July 11, 2006

Does Communion Require Authority?

I have followed the writings of the ACI and its members for some time. It appears in general they seem to wish there were a "judicatory" of some sort at a level above the individual churches of the Communion. I recall language of "superior synods" from some years ago, for example, from either Dr Radner or Dr Seitz. This has remained a theme in the ACI work.

What must be admitted -- or at least should be admitted, and +Rowan for one admits it though he may rue it, or not (on alternate days of the week) -- is that at present no such synod or judicatory exists. There is no central authority in the Anglican Communion to which all of the provinces must submit. There are, on the contrary, provincial authorities to which dissatisfied members refuse to submit, appealing to the notional superior synod that is as of yet to be called into being.

What is now under discussion is whether such a judicatory should be established. Some (particularly those malcontented with their own or others' inferior synods' decisions) say yes, others no. It is no good trying to argue that there is a natural progression towards such centralization. There is nothing "natural" about it. It takes a good deal of work, if indeed it is work we want to undertake. Nor is such a political structure inherently more "Christian" -- it may actually be less so to the extent that it relies on "authority" after the manner of the kings of the Gentiles, rather than the richly organic body that Paul seems to favor, in which all are identically blessed, but each is uniquely gifted. (Ephesians 4)

At present some who have made the loudest noises about what they regard as infractions in our common (unadjudicated) life, have also made it abundantly clear that they consider themselves omnicompetent to make such judgments regardless of any other adjudication. I speak of Nigeria, as the prime exemplar of this. This province has indicated it is interested in fellowship of any kind only with those with whom, in its sole determination, it agrees.

There is also a great deal of speculation concerning the possible Anglican Covenant, and much of it assumes that the Covenant will be written in a certain way, so as to create a level of superior authority capable of saying who is no longer a valid member. But I can think of a Covenant that is based not on authority but on trust, not on power but on commitment; in short, more in keeping with the Gospel, that might say things like, "No member or members shall judge the actions of any other member or members."

Wouldn't that be novel.

Tobias S Haller BSG


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Dave,
Thanks for your comment, though I am afraid you are incorrect and my description is accurate. I base it on the text of the Constitution of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) Chapter 1.3, which reads:

3. (1) The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) hereinafter called ?The Church of Nigeria? or ?This Church? shall be in full communion with all Anglican Churches Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as the Lord has commanded in His holy word and as the same are received as taught in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordinal of 1662 and in the Thirty-Nine Article of Religion.

(2) In the interpretation of the aforementioned formularies and in all questions of Faith, Doctrine and Discipline, the decisions of the Ecclesiastical tribunals of the Church of Nigeria shall be final.

I hope this makes my case as strongly as it needs to be made; or do you give some other meaning to this text, which was amended to remove all reference to the See of Canterbury just last year?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Dave,

At the risk of being pedantic, you are missing the point, and taking my original statement out of context. I said that Nigeria was not interested in fellowship with any church with which it, in its sole determination, disagreed. It has actively severed fellowship with the Episcopal Church, in a unilateral move. It has threatened the same against England. This is not a matter of TEC choosing not to enter into union with the Southern Baptist Convention, but of a church which is part of The Anglican Communion deciding on its ownthat some other church is no longer in communion with it; unilaterally, in effect, altering the membership list. My point is that Nigeria's assertion of its right to make such a decision, undercuts the notion of a superior body's competence in these matters. It has put itself in the position of becoming the center of a new Anglican Communion, from which England may be excluded.

Please note I am using "fellowship" in the sense in which it is used to define the Anglican Communion: a "fellowship of autonomous churches." I do not use it in the sense of having varying degrees of formal or informal relationships apart from communion. The CoNAC may have warm relations with the RC or the Presbyterians there, but they are not in "fellowship" in this sense.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

To further clarify:
I don't mean to suggest that Nigeria doesn't have the right to do what it has done, or threatens to do. It is precisely because there is at present no "superior synod" that it has that right. The Anglican Communion as it is structured at present has no way to enforce its members to remain in communion with each other, or even to be cordial to each other. Entities which act unilaterally are unlikely to be interested in binding themselves under a "superior synod" that will enforce their compliance with things they may not like.

