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A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003

Imposing Agendas in the Anglican Communion

Imposing Agendas in the Anglican Communion

by The Rev. Tobias Haller

Re: The Church Times on the future ABC, New Westminster, the Canadian Primate, and our Presiding Bishop's response

Our primate wrote, in a public response to the ABofC-designate's letter to the primates:

We may point an accusing finger at globalisation for its economic and political effects on other parts of the world, and decry the unilateralist policies of our government. Are we as the Episcopal Church any less guilty -- both on the left and on the right -- of exercising a kind of ecclesial globalization, and behaving in a unilateralist fashion, when we impose our agendas on other parts of the Communion?...

My question: Do the actions of individual dioceses, or even provinces, actions which concern and can only be implemented for a minority of Anglicans in specific parts of the Communion, represent anything like "globalization" or an attempt to "impose our agendas on other parts of the communion"?

I've noted before that the ordination of women (in which the Episcopal Church did march to its own beat) raised (and still raises) ecclesial issues for the communion (such as the recognition of ministers, a hallmark of "communion," because of which Archbishop Runcie declared our communion "impaired.") But I fail to see the need for panic and schism over the same-sex blessing question. There is, for example, currently very wide difference of practice in the Anglican Communion on the ability of divorced persons with living spouses to marry (a matter clearly addressed in Scripture) -- some dioceses and provinces allow it, others have forbidden it. Yet we appear to be able to remain in fairly happy communion in spite of the differences on divorce and the even more clearly ecclesial disagreement concerning the ordination of women. Why does the same-sex blessing issue raise the specter of division when other momentous questions appear to be capable of being set to one side?

I am also troubled by the tone of +Frank's epistle, and I hope I am merely misreading between the lines. But I think we have to remember that innovations in the church do happen, begin locally before they are universally accepted (if ever accepted universally) and that in hindsight things once deemed wrong turn out to be not only right but imperative. A careful study of the Gospels and Acts, and of the Prophets too (this evening's EP reading brings it up [John 5:39-45]) shows that often those who think they understand the Scripture and wield the authority of the religious establishment are actually unconsciously acting contrary to God's will. That they find it expedient for one, or a small group, to suffer for the sake of the "peace" of the whole, should be a lesson to us all.

My appeal would be for a suspension of judgment (in obedience to Christ) and toleration for the decisions of legitimately constituted authorities (dioceses, provinces, and so on: not Lambeth btw, which is a consultatative body which "confers" every ten years or so, and whose record is deplorable). This has historically been the course of events within our somewhat clumsy, untidy and uneven communion. If the choice is to be between charity and untidiness, or tyranny combined with uniformity, I think the former is more characteristically Anglican, and I would hate to see us lose it. This will mean increased patience from liberals, and increased tolerance for dissenting opinions from conservatives. This will be a stretch for all of us. Can we do it?

You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.


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