Way We Live Now
Way We Live Now
vision for unity and truth
the press launch of an Anglican Communion Report is. I have to tell you, a
bizarre experience. When the Report is being presented by Archbishop Robin Eames, it reaches the furthest realms of unreality.
was presenting the Windsor Report in a room far too small for its occupants in
the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. He had clearly spent the preceding night
passionately kissing the Blarney Stone. The result of these osculations was a
cheerful fluency which facilitated the avoidance of any question of substance.
Of no one, since it was first applied to WE Gladstone, has Disraeli’s
description been more applicable: ‘A sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with
the exuberance of his own verbosity’.
so it was less with rhetorical skill and more with the sheer volume of words
that he managed to obfuscate the fundamental absurdity of the Report.
Lambeth Commission, the Archbishop told the incredulous press, had not been
asked to consider the truth or falsehood of any proposition about human
merely to map out a way forward for the Church. (One official later courageously
compared the Report’s findings to the Middle Eastern ‘Road Map’, thereby
unintentionally conveying his own fears about its success.) The vaunted
unanimity of the Commission was based on its sentimental attachment to unity
(‘bonds of affection’), rather than on a common agreement about truth.
Report is full of phrases which expose this wilful separation between truth and
Episcopal Church (USA) [is] invited to effect a moratorium on the election and
consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in
a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion
emerges’ (para 134, italics mine).
then, is envisaged as virtually inevitable. The teaching of the Lambeth Fathers
is viewed as at best provisional. Truth, for the members of the Lambeth
Commission, is not revealed, but contingent upon circumstances. And sadly there
is no acknowledgement that just the opposite is the view of those opposed to the
innovations being addressed.
many people in the Anglican Communion’, says the Report (para 29), ‘could
neither receive the ministry as a bishop in the Church of God of a person in an
openly acknowledged same gender union.’
is a sentence littered with prejudicial
‘Union’ in this context is an impossibly loaded term. ‘For this cause a
man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, so that they are
but one flesh’ (Mark 10.7—8] The words of Jesus are grounded in a theology
of creation. For traditional Christians the term ‘union’ describes that
relationship and that alone. Nor do traditional Christians reject the
appropriateness merely of those in openly acknowledged same sex
relationships. They believe that all such relationships disqualify those who
sustain them from apostolic ministry. They cannot lightly condone a doctrine
which openly encourages perjury and deceit.
language of Archbishop Eames at the press release was all about ‘process’
and ‘pilgrimage’. As he must know, this is dangerous language for a
Christian. Though we have been taught that the full truth will only be revealed
at the end of the journey, when in the beatific vision we see God as he really
is and know ourselves as we are known, it is not true that there are no certain
and indubitable guides, pointing the way to that desired end. The scriptures, as
interpreted by the tradition of the Church, are that guide. If they mean
anything at all, then it must at some stage be possible to say, with Pope
John Paul, that in some mailers Ecciesiam facultatem nullatenus habere
(the church has no authority whatsoever). In the inchoate ecclesiology of
the Lambeth Commission that time need never come.
doctrine that unity trumps truth (or as an American bishop recently put it,
‘heresy is to be preferred to schism’) is a direct and fatal denial of
apostolic truth and ministry. Apostles are ones sent, and sent with a message.
The message comes from God through Our Lord Jesus Christ and is given to the
apostles and theft successors to be faithfully transmitted. ‘As the Father
sent me, sol send you,’ says Jesus (John 20.21). ‘You must keep to what you
have been taught and know to be true,’ says Paul to his apostolic vicar and
spiritual son (2 Timothy 3.14).
choice which lies before Anglicans is stark and plain: either Balkanization or
the adoption of a some kind of magisterium which can reassert the primacy of
scripture and the tradition. The choice, however, may already unconsciously have
Provinces are said to be ‘episcopally led and synodically governed’. But the
truth is different. Synods, with a sense of their own parliamentary-style
omni-competence, are not easily ‘led’ by bishops; and bishops, in a
political system which seeks to clip their wings, feel vulnerable and exposed if
they act against the current consensus.
is poignantly expressed in the Windsor Report when it discusses the role of the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
present, there is some lack of clarity about the level of discretion that the
has with respect to invitations to the Lambeth Conference and to the Primates’
Meeting. This Commission is of the opinion that the Archbishop has the right to
call or not to call to these gatherings whomsoever he believes is appropriate,
in order to safeguard, and take counsel for, the well-being of the Anglican
Communion. The Commission believes that in the exercise of this right the
Archbishop of Canterbury should invite participants to the Lambeth Conference on
restricted terms at his sole discretion if circumstances exist where full voting
membership of the Conference is perceived to be an undesirable status, or would
militate against the greater unity of the Communion’ (para
far so good. In certain limited circumstances the Archbishop is to be accorded
sole discretion, though many would say that he already had it.
the Report goes on: ‘to ensure that he does not feel exposed and left to act
entirely alone, but in a way which is informed by suitable persons... we ...
recommend the establishment of a Council of advice to assist him
a body might be formed from any existing council of the Communion, possibly the
Joint Standing Committees of the Anglican Consultative Council and the
Primates’ Meeting’ (para 112).
is given with one hand is taken back by the other; what sounds like a change for
the better (or at least a change) proves in reality to be just more of
the same. Fear of an ‘Anglican Pope’ — as though such a role (which has
developed continuously over more than a millennium and a half) could be
replicated in a single generation — has resulted in the primus inter pares having
fewer independent powers than he had to start with.
is plain for all to see, through the verbiage of this lengthy report, is that an
appeal to sentimental attachments is no foundation for any sort of collegial
relationship. ‘THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE’ (John 8.32) proclaims the logo
of the Anglican Communion on the cover. It is a pity that the members of the
Lambeth Commission had not paid more attention to it. Probably Robin Eames, with
his fatal fluency, thought that anything expressed in so few words must be
worthless and trite. But the truth will out:
a church which can only proclaim the truth on its own authority, and at the
conclusion of an unseemly internal wrangle, is one which can expect to divide
Kirk is Vicar of St Stephen’s,
Lewisham, in the Diocese of Southwark
Lewisham, in the Diocese of Southwark