Friends, below are excerpts from the proposal released today by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The more salient bits I have emboldened for your convenience. It is a very interesting document. I think we see in it the pretty definite agenda of Lambeth 2008. I only hope the orthodox in ECUSA can hold together that long. We've got interesting, turbulent days ahead my friends.
You may read the whole thing here.
It is possible – indeed, it is imperative – to give the strongest support to the defence of homosexual people against violence, bigotry and legal disadvantage, to appreciate the role played in the life of the church by people of homosexual orientation, and still to believe that this doesn’t settle the question of whether the Christian Church has the freedom, on the basis of the Bible, and its historic teachings, to bless homosexual partnerships as a clear expression of God’s will. That is disputed among Christians, and, as a bare matter of fact, only a small minority would answer yes to the question.
Unless you think that social and legal considerations should be allowed to resolve religious disputes – which is a highly risky assumption if you also believe in real freedom of opinion in a diverse society – there has to be a recognition that religious bodies have to deal with the question in their own terms. Arguments have to be drawn up on the common basis of Bible and historic teaching. And, to make clear something that can get very much obscured in the rhetoric about ‘inclusion’, this is not and should never be a question about the contribution of gay and lesbian people as such to the Church of God and its ministry, about the dignity and value of gay and lesbian people. Instead it is a question, agonisingly difficult for many, as to what kinds of behaviour a Church that seeks to be loyal to the Bible can bless, and what kinds of behaviour it must warn against – and so it is a question about how we make decisions corporately with other Christians, looking together for the mind of Christ as we share the study of the Scriptures.
And this is where the real issue for Anglicans arises. How do we as Anglicans deal with this issue ‘in our own terms’? And what most Anglicans worldwide have said is that it doesn’t help to behave as if the matter had been resolved when in fact it hasn’t.
The recent resolutions of the General Convention have not produced a complete response to the challenges of the Windsor Report...
[Saying that they are out of full communion with ECUSA, some Anglican Churches are] saying that, whatever the presenting issue, no member Church can make significant decisions unilaterally and still expect this to make no difference to how it is regarded in the fellowship; this would be uncomfortably like saying that every member could redefine the terms of belonging as and when it suited them. Some actions – and sacramental actions in particular - just do have the effect of putting a Church outside or even across the central stream of the life they have shared with other Churches. It isn’t a question of throwing people into outer darkness, but of recognising that actions have consequences – and that actions believed in good faith to be ‘prophetic’ in their radicalism are likely to have costly consequences.
But let’s suppose that there isn’t that level of clarity about the significance of some divisive issue. If we do still believe that unity is generally a way of coming closer to revealed truth (‘only the whole Church knows the whole Truth’ as someone put it), we now face some choices about what kind of Church we as Anglicans are or want to be.
The Church worldwide is not simply the sum total of local communities. It has a cross-cultural dimension that is vital to its health and it is naïve to think that this can survive without some structures to make it possible.
The basic challenge that practically all the churches worldwide, of whatever denomination, so often have to struggle with is, ‘Are we joining together in one act of Holy Communion, one Eucharist, throughout the world, or are we just celebrating our local identities and our personal preferences?’
The reason Anglicanism is worth bothering with is because it has tried to find a way of being a Church that is neither tightly centralised nor just a loose federation of essentially independent bodies – a Church that is seeking to be a coherent family of communities meeting to hear the Bible read, to break bread and share wine as guests of Jesus Christ, and to celebrate a unity in worldwide mission and ministry. That is what the word ‘Communion’ means for Anglicans, and it is a vision that has taken clearer shape in many of our ecumenical dialogues.
But what our Communion lacks is a set of adequately developed structures which is able to cope with the diversity of views that will inevitably arise in a world of rapid global communication and huge cultural variety. The tacit conventions between us need spelling out – not for the sake of some central mechanism of control but so that we have ways of being sure we’re still talking the same language, aware of belonging to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ. It is becoming urgent to work at what adequate structures for decision-making might look like. We need ways of translating this underlying sacramental communion into a more effective institutional reality...
The idea of a 'covenant' between local Churches... is one method that has been suggested, and it seems to me the best way forward. It is necessarily an 'opt-in' matter. Those Churches that were prepared to take this on as an expression of their responsibility to each other would limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness; and some might not be willing to do this. We could arrive at a situation where there were 'constituent' Churches in covenant in the Anglican Communion and other 'churches in association', which were still bound by historic and perhaps personal links, fed from many of the same sources, but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion, and not sharing the same constitutional structures. The relation would not be unlike that between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, for example. The 'associated' Churches would have no direct part in the decision making of the 'constituent' Churches...
...we need closer and more visible formal commitments to each other. And it is not going to look exactly like anything we have known so far. Some may find this unfamiliar future conscientiously unacceptable, and that view deserves respect. But if we are to continue to be any sort of 'Catholic' church, if we believe that we are answerable to something more than our immediate environment and its priorities and are held in unity by something more than just the consensus of the moment, we have some very hard work to do to embody this more clearly. The next Lambeth Conference ought to address this matter directly and fully as part of its agenda.
Being an Anglican in the way I have sketched... provides at least for ways of sharing responsibility and making decisions that will hold and that will be mutually intelligible. No-one can impose the canonical and structural changes that will be necessary. All that I have said above should make it clear that the idea of an Archbishop of Canterbury resolving any of this by decree is misplaced, however tempting for many. The Archbishop of Canterbury presides and convenes in the Communion, and may do what this document attempts to do, which is to outline the theological framework in which a problem should be addressed; but he must always act collegially, with the bishops of his own local Church and with the primates and the other instruments of communion.