Life After Lambeth
Fulcrum Newsletter, October 2008
by Andrew Goddard
Dear Fulcrum friends,
Earlier this month Ripon & Leeds DEF hosted a day conference on Life after Lambeth. I spoke alongside Bishop John Ellison, recently retired bishop of Paraguay who was at GAFCON (and reported the day on Anglican Mainstream) and Bishop Martin Wallace, Bishop of Selby, who was at Lambeth.
What follows is the text I prepared for that occasion which I hope may now generate wider discussion in the run up to the important NEAC next month which will focus on similar issues.
There is little doubt that, after this summer and GAFCON and then the Lambeth Conference, we are entering a new phase in the life of the Anglican Communion where serious fresh thought needs to be given as to where we are and where we wish to go. Another marker, perhaps, of being at something of a watershed is that it is five years ago this month that Archbishop Rowan Williams re-convened the Primates of the Communion for an Emergency Primates' Meeting at Lambeth Palace. This followed the American church's General Convention that summer which had confirmed the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and moves in a number of dioceses – most notably New Westminster in Canada - to authorise the blessing of same-sex unions. That meeting's final communique included the following crucial passage:
If his consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). Similar considerations apply to the situation pertaining in the Diocese of New Westminster.
The question we must face now, with Lambeth behind us, remains that of the deep tear in the fabric of our Communion and whether and how we can repair the tear. To do that we need to try to understand some of the dynamics of what has happened and the forces currently at play. Various people, including myself, have offered models and grids of understanding at different times over the last five years (Here at Fulcrum, see particularly Graham Kings' June 2006
and June 2008
Newsletters and my own mapping a year ago
and my responses
to critiques of it). While those remain helpful, I believe we are now at a new stage and need to recognise this fact if we are to discern what faithfulness to Christ means at this time.
I want to try to map that out by identifying two issues, four arenas of conflict and four questions.
Two issues: sexuality and ecclesiology
I remain convinced that to understand the heart of our struggles we need to recognise that there are two distinct but related issues. One is the issue of sexuality and attitudes to Anglican teaching, discernment and practice on this subject as found in Resolution I.10 of Lambeth 1998. The other – in some ways the more complicated one, especially for evangelicals – is the issue of ecclesiology and what it means to be a global communion of Anglican churches. Here the last five years have built on previous work (in the Virginia Report and the Eames Commissions) to provide four new resources:
3. The Principles of Canon Law common to the churches of the Anglican Communion
While these four documents and reactions to them and their vision of our common life are very important, we must beware of repeating the sort of common mistake highlighted by Nicholas Healy:
In general, ecclesiology in our period has become highly systematic and theoretical, focused more upon discerning the right things to think about the church rather than orientated to the living, rather messy, confused and confusing body that the church actually is. (Healy, Church, World and the Christian Life, p 3.)
The ecclesial reality: Four distinct but inter-connected arenas of conflict
Perhaps more important than these official documents therefore is how the ecclesiological reality of our life as a Communion has actually developed in the last five years. In relation to this messy, confused and confusing reality, it is again important to make distinctions as well as recognise the total inter-connectedness of the situation. This inter-connectedness is in part explicable by the phenomenon of globalisation, especially in relation to communication, but it is ultimately a theological reality of being part of the body of Christ:
If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body....The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"....If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it (1 Cor 12).
While recognising this inter-connectedness in the body, we need I think to distinguish and focus on the following arenas and levels of conflict:
1. The Communion as a whole and the Instruments of Communion
2. The American Church and the Canadian Church
3. The Global South provinces and networks
4. Of particular concern to us of course is the Church of England but I think we are best, given our focus today, to turn to that in the light of assessment in each of the other arenas.
The challenges: Four questions
In the light of this, I want to trace a path through the current turmoil by suggesting there are four questions we need to answer if we are to work out where we are, where we should be going and where the fault-lines are within the Communion and among evangelicals and other orthodox Anglicans. Let me first state these and then explore – with reference to each of the arenas - where we find ourselves in relation to each of them now, after Lambeth.
