Monday, July 27, 2009

Whimpers from across the ocean

A number of literary sayings crossed my mind when I saw that the Archbishop of Canterbury has (finally, today) issued a statement in response to the actions of the Episcopal Church's General Convention, which ended ten days ago. The first thought that came to me was a paraphrase of T.S. Eliot's line, "This is the way the Communion dies, not with a bang but a whimper." Because, although I pray that I am wrong, there isn't nearly enough in Rowan Williams' statement to reassure me that this isn't the Anglican Communion's fate. Indeed, the very weakness (and studied ambiguity) of Dr. Williams' statement may be a factor in pushing the Communion toward that end.

Regarding the Archbishop's delay in issuing his response, I have no doubt that he has spent most of the past ten days laboring and consulting with trusted advisers on this statement. It might well be the defining statement of his career. But when it comes to the actual effect this statement might have on the Communion he is supposed to lead, the saying that comes to mind is, "The mountain labored and brought forth a mouse." The statement is thoroughly considered, carefully crafted, finely nuanced--and, in the end, says very little and accomplishes even less.

When a sizable majority in both houses of the Episcopal Church's General Convention passed resolutions ending restraint in the matter of consecrating non-celibate homosexuals to the episcopate and agreeing to provide a "generous pastoral response" (i.e., blessing marriages) for gay and lesbian couples, it was not a matter of making merely hypothetical statements. There are bishops and deputies who are coming away from the General Convention intending to act on those resolutions.

There is nothing in Rowan Williams' statement that would deter those in the liberal camp from acting on those resolutions; and his words are cold comfort to conservatives who have been deeply wounded by their passage, and who will be further wounded and alienated when their intent is carried out.

To be sure, the statement from Canterbury could say something. When Rowan starts down the path of "there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance" it could mean that his relationship to the Episcopal church has suffered damage, just as the fabric of the Communion has been torn by the Episcopal church's unilateral actions. It could even mean that he is going to turn around next week and recognize the Anglican Church in North America and/or the Communion Partner dioceses as a separate ecclesial reality. It could mean all that--but I would be astounded if it did.

Of course, the Covenant to which Rowan alludes could be in place and could be already defining the "Anglican Future" with which Rowan seems concerned. Except that--oh, my--Rowan himself saw to it that the Covenant didn't make it out of the Jamaica conference, but was given to the Joint Standing Committee, from which it will almost certainly emerge as a gelding and not a stallion.

On second thought, I am going to go back to my first thought: This is the way the Communion dies, not with a bang but a whimper.


Kip Ashmore said...

Dean Munday - While I can certainly understand your response, I would offer a different take that I think needs, at least, to be considered. The critiques of the ABC's statement I've read accuse him of not doing enough to either change the mind or force the hand of the Episcopal Church. Having read nearly everything he has written in the past few years, I would suggest that he has no intention of trying to change the mind of the dominant leadership of TEC. Rather, I would suggest, he is laying out very clearly that TEC's direction leads to a place where it will be, at best, in a diminished status with regard to the Anglican Communion. This lays the groundwork for those who would gladly embrace the Convenant to be fully and truly embedded in the Anglican Communion whose identity is grounded in the Covenant. I don't think the ABC is quite as dumb, wimpy or heterodox as some would portray him. Rather, I think that because of who he is and because of his temperment, he acts in an extremely cautious way, seeking not to throw anyone overboard as long as there is the faintest possibility of some sort of reconciliation. I would caution the more vehement detracters of ABC Williams to consider the possibility that he is a man of careful prayer and realizes the weight of his office, and to not be so quick to demonize him because he's not doing what they think should be done. Anyway, I think it least deserves some thought, rather than merely reaction.
Kip Ashmore
Jacksonville, IL

Robert S. Munday said...

Kip, Thank you for your comment. After reading some other analyses of Rowan's statement I have had reason to think that my initial reaction was overly pessimistic. You are right that, if Rowan is going to put TEC in a diminished status, this is the kind of statement that would lay the ground work for doing so. It is just that, based on past experience, I am less than fully confident that his words will indeed be followed by action.

Anglican Beach Party said...

I think your use of the T.S. Eliot quote is very apt.

As over against what Kip Ashmore wrote in his comment: While I do not think the ABC is dumb or heterodox, I think he is extraordinarily (World Class, in fact) wimpy.

His failure to act decisively has been and will be very injurious to the Anglican Communion.