Polity & Structure
House of Deputies
House of Bishops
Provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion
Data & Analysis
Reports & Events
Tools & Services
News flashes, Announcements
software for writers
377 S. Harrison Street, 12D
East Orange, NJ 07018
Phone: 973-395-1068 h
Married February 2, 1974
Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book . Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:
A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
ON LAMBETHby The Rev. William Coats
--Betty Comden and Adolph Green
What is to Be Done?
-- N. Lenin
The Lambeth Conference is over. The results of the Conference, however, bode ill for the American Church. Many reports have focused on the Indaba groups and the sharing and honest openness experienced by many of the bishops. Indeed, some form of mutual trust did form between the Bishops, but the main political current at Lambeth was moving in another direction. A number of the American bishops, for example, spoke of a disconnect between the Indaba groups and their logic and direction and the almost abrupt presentation by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the and of the Conference that the way forward for the Communion was to be found in the proposals of the continuing Windsor group, namely its recommendation that there be as Anglican Covenant.
The American bishops were of course naive. They came believing that this would not be a legislative event, but one given over to small group discussions around a number of issues and readings. Many thought this would be a time of sharing and healing. That is why so many were astonished that at the end of the Conference when, with little warning, the Covenant was put forward as a kind of fait accompli, as "the" way forward for the Communion. Indeed it was the Archbishop of Canterbury who quickly interpreted the bonhomie of the small groups as a consensus in favor of the Covenant. It was not, of course, but at Lambeth while the Americans dreamed, the Continuing Windsor group (unaffected by the touchy-feely nature of the Indaba groups) handed the Covenant ball to the Archbishop and he ran with it.
The Archbishop also proclaimed that there was now a "Center"of the Communion in favor of the Covenant, making it seem that the Conference itself was that "Center." This, of course, was a fudge. The Communion has had a relatively static configuration for some time: one third (the US, Canada, Central America, the Celtic Churches, South Africa) willing to live and let live; one-third (most of Africa and the Southern Cone) manifestly hostile and punitive towards the US; and one-third (Asia, the East, Pacific Islands, English Evangelicals, some of Africa) opposed to the US but looking for an institutional way to deal with the crisis. The actual center was at Lambeth still supporting the Covenant, but those opposed were there as well. The "Center" the Archbishop points to as a kind of majority depends heavily on GAFCON, few of whom were there.
Lambeth so emboldened the Archbishop he publically assailed the American Church (betraying an animus we have long noted) as causing the crisis within Anglicanism and told us that only a permanent cessation of consecrations of partnered gays or lesbians to the Episcopal order and a permanent ban on the blessing of same sex couples would suffice. Clearly nothing had changed over the last 5 years and while the Americans naively thought some mutual understanding might come from Lambeth, none of this was ever in the political cards.
With the Archbishop's salvo aimed at the "guilty" Americans, (which of course, given the nature of the meeting could not be answered), he announced he was now armed with a mandate (the Covenant proposal now containing a suggested Pastoral Forum - a kind of Anglican police force) and that he would quickly proceed to the upcoming Primates Meeting to gain further support of this way "forward."
The proposed Anglican Covenant is now center stage. The idea originated in the Windsor Report, a virulently anti-American Report in 2004. In its present form, the Covenant (still being drafted and redrafted by a design group) contains two sections. The first sets forth a fairly general and wide theological understanding of the Faith and Polity of Anglicanism. The second part - that which is still being contested - sets forth a very complicated method to deal with accusations that some actions by members of the Communion have violated Communion standards. It includes the means by which offending groups may be evicted from the Communion. The design committee, heavily laden with anti US persons (the chair is openly anti-US) is still mulling over the second section. And while there are, from time to time, statements to the effect that the Covenant will not be "legal" or "punitive," these are disingenuous declarations. Since the covenant was first suggested as a means of constraining, punishing or expelling the American Church (and two Canadien dioceses) nothing has changed to alter or amend that purpose. Indeed it is precisely this punitive nature which has gained such wide support in the Communion. Any naive notions about "trust," or "understanding" or "generosity' ameliorating the direction and purpose of the Covenant should quickly be set aside. Power is the name of the game and the Archbishop and the Center and the Right have it..
