Singapore: Shadow and Substance
by Charles Raven
April 22, 2010
Although not attended by great fanfare and ceremony, something quite remarkable seems to be happening in Singapore at the fourth Global South to South Encounter. We are seeing the emergence of a global Anglicanism of substance, displacing the shadow Anglicanism of institutional pragmatism.
Institutions which until recently had the appearance of substance - the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates meeting and the Archbishop of Canterbury himself - are now taking on an unreal quality as shadows of a discredited past while the GAFCON movement, dismissed by many at its inception in 2008, is turning out to have foreshadowed a fundamental realignment which is now beginning to express itself in new structures.
The shadow quality of the old order was inescapable in both the medium and the message of Rowan Williams' address. Due to a 'full diary' his was a virtual presence by video and his message was so devoid of specific content beyond a call to continue with 'careful listening' that delegates were reported to be left shaking their heads and rolling their eyes in despair.
It is perhaps not surprising that that Dr Williams politely absented himself this time because it is clear that he has nothing new to say. At the previous South to South encounter at the Red Sea in 2005, the Global South primates held him to account for his well known sympathy for the homosexual agenda and when a private request to repudiate those views failed to elicit a response, they were reiterated in a public letter which also called on the Archbishop to be more decisive: 'We are disappointed' they wrote 'with your deferring to "process." You seem to keep saying, "My hands are tied." We urge you to untie your hands and provide the bold, inclusive leadership the Communion needs at this time of crisis and distrust'.
In response, Dr Williams reaffirmed the Covenant process as the only way forward and concluded rather crisply: 'If this letter is a contribution to that process of debate, then it is to be welcomed, however robust. If it is an attempt to foreclose that debate, it would seem to serve very little purpose indeed.'
This persistent attachment to process is not simply an academic habit; it owes a great deal to Dr Williams' Hegelian optimism that truth will somehow emerge through a synthesis of opposites and serves to downplay the biblical antithesis between the truth and the lie, creating a climate in which the previously unacceptable gains plausibility. In an interview for the current issue of The New Yorker magazine, questioned about resolving the seemingly intractable problem of women bishops in the Church of England, he observes "I suppose it's by using as best I can the existing consultative mechanisms to create a climate" and "You can actually ruin a good cause by pushing it at the wrong moment and not allowing the process of discernment and consent to go on".
Given that Dr Williams has consistently refused to disown those writings which provided a theological rationale for the gay lesbian movement within the Church from the late 1980's onwards, referring to them as his 'private' opinions as distinguished from the 'official' position he is obliged to articulate in view of his office, it is reasonable to assume that TEC's sexual agenda also qualifies in his mind as 'a good cause'. That he can say in his Singapore address that the decision to consecrate partnered lesbian Mary Glasspool to the episcopate 'cannot speak for our common mind' is not contradictory; it simply means that given the current state of the 'common mind', this is the wrong moment to push the innovation.
Although using 'existing consultative mechanisms to create a climate' may have some kind of conceptual integrity in Dr Williams' thought, there is a long history of these mechanisms being used in a highly manipulative manner. Most recently, three Primates, Mouneer Anis, Henry Orombi and Ian Ernest have all protested the marginalization of orthodox voices in Communion structures and Rowan Williams' comment in his address that he is 'in discussion with a number of people around the world' about the consecration of Mary Glasspool - but apparently not the Primates in Singapore. - will do nothing to restore their confidence that he will sponsor any effective discipline of TEC.
Amongst the delegates in Singapore there seems to be a growing acceptance that new structures must be put in place to act as a kind of new Anglican wineskin. As the GAFCON Primates put it in their Statement from Bermuda on April 10th 'the current structures have lost integrity and relevance'. Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of Nigeria reflected a sense of urgency about the danger of the false gospel mediated through Anglo-American Anglicanism when he urged on the opening day 'We must reject the so-called "Gospel" which encourages a man or woman to remain and feel good and fulfilled in a state of sin from which he/she should seek gracious escape in Christ.'
Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini's [address]http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=12436) on the following day set out the basis for new Anglican structures noting "We need a new way forward. We are no longer in communion with Rowan (Williams) or TEC or Canada. After all the biblical reflections we are still in a state of crisis, nothing has been resolved over the years. The Windsor Report, the Primates Meetings recommendations, the Lambeth Conference 2008 and the Windsor Continuation Group have all failed to bring any change in the drastic situation of the Anglican Communion.' He proposed that the Global South should reconstitute itself to include all orthodox Churches and Dioceses with leadership focussed in a Council of Primates based on ancient Conciliar practice.
There would no doubt be much need for discussion on the detail and whether or not the existing Anglican Covenant could be sufficiently amended to have a meaningful role, but the very fact that such a radical proposal could be voiced and taken seriously is a measure of the extent to which Rowan Williams has become a shadow figure - his only relevance would be negative; the identity of the Global South and orthodox Anglicans generally would include not being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Of course, since the Global South is a confessionally based movement, such separation from Canterbury could be reversed if a future Archbishop emerged who was orthodox in teaching and practice, but given the extent to which false teaching and indiscipline is embedded in many Church of England dioceses, that is unlikely in the near future. In fact, the shocking possibility that an Archbishop of Canterbury could be out of communion with the majority of the Anglican Communion should seriously concentrate minds about the need to strengthen the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in the UK and prepare, where necessary, for an alternative expression of Anglicanism in England, and no doubt the British Isles as a whole.
In Bermuda, the GAFCON Primates affirmed that 'The Anglican Communion will only be able to fulfil its gospel mandate if it understands itself to be a community gathered around a confession of faith rather than an organisation that has its primary focus on institutional loyalty.' Acting consistently upon this principle would profoundly challenge the institutional ethos of English Anglicanism; although Singapore may seem a far off place, the decisions being made there this week could soon pose sharp questions about the choice between shadow and substance at home.
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