31 May 2007

Lord Carey then and now

Seven years ago, the Anglican Communion faced a crisis. Bishops had been consecrated for ministry within a parallel jurisdiction operating inside the United States of America. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, +George Carey, wrote a letter to the bishops of the Communion in February of 2000. It is instructive to read that letter, because it reminds us how much innovation has happened among conservatives in the last few years. (Ironic isn't it? Progressives are called innovators, but actually conservatives do a fair amount of innovating on their own.)

In his letter, Carey reminds people that the Primates' Meeting (which was to be held in March of 2000) is consultative. He is very clear: "To talk of the Primates disciplining the Episcopal Church of the USA or any other Province for that matter, goes far beyond the brief of the Primates' Meeting." After noting that Lambeth resolution 1.10 "reflects the traditional teaching of the church," Carey goes on to say
Nevertheless, in many parts of the Communion, faithful Christians, some of whom are homosexual themselves, are seeking to engage the Church in a challenging reassessment of its teaching on human sexuality, because they have felt excluded from the Church for many years. I believe that it is wholly in the spirit of the resolution, and that is why the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA and I set up an international conversation between bishops of different views, an experiment which was so successful that it will meet again later this year. I have also sought to encourage such conversations more locally as well.
Of course, sadly, that Listening Process never really got off the ground in most provinces. One might note that the very provinces who have ignored this part of the Lambeth resolutions (listening, engagement) are the same provinces who are quick to proof-text the parts of the Lambeth resolutions they like, in an attempt to compel ECUSA or Canada into a particular course of action.

Carey reminded the Communion that "we must guard against the risk of allowing one issue to divert all our attention from the primary task of mission to which we are called." This seems very true, and prescient of a time in which conversations about mission, evangelism, poverty, and other pressing matters are only given agenda time once matters of polity and sexuality have filled most of a meeting.

The purpose of the letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury was to remind the Communion about our fundamental unity, and to indicate that he would not support episcopal ordinations that flouted our unity. For that reason, Carey indicated he could not recognize the AMiA bishops consecrated in Singapore in January of that year.

So back then, Carey expressed his own views of sexuality, in accord with Lambeth 1998, resolution 1.10. More than that, however, he voiced hope for reconciliation, reminded the Communion about a deep unity in Christ, and sought to marginalize those who would undercut the structures of the Anglican Communion and its provinces.

You may have seen the letter Lord Carey sent to the Church of England Newspaper this week. (Thanks to The Lead for alerting me to it, and to Thinking Anglicans for Carey's letter and for links to the letter of 2000.)

Now Carey has changed his tune, because, "It is not too much to say that everything has changed in the Anglican Communion as a result of the consecration of Gene Robinson." Well, with all due respect, I beg to differ. The mission of the Communion has not changed, nor has the day-to-day evangelism, prayer life, and other ministries of parishes, dioceses, and provinces around the Communion. What has changed is that a "crisis" has been created, mostly by clergy, for various and sundry reasons. No one told +Peter Akinola he needed to ordain gay people, and no one has forced +Henry Orombi to bless same-sex relationships. Within ECUSA, by and large, conservative parishes and dioceses are allowed to continue in their traditional practices.

So, Lord Carey, it is true that some things have changed, and that life in the Communion is not the same as life in 2000. But that is to be expected. The history of Christianity, of Anglicanism, and of Lambeth Conferences is a history that reflects a changing understanding of the church, of life in community, of ethical practices, and of biblical interpretation. Throughout this history, there have been -- at times -- periods intense conflict. And, yet, the church survived. As you yourself indicated in 2000, conflict often brings a stronger, more Christ-centered church. But only when we treat one another with charity, practicing reconciliation and avoiding schism.

Carey now writes that ECUSA "clearly signalled its abandonment of Communion norms, in spite of warnings from the Primates that the consecration of a practising homosexual bishop would 'tear the fabric of the Communion'." That's a marked contrast from a consultative, advisory notion of the Primates' Meetings. Now Carey is suggesting that ECUSA can itself be marginalized because of disregard of the Anglican curia. Now, I should also point out that there are plenty of "practicing homosexual bishops" in the Communion. What distinguished +Gene Robinson was his openness and honesty. Or I could point that that, yes, ECUSA did not adequately involve the Instruments of Communion in what was going to be a contentious issue. (And I don't think we Americans admit that enough; mind you, I fully support the consecration of Gene Robinson, but we might have done a better job of talking about it before-hand and acknowledging the difficulty it caused afterwords.)

Still, it is a long ways from disregarding a warning from a group of primates, once understood to be advisory, to suggesting that those who work to subvert the valid Anglican province in the USA ought to be recognized.

What's my point in all this? Well, I for one have no trouble with Lambeth invitations going to all duly elected and consecrated bishops, and I think that might well include the AMiA bishops, and it certainly includes +Martyn Minns. And, of course, it goes without saying that +Gene Robinson should get an invite. My point is that there is a bit of conservative revisionism going on with respect to Anglican polity. Witness Carey's two letters. In one, he unequivocally supports unity, and in the next, he implies that those conservative bishops who would imperil unity should be invited to Lambeth.

Some will question the right of a former Cantuar to advise the current Cantuar. My take is this: George Carey is a baptized Christian, and the church is his, just as it belongs to +Rowan Williams, +Gene Robinson, +Peter Akinola, +Martyn Minns. And the church belongs, in equal measure, to you, dear reader, and to me. So if someone wants to fire off a letter to CEN, more power to them. If someone wants to start up a blog, fine. But let us remember that the current Archbishop of Canterbury will invite whomever he pleases to the (consultative!) Lambeth Conference. And, most important, let us carefully remember who we are and where we've been in all this. It would be easy, after all, to forget what we're all about. Carey's letter in the year 2000 is an excellent reminder of that, and I commend it to everyone.