My Response to the Alexandria Communique
My first impression upon reading the Primates' Communiqué from Alexandria was, "There is not much substance here." Upon closer reading, however, my response turned to shock at what our orthodox primates actually had agreed to in the document. I have calmed down a bit since then, and here are my more considered reflections.
There are a few things in the Communique that are favorable to orthodox North American Anglicanism. Lambeth 1.10 was affirmed, for example, in paragraph 12 ("the position of the Communion defined by the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 in its entirety remains"). But there is much to disturb the orthodox Anglican in the U.S. and Canada in this document.
The core of the "great matter" roiling North American Anglicanism is addressed in paragraph 14 and its crucial footnote 11, which were unanimously adopted by the Primates:
14. The Windsor Continuation Group Report examines in Section H the question of parallel jurisdictions, particularly as raised by the Common Cause Partnership, a coalition of seven different organizations [note 10] which have significantly differing relationships with the Anglican Communion. The Report identifies some of the difficulties in recognising the coalition among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Significant concerns were raised in the conversation about the possibility of parallel jurisdictions. There is no consensus among us about how this new entity should be regarded, but we are unanimous in supporting the recommendation in paragraph 101 of the Windsor Continuation Group Report. [Note 11]. Therefore, we request the Archbishop of Canterbury to initiate a professionally mediated conversation which engages all parties at the earliest opportunity. We commit ourselves to support these processes and to participate as appropriate. We earnestly desire reconciliation with these dear sisters and brothers for whom we understand membership of the Anglican Communion is profoundly important. We recognise that these processes cannot be rushed, but neither should they be postponed.
Footnote 11--WCG Report, paragraph 101: The WCG therefore recommends that the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the Primates, establish at the earliest opportunity a professionally mediated conversation at which all the significant parties could be gathered. The aim would be to find a provisional holding arrangement which will enable dialogue to take place and which will be revisited on the conclusion of the Covenant Process, or the achievement of long term reconciliation in the Communion. Such a conversation would have to proceed on the basis of a number of principles:
- There must be an ordered approach to the new proposal within, or part of a natural development of, current rules.
- It is not for individual groups to claim the terms on which they will relate to the Communion.
- The leadership of the Communion needs to stand together, and find an approach to which they are all committed.
- Any scheme developed would rely on an undertaking from the present partners to ACNA that they would not seek to recruit and expand their membership by means of proselytisation. WCG believes that the advent of schemes such as the Communion Partners Fellowship and the Episcopal Visitors scheme instituted by the Presiding Bishop in the United States should be sufficient to provide for the care of those alienated within the Episcopal Church from recent developments.
RWF resumes: On the positive side, the Primates have recognized that membership in the Anglican Communion is "profoundly important" for those of us in ACNA, and the Primates urge the ABC that dealing with this matter should not be postponed (though it should not be "rushed" either!). But pretty much everything else in the paragraph is unfortunate news for ACNA.
For here the primates, including our orthodox supporters (such as my own primate at present, the admirable ++Gregory Venables), have thrown their collective weight behind yet another talking shop—"a professionally mediated conversation" to be organized by ABC Williams.
Personally I find it astonishing that, even as we are now just a few months away from the Constitutional Convention of ACNA and faithful dioceses and parishes all over North America are under fierce attack by TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, the primates are still acting like "relationship counseling" between Bishops Duncan, Iker, and PB Schori may yet resolve our difficulties!! They clearly have no understanding of how complete the break has already become in North America. Literally hundreds of thousands of orthodox Anglicans in North America are firmly committed to total separation from TEC and we will not look back to the "fleshpots of Egypt." No two week "counseling session" is going to alter our determination to be free from TEC's decades-long, irreversible stampede into error. In fact, we must do all in our power to insure that this titanic waste of time and effort does not actually harm our efforts at unity by sapping their forward momentum, especially if the orthodox primates of the Communion delay granting us their full recognition as a province out of respect for the "processes" outlined in the Communiqué's note 11.
But, of course, the primates have given the ABC the "out" he needs to delay even convening such "relationship counseling" ("we recognize that these processes cannot be rushed"). The ABC has dragged his feet on every initiative the primates have proposed in the last five years, and now they have actually told him that he need not "rush." I do not believe this "professionally mediated conversation" will take place for months to come. We must not postpone one minute in forming ACNA while awaiting the outcome of this conversational boondoggle.
But Footnote 11 (referred to in paragraph 14) is an even more troubling part of the Communiqué. In footnote 11 the primates have unanimously committed themselves to the idea that, "The aim [of the "professionally mediated conversation"] would be to find a provisional holding arrangement which will enable dialogue to take place and which will be revisited on the conclusion of the Covenant Process, or the achievement of long term reconciliation in the Communion."
The resolution of our North American problems must wait for years to come, it seems. [When will the Covenant Process be at an end? There are provinces that may not resolve the question of their participation for many years to come, including TEC.] Whatever we come up with in the next few months with regard to ACNA will apparently simply be nothing more than a "provisional holding arrangement"! [I still find it hard to believe that the orthodox primates who have been backing us so strongly signed on to this document. Perhaps they did not read it carefully enough before agreeing to it? It seems that the primates did not have assistants or theological advisers with them at the meeting this time, unlike Dar es Salaam. Perhaps not enough attention was paid to detail.]
