisory type or terribly personal relationship) at Cambridge and we have since reconnected slightly through the meetings of the Compass Rose Society (although I have experienced him as more personally guarded at recent meetings than was the case prior to 2003). He seems to be declining to solve the problems of the communion by taking a clear theological view on the underlying issues of homosexuality, the way scripture is used (or abused) in various ways in various cultures, the implicit desire for power and its relationship to heterosexism and patriarchy, and any number of other bones of current contention. In this, I think he is partly right. If we cannot get around a table and talk, or at least eat, then what does communion mean? If we have to have something more than goodwill and a common identity in Christ, --if we have to have doctrinal clarity and even uniformity as the price of admission,-- then should we not be Roman Catholics? And if not, why not? The ABC is not going to make life easier by seeking a pseudo-doctrinal solution to a matter of deep disagreement. Instead he seems to be insisting that he is taking all concerns seriously and asking that Bishops keep talking to one another. The conevos are sick of it however and think that they are being asked to keep talking until they agree with those with progressive voices in the church whom they believe should be told to repent or be excommunicated. If they want to take their toys elsewhere, he is not going to stop them. He is however willing to entertain a covenant and willing to withhold an invitation to his party from the properly and constitutionally elected bishop of the Episcopal Church. He is, at the same time signaling to others, that he is willing to withhold invitations from Bishops consecrated extra-canonically (or something) by African provinces and is not acceding to demands that only ‘pure’ Episcopalians be invited. It is not unlike the mudblood problem of Harry Potter in search of a Dumbledore.
What I cannot fathom is that he seems to think that his role as Archbishop of Canterbury (as distinct from his role as Archbishop of Wales) requires that he put on hold the publication of any reflections, teaching, theology or other point of view that might be persuasive or useful in the current debates. I can only assume that he believes this would be counter-productive and would make it impossible for him to broker any other kind of arrangement. I think this is misguided because he is already mistrusted by the conevos based on his prior ordination of homosexuals and his initial support for Jeffrey John becoming Bishop of Reading. If we have learned anything in America, it is that the conevos will take any concessions they can get, but are neither grateful, not committed to broad communion except on their (minority) terms, which they are now trying to parlay into a majority by ignoring all the customs of Anglicanism and ‘going global’. I wish they would get honest about who they are and set up whatever kind of alternative communion they want (‘The Reformed Anglican Communion’?) but then there is always the problem of property. I wish the ABC would use his auctoritas to address the fundamental issues, put them in some kind of perspective other than ultimate concern and worth breaking the communion apart over (surely that is sin) rather than to try and patch up the unpatchable.