COMMENT
March 2001

 

Can any good come from Kanuga? Certainly traditionalists of various shades in the United States have placed high hopes on the outcome of this month's meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion. But can the Primates deliver? We doubt it.

The Anglican Communion is not a confessional body. The Lambeth Conference of 1930 put the situation nicely:

'The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common: . they uphold and propagate the Catholic and Apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer as authorised in their several Churches; they are particular or national Churches, and, as such, promote within each of their territories a national expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and they are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference'.

But now that 'mutual loyalty' has dissipated in 'provincial autonomy', and the 'common counsel' of the bishops in conference has been publicly flouted, there is hardly anything left of what was, to begin with, not very much. The idea that the Primates' meeting might censure or discipline any province, least of all the Province which is hosting them and which payrolls the whole show, is far-fetched indeed. Ask Canon Peterson.

American traditionalists (perhaps with the help of some of the more outspoken Primates) will have to work out their own salvation. And to do so they will have to do three things.

First, they need to agree about women's ordination. It is absurd at this stage to seek to resolve differences by revisiting the arguments of that debate in an 'open ended discussion' (such as has been proposed by AMiA). Anyone - bishop, priest or lay person - who has not by now made up his or her mind on this issue should be ashamed of themselves. Not to have addressed the issues of Christology, ecclesiology, anthropology, ethics and psychology which the issue raises, is not to have lived in first world Anglicanism in the last half of the twentieth century.

Second, they need to be less hung up about gay sex. Until American traditionalists have courageously addressed the heterosexual divorce culture which has overwhelmed ECUSA, they will have nothing credible to say about homosexuality. The whole Christian understanding of human sexuality springs from the doctrine of marriage as both a creation ordinance and an ecclesial mystery. Until Ephesians 5 has regained its centrality in their thinking they should proceed with great caution on any sexual matter.

Third, they need to make common cause with the so-called Continuers. Soon the only remaining distinction will be who left the boat when. It ill-behoves the most recent evacuees to look down on those who had the fore-sight to take the same step thirty years ago. We are heartened by the rapprochements which have already taken place. There must be more.

And what of the English scene? How can we help out American cousins? In two ways.

In the first place we can deal with the challenge of women bishops with fortitude and resolution. There must be no breaking of ranks. This innovation is intolerable, root and branch; it must be resisted tenaciously. But that will best be achieved by following up on previous successes. The ordination of women in ECUSA is mandatory; in the Church of England it is optional. We must see that the same is true of women bishops - a capital notion for those who like that sort of thing; an optional extra for those who do not.

In the second place we must take up with vigour what our American cousins seem to approach with some reluctance - the ecumenical adventure with Rome and Constantinople. The more the Council for Christian Unity of the Church of England makes a fool of itself (and it needs no assistance from us) the rosier are our prospects.

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