Is This Enough from Canterbury?
It seems our plate is before us; I hope you brought an appetite.
Rowan is right that the prophet must be prepared to suffer, and indeed be a suffering servant; if ECUSA is committed to bearing its actions at GC2003 as prophetic, it must be prepared to accept second-class status in the Anglican Communion.
Yet I cannot help but think as I read this that much is awry.
I. Shorter Rowan Wiliams
Our Archbishop asks, What is the current tension in the Anglican Communion actually about? and answers:
...it is a question about how we make decisions corporately with other Christians, looking together for the mind of Christ as we share the study of the Scriptures.
According to Rowan, the gay problem is not the moving issue here, just the "trigger"--if not gays, it would be something else. Splits and quarrels like this in an era of globalization, he says, are inevitable. Preserving the genius of Anglicanism--a way of living Christianly able to hold evangelical, Roman Catholic, and liberal elements together--will require an explicit articulation of the terms of beloinging, especially the sacramental ones. As the row over the gay problem shows, the Anglican Communion can no longer presume "mutual respect" among provinces will suffice to hold us together around terms left implicit. This explicit articulation will take the shape of a covenant: confess, or be moved outside the "unrestricted" [bravo Rowan--brilliant weasel word!] sacramental community of the Anglican Community to "associated" status.
II. Ecce Homo
Note the reticence here, as with Eames' Windsor Report, to address substantive moral issues, like blessing SSUs, outside those around procedural fairness. He seems rather annoyed with ECUSA, and in a number of passages writes very pointed, negative things about GC2003--but he does so almost always because of the way ECUSA went forward.
Oh, note I said ALMOST always. He does indeed lower himself from his lofty office to make a substantive moral point. He attacks Gene Robinson personally in this missive to the Communion, implying Robinson was in the moral wrong according to Episcopalian formularies. Whether Robinson was indeed in the wrong is beside the point. Williams could could have re-phrased the point and made his case so that it would appear in general terms without singling Robinson out; for some reason he does not. This is simply breathtaking:
But the decision of the Episcopal Church to elect a practising gay man as a bishop was taken without even the American church itself (which has had quite a bit of discussion of the matter) having formally decided as a local Church what it thinks about blessing same-sex partnerships.
Well, as Rowan says, for those other than Gene at least, It isn’t a question of throwing people into outer darkness. Apparently, Williams is above treating Robinson with any pastoral sensitivity; Rowan has the larger realities of the Communion to consider here. Note the painful irony: in making this one substantive moral point, taking a swipe at Robinson, Williams makes a moral spectacle of himself, treating a person as a means to an end, a tool. No other particular persons were singled out for harm in the rest of the essay, to the best of my knowledge.
He is clear:
The Archbishop of Canterbury presides and convenes in the Communion, and may do what this document attempts to do, which is to outline the theological framework in which a problem should be addressed; but he must always act collegially, with the bishops of his own local Church and with the primates and the other instruments of communion.
That is, it is not the Archbishop's place to personally address substantive moral issues in the wider Communion. Commentators displeased that Rowan failed again to, say,denounce the Church of Nigeria's support for that state's draconian anti-gay laws have clearly missed Rowan's apparent commitment to consistency.
What do you think? Does Rowan have the office of Archbishop right? He has spoken out on moral issues in the Communion, of course, but I think he would say in response that those instances are not to the point; they were not Communion dividing issues.
III. Shadows of a Dream
We shall have to work with Rowan's covenant idea and hope for the best. There is no viable alternative other than preemptively breaking away. Probably the covenant's fruition will mean second class status in the Anglican Communion, and maybe even the spectacle of Rowan encouraging a parallel Anglican province in the U.S.
It may be that Rowan's rather well-crafted rhetoric is enough of an anaesthetic to make all this seem encouraging.
But whatever the necessities of day to day life in the Communion, we should be clear among ourselves. Rowan's speech is primariy a piece of rhetoric, a play of images, a shadow in a dream, idle chatter in the cave.
The covenant process will very likely be used as a means to reduce ECUSA and whoever else stands with her to second-class status; that will be the actual end of the effective plurality crafting it, not the end Rowan envisions: securing explicit terms that will hold us together. No; these explicit terms will not hold us together, they will tear us apart, merely consummating what he believes has already begun.
The covenant process in reality very likely will be a tool to eliminate the very genius of Anglicanism he claims to wish to defend--a way of living Christianly able to hold evangelical, Roman Catholic, and liberal elements together. It will very likely institutionalize the elimination or suppression of Anglican liberalism. In short, Rowan has no way forward to preserve Anglicanism, understood in his terms.
Rowan seems oblivious in this piece to the realities of global power politics as they are playing out the Anglican Communion. He does not address the fact that demographic and historical contingencies have placed the Global South in a position to dictate terms of unity. Instead, he merely plays truth and unity off against one another.
In concrete terms, this blatant power imbalance may result in the covenant carrying substantive content beyond procedural rules or circumstantially neutral content like the Quadrilateral, content effectively excluding ECUSA from the Communion--picture parts of Lambeth '98 1.10 getting written into our new confession.
Indeed, he seems oblivious too about how many on the evangelical right regard homosexuality, and his desire to see the gay problem as a mere trigger might cloud his judgement here. For our impasse is largely about this issue and this issue alone; if it were not for this issue, we would not be threatened with schism. Note: NT Wright thinks the acts of GC2003 are morally on par with the Iraq War; Zahl sees those acts as on par with terrorist bombing; parties in the global south have seen gays as sub-human or agents of Satan, and have supported their political suppression.
Will any set of procedural rules suffice to maintain unity when one party is in the grip of such moral panic? Wouldn't it have been better if he had acted from his office to calm the panic and openly rebuke such excesses, even if he wanted to leave the substantive theological issues open? His dictinction between civil rights and church theology, his chatter about the possibility of defending civil rights for gays while denying their ordination etc, closes the barn door after the horse has left. His straight talk about what is logically consistent is bizzarely blind to the actual world--we cannot leave the actual Anglican Communion where gays are oppressed by the Anglican Church as in Nigeria for Rowan Williams' shiny and sweet Possible World.
Rowan and the Windsor Report's silence on substantive moral issues around 1.10--something he seems to think comes with the office--does not imply that the question of gay ordination or blessings is really open to discussion. Given the power reality, in practical terms it is already closed--his silence gave, and indeed was necessary for giving, the Global South this opportunity to shut down discourse.