Skip to comments.A Communion In Crisis–A reflection offered by Lord Carey
Posted on 06/05/2006 5:10:27 PM PDT by sionnsar
I am grateful for the invitation to address this Forum at the invitation of the Dean, Dr. Martha Horne. For Eileen and myself it is so good to be back in VTS again. We were here in 1997 where we enjoyed an all-too-brief Sabbatical. I enjoyed the chance to study in some depth the work of Karl Rahner and Eileens book on twenty or so distinguished spouses of bishops originated here.
I have been asked to reflect, from my perspective as the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, on the current crisis of our Communion caused largely, although not entirely, by the consecration of Canon Gene Robinson to the episcopate. I do so with this comment. I am not a campaigner, neither am I someone who spends a great deal of his time engaged with this issue. The greater part of my energy these days is spent in inter-faith work and in development. My passion is the mission of the church and particularly sharing the love of God in Jesus Christ with the poor and needy.
Martha was kind enough to give me an outline of what she felt would be most useful. They emerge as four questions:
What are my personal reflections on the broader international Anglican Communion on the Episcopal Church of the United States(ECUSA)?
What ecclesiastical issues are at stake?
Could I give a sense of what our Anglican partners hope for?
What concerns should govern the deliberations of the delegates at General Convention as it approaches its 75th national meeting next month?
As I do so, may I say a word about the tone of our approach to this or any other contention issue. It saddens me when the tone becomes shrill, angry and even vindictive. We must recognise that good, honest and sincere people are on both sides of the debate. You will soon recognise where I stand and I do so without apology. You may be in a different place. We must acknowledge these differences and should approach this most contentious matter in the spirit of Philippians 2 where the humility and pattern of Christ is the model for Christian behaviour.
I. Reflections from the rest of the Anglican Communion.
First of all, let us remind ourselves of what the Communion is. It is a communion of national churches whose histories, theologies and liturgies are bound together by bonds of affections. In the tangle of different cultures and different developments there is a strong theological framework resting upon the scriptures, tradition and reason, with scripture having the pre-eminent and foundational role in deciding where truth resides. It is often defined another way as a communion of churches held together by the See of Canterbury, the Primates Meetings, the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Consultative Council- a cluster known as the Instruments of Unity.
During the course of the last century the Communion grew greatly. We are all familiar with the statistic that there are now more Anglicans at worship in Nigeria on any Sunday than all the Anglicans/Episcopalians in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand put together. And that is just one African Province.
If I were to define the average English Anglican I would not hesitate in saying it is an educated middle-class woman in her later 50s who is comfortably off. In truth the average Anglican is a black young woman of 31 who has 2 or more children, living on under two dollars a day. She is illiterate or semi-illiterate and someone in her immediate family perhaps herself -is suffering from Aids/HIV. Keep that image in mind as I speak. The Communion I know is heroic and I have always returned from Africa marvelling at our brothers and sisters who live in seemingly impossible conditions with radiant faith in the Lord.
When I left office at the end of 2002 I felt the Anglican Communion was in good heart, although forbidding black clouds were appearing on the horizon as a result of the decisive outcome of the Lambeth Conference on August 5th 1998 in which the Resolution on homosexuality was agreed overwhelmingly by the assembled bishops. Resolution 1.10 described practising homosexuality as incompatible with holy scripture yet called on all bishops to enter into a deeper dialogue with homosexuals, seeking to understand their situation in society and in the church. It should be understood that the Resolution was NOT a wholly new idea that now put the Communion in a different place from where it was before. It spelled where the Communion had always stood - but now, forced to define itself on this matter, had clarified its position once and for all. If there is any misunderstanding about this we should remind ourselves that Lambeth 98 also received the ARCIC document Life in Christ (1994) in which the agreed position of Catholic and Anglican representatives declared:
In the matter of homosexual relationships a similar situation obtains. Both our Communions affirm the importance and significance of human friendship and affection among men and women, whether married or single. Both affirm that all persons, including those of homosexual orientation, are made in the divine image and share the full dignity of human creatureliness. Both affirm that a faithful and lifelong marriage between a man and a woman provides the normative context for a fully sexual relationship. Both appeal to Scripture and the natural order as the sources of their teaching on this issue. Both reject, therefore, the claim, sometimes made that homosexual relationships and married relationships are morally equivalent, and equally capable of expressing the right ordering and use of the sexual drive. .
