Monday, December 25, 2006

The Archbishop's Letter

The Rev. Bill Coats offers his thoughts on the recent, widely circulated letter from Archbishop Williams.

The latest missive from the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, could be seen for something other than what it appears to be – an art at which the English are especially adept.

Recounting that a process is now in place to determine the adequacy of the Episcopal Church’s response to the Windsor Report and noting that our Church has volunteered to absent itself from certain international gatherings until Lambeth, the Archbishop gives the strong impression of his doubts about our Church. While the invitation of our Presiding Bishop to the meeting in Dar es Salaam (after some deliberation) was a good sign, it was immediately followed by the announcement that others from our province will be invited to a pre-meeting occasion. We remember that many from the Global South had recently demanded that another bishop be sent from the Episcopal Church, for they indicated if our Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, were to attend, they would not.

Altogether the Archbishop has continued his barely concealed chiding of the Episcopal Church, while remaining utterly silent as to the illegal actions of a number of African bishops and our own secessionists. His one-sidedness has one virtue: it has been consistent for over three years now.

A number of objections can be made, of course, against the Archbishop's assumptions:

  • that the Windsor Report is a perfect instrument for advancing the Communion’s interest;
  • that the Episcopal Church must somehow come up with a better response than that offered at the General Convention of 2006;
  • that our limited participation in Anglican affairs is a good thing;
  • that somehow, as the Rev. Tobias Haller notes, the logic here seems to be: by eliminating certain American voices, the Communion can reach a better agreement.
All of these assumptions on William’s part are indeed flawed, as is his apparently consistent bowing to the wishes of certain actors in the Global South.

In an ideal – that is to say, non-political – world where justice is served straight up, we want absolute vindication. We want the Archbishop on our side, the side of the good and the just. (And surely all of us define "our" side as the side of the good and the just.) That would be best. Alas! we live in a fallen world where choices are almost always among lesser evils.

Is there another possibility? We assume the Archbishop would like to keep the Communion together. Exactly how would that be done – especially in this climate? Certainly, attacking the Africans or the "Global South" – as much as that might please The Episcopal Majority – would not help. Nor would an out-and-out approval of the Episcopal Church serve that purpose. For now, the Communion is too divided. For now, the power resides with that third of the Communion allied with Archbishop Akinola and his minions; another third is somewhat anti-American and/or anti-Episcopalian but not yet ready to join Akinola.

In this climate and at this time, there is no way to keep the Communion together. All you can do is to try to keep it from splitting apart. How do you do that? You beat up on the Americans. We Episcopalians have been the "bad boys" since 2003, so having a go at us has the advantage of keeping the Communion together. Those who side with us may be angry, but they are of little import because none of our allies or supporters are going to leave the Communion willingly. Those opposed to us are gratified.

But over time will the same constellation of forces now present be in force? (And remember: the formation of the Anglican Covenant will take years.) Will the white heat of Akinola be maintained? Will that other third of the Communion really want to expel us, with the risk of having others go as well? Is time really on the side of the firebrands?

If you want to save the Communion, you simply stall. All these intermediate steps with their body of insult really mean very little. Politics always involve insult; but insults are not the final matter. And it is by no means clear that the uneasy alliance of Peter Akinola and some Africans, a few Asians, some Latin Americans, plus some rump Americans can carry the day in the long term. So you wait and stall.

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