1. Are the developments in North America acceptable within the life of the Communion?
2. If not, has the Communion, through its Instruments, done sufficient to respond to these developments?
3. If not, are there signs that the Communion is now capable of responding?
4. If not, what form of realignment is necessary and what is the role of GAFCON in this?
First, and most briefly, are the developments in North America acceptable within the life of the Communion? Although clearly there are many - including many in the Church of England – who would disagree, it is now very clear that the developments within North America are not acceptable. That has been the consistent position of the Communion over these last five years through the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ACC, three Primates' meetings and the Windsor Report. The new situation now is that this has been reaffirmed clearly at Lambeth this summer with the renewed commitment to the Windsor moratoria. For most Anglicans, particularly in the Global South, the developments are wholly unacceptable in substance because they are contrary to biblical teaching on sexuality. For others, the problem lies more in terms of the process and the fact that fundamental ecclesiological principles – as articulated in Windsor - have been violated. Either way, the mind of the Communion is clearly opposed to what has happened and is continuing to happen in North America. However, it is also becoming clear that a significant minority of bishops and dioceses within North America do not accept this judgement and are determined to proceed.
This leads to the second question - has the Communion, through its Instruments, done sufficient to respond to these developments?
The Communion response has taken various forms
· the Lambeth Commission leading to the Windsor Report and its proposed moratoria
· the Panel of Reference to address conflict within provinces
· the rapid progress on a covenant
· the repeated requests of Primates' meetings and ACC to TEC's General Convention and House of Bishops
· the AbC's non-invitation of bishops to the Lambeth Conference
· the Windsor Continuation Group
· the new proposals at Lambeth for a Pastoral Forum and a Faith and Order Advisory Commission
It is important to recognise the speed and significance of these in the traditionally conservative and slow-moving world of the institutions of the world-wide Anglican Communion. They are also a sign of the commitment of the Communion to demonstrate that the actions in North America are unacceptable and to make the vision of life together found in documents such as Windsor a reality. It has been very distressing to see in some circles a spirit of cynicism and impatience with this process which has led to its undermining.
However, it must also be admitted that for many people the consistent pattern of these last five years in relation to Communion responses has been one of “too little, too late”. In particular, within The American Episcopal Church and to a similar degree the Canadian Church it is increasingly evident that there is
· a determined rejection of the Communion's moratoria by a significant number of bishops and dioceses
· no desire or will to implement the mind of the Communion within TEC's governing bodies,
· a significant and growing number of faithful Anglicans who have separated or are about to separate and realign with other provinces, and
· most recently and depressingly, a solid determination by the TEC authorities to take legal action – internally by deposition in relation to office and externally in secular courts in relation to property – against those who believe faithfulness requires some form of separation.
The conclusion, post-Lambeth, must be that the Communion Instruments have not been able to respond effectively to the crisis as it has developed over the last five years.
Some will conclude that is because of a lack of will, particularly on the part of the Anglican Communion Office and the Archbishop of Canterbury. While there may be an element of truth in that, and certainly mistakes have been made by the Instruments, I do not think it a fair explanation. Furthermore, as Christians we need to be very careful about alleging bad faith on the part of fellow Christians, particularly those called by God to positions of authority in the church. The answer is I think quite simply that the Communion Instruments are, to coin a phrase, “not fit for purpose” when faced with this sort of action by a member church. That leads therefore to
The third question - are there signs that the Communion is now capable of responding?
Here, I must confess, is where I have my deepest concerns and deepest disappointment post-Lambeth. There is much to be thankful for out of Lambeth in terms of its cultivation of relationships, its indaba pattern of dialogue, its reaffirmation of the Windsor Report and covenant process. But ultimately Lambeth as Lambeth failed to address the Communion's current parlous and perilous state. In particular, it failed to advance the necessary reform of the Instruments if they are to respond adequately to where we are now.
