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The End of (the) Communion? (ii): So where are we now?

Andrew Goddard writes: Building on my earlier reading of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s contributions about Communion life, this article explores the ecclesiological questions that are important, and currently intertwined with, the questions relating to sexuality that tend to dominate discussion. 

It argues that although all wish for unity and communion there are currently two main competing visions of the end of communion in terms of its goal or purpose: 

the traditional vision of Communion Catholicity which is an ecumenically shared vision;
and a vision of Autonomous Inclusivism where provincial autonomy is central. 
The account of the Communion offered to the Conference by the Archbishop does not articulate that of Communion Catholicity and appears perilously close to that of Autonomous Inclusivism. If this is now the end (in sense of destiny and goal) it would entail the end (in sense of destruction) of the Communion as it has developed and understood itself because it embraces provincially driven pluralism while sidelining or abandoning the quest to be of one mind which I argue is part of the biblical calling of the church. 

By contrast, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) are firmly committed to Communion Catholicity as well as to traditional teaching on sexuality. The question is whether the Archbishop of Canterbury and IASCUFO can now work with the Global South to enable the current Instruments to be “reset” and return to seeking the historic goal of “Communion Catholicity” or whether we are seeing the end of the Communion as we have known it.

In my previous article I tried to examine what the Archbishop of Canterbury was saying in his letter and speech of Tuesday. I did so in relation to both sexuality as regards the status of Lambeth I.10 and the reality of the Communion’s life. I argued that while there was much of value there were also important areas which lacked clarity. Above all, there was an ecclesiological deficit in each area leaving us with key questions—“what bearing, if any, does the continued “validity” of I.10 have on the ordering of the life of the Communion?” and “is the reality of “a plurality of views” in the Communion no longer the ecclesiological problem it has been in the past and if so what does that mean for our working ecclesiology as a communion and in our ecumenical relationships?”

This latter ecclesiological question is one which, “given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces” (Call on Human Dignity, 2.3, p.15) has hung over the Communion for decades and which Archbishop Robert Runcie clearly set out back at the 1988 Conference:

There are real and serious threats to our unity and communion…The problem that confronts us as Anglicans arises..from the relationship of independent provinces with each other…The New Testament surely speaks more in terms of interdependence than independence…Are we being called though events and theological interpretation to move from independence to interdependence…Let me put it in starkly simple terms: do we really want unity within the Anglican Communion? Is our worldwide family of Christians worth bonding together? Or is our paramount concern the preservation or promotion of that particular expression of Anglicanism which has developed within the culture of our own province?…I believe we still need the Anglican Communion but we have reached the stage in the growth of the Communion when we must begin to make radical choices, or growth will imperceptibly turn to decay. I believe the choice between independence and interdependence, already set before us as a Communion in embryo twenty-five years ago, is quite simply the choice between unity or gradual fragmentation… (The Truth Shall Make You Free, pp. 14-17).

In its current manifestation this challenge brings us back, again, to the question of how different teachings in relation to marriage and sexuality are related to different ecclesiological visions. As I set out in an article earlier in the Conference (drawing on two of my previous and fuller discussions and also two pieces in 2006 and 2008 by Graham Kings) this has been a constant and divisive question since at least The Windsor Report. One way of seeking to understand it is by representing different viewpoints on a quadrant created by axes mapping a spectrum of views on sexuality (the x-axis in relation to I.10) and on ecclesiology (the y-axis relating to support or rejection of the Windsor/Covenant vision of life in communion).


The End of (the) Communion? (i) What has been said?

Andrew Goddard writes: On Tuesday at the Lambeth Conference there were a number of significant developments in relation to the questions of sexuality and ecclesiology. The Global South, headed by Archbishop Justin Badi of South Sudan, issued a resolution in relation to Lambeth I.10 with a covering explanatory letter. Archbishop Justin Welby also issued a letter to the bishops and then spoke, providing more details, at the beginning of the session on the controversial Call on Human Dignity. His speech clearly had a major impact on the gathering which gave him a standing ovation. From within the Church of England Bishop Jill Duff wrote that “As he spoke, it felt like there was a heaviness of the presence of the Spirit of God in the room” and Bishop Sophie Jelley tweeted,

From Canada, Bishop Jenny Andison, a conservative bishop, was reported as saying, “He shared the pain and the agony on both sides of the issue, all across the Communion. He helped us see each other. People experienced being felt and heard by our chief pastor of the Anglican Communion, and I think that was a gift.”

There is, however, a degree of confusion about what exactly has been said, what it means, and what its implications are for the Communion and then for the Living in Love and Faith process in the Church of England. A significant number of people read it as marking a major shift in the Communion’s previous position into a more “inclusive” stance effectively authorising a range of views. Presiding Bishop of the American church, Bishop Michael Curry, gave voice to this in a video where he highlighted the Call they were discussing and summarised its content in these words: 

We in the Anglican Communion live with a plurality of views on marriage, that there is what might be called the traditional view of marriage between a man and a woman…but that there is another view equally to be respected, a view that includes and embraces same-sex couples who seek the blessing of God on their loving relationships, their commitments, and their families. My friends, I’ve been a bishop 22 years, been a priest over 40 years, and I have to tell you that, as far as I know, that is the first time a document in the Anglican Communion has recognised that there is a plurality of view on marriage…That’s why I say today is a hopeful day.

From New Zealand, Bishop Peter Carrell wrote

Somewhat tentatively, it is possible that today marks a moment in Anglican Communion history in which we have formally recognised that we are a Communion with plural understandings on marriage and human sexuality.

Both of these bishops welcomed this claimed development but others agreed with their interpretation but lamented it: 

All of today’s relentless spin by the Lambeth team, cannot disguise the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury, unilaterally declared human sexuality to be adiaphora – ‘a thing indifferent’. Plural truth now reigns, there is no prospect of a resolution of the issue in the future and there will be no attempt to do so.

In what follows I will try to explore what the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote and consider whether this is the best—perhaps only—possible understanding. In a subsequent article I will consider what all this might mean for the Communion and for the Church of England.

Wealth becomes a rival god in Luke 12 video discussion

The lectionary reading for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity in Year C is the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12.13–21. It is one of several parables that is unique to Luke, and includes features that connect it with other Lukan parables.

Ian and James discuss the details of the text—and the way that is continues to offer a remarkable contemporary challenge to culture, faith, and discipleship.