Admiral of Morality: Tacking into the wind

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tacking into the wind

Depending on who you ask and what document coming out of the primates meeting you are citing, and which section, the Anglican Communion either loves the Episcopal Church to death, or it is loving the Episcopal Church to death. The devil is in the details.

There are quite a few details and documents and not all of them speak with the same mind, though they all purport to speak to the same end--the preservation of a Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's panel on Communion found the Episcopal Church response to Windsor positive, faithful, and sufficient. ++Katharine was well received and like her predecessor, she has been elected to the Joint Standing Committee. She was seated by right, not by invitation. The primates called for an end to foreign interventions, terming them a contributor to the breakdown in the bonds of affection and church order. The Millennium Development Goals, which ++Katharine has emphasized in her ministry, was high on their list of discussions and figures at the top of their communique.

All this gives the Episcopal Church and its head-scratching friends around the country and Communion, quite a bit of hope.

The primates' communique, which reads like a poorly drafted therapy session, gives the small dissident group in the Episcopal Church and their allies who are primates, some reason to keep shaking their fists. It recommends that the Church work to establish a primatial vicar arrangement for the dissidents, many of whom believe the church apostate, under the direction and oversight of the presiding bishop. The dissidents already rejected the substance of this arrangement when it was first proposed. But with the primates also calling for it, and another layer of episcopacy on top, the schismatics may return to being just red-faced angry dissidents.

Why they would want to remain in a church whose people they regularly call apostate--people, truth be told, the majority of whom do not seem very interested in whether the dissidents are with them or not--is still a question the dissidents are not very good at answering. Perhaps too many simply stay to fight, energized by this, and not much else.

The communique also recommends that we be clearer about not consecrating another person living in a same sex union to the episcopate. It says nothing about not consecrating an openly gay celibate person to the episcopate. It says our Church should abide by a moratorium on bishops in same sex unions until a wider consensus supporting this emerges--language speaking clearly to the future when more and wider groundwork has been laid in councils, civil law, and hermeneutics, to ordain to the episcopate those in same sex unions.

This language in itself is a victory for our church, which works for this inclusion at great cost, since many reject even the possibility of there being such a future in our Church and Communion. The serious, measurable work towards this future is clearly spelled out in the language of the communique and in the draft Covenant. These elements will surely be strengthened and added to as our church and others, debate and amend it.

That is, if our Communion lasts long enough.

For one thing is sure. The Anglican Communion has decided that Communion is worthwhile, and our Church so far has decided this too. But the Communion can barely muster up enough good will for its leading bishops to talk to each other in the same room for very long, much less worship together. Their communique, though designed to speak to an entire global communion, is schizophrenic and obsesses almost totally on one Church, which, many like to tell us, has little real significance once you think about it. That may be--but it is ours, and we love it.

The Covenant proposal elevates these primates to a level they have not heretofore enjoyed, but which they have been more than willing to grab. If these are the primates whom the Covenant envisions will provide more and greater unity, then the communion will be tacking into a wind that may be too stiff for it to bear.

It is also these selfsame primates, and a subset of them, that their own communique recommends be given some say over the governance of the Episcopal Church. Their results and behaviors at their triennial meetings, do not bode well for any role they may play in the life of our church, indeed in any church beyond their own borders, advisory though it may be. If the only way they can guide and direct is through force, the ignoring of entire populations, and angry letters and threats, we should all be concerned.

As symbols of and real maintainers of unity, the primates overall get an "F." They create more discord than any other 1,000 Anglicans put together. Thankfully in America, we have a strong and visible ministry of the laity to keep these troublesome bishops in check. As part of any Covenant, such an informed and equipped laity in other national churches is something else our Church needs to call for.

Because Lord knows, when you have bishops calling in "sick" to mass and sitting by a pool being served iced drinks when just 100 feet away stare underfed and underclothed children, having someone hold them to account should be at the top of our list.


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