August 27, 2009

Failing Solomon's Test

The Hebrew scripture reading at Morning Prayer today was the account of Solomon's test of the two women who both claimed to be mothers of the sole surviving child in their household. When Solomon gave the order that the child be cut in two, the true mother, moved by pity, was willing to let the other woman have the living child. This revealed her identity and Solomon's wisdom.

When it comes to dividing the Anglican Communion I think we are dealing with a similar situation — though a less lethal one: that is, even if divided, some sort of Anglican Communion, or a split-level Anglican Communion, or perhaps two distinct Anglican Communions (each claiming the title) will continue to exist; hampered in mission, diminished in scope, but still able to say, with Monty Python's medieval peasant, "I'm not dead yet."

Where I see greater resonance with this impressive episode in Solomon's reign is the similarity of certain voices from the edges to the voice of the not-mother of the child, "Let it be divided!"

To be blunt, the far right represented by GAFCON has already moved on the division and is unlikely to recant short of a change in leadership and a change of heart. They do not wish to be part of an entity that fails to live up to their standards, and are confident that they represent the vital body while those they oppose are a tumor or a gangrenous limb, to be removed not simply as a matter of convenience but in order to preserve the life of the body.

But to be fair, there are also voices on the far left of the progressive end of the spectrum who have been equally vehement in their rejection of continued unity if it is going to mean any hesitation in or denial of adopting what they see as righteous, good, and just. "Let the schismatics go!" is the watchword; or even more extremely, "We don't need no stinking Communion..." (or words to that effect.)

Somewhere in the midst of all of this are those who see a virtue in unity even if it is an imperfect unity; who see virtue in staying together even if it means a lack of clear consensus; who see a value in compromise even if it means everyone not being entirely satisfied.
And this is where I once again return to my appeal for patience, a laissez-faire attitude, and honoring the provincial autonomy of the member churches of the Communion. For there are many provinces in the Communion who are willing to live with anomalies taking place in other provinces — not all are insistent that all must do as they do in all things.

We are not, after all, a world-church — which is simply a statement of fact, not an effort to short-circuit what might emerge as a world-church after a considerable period of time.The proposed Covenant — more proposed than a covenant at this point! — may find ways, one hopes particularly Anglican ways, of fostering our unity without undercutting our traditional liberty in matters of rites and ceremonies and, more importantly, the relationships and ministries for which those rites and ceremonies are designed, and which they institute and support.

The majority of provinces in the Communion appear willing to engage in this process of exploration, listening, and reflection: respectful of others' actions without the need to approve those actions. This seems to me to be on adult and mature manner of working.

And I do not think it takes a Solomon to see the wisdom of such an approach.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


WSJM said...

As usual, Tobias, you are right, and wise! (Perhaps even wiser than Solomon, who, after all, pretty much went downhill after the ruling on the two mothers!) One of the things we hear a lot about is that "most" of the Anglican Communion thinks the TEC and the ACC have gone way off the track. I'd be interested to know the source of these statistics. (I didn't realize that questions of moral theology and theological anthropology were up for popular vote!) And my guess is that most Anglican lay people (in, e.g., West Africa or East Africa, who indeed number many millions) have very little knowledge about, or even any interest in, the "Anglican Wars." One of the ways one can win a war is to defeat one's enemy. Another is not to call anyone an enemy and simply to refuse to fight.

MarkBrunson said...

Sorry, but the analogy doesn't hold. Solomon didn't ask which woman would give up her soul! Solomon didn't ask either of the women to go out and kill another's child to prove their worth! Solomon certainly didn't tell the woman who didn't get the child to pay for the child's upkeep!

No. This "communion" is not longer a living or worthwhile thing. We must seek other partners in ministry, realizing that the old superstition of ecclesial unity is not the Communion of which Christ spoke.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Bill. In much of GAFCON you have a strong-leader model in which it is presumed that the leader speaks for all of the members. When our native opponents point to Nigeria, for instance, and say the 40 million Anglicans there can't be wrong, I note that they presume that the Archbishop accurately represents all of their voices; and that they themselves do not apply that same rule to our own Primate -- whom many of them reject out of hand.

One of the high-points of GC was the address from "other voices" from the Global South -- and Dr Jenny Te Paa noted explicitly that there are many voices not being heard -- particularly women's voices.