Having seen the valiant attempts of the Primates, supported by the ACC, there was the opportunity for the largest and historically oldest of the corporate Instruments to make significant progress but – for various reasons – it failed to do. The new developments seem unlikely – three months on and with no progress – to be able to take shape with sufficient speed and precision to keep up with developments, particularly in the US. As a result, we are in the situation where more and more falls back on the office and person of the Archbishop of Canterbury, just as it did in the Conference itself where it was his input and leadership which prevented the Conference being a total nonentity in relation to the current state of the Communion.
What is now in train post-Lambeth? The Archbishop's final conference address
noted that “in these days together we have not overcome our problems or reinvented our structures: that will take time”. He then made clear that there was “a strong consensus on the need to examine how the Instruments of Communion will best work” and stated that “we may not have put an end to all our problems – but the pieces are on the board”.
The central already existing “piece” is of course the proposed Anglican Covenant and we await the result of the work on the responses from Lambeth undertaken a few weeks ago in Singapore by the Covenant Design Group. Here there is the prospect of a development which will not only assist in the current crisis but provide a firm basis for a new way of being a global communion, a new pattern of life together based on shared affirmations, explicit mutual commitments and an agreed procedure for conflict resolution and discipline. As we think of life after Lambeth that opportunity must be front and centre.
Also in the diary there are
· the special meeting of the Joint Standing Committee of Primates and ACC next month
· the Primates' Meeting in early 2009 and
· the ACC in May 2009.
However, the challenge now facing these bodies is even more serious and pressing than ever and it is not surprising growing numbers are losing faith in the existing Instruments being able to effect their own reform with the speed and to the extent that is now necessary. An example of this is one of Lambeth's proposals. The Archbishop said in early August that he would “look within the next two months for a clear and detailed specification for the task and composition of a Pastoral Forum”. However, as with the similar proposals from the Dar Primates' Meeting, the American bishops have shown by their actions against Bishop Bob Duncan that they are unwilling to work with proposals from the wider Communion. They are clearly determined to ensure that these are rapidly rendered “dead in the water” or at least yet another example of “too little, too late”.
There may be actions that can be taken but the situation post-Lambeth is that almost everything now rests on one Instrument – the Archbishop of Canterbury. It may be that he can take some bold, striking and novel initiative to address the Communion's institutional malaise rather than letting the extremes set the pace or simply set up another Commission to discuss and report. It may be that he can find a way of affirming his continued communion with Bishop Bob Duncan or doing what the Lambeth Commission were asked to help him do - “exercise an extraordinary ministry of episcope (pastoral oversight), support and reconciliaion with regard to the internal affairs of a province other than his own for the sake of maintaining communion with the said province and between the said province and the rest of the Anglican Communion”.
All those developments, however, would mark a radical shift of gear. In particular, although there are signs of hope that the Communion, particularly through the covenant, may be able to re-establish itself, I am sadly coming to the conclusion that the Instruments are simply incapable of resolving the American problem. Furthermore, there is the real danger that this incapacity. combined with the actions of some of the orthodox in GAFCON, may lead to the further fragmentation of the Communion as a whole and the Church of England within it. That leads, finally, to
The fourth question - what form of realignment is necessary and what is the role of GAFCON in this?
There is I now believe, inevitably, some form of realignment of Anglicanism underway in North America as a result of its leadership's rejection of Scripture and the mind of the Communion. When not just parishes but dioceses start leaving a province, when several provinces consecrate bishops to serve in a province and when a province that prides itself in being “inclusive” and so has refused to discipline heterodox bishops breaks its own canons to try and remove an orthodox bishop, when these things happen we cannot expect all orthodox Anglicans simply to continue as usual and it is to bury our heads in the sand to deny there will be realignment and some new province.
Having said that, however, it is vitally important to recognise that those like Bob Duncan who believe separation is the best course are probably a minority among those American Anglicans committed to Communion teaching and discipline. Of the original 10 Network dioceses
, only 2 have left TEC (and for one of those and another making moves to depart their response is also in part because they are unhappy with having a woman as Presiding Bishop). There are many orthodox bishops and dioceses – such as South Carolina – which are not, at this time, taking that course of action. Yes, every effort must be made to support Bob Duncan and to provide something for those seeking some new ecclesial structure apart from TEC. However, it is also vital that that tail does not wag the orthodox dog and that those who follow other paths – notably the Windsor Bishops, supported by the Primates at Dar, now Communion Partners
– are not treated as somehow less orthodox or marginalised if they fail to follow the separatist Common Cause
realignment path but try to find another path in conjunction with the Instruments.
