JAMAICA: West Indies Archbishop says Anglican Communion is close to breaking up
By David W. Virtue
The Anglican Communion is close to the point of breaking up, said the Archbishop of the West Indies, The Most Rev. Drexel Gomez, in an address to delegates of the Anglican Consultative Council meeting here in Kingston.
"If we cannot state clearly and simply what holds us together, and speak clearly at this meeting, then I fear there will be clear breaks in the Communion in the period following this meeting. Many of our Churches are asking to know where they stand - what can be relied on as central to the Anglican Communion; and how can disputes be settled without the wrangle and confusion that we have seen for the last seven years or more."
Archbishop Gomez is chairman of the Covenant Design Group attempting to pull together a Covenant providing the basis for continued unity that the Anglican Communion can sign off on.
But the group's chairman acknowledges that selling a unity document to a divided communion will be neither automatic nor easy. "The Episcopal Church's attitude towards the Covenant is a danger to ratification of the proposed Covenant," he told VOL.
Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori already has said that this summer's General Convention should decline to consider the design group's yet-to-be perfected recommendations on measures aimed at respecting local autonomy while providing accountability for divisive actions.
"The Episcopal Church has its own agenda," Archbishop Gomez said in Dallas March 22, "and that agenda does not have much accommodation with the rest of the Communion."
In his address here, the soon to be retired Archbishop of the West Indies, asked, "If the communion is a fellowship of Anglican churches, what does it mean to be Anglican? And, if we are bound together by the 'bonds of affection' - what actually are those bonds?"
Gomez said these are very big issues, which have only gotten bigger with the passing of time since the publication of the Windsor report in October 2004.
In three years, the CDG has produced four documents: three drafts for the Anglican Communion Covenant and one extended commentary reflecting on the discussion on the Covenant held in the Lambeth Conference last summer.
Gomez said the third and final draft, The Ridley Cambridge Draft tried to articulate the principles of how churches relate which, he said was not by way of a central authority, but as a family of equals.
"We have to be able to sustain our relationships for the sake of the Gospel. I'm afraid to say that I think that is fundamentally the choice before the ACC in these two weeks. What is decided here is likely to make or break the Communion."
What remains now is for the Secretary General to send the Ridley Cambridge Draft to the member Churches of the Anglican Consultative Council for consideration and adoption as the Anglican Communion Covenant. It also requests its member Churches to respond to the Secretary General by December 2014 on the progress made in the processes of adoption and response to the Communion text.
When Bishop Mouneer Anis, Archbishop of Egypt asked why the response could not be done by 2012, it was explained that the reason for the 2014 date was that 3-4 provinces had indicated that their constitutional processes would not allow a decision before 2015. Datuk Stanley Isaacs from South East Asia asked why for such important business, if provinces that wanted to respond earlier could do so and others process the matter as extraordinary business.
Scholars across the communion are divided over whether a Covenant could have any teeth to discipline erring provinces that continue to do communion breaking acts like ordaining non-celibate homosexuals, promoting and using rites for same-sex marriages and more.
Rochester Bishop Michael Nazir Ali asks, "Is the much debated Covenant fit for purpose?" Clearly not, he answers. "Whatever the Joint Standing Committee may say, the provinces can go their own sweet way which is precisely the situation as it is today and which has caused the problem we are all facing. This means that churches which do not agree to any communion-wide procedures for discipline, however diluted, can still continue to be invited to the Lambeth Conference and to attend the ACC and the Primates' Meeting. In other words, there is no immediate change anticipated in the membership of these bodies regardless of whether a Covenant is agreed or not."
However, The Rev. Professor Stephen Noll, a leading GAFCON theologian and American missionary Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University, wrote in a recent article urging that GAFCON Churches should now be much more positive about the Windsor Covenant process and "move to the front of the queue and sign on to the Covenant." So how can two very able theologians, both strongly committed to the GAFCON movement, come to such different conclusions? He has given two thumbs up on the third Ridley draft of the Covenant, but is still hesitant as to its implementation.
Noll heaps praise on the contribution of the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, who is promoting the Covenant as a vehicle of the Spirit and an authentic theological contribution to the future of Anglicanism and the wider ecumenical hope.
Writes Noll, "In my view, the two essential ingredients of an effective Anglican Covenant involve doctrinal substance and disciplinary efficacy. The Nassau and St. Andrews drafts in my opinion are adequate on matters of doctrine and inadequate on discipline, and both fail to deal with the current context of radical departure from the faith once for all delivered to the saints."
As British cleric The Rev. Charles Raven asks, is the Covenant an attempt to tame GAFCON? Ruth Gledhill of the "London Times" put it more bluntly asking is the Covenant an attempt to castrate GAFCON?
If a Covenant is passed and all the provinces do sign off on it, and that is a big if, it would be a major slap at the Jerusalem Declaration put out by GAFCON primates. The great promise of the GAFCON movement was that it would bring godly order to the Communion through a genuinely conciliar and confessional leadership wholeheartedly committed to the historic Anglican faith.
The question must be asked which movement best holds out hope to support and defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Not many orthodox Anglicans believe the Covenant process will do that. GAFCON's vision will stand as a better bulwark against post-modernism uniting a church around sound doctrine rather than ecclesiastical compromise.
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