July 27, 2009

Huntington’s Way

Today is the centenary of William Reed Huntington. The Anglican Communion might well take a leaf from his book — or any of his books — in order to address its present squabbles. Huntington was as interested in consensus as any of us today, but he realized that we are very unlikely to achieve consensus on everything. Instead he set apart four basic points of reference for unity: the four points that go to make up the well-known Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

The chief dilemma facing the Anglican Communion today is our lack of common mind on certain questions of sexuality. In spite of the assertions that Lambeth 1.10 represented a consensus or a common mind, both the intensity of the debate and the politics surrounding its adoption, as well as the significantly divided vote, indicate at most a majority view not a consensus; and had the resolution been divided and voted on clause by clause, I am convinced that the vote on certain of them would have been even closer. Had it not been for the countervailing weight provided by the promise of "listening," I have no doubt that some who ended up voting for the resolution would have opposed it. We are now 10 years on and I do not believe the same resolution would have been adopted by as wide a margin.

So our present divisions come from moving beyond the issues upon which we do have consensus by raising particular items of pastoral theology to the level of dogmatic theology. And, for those who have raised the issue, it isn't about Scripture (one of Huntington's four points) or even primarily the authority of Scripture, but the interpretation of Scripture, and the weight the church chooses to give to those interpretations (which is really what authority means as a fact on the ground.)

Ultimately it comes down to the principles around which consensus will be centered. It is always "consensus on or about what?" Approximately half of the Anglican Communion does not see the sexuality issue as Communion-dividing, even among some who do not agree on a progressive trend on that topic. The other half do see this as worth dividing over --- some more permanently than others.

So there is no consensus even on whether this is a matter over which we must divide.

Can we maintain some form of Communion in spite of that lack of consensus on these particular issues? Do we even have a consensus that an Anglican Communion (as it has long been understood — a fellowship of autonomous provinces or churches in communion with the see of Canterbury) ought to continue? Those who think we can't or shouldn't, won't. Those who are willing to accommodate each other will.

The question — as with marriage — isn't, how do you hold together when you agree? It is, how do you remain together when you don't agree? Those who think, misunderstanding Amos, that you cannot remain together unless you agree (KJV; Hebr: make an appointment), appear to be making their choice to walk apart. They do not want to remain together "for better, for worse" but only when all agree with them on all on which they alone deem agreement to be vital.

The Communion and the church cannot long survive such self-fulfilling prophets. Only those committed to each other with a depth of toleration and charity — in spite of disagreements — will form the basis of the future Anglican Communion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


emeritus said...

Amen to your post on WRH, Tobias. I happen this week to be doing a close reading of his A NATIONAL CHURCH (1898). It speaks to many of the issues bedeviling us today, some of which you touch on so effectively in this post. It should be required reading here and across the pond. BTW, it's available online - I have it in my Iphone this week.
Donald Gerardi

Josh Indiana said...

Dailyoffice.org used your Huntington icon today. Hope that's okay.

One does wish for a statesman like him in today's controversies; but in fact, we have one, and she's a laywoman.

Leonard said...

Thank you.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Donald, Josh and Leonardo. Certainly o.k. to circulate the icon -- that's a venerable part of the tradition.

Daniel Weir said...

Huntington became one of heroes when I read that he had been more supportive of his cousin James Otis Sargent Huntingon's monastic call than Fr. Huntington's own brother was. Comprehensiveness!

The Very Rev. Daniel B. Brown said...

You wrote, "Those who think, misunderstanding Amos, that you cannot remain together unless you agree (KJV; Hebr: make an appointment), appear to be making their choice to walk apart." And I thought of those many other instances like it when bad translations were afforded the same authority as good ones. Its like trying to live with people who don't wear the hearing aids prescribed to them yet aren't humble or self aware enough to admit they may have misheard what was said. Sad to think that divorces have been granted for less.