What about the three other arenas I identified? If it is important that the needs of those seeking alignment apart from TEC do not exclude other orthodox paths there and in Canada, it is even more vital that any such realignment in North America does not lead to the spreading of further and deeper division and disputation in other parts of the Communion. Here is where I have concerns about the role of GAFCON and fear that its strong ties to the most disaffected within North America and other provinces including the Church of England may undermine its stated goal
“to reform, heal and revitalise the Anglican Communion and expand its mission to the world”.
It must not be forgotten that just as the realigners of Common Cause are a minority of the orthodox within TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, so the six GAFCON Primates
are a minority within the wider Global South
coalition. That does not, of course, prove the rightness or wrongness of their stance. It does, however, show the dangers of fracturing the unity of those whose answers to the first two questions I've raised is crystal clear but who differ either on their answer to the third question or on how to answer this fourth question. In particular, were GAFCON to seek to extend and develop its confessional Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans as some sort of badge of orthodoxy and to continue its excessively hostile and deeply flawed rejection of the Anglican covenant
then it risks becoming a tool creating further tears/schisms in the fabric of the Communion rather than a means of repair and renewal. That would be a real tragedy given the vibrant missional faith, biblical vision and commitment to the gospel that is present in GAFCON.
In relation to North America, GAFCON is clearly seeking to be the means of constituting a new Anglican province. While I am among those who believe this is a sign of failure, it is now the inevitable consequence of developments over recent years and the key task is to ensure it is at least as good a “second best” as possible rather than something worse. The aim must be not only to build the church and spread the gospel in the US and Canada. The aim must also be to establish a structure which, even if initially only recognised by a few provinces, is able and willing, once the Anglican covenant is agreed, to make the necessary affirmations and commitments and so align itself with the newly configured covenantal Communion. The danger is that this development may become – whether intentionally or not - the trigger for a fracturing of the wider Communion and the founding of a more narrowly defined purely confessional fellowship which is shaped less by the ecclesiological vision of Windsor and more by the forces of post-colonialism and hostility to the American church’s response to same-sex unions.
And what, finally, of our own church? That is, I take it, where much of our discussion will focus today and I don't want to pre-empt that but a few comments as I close. We would be foolish to deny that the fault-lines in North America and the wider Communion are not present here or to pretend that realignment in these other contexts can take place without effecting us. In particular, if the failings of Lambeth place more weight on the Archbishop of Canterbury, they also place more pressure on the province of which he is Primate. However, it would be both foolish and dangerous to pretend that our own situation is anywhere near as dire as that of either the American or Canadian churches or to claim that we are called to follow their path. The challenge especially for evangelical Anglicans in the CofE is therefore to find a way of maintaining their own unity and rejecting further fragmentation, standing in solidarity with others here in England and across the Communion who are committed to biblical teaching, and supporting the covenant process and all other means of reforming, healing and revitalising the Anglican Communion and serving God's mission in the world.
Yours in Christ,
The Revd Dr Andrew Goddard is Tutor in Christian Ethics at Trinity College, Bristol and on the Leadership Team of Fulcrum
Andrew Goddard served on the Leadership Team of Fulcrum from its launch in 2003 until 2020. He currently teaches Christian ethics at Westminster Theological Centre and Ridley Hall, Cambridge and is Assistant Minister at St James the Less, Pimlico where his wife, Lis, is Vicar. He has previously taught at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and Trinity College, Bristol and been an Adjunct Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. He has served for a number of years on the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) and was on the Co-Ordinating Group of the Living in Love and Faith project. He is author of a number of books, including Rowan Williams: His Legacy (Lion, 2013) and co-editor with Andrew Atherstone of Good Disagreeement? Grace and Truth in a Divided Church (Lion, 2015).