Strangely, it was on August 5th exactly five years later, that ECUSA General Convention ratified the election of Gene Robinson to the See of New Hampshire, in spite of the pleas and warnings of the Archbishop of Canterbury and others. An emergency meeting of the Primates the following month declared that to proceed with the consecration of Canon Robinson would tear the fabric of our Communion at the deepest level. In spite of such a dire warning the consecration of Robinson went ahead with the Presiding Bishop present.
The crisis led to the convening of a Commission to advise the Primates known to us as the Windsor Commission, under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Armagh.
What did the Windsor Report urge? This well-argued report called upon ECUSA to regret its action because the bonds of affection had been breached and requested that those in leadership, who had taken part in the consecration, should withdraw from representative functions in the Communion. The report called for a moratorium on the appointment of practising homosexuals and lesbians for Episcopal office and urged ECUSA, together with the Anglican Church of Canada, to refrain from same sex blessings and liturgies. Finally, it urged all Provinces to commit themselves to an Anglican Covenant in order to deepen unity and make such explosive problems less possible. The Primates, meeting at Dromantine later, accepted the findings of the Windsor Report and issued it to all Provinces for consideration and ratification.
I need to answer another question that all should ponder. What has been the effects of the Consecration?
In my view the consequences have been alarming and distressing. It has resulted in deep division in the Communion at the international level as well as in many national churches. The tremors have been felt in most Provinces and there are few which have not been affected by altered relationships between bishops, clergy and congregations. The effect on ECUSA has resulted in many churches leaving the Episcopal Church, loss of income, to say nothing of plummeting numbers.
The consequences on ecumenism have been no less troubling. My contact with the Roman Catholic Church has revealed that few of its leaders have any confidence that dialogue with the Anglican Communion has a chance of going anywhere. Recently Cardinal Kasper spoke of an ecumenical winter. It is possible that the present situation guided that view.
At the level of mission, in those areas where our Communion encounters Islam, my experience is that the matter has made relationships difficult and has affected the mission of the church.
However, it is within our Communion that the most serious consequences have been felt. The global south is angry with what they see as another example of American unilateralism and some Primates are unwilling to enter into common action with ECUSA. American aid, insofar as it is offered by the church, is often rejected and the needs of the poor, in some parts of Africa have worsened.
In short, it is difficult to say in what way we are now a Communion. A Federation of Churches? Possibly, but a far cry from the great claims uttered at successive Lambeth Conferences that we are a Communion, held together by bonds of affection. Bitterness, hostility, misunderstanding and strife now separate Provinces from one another and divide individual Provinces. So it seems the Primates were right: the fabric of the Communion has been torn at its deepest level.
II. WHAT ARE THE ECCLESIOLOGICAL ISSUES AT STAKE?
Allow me to offer my perspective on the issues that the General Conventions decision of August 5th 2003 has opened up theologically.
i. A Departure from the Ordinal and theology of Ministry. The Anglican tradition has inherited from the undivided Church an understanding of ministry that those ordained must be either celibate or married. The fact that our Ordinals never mention the possibility of practising homosexuals being ordained is that such an option was considered inconceivable by previous generations indeed, reprehensible. That homosexuals in same sex partnerships, which effectively replace marriage should be ordained, would have been seen as a serious and extraordinary departure from the Churchs practice.
ii. A departure from orthodox interpretation and the teaching of the Bible. The bible is unequivocal in its condemnation of practising homosexuality. It cannot be dismissed as having no consequence for us today. The matter is far more than the interpretation of a few Old Testament verses but includes significant Pauline texts that are central to the classical interpretation of sin and redemption. I cannot see any justification for bypassing Pauls teaching in Romans I, concerning homosexuality physical relationships, as irrelevant to our times, or as a cultural equivalent to women wearing hats in church. It is a timeless commentary on the power of sin when people turn away from God.
iii. It is a departure from our understanding of the sacramentality of marriage. We know how central to message of Jesus is his understanding of marriage. The way that apostolic writers build on this in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy and elsewhere show their continuity with our Lords teaching concerning the creational significance of marriage between a man and woman, that is lifelong, faithful and tender. The parallel of marriage to the union of Christ to his church in Ephesians V shows the error of identifying any other relationship as comparable with marriage. Paralleling any other relationship with marriage, however close the friendship it is, is a dangerous error and it is difficult to see how such alternative relationships may be blessed by the Church or considered holy.
