Six resolutions for Lambeth 2020

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Lambeth 2020 logo.jpg

Andrew Goddard’s recent article on the challenges facing the next Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Communion bears careful repeated readings, especially by Communion leaders and those planning the conference. His concerns and warnings — particularly that the conference’s current ordering is likely to lead to further conflict and fragmentation — are sobering and convincing.

His suggestion of a solution is also persuasive. Goddard asks Anglicans both to accept the reality of our divided doctrinal and pastoral witness — that is, the variously broken character of our Communion — and to reorder our collegial gatherings on this basis more honestly and pragmatically. Hence, he commends the broad direction of several proposals already made by others: that there be a kind of twofold conference. First, a general and non-deliberative gathering in conference that includes all bishops across current lines of impaired communion; and then a subsequent deliberative and smaller gathering among those whose communion with each other remains more fully embodied.

I strongly agree with Goddard’s arguments and suggestions. Getting from A to B, however, is not an easy thing to do. Goddard’s radical rethink of our Communion’s common ordering may well require some time to effect. And in the meantime, there will be a Lambeth Conference in 2020 of one kind or another. In order, at least, to lay the foundation for moving in the direction Goddard and others propose, I think it behooves Lambeth 2020 at least to adopt some simple resolutions, including the following six:

1. This Conference reaffirms the 1998 Resolution I.10.

2. Those bishops and churches who contradict or contravene this affirmation (I.10), or who punish others on the basis of such an affirmation, stand outside the boundaries of Anglican teaching and witness as this Conference understands it.

3. We request that other Communion Instruments of Unity pursue their work on the basis of this teaching and witness.

4. We recognize the missionary and pastoral integrity of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and its related member churches; and we urge serious deliberation, locally and at the international level, over how these churches can be integrated fully into the life of the Communion.

5. We commit ourselves as bishops to the work of formulating and pursuing extended, coordinated, and coherent formation and catechesis in the Christian faith within our churches and across the Communion.

6. We commit ourselves to gathering again in 10 years, and in the interim to developing ways by which, despite the real differences that divide us, we can fruitfully and honestly engage one another and our service of Christ according to the levels of communion we actually share.

Some explication

Anglicans have prided themselves in ordering their lives synodically, that is, according to deliberative and representative synods or councils. We have done this on diocesan, provincial, and (to some extent) Communion-wide bases. But it turns out that Anglican synodical life has proven increasingly inept, even incapable, to the point that Anglican synodality has become a byword for confusion among some of our ecumenical partners.

Endless resolutions about everything under the sun, superficial deliberation, theologically underfunded debate, undisciplined reflection, the manipulations of party politics, and finally insouciance even to the veneer of constitutional order — while always a part of synodical life from the early Church on, these elements have come to characterize Anglican church counsel in egregiously prominent ways in the past few decades, with the result that conflicts have abounded, resolution has proved impossible, and bitterness, mistrust, and cynicism have spread through the ecclesial system. While the precipitous decline of Anglican churches in the West is no doubt due to a host of reasons, the widely publicized nature of Anglicanism’s synodal deficit has not helped.

As a result of this public reality, Anglican ecclesiology in the past few decades has majored in engaging this one issue: How do we talk to each other and reach faithful agreement? The topic, as we have discovered, is fraught with profound ingredients that go to the heart of the Christian life: how to discern the truth of God, the nature of authority, the nature of judgment, the practice of charity, the character of sacrifice, the form of Christ’s body. These topics do matter, and it is possible that Anglicanism’s peculiar challenges have served to bring into the open, as well as prod into scrutiny, the difficult elements involved in “common life in Christ” that are so important, not only to Anglicans, but to all Christians and even to the wider human society of nation and world. As Anglicans, we can take some measure of encouragement that we are at least struggling with real issues.

But we cannot simply wait until we sort this out. For now we have no other means except synods for making judgments and reaching decisions. We are stuck with this form of life, and we are living it poorly. In such a context, we need to move ahead clearly, but in as simple and limited a form as possible.