Some time in the future national churches will asked to sign on to this Covenant as a means of remaining within "official" Anglicanism. While those who remain unsigned might be considered part of a two tiered system, no one is clear about what this would mean for eucharistic fellowship or the acceptance of Holy Orders (although we might guess the positions of Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria and Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh). At any rate the purpose now of Canterbury and the Primates is the political push to get as many signatories as possible. All of which means the time of debate concerning the pros and cons of the main issue - homosexuality - is over. The question now is who will sign the Covenant?
In public the Covenant has been played out on two parallel lines. On the one hand - and Archbishop Williams is, at least publically, usually on this track - it is put forward as a kind structure which will enable the Communion to function more as real international church rather than a kind of "federation" of national churches. It will enable the Communion to march forward as one by means of consultation and common cross reference. This, of course, matches the Archbishops' deeply held Anglo- catholic views.
On the other hand, and this is the core reality of the matter, the Covenant is simply a document designed either to rein in the American church (and portions of the Canadian church) or evict them, if they have signed on. It is this more ominous aspect which can be heard in comments by Archbishop Williams. And indeed with the putative ground swell behind this approach, the signal has been clearly given to the Africans and others in GAFCON slated to attend the Primates meeting that they could now regularize their relation to Canterbury and the wider church. The Covenant would accomplish institutionally and in short order what the Africans and GAFCON could not get preemptively - namely the exclusion or expulsion of the American Church The Covenant now becomes the means to rally the Center and the Right in a new alliance against the Americans and the Canadiens.
What makes matters quite serious for the Americans is not just whether we will sign such a Covenant but who else will. In spite of a seeming impasse at the moment there is no reason to believe the Africans will not sign on. After all the covenant assures them they will get their wish vis a vis the Americans. It is certain the Center will do so enthusiastically. The main question for the Americans has to do with the Anglican "left,"(The US, Canada, Central America, portions of Australia and New Zealand , the Celtic Churches, South Africa) that is, the group which had all along taken a "Live and let live"stance (what could arguably be called the traditional Anglican position). Many of these churches have expressed concern about the legalistic and punitive aspects of the Covenant, indeed even its necessity; some have spoken in favor of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Church's life. The reality is, however, that in spite of disagreement over the principle of a harsh covenant, none of these national bodies have a specific and direct interest to protect in refusing to sign. Each in their way maintains a form of don't ask, don't tell policy not unlike that practiced by the English. Therefore they have no basic interest to protect in refusing to sign the Covenant (there is nothing on the horizon, for example, which would involve them with charges). And in the case of the Celtic Churches the pressure from Canterbury to sign will be immense. Even Canada is by no means certain to refuse to sign on. After all only two dioceses have taken a progressive stand. Do we really think the rest of Canada will act solely in order to be in solidarity with the two "recalcitrant" dioceses, especially in the face of enormous pressure (probably indistinct from nostalgia) to remain part of "the Communion?"
One strategic option for the American Church is to initiate a kind diplomatic offensive. We could seek to find other national churches who, regardless of the outcome of the Covenant signing, would be willing to effect a form of concordat with us pledging full communion and recognition. I have no idea if our national church has either the desire or the means to pursue such a course.
The English will, of course, sign. Indeed part of the bitter irony of this struggle involves the role of the Archbishop and most of the bishops of the English Church. In the abstract one might make the case that there are sufficient irregular practices within the English church to warrant some form of investigation by the Pastoral Forum (or whatever body takes up these matters).
For example, will divorce and remarriage (clearly at odds with the Bible and the tradition of the church) be brought forward? Will the fact that in the English Church (and most of the churches in the West) most people now being married in the church have already been either living with each other or have had sex. (which clashes with 1998 Lambeth 1: 10). Will the fact that many gay and lesbians priests in the Church of England are not now celibate. Nor are a number of bishops. Indeed will the continued ordinations of gays and lesbians (who are known not to be celibate) be allowed? After all if it is unbiblical to consecrate partnered gay bishops on what grounds can one countenance ordaining such as priests? And why, following this logic, should those already priested not be defrocked (As Archbishop Akinola has already demanded)? We ask will these flagrant matters be brought before whatever board is installed to rule on "irregularities".The answer is clearly no. Why? Because each of these irregularities involves the Church of England and it is clear that the Covenant was not set up in order to challenge any of the practices of the Church of England. It was set up to attack the Americans and the Canadiens. That the Archbishop and his many Episcopal followers in England continue to ignore this situation, preferring instead the long, ignoble English tradition of rank hypocrisy means their own statements accusing the American church are no longer merely grotesque but blasphemous. This is the power of death.
