LAMBETH: The Archbishop's Solution
by Chris Sugden
July 20, 2008
The heart of the Archbishop of Canterbury's presidential address this afternoon was his presentation of where he would like the solution to lie:
Is there another option? Along with many in our Communion since the Lambeth Conferences began and international Anglicanism started to have a new kind of visibility, I believe there is; but it will require some of what we take for granted to change. Because it is not an option to hope that we can somehow just carry on as we always have: the rival bids to give Anglicanism a new shape are too strong, and we need to have a vision that is at least as compelling and as theologically deep as any other in the discussion. Without this, trying to carry on as 'normal' will unquestionably drift towards one or other of the options I've outlined, without proper thought or planning or a sense of the cost of each of them to what we value most in our heritage. That is why there is quite properly a sense of being at a deeply significant turning point.
It's my conviction that the option to which we are being led is one whose keywords are of council and covenant. It is the vision of an Anglicanism whose diversity is limited not by centralised control but by consent - consent based on a serious common assessment of the implications of local change. How do we genuinely think together about diverse local challenges? If we can find ways of answering this, we shall have discovered an Anglicanism in which prayerful consultation is routine and accepted and understood as part of what is entailed in belonging to a fellowship that is more than local. The entire Church is present in every local church assembled around the Lord's table. Yet the local church alone is never the entire Church. We are called to see this not as a circle to be squared but as an invitation to be more and more lovingly engaged with each other.
Someone once said about our Communion, in relation to its internal strains and differences, 'What an astonishing number of possibilities God has given you for loving strangers and enemies!' Can we echo that? If so, by God's grace, we have it in us to be a Church that can manage to respond generously and flexibly to diverse cultural situations while holding fast to the knowledge that we also free from what can be the suffocating pressure of local demands and priorities because we are attentive and obedient to the liberating gift of God in Jesus and in the Scripture and tradition which bear witness to him. Already our Bible Study Groups are bringing this into focus. And I want to say very clearly that the case for an Anglican Covenant is essentially about what we need in order to give this vision some clearer definition.
The one thing this is not is a short cut of any sort. It implies, of course, some obvious and simple things - being clear (to take an obvious example) about how we recognise and accept each other's ministries in the conviction that we are ordaining men and women to one ministry in one Body. But it means also a deeper seriousness about how we consult each other - consult in a way that allows others to feel they have been heard and taken seriously, and so in a way that can live with restraint and patience. And that is a hard lesson to learn, and one that still leaves open what is to happen if such consultation doesn't result in agreement about processes. There will undoubtedly, in our time together, be some tough questions about how far we really want to go in promising mutual listening and restraint for the sake of each other.
That's why a Covenant should not be thought of as a means for excluding the difficult or rebellious but as an intensification - for those who so choose - of relations that already exist. And those who in conscience could not make those intensified commitments are not thereby shut off from all fellowship; it is just that they have chosen not to seek that kind of unity, for reasons that may be utterly serious and prayerful. Whatever the popular perception, the options before us are not irreparable schism or forced assimilation. We need to think through what all this involves in the conviction that all our existing bonds of friendship and fellowship are valuable and channels of grace, even if some want to give such bonds a more formal and demanding shape.
I want to stress this partly because all those existing bonds are already being richly used by God for the service of his world. As we shall be reminded many times during these days, our own communion and unity are created and nourished by God for the sake of the Good News. If our efforts at finding greater coherence for our Communion don't result in more transforming love for the needy, in greater awareness and compassion for those whose humanity is abused or denied, then this coherence is a hollow, self-serving thing, a matte of living 'religiously' rather than 'biblically', to refer back to the theologian I quoted during the retreat, William Stringfellow. Contrary to what some have claimed, it is not true that we at this Conference are using issues like the Millennium Development Goals to provide a rallying-point for Anglicans who can agree only about 'secular' priorities but not about the essence of the Gospel.
No: we seek for clarity about what we must do in a suffering world because we are surely at one in knowing what the Incarnate Lord requires of us - and so at one in acknowledging his supreme and divine authority. And we know that clarity about our calling in this world is no substitute for this unity in faith and obedience. But we also know that how we think about that unity is itself affected by the urgency of the calls on our compassion and imagination; some sorts of division undoubtedly will seem a luxury in the face of certain challenges - as many Christians in Germany found when confronted by Hitler. We have to think and pray hard about what the essentials really are. So we can't easily pull these issues apart; and we certainly can't use one as an excuse for not addressing the other.
To view the entire presentation see the download http://www.lambethconference.org/daily/news.cfm/2008/7/20/ACNS4440
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