Comment on TO MEND THE NET

Comment on To Mend the Net

by Dr. Ken Clark

The following comment responds to Bps. Sinclair and Gomez's To Mend the Net, a proposal to increase the authority of the primates of the Anglican communion. This increase is cast as "enhanced responsibility."

The notion of "enhanced responsibility," unless it is set within the context of official lay and clergy involvement, is one of the most radical departures from traditional Anglicanism that I have ever encountered. From the days of Henry VIII as supreme head, Elizabeth I as supreme governor, to the subsequent oversight of Parliament in England, there has been a continuum of balance of power in our communion. (In the US this, of course, evolved into General Convention which, at first, was not inclined to give the bishops the vote. As we all know, our bishops cannot act without concurrent approval by the House of Deputies.)

Lambeth Conference was a result of a call to action by the Anglican Synod in Canada (1865) to deal with Bishop Colenso of Natal, who in ministering to African natives refused to make polygamous men give up their extra wives prior to baptism. So, sexual behavior has been an integral concern of Lambeth from its inception. (Colenso also went on to question doctrines like eternal damnation, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch,etc.).

The Archbishop of Capetown deposed Bp. Colenso who appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. This lay committee upheld Bp. Colenso. At first, the idea was to call a council of bishops to establish Anglican doctrine in opposition to Bp. Colenso. This was so strongly opposed that the notion was abandoned. In 1867, the Lambeth Conference met as a collegial and consultive gathering of the bishops. Since that time the Conference has met at regular intervals. The resolutions of Lambeth are not binding even though they carry much weight. On an excellent web page the following is said:

The See of Canterbury could never have ruled this worldwide Communion because The Church of England is governed by English law and tradition. The Archbishop of Canterbury does not even govern York within England. In fact the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Durham refused to attend the first Lambeth Conference in 1867. Nor could the Archbishop of Canterbury call Lambeth a 'council' because the Church of England may not gather councils 'without the commandment and will of Princes', according to the Thirty-nine Articles on which the Church of England was founded. So Lambeth is a conference, not a council, with power only to confer, consult, discuss, debate and vote on resolutions.

Now, if the primates want to take on "enhanced responsibility", it seems to me that the only way they can do this is by working with the various provincial legislative bodies which include lay and clergy as well as bishops. In Section 1.11 they say they do not want legislative action above their provinces, but go on to give examples of how to deal punitively with provinces which do not accept the resolutions of Lambeth. To proclaim this new and novel idea is certainly within the right of the primates. But for it to fall on the deaf ears of those who want to hold on to the traditional polity of our communion is a more profound right. (I have not read any of the other papers or books which go with _To Mend the Net_, and if there is indication that lay and clergy will be included before any profound change in our polity is attempted, I will happily standcorrected).

[Note: The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Clark is a retired priest in the Diocese of the Rio Grande and author of the bible study program Kerygma -- L.]


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