iv. A departure from Anglican understanding of Unity. It is possibly the case that some delegates at the Gen Convention on August 5th 2005 may not have fully understood the significance of its decision when all were aware that the vast majority of Anglican Provinces was against the consecration of Gene Robinson. However, it is difficult to excuse the Bishops who consented, because they were aware that it went against the mind of the Communion and could only be seen as a wilful arrogating of individual freedom. On that day ECUSA said to the rest of us: We have no need of you we are an independent church and will make our own laws and define our own theology.
v. A departure from our understanding of Authority. When I was Archbishop I gave expression on a number of occasions to my worries about the fragility of our theology of authority. We are strong on synodical authority within our Provinces but very weak when it comes to exercising authority within the Communion. August 5th 2003 revealed the stark poverty at the heart of our tradition as ECUSA ignored the fundamental four Instruments of Unity; the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates, ACC and the Lambeth Conference. [Although ACC last year reduced the Instruments to three, with the Archbishop of Canterbury becoming a focus for unity rather than an instrument. Whether this change is cosmetic is debatable]
III. WHAT DO THE OTHER PROVINCES HOPE FOR? I have shown the alarming state we are now in. Is there hope, and what do we most long for? I cannot speak for others- indeed, I stress what I said earlier, I am not engaged in campaigning activities on this matter.
I have no doubt that in some Provinces some bishops, clergy and laypeople will hope that ECUSA does not give in to the international pressure. In their view, when the Gen. Convention allowed for the Consecration of Gene Robinson the action was prophetic and visionary. Dont budge they will urge the 75th Gen Convention because the rest of the Communion will eventually catch up.
Well, that is a view that is heard although it is one that I find difficult to understand if a serious and final schism destroys the Communion that we once loved.
What I believe the majority long for is that ECSA will accept the conclusions of the Windsor Report as outlined earlier. Some will prefer to see the language of regret replaced by the language of repentance in the light of the damage that has been done. Others will want to add to the Report by calling on ECUSA to make pastoral arrangements to bring the orthodox congregations and clergy who have left back into the fold of the national Church.
But let me address the final question which overlaps with this third point:
IV. WHAT THOUGHTS/CONCERNS AND ACTIONS SHOULD GOVEN THE BISHOPS AND DELEGATES AT ITS FORTHCOMING GENERAL CONVENTION?
Again, I can only offer a personal response. I am sure that the delegates will be aware that its previous decision damaged the Communion grievously. That fact should govern its response to the Windsor Report as it wonders whether it should ratify its previous actions. Is Gen.Convention so sure of the rightness of its previous decision that it will reject the conclusions of Windsor?
So, my hopes are summed up in the following sentences.
I hope it will repent of decisions taken in 2003. It has been said that one cannot repent of ones convictions and to ask delegates to repent of a view they believe to be right is surely inconceivable. I understand that, but we can repent of actions that have wilfully hurt others and damaged the unity of Gods church.
I hope it will commit itself to a moratorium on the consecration of practising homosexuals and lesbians to the episcopate, although I personally would extend this to all Orders of ministry.
I hope it will refrain from same sex blessing and liturgies. I hope also that it will commit itself to a Covenant along the lines of the Windsor Report.
Finally, I hope that ECUSA will do all its power to bring back into full communion all those bishops, clergy, and congregations who at present feel alienated from its life and in danger of separating from the Province.
What do I most fear? That the General Convention will deal with the matter half-heartedly and will not see the seriousness of the hour, with the result that the issues are fudged and the response is so ambiguous that the situation is made far worse. Because, make no mistake about it, on that basis the Communion will split and our mission, our integrity and our ministry to the poor of Africa will suffer.
But let me add this post script. I have never made any secret throughout my time as Archbishop that ECUSAs contribution to the Communion has been truly great. We need your strength, your wisdom, your talents and your resources. I believe you need us too.
Perhaps a hymn greatly loved by Episcopalians sum up my longing:
Arise O Saints of God
Have done with lesser things,
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
To serve the King of kings
Lord George Carey is the former Archbishop of Canterbury; this talk was given at Virginia Theological Seminary on May 9, 2006
Very impressive. I wasn't all that impressed with him while he was in office.
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