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HALIFAX: Chatting with Bishop William Anderson, Bishop of Caledonia. Part 1

HALIFAX: Chatting with Bishop William Anderson, Bishop of Caledonia. Part 1

by David
June 9th, 2010

David: I thought we'd start with something easy: how do you think synod is going so far; what's you general impression?

Bishop William: I'm not sure that's an easy question. There have been things about the synod that I've been impressed with. The conversations in the discussion groups that I've been involved with have been very gracious - people have exercised the discipline of listening and trying to speak honestly. So those are always good things. What I have been less than happy about is that - this is my 3rd General Synod where my sense, speaking personally, is that there has been a tilt one way.

The primate in a couple of his addresses has been very quick to point out issues that support one side in the debate and has been absolutely silent with respect to corresponding issues on the orthodox side. It has left me offended that I don't think he's represented what a number of Anglicans, myself included, believe. I don't begrudge him the right to speak his mind, but if you have a primate of the whole church, you have to represent the whole church and, I'm really sorry to say it, I don't think he's done that.

David: Archbishop Hiltz mentioned the havoc caused by cross-border interventions and didn't mention - and perhaps this is what you're getting at - the fact that cross-border interventions only happened because some parishes simply could not go along with the direction their dioceses were taking.

Bishop William: That is exactly what I'm looking at - that's a very good example. The cross border issues he refers to don't happen in a vacuum. It would have been useful for him to remind the synod of that, in part because, if we're going to make any kind of comment as a synod on the Covenant or on the moratoria, one of the issues that has bedevilled the church is the fact there have been violations on both sides. It isn't helpful for any bishop to ignore one half of the reality of what seems to be going on. Bishops are supposed to reflect, for the church, the whole reality that the church has to deal with. Yes, bishops need to be prepared to take a position on issues, but the primate's a bit different: the primate is the chair of the House of Bishops, but he's not our boss.

I would argue that it's extremely important that he represent all the positions, not only within the house, but, by extension, in the rest of the church. Similarly, when he spoke about the dioceses that have passed resolutions asking their synod to go ahead [with SSBs], that's fair as far as it goes. The problem is he didn't say anything about those dioceses which either have not passed those kind of resolutions or which have said, "no". So again, he provided half the story and stopped. That can sway a synod because it creates an impression: I think that was very unfortunate.

David: A few questions on the sanctions that have started to come out. In the interview with Archbishop Hiltz, he expressed quite clearly his belief on how the sanctions would work, depending on what is decided here. The 3 things he mentioned were: if synod passed a motion to bless same-sex unions or passed a motion to allow dioceses the local option, that would provoke sanctions. If synod passes no motion, yet dioceses decide independently to continue or to start with SSBs, that would not provoke sanctions. That, apparently, is the way things stand at the moment. That seems to me to be hypocrisy.

Bishop William: Anyone who thinks that by not passing any kind of resolution and then just quietly going ahead and doing local option - anyone who thinks that that is somehow going to fly in the rest of the Communion, I think is daydreaming. That's just the worst kind of wishful thinking. But worse than that, from a Christian perspective, it's irresponsible. The communion has said - and Canon Kearon described the communion quite correctly as a family - and the family has said, "we have a problem and right now, we have one tool for trying to fix the problem: that's to move towards covenant and for everyone to stop shooting at each other by observing the moratoria. If our synod, with or without the instigation of any of the bishops, says, "let's see if we can pull the wool over their eyes, lets play a technical game - we won't pass anything, but we'll go on doing it anyway". That, to me is not much different to the husband who says, "well, I really want to keep my marriage intact, but I'm going to cheat on my wife - as long as I don't get discovered, it's OK." Cheating's cheating. And damaging the family is damaging the family. I think it would be grossly irresponsible if we played that kind of a game.

David: Another question that came up with canon Kearon was whether there was moral equivalence between the moratoria - SSBs and cross-border interventions - with little regard to the fact that one caused the other. He did say that they are not viewed as morally equivalent, but that both are equally damaging. Would you agree?

Bishop William: Yes, I would. Theologically they are not in the same category: doing the blessings is offering something on behalf of the whole church which the church has not said is offerable. So in essence, it's offering a fraud to people, whereas the border crossings is an administrative issue. Nowhere in the new or old testament are you going to find something that says bishops can't cross diocesan borders - it doesn't talk about that. It's in a different category. So I appreciate that distinction that canon Kearon has raised. However, like most conflicts, things have now become so heated, whatever the niceties at an academic level, emotionally they are seen as equivalent: it's like kids fighting in a sandbox - it doesn't matter who started it or who is right or wrong, one does something and the other is going to react. So the damage gets done. I would agree with canon Kearon on that.

