Confusion reigns

What’s a blogger to do?

Since I started this thing over two years ago, I have varied my postings between commenting on some immediate issue—usually some ridiculous utterance by some ridiculous bishop—and trying, in my own semi-competent way, to say something helpful about the larger issues at stake in Anglican affairs.

But lately, the pace of events has been so fast, that no sooner do I take a few days off but I feel left behind, wondering if I should say something quickly on whatever text has been issued from Lambeth, Lagos or Las Vegas, or just forget it and concentrate on something bigger.

Two documents just issued from the House of Bishops of the Anglican church in Nigeria—a response to the “Reflection” of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the future of Anglicanism and a communiqué concerning the proposed Anglican covenant and the future of the Lambeth Conference— are both cases in point. They are unfortunate, since they help create confusion just at the moment when things were getting clearer.

First, it appears that, thanks to the media echo chamber and the mysterious reluctance of most of the world to pay close attention to what I write here (what can these people be thinking?), the misreading of ++Rowan Williams’ “Reflection” has become the reality, regardless of what the text actually says. The Nigerian bishops, along with practically everyone else, insist that the Archbishop of Canterbury is proposing a “two-tier” communion. He is not. Repeat: he is not. Please, people, read the text! “Constituent” clearly means you’re in. “Associated” is equally clearly a very polite, very Anglican way of saying you’re out.

Here’s what the Nigerians wrote in their response to the “Reflection”:

The mere fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury now proposes a two-tier membership for the Anglican Communion is his acceptance that the wound caused by the revisionists has become difficult, if not impossible, to heal. The idea of a Covenant that would ensure this two-tier membership of ‘Constituent Churches’ and ‘Churches in Association’ is brilliant as the heartbeat of a leader who wants to preserve the unity of the Church by accommodating every shred of opinion no matter how unbiblical, all because we want to make everyone feel at home.

But here is what the text of the Reflection actually says (once again, emphases mine):

The idea of a ‘covenant’ between local Churches (developing alongside the existing work being done on harmonising the church law of different local Churches) is one method that has been suggested, and it seems to me the best way forward. It is necessarily an ‘opt-in’ matter. Those Churches that were prepared to take this on as an expression of their responsibility to each other would limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness; and some might not be willing to do this. We could arrive at a situation where there were ‘constituent’ Churches in covenant in the Anglican Communion and other ‘churches in association’, which were still bound by historic and perhaps personal links, fed from many of the same sources, but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion, and not sharing the same constitutional structures. The relation would not be unlike that between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, for example. The ‘associated’ Churches would have no direct part in the decision making of the ‘constituent’ Churches, though they might well be observers whose views were sought or whose expertise was shared from time to time, and with whom significant areas of co-operation might be possible.

There is no indication here of “accommodating every shred of opinion no matter how unbiblical, all because we want to make everyone feel at home” any more than a “two-tier” church. Rather, churches that choose not to “opt-in” are not in. Period. If you are a “church in association,” you are not in communion. Sure, drop by for tea some time, we can have a jolly chat about whatever is on our minds, but don’t show up for any meetings unless you’re invited and don’t speak unless you’re asked. The idea of “churches in association” is a brilliant way of easing the lunatics back into their cells without the use of cattle prods and allowing the rest of us to get on with it.

Then there is the Nigerian communiqué:

2. THE ANGLICAN COVENANT

Synod is satisfied with the move by the Global South to continue with its veritable project of defending the faith committed to us against present onslaught from ECUSA, Canada, England and their allies. The need therefore, to redefine and/or re-determine those who are truly Anglicans becomes urgent, imperative and compelling. Synod therefore empowers the leadership of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) to give assent to the Anglican Covenant.

3. THE LAMBETH CONFERENCE

The Lambeth Conference which is one of the accepted organs of unity in the Anglican Communion is due for another meeting in 2008. the Synod, after reviewing some recent major events in the Communion, especially the effects of the ‘revisionists’ theology’, which is now making wave in America, Canada and England, observed with dismay the inability of the Church in the afore­mentioned areas to see reason for repentance from the harm and stress they have caused this communion since 1988 culminating in the consecration of Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual in 2003 as a bishop in ECUSA. Synod also regrets the inability of the See of Canterbury to prevent further impairment of the unity of the Church. It therefore, believes strongly that the moral justification for the proposed Lambeth Conference of 2008 is questionable in view of the fact that by promoting teachings and practices that are alien and inimical to the historic formularies of the Church, the Bishops of ECUSA, Canada and parts of Britain have abandoned the Biblical faith of our fathers.

4. GLOBAL SOUTH CONFERENCE

Synod underlines the need for maintaining the age-long tradition of a ten-yearly Conference of Bishops in the Anglican Communion for discussing issues affecting the Church. It therefore calls on the leadership of the Global South and Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) to do everything necessary to put in place a Conference of all Anglican Bishops to hold in 2008 should all efforts to get the apostles of ‘revisionist agenda’ to repent and retrace their steps fail.

So somehow a “two-tier” church is a bad thing, but the “covenant” that creates it is a good thing. Pardon me if I am a bit confused. Moreover, the only place where such a “covenant” is likely to be advanced, i.e., the Lambeth conference, is now suspect and may have to be replaced. Why? Because the Church of England, whose Archbishop both created the panel that proposed the “covenant” and has himself just now endorsed the idea, is (together with Canada and the US) leading the assault on Christian doctrine that necessitated just such a covenant in the first place. And who would issue invitations to such an alternate Lambeth? How would it be organized? If only “parts of Britain” have abandoned the faith, would any English bishops be welcome? My head spins.

Heaven alone knows what will happen next, but in many respects things seemed to be going in a “conservative” direction in the last week or so. At least, it is the “conservatives” who have the initiative at the moment (although that could change tomorrow). Proposing an alternative “Lambeth in Lagos” is, at this point, counter-productive. It would be terribly sad if the Nigerian church were to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Now back to those bigger issues . . .

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