The Lambeth Conference cannot afford to decide nothing. By the same token, the Lambeth Conference, in its limited capacity, must decide as little as possible for the time being. And the conference’s few decisions must aim at cleaning up the playing field enough for more responsible discernment and decisions to occur in the future. Before such an imperative, honesty and definition, if not juridical outcome, is what we need.

Hence, I propose just these few resolutions, unencumbered by the kind of theological and strategic debate for which we have thus far, frankly, proven ourselves unready.

1. This Conference reaffirms the 1998 Resolution I.10.

There is no need at this conference to revisit the rationales and counter-arguments about this resolution. It has been reaffirmed several times in other Communion contexts, and in the past 20 years there have been no significant new pieces of information — scriptural, dogmatic, sociological, or medical — that have altered the shape of the theological and pastoral realities surrounding this debate. And the debate has raged unabated, so that it requires no renewed engagement. Let the conference decide.

2. Those bishops and churches who contradict or contravene this affirmation (I.10), or who punish others on the basis of this affirmation, stand outside the boundaries of Anglican teaching and witness as this Conference understands it.

This resolution is aimed solely at definition, for the sake of Anglicans and for the sake of others — Christians and non-Christians — who seek clarity about what the conference means with regard to its identity by making its affirmation regarding I.10. No penalties are proposed; no systems of adjudication are offered.

3. We request that other Communion Instruments of Unity pursue their work on the basis of this teaching and witness.

This resolution marks a simple request for Communion coherence on the matters taken up in I.10. The conference cannot impose its corporate views on other functioning councils or leaders of the Communion (though many will have participated in the conference). But by making it clear that the “understanding of this conference” is one ordered to the unity of Anglican teaching and witness, it lays out some of the parameters according to which any future rethinking of the Communion’s deliberative structures can be measured.

4. We recognize the missionary and pastoral integrity of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and its related member churches; and we urge serious deliberation, locally and at the international level, over how these churches can be integrated fully into the life of the Communion.

This rather practical, though somewhat open-ended, resolution furthers the conference’s vision of unity and, again, its boundaries for future rethinking. The separated organization and ministry of ACNA, bound up with vying sectors of the Communion, was born out of, and further contributed to, the conflicts that remain embedded in the Communion’s life, especially but not only in North America. And it has grown further in the last 10 years, to some extent moving past the issues of its initial formation.

Cleaning up the playing field for the Communion means moving to resolve this painful and variously construed schism. Whatever shared responsibility leaders in ACNA may have in furthering the synodical deficit of the Communion — and they bear some of it, especially in relation to their traditionalist colleagues within the Communion’s North American churches — there are some simple truths that need to be confronted and embraced by the Communion in this regard: ACNA is filled with faithful, devout, missionally zealous, Anglican-saturated, and good Christians. Period. We need each other, and it is a scandal that this separation has been allowed to fester.

Of course, no one can resolve the separation except its participants. The conference can only encourage. But it must do at least this; and indeed, it can do this quite concretely and effectively.

5. We commit ourselves as bishops to the work of formulating and pursuing extended, coordinated, and coherent formation and catechesis in the Christian faith within our churches and across the Communion.

This resolution may seem extraneous to the rather limited concerns of the first four. But if there is a synodical deficit within the Communion — and there is — a large part of it is due to the scattered, incoherent, inconsistent, teaching of the Christian faith that marks our dispersed churches. The very task and work involved in fulfilling this resolution would do much to clarify the lines of association and commitment that any future rejigging of Communion synodality will demand. It may even be converting.

6. We commit ourselves to gathering again in 10 years, and in the interim to developing ways by which, despite the real differences that divide us, we can fruitfully and honestly engage one another and our service of Christ according to the levels of communion we actually share.

This resolution is self-explanatory: it opens up, in an explicit way, the Conference and the Communion to the kind of work that Anglicanism’s future, if it is God’s will, must happily grasp. Whether that future lies in the direction of Goddard’s intimations or something else need not be determined at this stage. There is a Holy Spirit.

Reprinted with the author’s permission from Covenant