David: A corollary to that: on the cross-border interventions, for dioceses such as ANiC who are now a part of ACNA (with ties to the global south diminishing), there is really no longer a cross border factor. But something else was brought up in canon Kearon's letter and that was it still has to be decided whether a bishop who is operating in a diocese without the permission of the diocesan bishop of the "official" Anglican Church, could be construed as a conducting a cross-border intervention. Any thoughts?

Bishop William: Yes, it's why the whole thing's a mess. ACNA and ANiC didn't come into being in a vacuum: they came into existence out of a context that the Canadian church failed - and failed quite badly - to deal with: that was the initiation of doing the blessings in New Westminster. I've now been at 2 synods where the synod chose not to deal with the issue - although they came close in the last one when they did not approve the local option - the Canadian Church has sailed along and allowed the bishops to continue. They said, general synod has no authority to stop them. That being the case, the primate and the synod of the Canadian church can't have it both ways. They can't say, "shame on ANiC and shame on ACNA, you should not be crossing the border" and still countenance blessings being done within Canadian dioceses.

The question is, is there going to be a ceasefire where everyone holds their position; that would be one way of preventing the contagion from spreading. But - and this goes back to my original comments about what the primate said - those complaining about cross-border incursions and its causing pain - that's fine, but what about all the problems and all the pain created by the situation that gave rise to the incursions. Those are pains that are still being felt in this synod.

David: what is the most important issue facing the ACoC now and is it being addressed in synod? Is it perhaps not SSBs, but, say, the questioning of Biblical authority which has given rise to the fact that people feel free to perform SSBs? Or even other basics of the faith such as the Resurrection. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Bishop William: I have a great many thoughts on this. Is it being addressed? - no, it's not being addressed at all.... that I've heard. A lot of church-speak goes on at these things [David - I noticed]. People talk about doing more evangelism, we need to love, but there's absolutely no depth to those comments. If you're going to do evangelism, you have to have a message to give. And that message has to be clear and it has to be focussed. If you want people to develop the discipline of love, you have to teach them, what it means to love. For a Christian church, that should look something like what Jesus taught. Because we've gone down the road of being very simplistic about those things, we have an incredibly confused unfocussed message.

It's a bit like, if I owned a franchise of McDonalds and I decide I don't like the way corporate headquarters makes Big Macs, so I'm going to make my own kind of hamburgers and I'll serve them any way I want. That might be fulfilling personally, but you're going to lose customers as people go there expecting one thing and get something else. We're heading down that road very fast in the ACoC. We want everybody's opinion to be of equal weight, of equal value - it doesn't matter whether it's theologically sound or Biblically sound - you just want people to feel good. In my experience most people - young people in particular - see through that as a fraud. Why would I lay my life down for that? I can sleep in bed on Sunday morning if every thought that rumbles around my head is of equal value.

You're right, we're in this mess, in part, because, as a church we've become very unfocussed, we've lost our moorings; to get out of this mess, we have to find those commonalities in the faith that are the foundation for community. We're not talking about that: we're skating away from that as fast as we can. You used the phrase "Biblical authority" –we aren't in agreement on Biblical authority [David - even on what that phrase means] - yes, exactly.

From a personal perspective, as a bishop, I'm called to teach the apostolic faith as best I can. When I'm looking at a complex issue, I don't just sit down and say, "well, Bill what do you think." I do the best Biblical exegesis I can - and part of that is informed by taking a look at what the church Fathers said about it; what have the great theologians through the centuries said about it; what do the best scholars in the current age say about it. So I'm informed by the voice of all the saints through the centuries. It doesn't mean I always get it right, but at least I'm trying. We haven't taught people to do that.

There was a curious heresy I heard at some point in this synod: that the God of the Old Testament is one God and the God of the New Testament is another God, and the Holy Spirit is doing something brand new now. That's a heresy that was condemned in the early centuries of the church. We have a Triune God - the idea that we can dismiss elements in the church's history or its expressions of God as if somehow, the Holy Spirit is doing something new because suddenly God the Father and God the Son are wrong - that's a strange notion.


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