By Jim Stockton
One expects that it is abundantly clear now for even the most generously optimistic that the Archbishop of Canterbury has gone well beyond the jurisdiction of his Office in his pursuit of ecclesiastical authority. Rowan Williams’ Pentecost Letter represents his first unilateral attempts to reduce punitively the participation of those Churches who have dared to ignore the recommendations of the ‘Windsor Report’ and have instead chosen to follow the governing Constitution and Canons of their respective Churches. This shows his continued disdain for and impatience with the fact that the Churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous and autocephalous. He demonstrates very clearly here his desire and intention to punish those Churches who dare to honor the limitations of the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the boundaries of the English Church.
Williams rightly acknowledges that moratoria on consecration of ‘persons whose manner of life might be offensive to others’ (i.e. queer bishops), and on ‘border crossings’ by one Church into another are merely recommendations from ‘consultative organs of the Communion.’ He also couches his attempt to punish and restrain the participation of representatives of said Churches in terms of ‘proposals’ that he is merely suggesting. However, it is clear, and I think he intends it to be so, that he means these proposals to be regarded as rooted in some sort of para-papal power. He warns the offenders that the “particular provinces will be contacted about the outworking of this in the near future.” Thus, there is no sense in his communication that these proposals shall be open to reflective consideration and debate. His point seems to be that when an autonomous and autocephalous member Church of the Communion dares to “decline to accept requests or advice from the consultative organs of the Communion,” that Church shall be punished through a reduction in the participatory status of its representation on inter-Anglican Commissions, Boards, and ministries.
Williams makes a facetious case that members of such Churches are somehow unable to represent ‘the Communion.’ He deliberately obfuscates the fact that no individual member of any such Commission represents the Anglican Communion. He ignores the fact that, to the contrary, the participation of diverse views around controversial concerns is precisely what makes Anglicanism a unique gift to the wider world. Instead, it appears that he would prefer to shrink and whither this Anglican virtue in favor of an enforced greater unanimity through a silencing of dissenting voices. How very sad. How very un-Anglican.
Further, it is not merely the case that the Archbishop is seeking to reduce the presence of dissenting Churches on Committees related to ecumenical dialog. More significantly, he is attempting to remove the determinative presence of Churches whose actions he disapproves from the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO). Quite in line with his earlier proposal of a two-tiered structure for the Communion, he now ‘proposes’ that the disapproved Churches have their representatives reduced to ‘consultant status.’
For those who inevitably will claim that the Archbishop is not playing for power, please note his acknowledgment of the fact, “other bodies [that] have responsibilities in questions concerned with faith and order, notably the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Standing Committee”… “are governed by constitutional provisions” and so “cannot be overturned by any one person’s decision alone, and [so] there will have to be further consultation as to how they are affected.” His presumption and assertion ring quite clearly here: one person’s opinions do and should govern just who is ‘allowed’ to participate on IASCUFO and on other non-constitutional groups, and those are the opinions of one person, the Archbishop himself. Again he warns, with regard to these other bodies still protected from his opinions by their constitutions, that he “shall be inviting the views of all members of the Primates’ Meeting on the handling of these matters with a view to the agenda of the next scheduled meeting in January 2011.” In other words, he will seek some sort of declaration from the Primature that the representation of these Churches on the ACC and the Standing Committee have been reduced. Again, how sad, and how very un-Anglican.
All of this makes clear, I suggest, that Rowan Williams rejects the premises that led to the birth of the very Church that he now serves. The Church of England came into being through a rejection of foreign influence upon the governance of the Church in England. The Church in practice and in decree declared itself independent of the interference of Rome. Ironically, sadly, and paradoxically, the Archbishop of Canterbury now further seeks to secure for himself the role of ‘Anglican Pope.’ His capitulation to the homophobic community is the operative cause behind all this, of course. Had he chosen in 2004 to stand for the Anglican and protestant principles of autonomy and autocephaly, he would never have painted himself so thoroughly into this shrinking corner as he now finds himself. Once regarded as a person of principle, he again demonstrates his political prostitution. All other adverbs aside, the ABC’s grab for power is shockingly un-Anglican.
Someone may note that Williams at least appears to be penalizing the ‘other side’ as well, in that the Churches with homophobic Primates and Houses of Bishops are also being proposed for reduction in status. I respond first with skepticism that these Churches will ever actually suffer reduction in the status of their representation. The ABC likely fully expects TEC and the Church of Canada to be obedient compliant children Churches of Mother England. He likely also knows that the homophobic Churches will simply ignore the ABC here as they have in the past whenever his declarations have been inconvenient to them (and how rare indeed that has been!). So the likelihood is very slim that under Williams’ ‘proposals’ the homophobic Churches will suffer any real or sustained reduction in participation. This is simply because acceptance of Williams’ proposals is, for now, voluntary. This betrays yet further evidence that the ABC is determined to ram through the proposed ‘Anglican Covenant,’ especially section four, so that he and the proposed Standing Committee can enforce unanimity, limit diversity, and end dissent. Second, to equate the violation of jurisdictional boundaries (i.e. border crossing by other Churches into America and Canada) with the rejection by TEC and the Church of Canada of discrimination against LGBT persons is profoundly myopic. Such distortion is possible only because Williams chooses to perceive only the inconvenience to his legacy presented by the witness of TEC and Canada; he chooses to focus on the institution and organization; he chooses to ignore Christ in those persons who continue to be forbidden by this same institution their rightful full participation in the life and ministry of the organism that is the Church. Shame on him. It is not just un-Anglican; it is un-Christian.
Williams is taking the Office of ABC into territory that it has never occupied. One almost expects him soon to depart for Rome, attempting to take as many purported ’Anglicans’ as he may persuade to follow. He is leaving himself very little option. Short of profound metanoia or resignation of his Office, it will not surprise me that this ABC will soon be subject to some form of vote of no confidence, either by his own Church or by the Primates. His silly example of infant baptism as a comparative controversy shows his utter loss of perspective. No Church of the Anglican Communion has been reduced in participatory stature because of minority belief around infant versus adult baptism. Quite the opposite, continuing and fully mutual conversation among anyone interested in the topic has enabled them to continue the discussion and to serve alongside one another with no threat of reduction in status. It bears noting and oft repeating that, even as much as many of us rightly object to the failure of some African Churches to respect the jurisdictional integrity of TEC, we have never, ever, asked for the silencing of their voices. To the contrary, TEC has sought instead simply to find an ear for our own defense that might rival the ear that the ABC has quite generously provided for the homophobic Churches. I urge TEC and Canada to rise up and reject these absurd proposals from Williams, not only for our sake but also for the sake of those with whose opinions and practices we most disagree. There is nothing Anglican, nothing Christian, about silencing dissent and punishing disagreement. Our own silence on this new set of proposals from Williams will be dangerous to all. Therefore, I pray our House of Bishops and House of Deputies will speak out soon on the absurdity and truly bizarre ecclesiology represented in the ABC’s latest diatribe. Somebody needs to speak up for those voices of Christ being threatened with enforced silence. We need to speak up while we still can.
The Rev. Jim Stockton is rector of the Church of the Resurrection in Austin, Texas.