This is why, Mark, I'm not quite prepared to declare the patient dead yet. The future I see is an Anglican Communion without (perhaps) four or five of the present provinces as active members, but with the rest of the communion willing to continue to work together more or less as we always have. The only "Covenant" I see being adopted will be only very slightly more structured than our present less formal fellowship. In fact, I think you can chart "strictness of Covenant" against "likelihood of adoption" pretty much in an inverse relationship -- and that goes across the board.

My reason for hoping the communion survives is not for the benefit of TEC, but for the good of those people who are stuck in the Global South under the harsh governance of some (at least) who are betraying the gospel for the sake of a cultural morality.

Of course, I have confidence that things will change with time -- probably within this generation, certainly within the next; and it is because I have that confident hope that I press on, not wanting to lose (to mix metaphors) the baby with the bathwater.

Nor am I suggesting that TEC adopt the suggested "moratoria" -- but rather press on to help others in the communion understand that our actions need not be experienced as "unilateral" attacks upon them. I have already seen too much change and willingness to move forward together in respectful disagreement to declare that no further work can accomplish anything. Don't be fooled by the screams of horror from the rabid right. They are loud, but they do not represent the real vitality of the church, or the communion.

Brother David said...

King Solomon undoubtedly did not wish to see the child harmed, but the not-so-Solomon-like ABC seems very willing to wield the knife himself! Even if but to cut off a limb or so for the second tier.

June Butler said...

Tobias, you know my position on the convnant. I'm agin it. But I wonder if that equates to wanting to discontinue in unity with other Anglican and Episcopal churches. I see a virtue in unity. I pray we remain a part of the Anglican Communion, but that depends on the conditions attached. I am not willing to maintain unity at any cost.

Anyone who wishes may "engage in this process of exploration, listening, and reflection: respectful of others' actions without the need to approve those actions". I've engaged with the draft of the covenant, and I don't like it. For me, further engagement seems a waste of time, but if others wish to do so, that's okay by me.

TEC can't sign anything until 2012, unless the ABC opens the incomplete draft for individual dioceses (and perhaps even parishes) in TEC to adopt. And that will be a mess on a grand scale and meddling of the worst kind.

I don't see that being against the covenant means that I no longer want to be part of the AC. Am I missing something?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mimi, I think you are describing exactly what Rowan is talking about at the end of his recent Reflections: the two-track model -- both still part of the Anglican Communion, but one agreeing to be under some kind of covenant, and the rest not. I think that's where we're heading whatever form the Covenant takes.

I'm not against the idea of a covenant, but I would rather it be more like a common rule of life each province agrees to follow than a super-structure governing body. That's why I suggest revisiting how the Benedictines managed to be so successful as a world-wide Order without a central government. Each "house" agrees to follow the same basic rule, implemented locally. IN some sense, that's the way we've worked but "unconsciously" in the sense that we never had a document we could point to, even the BCP being adapted. The Lambeth Quad was a similar idea, but perhaps not fulsome enough to prove sufficient.

But as to being part of the AC -- if TEC were to leave or be kicked out (neither is likely) TEC would continue in its relations with other churches, both Anglican and Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, etc.; but the Anglican Communion would be forever changed, having lost one of its major "constitutents."

June Butler said...

Mimi, I think you are describing exactly what Rowan is talking about at the end of his recent Reflections: the two-track model....

But that's NOT what I want. That's what Rowan wants, and he may have the power to make it happen. I surely don't have the power to stop it, but I think the two-track concept is a great mistake. Whatever happens to the covenant, Rowan wants a first and second class membership in the Anglican Communion, seemingly divided into the pure and the impure, with TEC in the impure second class. However, our money will not be too dirty to accept.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Mimi, I invite you to re-read paragraphs 22-26 of Rowan's reflections. He is trying to be very clear that the "two tracks" do not represent any greater or lesser membership in the Communion, but only "ways of working" within it. Those who want to be covenant bound will be covenant bound. What Rowan really "wants" is for all to sign on to a Covenenant, but he realizes that ain't gonna happen, so he lays out what he thinks will -- which doesn't include dividing the Communion, but allowing those who covenant to work in ways different from those who don't. And that, to me sounds like what you are saying, if you want to be part of the Communion but not under the Covenant. It is not a question of "class" or "pure or impure" -- Rowan explicitly rejects that -- it is a question of polity or governance and modes of relationship. Some will remain in the kind of structure by which the Anglican Communion has heretofore functioned; others will choose this new more tightly bound model -- the only real difference is the "bound" folk will be able to speak ecumenically with a common voice -- and remember, that is one of Rowan's big concerns. But as I don't really care about speaking with a common voice to Rome (as I know Rome is only interested in one model of ecumenism -- "come home wandering children") I'm happy to be in the other track, and don't see it as a "second class" status at all.

