The growing number of bishops created by African provinces for “pastoral oversight” in North America (and potentially in other provinces), the attempts to create a Covenant that defines Anglican doctrine and ethics, and the apparent intention to organise an alternative to the Lambeth Conference in London next year all point towards one thing. The strategy to destabilise the Anglican Communion is moving into another phase.
The creation by the provinces of Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria of extra-provincial Bishops is against the expressed wish of the Windsor Report and the post Lambeth ’98 process of listening and reconciliation. It is more evidence that the Primates of those provinces and their supporters in the US and Britain profoundly misunderstand the nature of the Communion. We very much regret that the Chair of the Covenant Design Group, the Archbishop of the West Indies, has welcomed these appointments.
Inclusive Church’s aim is to support and celebrate the traditional breadth and generosity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it has been received and passed on through Anglican history and lived out in the Communion. This creates challenges when there are fundamental disagreements. But the way to respond to disagreements is not to walk apart, nor to create separate structures, nor to seek to impose one particular point of view on the Communion. It is to engage, to communicate, to speak, to listen and to learn.
Clearly there are outstanding issues over how the Communion should respond to the reality that many Provinces include lesbian and gay Christians who live with partners in loving, faithful relationships. But the extraordinary way in which this issue has been allowed to dominate the life of the Communion over the past ten years is not coincidence.
There can be little doubt that the issue is being used by some, mainly conservative, Christians as a lever to try to change the Communion into something it is not; from a conciliar church into a confessional one. From a praxis-based Communion where the bonds between us are the bonds of fellowship and love to a codified Communion where exclusions are legally determined and legally enforced, and where the Communion defines itself not by who it includes but by who it excludes.
The Covenant process has been moved, by this group, away from its original intention which was to affirm the bonds of fellowship which exist. The way in which the draft was received by some at the Primates meeting in Tanzania is indication that, whatever the intention, it will be used to enforce a particular interpretation of the Scriptures to the detriment of the life of the Communion. We do not need a Curia, and the process of drafting a Covenant is already giving more power to the Primates than is justified by our history, by our life and by some of their actions to date.
Hard cases make bad laws. We wish to see, urgently, greater understanding between provinces, and we can see the value of a Covenant which enables this to happen . But the proposed draft before us is likely to be an instrument of further division, not unification. Some of our structures may need reform – but it is already clear that this Covenant process is unlikely to help.
The suggestion of an alternative “not the Lambeth Conference” is, simply, sad. Those who suggest it are walking away from the possibility of dialogue. The suggestion has little to do with dealing with our post-imperial past, and little to do with ensuring that particular voices are heard. It has a great deal to do with power; and with the location of power in the Communion.
We call on those supporting these actions to recognise that there is more than one answer to the questions which face us. Resolution will be achieved only through mutual respect and communication, and an acknowledgement that different views are sincerely held by faithful and loyal members of the Communion.
Inclusive Church is deeply committed to continuing the debate over these questions.
The Anglican Communon has faced problems before and moved through them. With God’s help, we will again.
Giles Goddard Chair, IC
5th July 2007