Monday, February 26, 2007

A Quick Note on +++Rowan's Opening Speech


In case you have not already read it, go ahead and have a look at +++Williams' opening speech to the February Church of England Synod; for those trying to make sense of his thinking, I believe this is an essential piece of the puzzle, framing much else. I am not sure--and who can be?--how much is rhetoric and how much sincere, but suppose for a moment he really does mean just what he seems to say.

Of foremost importance is his conception of the Anglican Communion, or AC; he has what seems to be a very definite view on which he will not compromise at all. It is quite remarkably a bedrock view. He says,

Much has been made of the relative nobility of a ‘Here I stand’ position as compared with the painful brokering and compromising needed for unity’s sake. It’s impossible not to feel the force of this. Yet – to speak personally for a moment – the persistence of the Communion as an organically international and intercultural unity whose aim is to glorify Jesus Christ and to work for his Kingdom is for me and others just as much a matter of deep personal and theological conviction as any other principle. About this, I am entirely prepared to say ‘Here I stand and I cannot do otherwise’. And I believe the Primates have said the same.

I have put the most important parts in boldface. The AC is an organic unity of some sort; he nowhere calls it a church, but he seems to come very close. For instance, he says

For those of us who still believe that the Communion is a Catholic body, not just an agglomeration of national ones, a body attempting to live in more than one cultural and intellectual setting and committed to addressing major problems in a global way, the case for ‘drawing back’ is not attractive.

For him, the AC is a special catholic body in some sense--as +++Williams' own words insinuate, a contentious sense. There is, he seems to think, a union constituted by the koinonia of the Anglican Communion to whose continuation one might be obliged on grounds of the catholicity of the--I presume--universal church. Moreover, he seems to think that the groundwork justifying his conception of the AC has been set up over the course of the last century--he does not see himself as unduly innovating up to this point, although he does seem to think additional innovation in the AC's structure is called for. He is evidently confident that many Primates around the AC share his conception, and it seems he also thinks he has the support of bishops in the Episcopal Church, for whom he speaks here.

In effect, +++Williams has provided us with a good way of framing the upcoming decision making that the Episcopal Church must make about the Communique, and down the road, an Anglican Covenant. Acceding to the Communique and the eventual Covenant ratifies +++Williams' understanding of the AC, and it may well be very, very difficult in a practical sense to back away once such a conception is ratified.

What kind of church are we? That is a somewhat different question from What kind of church do we wish to be? Tanzania has turned out to be a rather mixed lesson in the nature of normative catholicity by +++Williams and company, and if +++Williams is right, that catholicity is binding on us whether we like it in the Houses of Bishops and Deputies or not. It may very well be that the HoB and HoD decide to ratify the Communique and yet-to-come Covenant; in that case, it will make more sense to view GC2003 in terms ++Schori advised, as an expression of our charism, for which we may be called to pay dearly, but which we must come to view as functioning in a more structured context within the AC. For very many on the left, such a new articulation of corporate life may require a rather radical shift not just in tactics, but also in identity--will it be possible to be a Christian with the required moral integrity from within such a corporate life?

Some may be worried by the rather sharp nature of the "Here I stand" oppositions +++Williams envisages. It seems he thinks either that (A) in case of conflict between unity and justice, unity wins, or that (B) TEC has not made a cogent case for there being an opposition between unity in justice, or (C) both (A) and (B). In my view, (C) is clearly the best reading of his speech. He has complained on several occasions about a lack of cogency to TEC's case--but his "Here I stand" rhetoric seems to add something important to (B), namely a conviction in the overriding importance of catholic unity, come what may in other matters. Is it right to hold (A), pace conjunction with (B)?

There is a certain irony to +++Williams' complaining about a lack of cogency on the part of TEC's case for the actions of GC2003, as he is already operating as Archbishop on the assumption that his contentious notion of catholicity is correct, when it itself involves innovation, indeed revision of what had been taken to be the proper being of the AC. It is just such de facto binding theological innovations a covenant should be designed to protect members against, as it is hardly the case the notion of koinonia has undergone reception and acceptance in the AC of the kind called for in the case of the actions of GC2003. Is it not self-evident that +++Wiliams' innovations are more radically intrusive on the lives of member provinces than any action of GC2003? That is, +++Williams' manner betrays an unaccountable, self-serving, and indeed incoherent exercise of power that should give some contemplating their place in the AC under a covenant pause. Is +++Williams really so naive as not to see this, or might he suppose it his privilege?

Again, we may accept such exercises of power as called for by our identity, by our being as this church, and if so, the Anglican left will have to significantly revise its practice. One may well wonder what room would remain to accomodate critique from the Spirit of praxis within the Church, and whether a communion so structured as to inhibit that critique is in fact obstructing the Spirit.


At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A tangential point: I've stopped using multiple + signs in front of archbishops' names. "Archbishop" isn't a separate ecclesiastical order, at least not in our branch of the church.

In particular, to use three + signs in front of +Rowan's name is to erroneously suggest that he is at the top of our (TEC's) hierarchy.

(Every Sunday in recent years I've been irked by our extremely-orthodox parish's change to the Prayers of the People Form VI, wherein the leader prays "For Rowan, Archbishop of Canterbury; Katharine, our Presiding Bishop ...." By all means, let's pray for the ABC; but let's do so at the end of that particular petition, as in "... and for Rowan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and for all bishops and other ministers.")

At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the ABC has made an idol of unity (& unity in a New & Different Fundamentalist Homophobic Anglican Communion of which I have no desire to be a part -- happily, the Covenant seems to have no real purpose except to expel people, so I suspect I won't have to be).

At 8:25 PM, Blogger Mark Diebel said...

Too bad he said an "organically... unity"... whatever that is. Organic unity? I hope he means that in Coleridge's sense. If so, something organized from within sounds pretty good.

At 9:07 PM, Blogger Dennis said...

At 4:12 AM, Blogger Brian said...

". . . but suppose for a moment he really does mean just what he seems to say."

Archbishop Rowan always means what he intends to say but sometimes fails to say clearly what he intends to mean.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


I would (try at least) to drive a axehead through any necessary correlation between intention and meaning with regard to saying. It seems to me meaning includes intention but is broader, so that someone's saying can be "catured by" a social context of meaning hostile or even incompatible with speaker's intent. I.e. Rowan can be rightly claimed to have meant something he never intended and would even deny.

Thus it would be quite extraordinary if it were true that Rowan always meant what he intended to say.

At 2:24 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


I concede your point; I won't do that again.


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