Finally, I think it is vital to try to understand Rowan without the various lenses of the far right or left -- he really is a quirky individual in many ways; I think misguided in some; overly hopeful in others (his romance for Rome); but he is earnestly trying to find ways to move forward, even if his way is, to our mind, tortuously slow or unlikely to succeed.

June Butler said...

Tobias, I had already read the paragraphs to which you refer at least three times, but I read them again at your request. Whatever Rowan's vision of the two-track is, I can't say. So far as I can see, he is not a reality-based person. To me, what Rowan writes is pure BS, because the reality will be two classes of membership, in two "churches" no less, as he calls them. Many of us in TEC have no desire to be in a world wide church, whichever track it follows.

How are these words not an assignment to a second class position?

If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

The reality will be first and second class status, however much Rowan desires or protests otherwise. I respect the person and the office of Rowan Williams, but I find too many of his words deeply offensive, and I am less ans less inclined to take his words seriously.

One wonders if Rowan will make provision for those "elements" in the Church of England who do not want to sign on to the covenant, as he seems so concerned to do for those "elements" in the US who want to sign on to the covenant, as he already anticipates TEC will not, although that is no sure thing.

Of course, our relationships with other churches will continue, whatever happens with the covenant or the AC, and that is all to the good.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Mimi, just to take the example you cite: what Rowan is talking about is talking with Rome. Rowan is reacting to Rome saying, "Who's in charge with you Anglicans? How can we have dialogue with the Anglican Communion if you don't have a unified policy on, say, the ordination of women to the episcopate?" (Now, of course, I know that whether we had a unified position on WO it wouldn't matter to Rome, as they're agin it whoever does it.) But this is what Rowan is reacting to, and that is all he is talking about concerning the two tracks. Ecumenical ventures will involve those who agree to a covenant that binds signatories to common rules concerning topics likely to come up in those ecumenical dialogues. The "covenant Anglicans" will have someone to speak for them, but the non-covenant Anglicans will be able to speak for themselves. No one is in a "second class" situation -- it's just like it's always been except for the "covenant" types being bound to their common spokesperson. Not something I prefer, and to my mind a lesser position to be in, not a stronger one. So why should I take offense at that?

I agree with you that this is Rowan's chimera, his false dream towards Rome, but this is Rowan's concern. I don't find it offensive that Rowan wants to talk to Rome, while we're busy talking with the Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians, etc, because all of those churches (except the Moravians) are not "world-churches" -- they are "national and particular churches" just like us, just like the provinces of the Anglican Communion are and will be until and unless something like a covenant changes things. So, again, I see what Rowan wants as a step backwards towards a less truly Anglican model.

But he intends no offense, and it is in my power to take none.

June Butler said...

Tobias, we could go on for a good long time with this back and forth, but this is my last word. If you could only know how little I care that Rome thinks we don't speak with one voice. Let Rowan care. What's unfortunate is that his concern with Rome will, very likely, affect me.

I well know that Rowan means no offense, but his words have been offensive to me. Perhaps I have that wrong, but, for now, that's the way it is. I take what he says with a grain of salt.

It seems to me that he's more concerned with Rome than with fellow members of the AC. Always eyes on Rome. They don't even accept his priestly orders, for heaven's sake.

I love you my friend, Tobias, but I bow out of this discussion. I thank you for going this far with me.

Daniel Weir said...

I think Mark Harris gets it right when he says that what is important in the Anglican Communion is relationships and not structures. I pray that whatever structures are created will not stand in the way of relationships.
I understand the concern that some have about ecumenical relationships. The practice in many places of open communion has created, I am told, some confusion in ecumenical dialog. However, Dr. Williams does understand that the Anglican tradition does not lend itself to speaking with one voice on a number of important issues, e.g., the ordination of women. He is certainly skilled enough to describe to partners in ecumenical conversations the diversity of convictions on these issues.

