The self-trivializing Anglican Communion

Like the rest of the Episcopal Church, I woke up to the news on Friday that the Archbishop of Canterbury was going to ask two of our representatives to step down from formal ecumenical dialogues with the Orthodox Churches, and reduce our representative on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order to observer status.

This in response to the consecration of Mary Glasspool, a lesbian, as the suffragan bishop of Los Angeles. Unlike the rest of the church, perhaps, I immediately attempted to have an opinion about it in anticipation of the media calls that came later in the day.

About halfway through weighing some of the issues that I’ve written about here before, I had a sudden realization: reflecting on Rowan Williams’ letter wasn’t a worthwhile use of my time; writing it was not a worthwhile use of his. The issues at stake have become so trivial—We are not debating right and wrong, we are debating whether there should be trifling penalties for giving offense to other members of the Communion.—that to engage them at all compromises our moral standing and diminishes our ability to speak credibly on issues of real importance.

This isn’t to say that we don’t have to make a decision about whether to accede to the archbishop’s proposal—and I suppose I think that we shouldn’t because it would only encourage him to make other such requests—just that whether we accede or not make very little difference to the world, to the Communion, to our ecumenical partners, to our church, or even to a Communion news junky like me.

Which is why I was of no use to the reporters I spoke to on Friday afternoon; because, God bless them, they had to write stories based on the mistaken notion that all of this stuff still matters, and increasingly, it does not. In attempting to ram through a covenant that marginalizes the laity and centralizes authority in fewer hands, Rowan Williams has unwittingly made it clear that the governance of the Communion is as nothing compared to the relationships within the Communion, and the relationships are beyond his control.

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