Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On being patronised . . .

Those who have been following the English General Synod - and praying for our brothers and sisters in the Church of England who as a matter of obedience to Scripture and the Catholic Faith cannot accept the innovations of liberal Anglicanism - will draw little comfort from the address of Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

His address is HERE.

Father Giles Pinnock on his excellent blog, "onetimothyfour", summarises the Archbishop's address, pointing out that patronisation is now the liberal strategy for dealing with orthodox Anglicans. His post is reproduced here because of the relevance of his remarks to all first world contemporary Anglicanism.

. . . the main item of the day [i.e. Tuesday 10th Feb] was the Archbishop of Canterbury's Presidential Address, which can be read here.

It is a speech of two parts.

The first speaks in general terms about how the CofE and the Anglican Communion face their problems on human sexuality - or particular manifestations of it at any rate - and on the ordination of women. The second follows through into a discussion of how these more general themes might be relevant to tomorrow's session on legislation re the appointment of women as bishops.

Part One starts by assessing Lambeth and talking up the indaba process, in which all are allowed a voice but no conclusions are reached, and talks down the more conventional debate format, which Dr Williams describes as not suitable to 'those who were not so fluent in the methods and words of Westernised discussion' (para. 1). I think if I were from the two-thirds world, I would feel patronized.

He then moves to explore how the Anglican Communion is dealing with its principal differences over matters of sex - both as an activity and as a criterion for ordination. What strikes me most about this part of the address is how heavily it rests not on whether these things are fundamentally matters of obedience (of which more later) to God's will but on how the Anglican Communion deals as a human community with its differences over them. To cut a long story short, it seems sociological and anthropological rather than ecclesiological or theological - more about keeping us in human-human relationship as diverse Anglicans than about resolving how we are to be faithful in our relationship with God in the Church. (And no, the two are not the same thing.)

Certain things stand out.

Dr Williams states that especially for Christians facing persecution Communion is not a luxury (para. 2), and yet he leads a CofE and Anglican Communion that tends towards the cavalier in how the sacred cows of western secular liberalism are allowed again and again to damage communion between Anglicans and compromise the credibility on the ground of persecuted Anglicans in countries such as Nigeria.

He persists in the language of maintaining Anglican communion, yet acknowledges that 'not every Primate feels able to communicate at the Lord's Table alongside every other' (para. 5) - begging the question as to what is his definition of communion? Dr Williams uses language that echoes that yesterday of the Cardinal talking about 'imperfect communion' and about 'hope for the full restoration of fellowship at the Eucharist'. The crucial difference being that the Cardinal was talking about Christendom; Dr Williams is talking only about the Anglican Communion, and seems to fall straight into the very trap that he identifies himself a little later as 'one of the perennial temptations of Anglicanism', 'complacent insularity' (para. 9).

But it seems to me that Dr Williams is speaking not as the leader of a church the prime concern of which is to be faithful to God, but of a church-like human community the prime concern of which is to remain in human-human relationship - and not let anyone go however much they want not to be associated with what it is up to. I still don't agree with Damian Thompson that the use of the language of 'ecclesial community' yesterday was an significant as he made out - at least not in what the Cardinal intended to convey. But 'ecclesial community' seems a much more apt description of the body Dr Williams was talking about (and to) today than does either 'church' or 'communion'.

Part Two begins by talking about those who don't accept that women can legitimately be appointed as bishops. Whether those people choose to 'go away' [his quotes] to another Christian communion or remain within the Anglican fold, he is quite sure that they will not actually have gone away because they will still be around as 'fellow-Christians, fellow-missioners and disciples'. One might hope that from this might emerge the realisation that Anglicanism is imposing its women bishops on all Christians, not just it own - and simply out of charity should cease and desist immediately.

But instead he seems to be almost proprietorial - wherever you run from our liberal innovations, you can't hide, you're still part of us, however embarrassing that might be for you - those opposed 'must find ways of living with the results' (para. 10) be it within Anglicanism or beyond - and tough luck if they don't like it.

Williams acknowledges that 'difficult plurality of conviction will not simply be done away with by decree', which 'is not, though, simply a matter of tolerating private views, since it bears on the public life and worship of the church' (para. 10). This is commonsensical; what however is staringly missing here is indicated in the previous paragraph, in which he twice refers to 'doubt' and once 'conscience' about the ordination of women. What has happened to Williams' acknowledgement in his speech to Synod in February 2005 that 'the problem is not one of opinion, it's rather of obedience. It's one of obedience to scripture, or obedience to the consensus of the Church Catholic.'

As Dr Williams draws towards his conclusion, he says that if he hears correctly, 'those opposed to the Code of Practice currently on the table', 'they are asking what more might be offered to secure some kind of pastoral care ... and some measure of organisational (including sacramental) coherence for them'. Here, those opposed don't need to come from the two-thirds world to feel that an attempt has been made to patronize them. The point is not that those opposed are tipping their birettas and tugging their forelocks and 'umbly askin' what crumb might fall from the kind Dr Williams' table - but saying plain and simple that a Code of Practice won't do for many and well-rehearsed reasons.

Indeed, for those who out of obedience to Scripture and Tradition genuinely cannot accept that women can legitimately be ordained, nothing whatsoever that drops by way of 'provision' from the synodical banqueting table can do - the problem is having women bishops at all, because it sets the seal on the CofE not simply as reformed but as protestant.

In his final paragraph, Williams appeals to 'the concern that most of us feel one way or another about the 'face' we present to the wider world', referring specifically to 'the unmistakably gospel-related agenda of human dignity and equality' - one of those things you can't actually disagree with although you know it doesn't carry quite the same meaning for you as it does for the person who said it.

And that leaves hanging in my mind a final question: What about the unmistakably gospel-related agenda of the unity of the Church for which Christ prayed and which Williams' CofE is doing nothing about, and in fact actively harming?


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