Sometime, probably in 2012, the American Church will be asked to sign the covenant. We will then be confronted with a most difficult choice. To sign means implicitly that we will never again consecrate a partnered gay or lesbian bishop nor will we allow same-sex blessings. For many, principle will not allow them to sign the covenant. It would mean sacrificing gays and lesbians on the altar of unity (as if this would in any way lead to unity).
Not to sign on would mean that the Anglican Communion would become for all intents and purposes a closed, conservative body. All liberal voices elsewhere would be threatened, for what had heretofore given them hope had been the witness of the American Church. Without us the Communion would be locked into a homophobic stance from which there is no conceivable exit and tied to a biblical theology retarding progress.
For the American Church to step outside "official" Anglicanism may not be a bad thing on three other grounds. In the first place, few Americans in the pews care much for our membership in the Communion and would not be effected by a change in status. Secondly, we would at last be free to concentrate on preaching the gospel without this endless argument which depletes us spiritually and financially. Finally, refusing to sign would separate us from the Church of England. The time for splitting from the English church is long overdue. The rank condescension, the lecturing and hectoring, the pompous arrogance of the Archbishop and assorted English spokespersons is graceless and appalling. They have set aside any notion of charity for the characteristic English bullying and arrogance. Being part of a federated Communion which gives to the English the lead role has now become unbearable - and a roadblock to preaching the gospel.
Another course would be to cross our fingers behind our back, hold our noses and sign on - and then go ahead and do what we want to do. Let the groups and bishops come after us. Let them try to evict us. Why not carry the fight on in the "belly of the beast?" Who knows some years down the pike (year 2018 or 2020, let us say) what would happen? Who is to say that the Holy Spirit which tried in 2003 to speak to the Church but was unable to be heard would not at some later time be able to be heard? Who knows whether Grace would break in? It might be better to risk being thrown out than volunteering to leave.
Much is at stake, theologically in our witness as church. The Archbishop has said "The global horizon of the Church matters because churches without this are always in danger of slowly surrendering to the culture around them and losing sight of their calling to challenge that culture." What the Archbishop misses in this statement is the American struggle neither to deny culture nor to conform to, but rather to engage it in a fruitful conversation. So much of contemporary Anglicanism has come to be limited to that which is solely found in Scripture, Over and over we hear sola scriptura or we hear in a more nuanced way that (in the case of homosexuality) we should not rely on "rights" or "context' but more on "our sources" (Archbishop Williams.) But it has been the world and indeed the notion of rights (itself at once a secular concept but one having been watered in the soil of Christianity) which has set us on a course as a church to ask if the Word of God has spoken in and through the long struggle associated with "rights?" Can those oppressed for exogenous reasons be denied full humanity (including full political and ecclesiastical participation)? And we found as we went back to our sacred sources that instead of it being some pagan, secular intrusion it was truly the liberative Word of God. We continue to hold to the position that God can speak in and through the world as well as the Bible and the church. In the words of Karl Barth: "God may speak to us through Russian Communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog,"
Resolution 19 from the 1897 Lambeth Conference declared "That it is important that, so far as possible, the Church should be adapted to local circumstances, and the people brought to feel in all ways that no burdens in the way of foreign customs are laid upon them, and nothing is required of them but what is of the essence of the faith, and belongs to the due order of the Catholic Church." The struggle for inclusion is a specific American Project. It is not as some English Evangelicals so sneeringly claim a "'foot-in-the-door' tactic of divisive innovation." These snide remarks amount to a denigration of the entire American Project, one in which we as a church have fully participated. First came the English, then came the Scots- Irish, Then came the Germans. Then came the Irish and soon the Italians, the Scandinavians, Poles and Slavs and the Jews. Then came the Chinese and Japanese. Most recently Indians, the Islanders and the Central Americans and the Mexicans have come. The drama of America has always been: how to make one out of many. This project is steeped in our blood. We add to this other excluded groups: African-Americans, woman and now gays and lesbians. This is not simply identity politics. This "context" is not some small matter we invented dealing with a minor issue, but is part and parcel of what we as a people have struggled with since Jamestown and of which precisely because we were free as a national church we could address in the name of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The English have had nothing like this and to arrogantly dismiss it is to insult us as a people.
> But then again when have the English not made a habit of insulting their former colonists.
William R. Coats
This site has been accessed times since February 14, 1996.
Statistics courtesy of WebCounter.