18 May 2007

+Dorsey Henderon on the primates

Here is a bit a pastoral letter (via T19) from the Bishop of Upper South Carolina, +Dorsey Henderon:
All four instruments have their role, but none is primary, none is supreme. Accordingly, while the Primates may request that The Episcopal Church respond in a particular way and in accordance with a deadline, they do not have the authority to mandate either response or deadline. At Camp Allen, the Archbishop of Mexico was asked how he had experienced the Primates’ Meeting at Dar es Salaam. He responded that it was great—that although he arrived in Dar es Salaam as an archbishop, he departed as a "cardinal"! His point was clear. The Primates had assumed unto themselves authority which they have not heretofore possessed.
Yes, we need to remember that the primates have only recently given themselves great authority, and it is not clear that it was theirs to claim. The Primates' Meetings began as consultative meetings among peers, for mutual fellowship. Until very recently, no one would have imagined that this group would or could make demands on provinces of the Communion.
We Americans, however, need to stop claiming that they don't understand our polity. Frankly, that's a red herring. First, if it were an urgent matter at hand, we'd find a way to work around our own polity. Second, apart from our polity, it is appropriate for anyone to criticize the morality or position of a church -- if the polity prevents action on the "issue," that simply does not change the perceived problem. Third, I think it is condescending in the extreme to claim that these primates do not understand our polity. Finally, we do not need to have the argument about American polity. If we are going to talk about polity, let's talk about Anglican Communion polity, such as it is. Only the ACC has a constitution. It isn't clear who should come to a primates' meeting. And it certainly isn't obvious why any province should obey demands from the primates.

If +Rowan says something to our bishops, we should listen. He is, after all, primus inter pares. If the ACC says something about our delegation, we need to listen. They, after all, have a constitution and clear membership requirements. If the Lambeth Conference speaks, we ought to listen. Assuming that all provinces were fully represented, the Lambeth Conferences are a manifestation of the teaching authority of bishops. But the Primates' Meetings have no similar status. Someone, please leave a comment explaining the basis for the Primates' Meeting to make great demands, if there is a basis. I think +Dorsey has it right.

One small issue: the ACO website says that the ABC is the "Focus of Unity", but that there are three other "Instruments of Unity." The Windsor Report talks about four Instruments of Unity. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this discrepancy as well.

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