Has Defeat Been Hidden in the Heart of Victory?

The latest (March) issue of New Directions is now available online in its HTML form—for some reason the PDF file is not yet ready. In it, Fr Geoffrey Kirk raises a very good point about the potential poison pill hidden in the Dar Es Salaam Communique, the same Communique that conservative Anglicans are in general hailing as a great victory. (The same article by Fr Kirk was already posted on the Prayer Book Society’s website a short while ago).

The passage in the Communique that bothers Fr Kirk is this:

In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church 1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and 2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134); unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).

Please read all of Fr Kirk’s reaction. His central point is

What the Communique has done, couched as it is in the language of the revisionists themselves, is merely to draw another line in the sand. The Primates have requested, through the presiding bishop, that the House of Bishops of TEC make an unequivocal common covenant that they will not authorize any rite of blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention, and confirm that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent, unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the communion.

The deadline for the answer is 30 September 2007. ‘If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.’

No one could reasonably suppose that such undertakings will be given, or that the failure to give them will result in any specific action by any of the ‘Instruments of Unity’. But that is hardly the point. The heart of the statement is not in the requests, but in the terms in which they are made: unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the communion. With that proviso the game is up for the traditionalists.

For the grounds upon which traditionalists oppose gay bishops and same-sex unions is not that they go against previous Anglican practice, but that they contravene the plain teaching of Scripture, which applies in all times and cultures, and which neither individual provinces nor the Communion as a whole is competent to change.

By signing the Communique traditionalist bishops have conceded the very point they were striving to uphold. Having initially refused to sit at the same table as Katherine Schori, and shunned her at the Lord’s Table, they have signed a document which endorses her position and effectively outlaws their own – and elected her to their Standing Committee! To this observer it looks uncommonly like suicide.

I take it that, for Fr Kirk, a “new consensus” that could “emerge” in the Anglican Communion sounds suspiciously like that very “Spirit doing a new thing” that traditional Anglicans are so much up in arms about—and I think he has a point.

However, I do not entirely agree with Fr Kirk—I think the clause he is worried about can, and in fact should, be read, not as an implicit endorsement of the problematic notion of “reception,” but as simply descriptive of potential reality. After all, one can imagine the Roman Catholic Church declaring one day that the Pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals when he speaks ex cathedra, then changing its mind the next. (That the RCC presently declares such an about face an impossibility is not the point.) Similarly, one can read the troublesome clause regarding the possible emergence of a new consensus as simply meaning that we will be orthodox until we become heretics (see Article XIX of the Thirty-nine Articles), just as we are alive until we are dead.

But Fr Kirk does point up what I am attempting to get at in addressing the question of authority, viz., that in Anglicanism there is not, and cannot by the very nature of Anglicanism be, any such thing as a “new consensus” or “development” of doctrine. For if Anglicanism claims to hold only what has been received at all times, everywhere, and by all; if by doctrine we mean “a teaching of the Church which ought to be received by all Christians”; and if the Anglican Communion is, as it has always said, only a part of the whole Church Catholic; then the Anglican Communion has no catholic authority in itself to develop doctrine, regardless of any “new consensus” that emerges purely within the Anglican Communion.

This is why the Windsor Report had to tie itself in knots to somehow justify the “ordination” of women and yet declare that consecrating Gene Robinson and blessing same-sex “unions” were out of bounds. (See “Gone With the Windsor Report Part one” and “Part Two”). The uncomfortable truth, the truth that so many either cannot or will not see, is that both sets of innovations rise and fall together, since both are enabled—the one in reality, the other in potential—by the very notion of “reception,” by the appeal to wait for an emerging new Anglican consensus, and both are equally dismissive of any truly catholic authority.

Thus the very power which we denied to Rome in the 16th century we have arrogated to ourselves in the matter of the “ordination” of women in the 20th, and we hold out the potential to continue to do so in the matter of same-sex blessings in the 21st, even on the terms set out in the Dar Es Salaam Communique—that is, unless (as I wrote above) the clause that so troubles Fr Kirk is read as a simple statement of fact and not a prescription for “reception” or “development.”

What say ye?

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