As the bishops of the Anglican Communion disembark from their flights and return to their dioceses, there is a danger that some will rub their eyes, and realise that however great the party was, there has been a price to pay.
In an off the cuff remark, at one of the Press Conferences, the Archbishop of Canterbury joked that something he had said was, “Typically English – frightfully polite and absolutely ruthless.”
The key meeting of the Lambeth Conference took place behind closed doors on Tuesday afternoon. The bishops were assembled to discuss the Human Dignity Call. We don’t know what anyone else said, but we have been given the script of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments – which were described by one Canadian bishop, as “a masterclass in change-management”.
In his speech he compared the views that deeply divide the church:
First, he spoke of the, “large majority of the Anglican Communion” for whom the “traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, accepted and without question, not only by Bishops but their entire Church, and the societies in which they live. For them to question this teaching is unthinkable…”
Then he spoke of the minority, saying “They have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature. For them, to question this different teaching is unthinkable…”
Get it? This is a debate between unthinking traditionalists and unblinking theologians. Very politely, but one may say utterly ruthlessly, the Archbishop of Canterbury has painted a picture of primitive, unquestioning, traditionalists, who reflect their culture, in contrast to the deeply prayerful, intellectual progressives, who have studied the scriptures.
The assumption, of course, is that eventually the immature, unscientific laggards will eventually grow-up and catch-up.
The assumption is wrong, as one archbishop of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) said with a knowing look, “Do they think we are children?”
One way that the Archbishop of Canterbury could answer that question is by thinking the unthinkable:
What about a Anglican Communion which agreed that:
- it is desirable that membership of the Anglican Communion no longer be defined by relationship with the See of Canterbury?
- the numbers in the GSFA/Gafcon justify their Primates selecting the next Primus Inter Pares (PIP)?
- whoever is the PIP, the Primates acting together, do have the executive power to discipline errant and unrepentant provinces – by excluding them from all Anglican Communion bodies, activities etc –and that all will take all necessary steps to ensure that was enforced?
- the four Instruments of Communion should be abolished and replaced with the type of structures anticipated by the Cairo Covenant also known as the “Proposal for Enhanced Ecclesial Responsibility”?
- episcopal (and any other) representation at Anglican Communion events, however structured, should be broadly proportional to provincial Average Sunday Attendance?
- the Anglican Church of North America, Anglican Church in Brazil, Anglican Network in Europe, Church of Confessing Anglicans, Aotearoa, New Zealand and any other such ecclesial structures recognised by the Primates of Gafcon or GSFA are full members of the Anglican Communion?
For anyone not committed to preserving what Justin Welby is said to call the “hangover” of Empire, could any of this be objectionable, if it is what the vast majority of the Anglican Communion would prefer?