"THE REFLECTION" BY THE ARCHBISHOP
28 June 2006
I welcome the reflections of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, “On the Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican today.” It is both pastoral and theological in character, a closely reasoned piece that seeks to do justice both to Scripture and “historic teaching” in the present context. It will provide all of us an opportunity for deeper reflection.
Given the constraint that the Archbishop cannot “decree” a resolution of the struggles brought about by the actions of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the reflection nevertheless makes a very valuable contribution to such a resolution.
The Archbishop makes clear that “the debate in the Anglican Communion is not essentially a debate about the human rights of homosexual people.” The Church, as I said in my statement of Aug 5, 2003, is a welcoming Church. It must be. Dr. Williams makes clear that it is “imperative” to stand “against violence, bigotry and legal disadvantage” for homosexual people and “to appreciate the role played in the life of the church by people of homosexual orientation.”
At the same time, the Archbishop distinguishes between this stance and the further step, based on it, that “the Christian Church has the freedom, on the basis of the Bible, and its historic teachings, to bless homosexual partnerships as a clear expression of God’s will.” As he goes on to say, “only a small minority” would draw this conclusion.
Addressing the situation provoked by the actions of the General Conventions, Dr. Williams observes, “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.” While not foreclosing the possibility of discussion and change, he frankly draws attention to the fact that “the pre-emptive action taken in 2003 in the US has made such a debate harder not easier.”
The Archbishop puts the spotlight squarely on the Episcopal Church. “Actions have consequences,” he says. And he quotes with approval the notion that “only the whole Church knows the whole Truth.” The divisions that run between the provinces of the Anglican Communion, the “local churches” as he calls them, and the divisions that run through some of the provinces internally, are the result of the failure to work at being the whole Church. “An isolated local Church is less than a complete Church.”
“[S]o that we have ways of being sure we’re still talking the same language, aware of belonging to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ,” Dr. Williams draws attention to the need for “adequately developed structures” – a “covenant” – as the best way forward. There may well come the point at which there will be “constituent” members of the Anglican Communion and those which are “associated,” where the first “opt-in” by limiting their own freedom of action “for the sake of wider witness.” Local churches would have to make the decision which they want to be. It should be noted that the Constitution describes the Episcopal Church as a “constituent member of the Anglican Communion,” a fact which the Anglican Communion Network bishops have repeatedly underscored. The Archbishop suggests that this must now be more than a mere assertion but an intentional decision.
This reflection offers 1) clarity about the nature of the current struggles within the Anglican Communion, 2) clarity about the General Convention’s role in those struggles, and 3) clarity about what the Anglican Communion is and why it must now focus on decisions about future structures. I welcome these clarities.
The Archbishop finally turns his attention to the upcoming Primates’ Meeting and the Lambeth Conference. More time will be needed to work out the details. Yet, Dr. Williams expresses the hope that “it is nonetheless possible for the Churches of the Communion to decide that this is indeed the identity, the living tradition – and by God’s grace, the gift - we want to share with the rest of the Christian world in the coming generation.” I affirm this hope. Indeed, the Diocese of Dallas has already officially pledged its commitment to the Communion, and specifically to the Windsor Report and process, as have some other dioceses.
My further hope is that the “instruments of communion” will heed these commitments, and indeed the commitments of parishes and clergy and laity across the Episcopal Church in contrast to and disassociation from the actions of the General Convention, as a vote to enter into and share fully this Anglican identity. A way must be found for “local churches,” not just in the sense of provinces, but of dioceses and congregations as well, to “opt-in.”
Some comments on the Archbishop’s reflection have seen it as another instance of an inappropriate “intervention” or rebuff to our vaunted American autonomy. One even quoted a passage from our Declaration of Independence. I cannot read his message in any way other than as “speaking the truth in love.” Dr. Williams writes, “we now face some choices about what kind of Church we as Anglicans are or want to be.” That recognizes not only that we Americans have a choice, but that our brothers and sisters throughout the Communion do too. I trust that the door will be open for all who wish to enter it.
On behalf of the clergy and people of this Diocese, I offer our gratitude to the Archbishop and pledge our continued prayers for him and the whole of the Church.