I see from a news report that the Anglican Communion Network (h/t Thinking Anglicans) is prepared to pass a sputtering torch to the new, emerging “Anglican” “Province” in North America. (I may run out of scare quotes before this is all over.) The Network confesses that it has failed in its purpose to recall the Episcopal Church to its standards of orthodoxy, and even goes so far as to suggest that this purpose is beyond achievement. Thus the torch they are passing to ACNA is not only sputtering but extinguished.
This reminder of the Network’s failed purpose helps to bring into focus one of the major problems with the present mess into which the Anglican Communion has descended. Though I acknowledge the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada played their part in providing grist for a particular mill, still, the decision to drive that mill at a pace which has caused the whole mechanism to fall apart seems to lie with the Network and its allies — and their almost complete misunderstanding of what they had been advised to do or not to do by Archbishop Rowan Williams.
At this point they already said that Rowan Williams counts for little — he has not backed them up in what they have wanted to do. But it is worse than that. It may be that he did not understand them, but surely they did not understand him, nor did they follow through on doing what he asked them to do. I have not been alone in noting the nuanced and sometimes impenetrable language Rowan Williams uses, but the more I listen to him and the more carefully I listen the more consistent and thoughtful he appears to be. Perhaps, like Mark Twain, we are all learning that while our father in God seemed, in our youth, to be incredibly dense, we have discovered that the older we grew the wiser he has become.
The main thing people misunderstand about Rowan Williams — on both sides of the aisle — is that he is resolutely committed to working things out through the existing mechanisms of the organization. He is what some might call an institutionalist. Hence his initial displeasure with the Episcopal Church — holding as he does to the notion that Lambeth 1.10 represents the mind of the Communion, even if his own opinions tend another way (and I think they still do, by the way, contrary to what I think are other misreadings of some of his statements — but this just goes to show the depth of his commitment to proper process.) We might note as well his continued pressing for some kind of covenant, some rules in a book instead of facts on the ground. Everything Rowan Williams says has to be understood with this hermeneutical key: people should follow the rules. Perhaps he is a Benedictine at heart?
It is by failing to grasp this fundamental Rowanite principle that the Global South and its North American supporters/ambassadors have come to their present situation, on the verge of walking apart from the Canterbury-centered Anglican Communion.
This has been going on for a long time. When Bishop Duncan and his friends approached the Archbishop with the proposal to form a ‘network of confessing parishes and dioceses,’ the archbishop gave the nod. What, after all, is wrong with that? Anglicans have been forming networks or parties from the very beginning — in England the great mission societies emerged through that very process, as evangelicals and high church Anglo-Catholics worked within their own circles to build up the church in the way they thought it ought to be built.
But almost from the very beginning, the Network functioned, not as an underground body continuing to work within the structures of the larger church, out of step with which it felt itself to be — which is, after all the model for a confessing church in the manner of Bonhoeffer. No, the Network came to see itself not even as leaven in the loaf, but more like the dedicated portion of the challah loaf, though in this case a portion which would come to replace the rest of the body since it could not transform it. The rhetoric of “two churches” instead of a movement within one church began very early on in this particular turn of the Episcopal carousel.
And so it continued. In spite of Archbishop Rowan’s repeated declarations of the “un-helpfulness” of such things as AMiA and CANA, and his refusal to recognize as Anglican bishops those who staff these adventures and incursions; in spite of his explicit comments about those who chose to absent themselves from Lambeth, and his references to the language of “walking apart” from the Windsor Report — in spite of all this, the “Anglican Church in North America” still seems to hold out that sputtering hope that they will become the official Anglican presence in North America.
They shall become something; what they will become is too soon to tell. But I surmise that they will not, like the Episcopal Church, be a member of the Anglican Communion, a fellowship of autonomous churches in communion with the See of Canterbury.
Tobias Haller BSG