I do, by the way, think it would be fair to apply this to the Episcopal Church as well; which is why I am happy with the present (or former) laissez-faire model for the Communion. Nigeria rejects that, however, and seems to want a "strong" communion on its own terms.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Dave,

First, I don't consider myself "obsessed" with Nigeria. It is to some extent on my mind because I have a number of Nigerian congregatants, and a Nigerian priest associate. (They have little more use than I do for the Archbishop of Nigeria, btw.)

Perhaps you might want to re-read the original article. It is about authority in a communion. My comment about Nigeria was simply to point out that when one cedes authority to a higher judicatory one cannot then continue to retain it: ergo, Nigeria is unlikely to be interested in any Anglican Covenant stronger than what we have at present, unless it is in charge. That is my only comment about Nigeria. Do you dispute the accuracy of this assessment?

As for Rwanda and SE Asia, Nigeria is now promising to join in their trend of creating bishops in other jurisdictions. Again, there is no international communion law to stop them. But it also testifies to their lack of interest in the creation of such law.

Finally, there are a few facts wrong in your closing paragraph. First on a matter of interpretation: the extent to which the TEC response to TWR is adequate or not remains to be seen: some say it isn't enough, others that it is.

It is correct that only GC could enact a strict moratorium on ordination of a practicing gay or lesbian bishop; this would require a canonical change if it were to be binding. But such a canonical change only requires a single session of the Convention. Such a resolution was presented (D067) and was not adopted. What we have adopted instead is a recommendation or call for voluntary restraint. As I noted a long time ago, if there is a will to have a moratorium along these voluntary lines, the Bishops with jurisdiction and the standing committees can effect one. A failure to achieve a majority in either arena will void any episcopal election.

On the question of a moratorium on same-sex liturgies, a Constitutional change would be required, which does take two Conventions. No such resolution was at any time offered at this session of Convention. The resolution that was presented as a substitute to A161 was unconstitutional. However, again, as a voluntary matter, bishops cannot be forced to authorize same-sex blessings; at this point to my knowledge very few have done so. Nor has the church as a whole authorized them, contrary to the suggestions of some.

Now, all that being said, clearly TEC is not interested in adopting either moratorium in a binding way. It would perhaps have been better to say so. If this is a "problem" -- rather than the excessive reaction of parts of the Global South -- then I concur with your closing statement.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Dave,

This really is another subject, but since you ask, I agree that the term "practicing" is odd and offensive when used by conservatives. I did not invent it, and I usually avoid it; though I reserve the right, as a member of the class, to make use of it as part of an program to rob it of its power.

Surely this is not the first time you have encountered this turn of phrase. The term is most commonly used by religious conservatives too numerous to list; but a few are Robert Gagnon ("The Bible and Homosexual Practice") and William Witt. And, of course, Lambeth 1998 1.10.4. Do a Google search and I think you will find thousands of instances of this or similar turns of phrase. It seems to betray on their part a view that homosexuality is an acquired behavior, a "practice" rather like a bad habit. I do not share this view, and use the term as a convenient shorthand. In addition, it is sometimes, as in the case of Lambeth, the precise language to which I am responding.

"Sexually active" is somewhat ambiguous -- what, after all, is "sexual"; "genitally active" is probably more precise but starts to become clinical. "Celibate" won't do precisely, since as was seen in the Jeffrey John matter in England, the strict meaning of "celibate" is "unmarried" not necessarily "sexually abstinent" -- and some objected to John's continued "cohabitation" with someone with whom he had no "sexual" contact.

"Partnered" would be preferrable, or even "married" (in some jurisdictions!) But these are not normally the terms used by those who are raising objections.

Anonymous said...

The WR would have been unnecessary except that we told him and the rest of the AC that our prerogatives were more important than our relationships.

"we told him": citation?

We said no - that our commitment to inclusivity was more important than our commitment to our partners in mission.

"We said no": citation?

[Even this:

We told ++ Peter and his fellow primates that only GC could enact a moratorium, so they needed to wait for GC. Then we told them that a moratorium could not be enacted by resolution

was not likely a formal communication from TEC to "++Peter (et al)"---more likely just some clarify comments among Episcopalians, re our polity and canons]

I suspect, davegolub, that you are EQUATING certain actions (or lack thereof) by TEC, as straight-forward declarations you (apparently) would have them be.

They are not.

Get it right!