Anglocat said...

Tobias, I believe that you have Rowan's intention correctly, but that, in terms of impact and perception on and among the Communion, Mimi has the better of the argument. Rowan's claim, for example, that "[i]t should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated," is charming, but to call it naive to the point of being risible is charitable. The Covenenant is already being used as a club, and as a way of arguing that TEC is not the Anglican porovince in the US, and it hasn't even been adopted yet.

Which is not to say I disagree with you, in terms of what steps to take. The facts are as they are, and I do believe that we should not walk away--for all the moral and theological reasons you have pointed out.

Moreover, we have received one thing from the ABC; Williams has acknowledged that the Covenant is a change in the status quo, which blunts the quasi-legal claim some ACNA supporters have made that we have been expelled, and thus are no longer Anglican. Not at all; we have simply declined to "intensify" our relationship with the Covenanters.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Daniel, I think that is in part what I'm getting at -- and what Rowan is getting at: whatever the structures, relationships will continue, though the structures may make for some novel difficulties.

Anglocat, that is what I am trying to distinguish here: intent versus effect. In all my comments on Rowan's reflections, I've tried to tease the two apart. I think much of the negative reaction to Rowan from the progressive side is due to the spin given to him by the reactionary side. Rowan may well be suffering the fate of all who try to stand in the middle of the road -- getting hit by traffic going both ways.

And you stress one of the most important things about Rowan's comments: the acknowledgment that the Covenant (esp. as part four stands) is a profound change of direction for Anglicanism, not a mere refinement; and his clear statement that whether ACNA or CANA type groups or individual dioceses may be able to sign on is not a settled question does remove from them the capacity to make such claims as they have with any credibility -- or, more importantly, legal effect. This alone should help in the reversal of the Virginia case -- there has been no authorized "division" in the Anglican Communion or TEC -- and there will be no such recognition until some time after 2012, if then.

MarkBrunson said...

Well, Tobias, good luck with that. But, remember what they say about doing the same thing and expecting different results. :)

Davis said...

How can any of us not take the prayer of Jesus - "that they may be one" - seriously? It's not about me and my church - but about _all_ of us.

MarkBrunson said...


It just seems a bit childish to believe "being one" means being one ecclesial structure.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Mark,
Actually I think the "results" indicate slow progress; so I'm not ready to give up at this point. In some sense, as Mark Harris noted recently in a beautiful post, quoting Phillip K Dick, "We have already won. We have always already won."

And Davis, Yes -- that's it exactly. But we are not "one" through the institution but in the Person. The Church has always existed as a kind of federation of local congregations, sometimes with regional centralization, but never with a single universal institutional center. So the church's unity does not depend upon such a fantastic idealism, but on the real working together of the separate organs that go to make up the body, whose head is Christ. (After all, that's the NT vision -- not the Roman Imperial model imported into Christianity after the Constantinian settlement...)

Davis said...

I'm not sure it's childish, but I agree with Tobias, and just running off in our own directions, ignoring (or worse fighting with) one another, isn't sufficiently - one.

Erika Baker said...

Being one isn't something we can decide to be or reject to be. It is determined by the fact that we're all children of the same God, that we are all Christians.

Brothers and sisters can live together, live apart, get on or fight all their lives. That does not determine their status as being part of one family because they share the same parents. It is simply illogical to say "you're not my brother any longer". You can stop treating someone like your brother, but you cannot unmake that core link between you.

You could even argue that, if their squabbles have turned them into people who merely focus on their relationship with each other, they have already lost that sense of oneness before God, who should be the sole focus. And that living in different houses and learning to concentrate on what truly matters is a positive step forward towards the oneness that concentrating on God should be about.

MarkBrunson said...

Then, we'll never be one, because there is always going to be those who don't wish to do as we do or believe as we do. If that's the case, Jesus, who came that we might be one, might as well not have bothered.

MarkBrunson said...


If you're looking at results only in TEC or ACoC, you may be right. Simply saying "We've already won," reminds me a great deal of "Mission accomplished!"