Furthermore, whatever is worked out in the present "conversation" should be "an ordered approach to the new proposal within, or part of a natural development of, current rules." We can be certain that PB Schori will use this language to try to rule out any new orthodox province in North America right from the start, claiming that "current rules" do not allow for such a thing! TEC is the only Anglican franchise recognized in the U.S. under the present rules, she will say. All we can do is point to the parallel Anglican jurisdictions on continental Europe and hope for the best, apparently.
To make matters worse the primates have apparently agreed together that "the partners to ACNA" [does this language mean that ACNA itself is not supposed to come into existence this summer and fall, but the Common Cause Partnership alone is supposed to limp along for months or years to come?] must "undertake" "that they would not seek to recruit and expand their membership by means of proselytisation." Surely they don't mean that we are not to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bring new people into our fellowship by baptizing them in our churches [it would be sheer madness for the orthodox primates to tell us not to do that!], but I gather they mean we must rebuff any future attempts by any more orthodox Anglican parishes, dioceses, or organizations to join ACNA, or Common Cause, or whatever. Do the primates truly think we could stand by and watch while our fellow orthodox Anglicans that are still trapped within the boundaries of TEC suffer and do nothing to help them?
But, of course, it now seems based on footnote 11 that the primates are telling these orthodox brothers and sisters still within TEC that "the advent of schemes such as the Communion Partners Fellowship and the Episcopal Visitors scheme instituted by the Presiding Bishop in the United States should be sufficient to provide for the care of those alienated within the Episcopal Church from recent developments." Do the orthodox primates who signed the Communiqué truly believe that the prospect of having a Communion Partner bishop visit for confirmations rather than one of PB Schori's close associates is enough to keep the remaining orthodox contentedly within TEC as GenCon09 hurtles further away from orthodoxy? Are we really supposed to promise to ignore them if they come to us asking for membership in ACNA? Preposterous.
Hard as it is for me to believe, the orthodox primates apparently endorsed point three of footnote 11 as well. In it they have pledged themselves to the idea that "The leadership of the Communion [both ultra-liberal and staunchly orthodox?] needs to stand together, and find an approach to which they are all committed." I understand this to mean that ACNA will not be receiving Archbishop Venables, Orombi, Akinola, and Nzimbi's individual recognition as a province this year after all, despite all appearances to the contrary going into the Alexandria meeting. Instead we are apparently to come hat-in-hand to the ABC for his approval [although he has refused to act in any way multiple times already] and then try to get a two-thirds majority vote in the Anglican Consultative Council next year [where TEC and its allies already have sewn up almost a third of the votes!]. Great.
To be honest, all this still boggles my mind. How could our orthodox primates possibly have signed onto the content of paragraph 14 of the Communiqué, along with its disastrous footnote 11? The interview with Archbishops Venables and Orombi that Anglican TV broadcast may give us a clue. In it ++Venables seems to come very close to saying that the Anglican Communion as we have known it is finished. All that remains is for the realization that we have two entirely different and irreconcilable religions co-existing inside the Communion today to take hold. [Apparently he feels this realization set in around the conference table at Alexandria, which gave him great peace.] Once that realization dawns upon everyone we can move along in the formation of an entirely new, orthodox international Anglican structure to replace the old Communion framework. If this is the case, ++Venables seems to be saying, then sweating out the details of exactly what is going on jurisdictionally in North America isn't really all that important right now. Just cobble something together as a temporary measure and we can welcome the new North American province into whatever international grouping emerges from the wreckage of the present Communion in a few years time. For ++Venables our main concern now should be to insure that the separation of liberal and orthodox world-wide is done "graciously."
Towards the end of the interview ++Venables says that "God will make it clear to us" as to when the present version of the Anglican Communion is totally finished. I am not sure exactly how that divine wisdom will be made apparent or how soon it will happen, but my primate seems to have some idea. For that I'm glad. I hope God's will for our future will become clear to the rest of us very soon as well. (BTW, I can't quite see why ++Venables still thinks the Anglican Covenant will be a further clarifying measure with respect to the doctrinal points that divide the liberals and the orthodox. It is now clear that the Covenant will have neither a clearly defined doctrinal basis nor meaningful enforcement mechanisms to discipline those who violate the norms of the Communion, however those norms are defined. How precisely the Covenant's existence is going to bring greater clarity when it does little more than urge us to accept "the responsibilities and obligations of interdependence" [para. 11 of the Communique] eludes me.)
Archbishop Orombi's views do not come across quite so clearly in the interview. Personally I cannot imagine what benefit the large-scale "commission of theologians" he proposes from the liberal and the orthodox expressions of Anglicanism will confer. Perhaps there are still significant numbers of people out there who don't yet understand the fundamental nature of the doctrinal divisions between us (which ++Orombi himself apparently did not properly comprehend until this meeting, when ++Aspinall of Australia explained them to him) and this conference is supposed to make those differences clear beyond any dispute. Frankly such a conference seems little more than a collasal waste of time and money at this late date, but I suppose it would not do too much harm for all involved to have greater clarity on the full nature of our irreconcilable differences.
I am truly surprised, however, that ++Orombi still seems in this interview to think that if only the orthodox in North America could have a little time face-to-face with ABC Williams that he will come out in favor of ACNA, as if the ABC has not been kept fully informed over the last five years of North American developments. It is clear beyond doubt at this point that the ABC is not willing to do anything to help the orthodox become free of TEC's clutches. No meeting, even if called as ++Orombi hopes by May, will change his studied indifference toward bringing Anglican North America's troubles to a conclusion. His sole goal is to keep everyone at the table talking as long as he stays in office. A genuine resolution to this crisis is not in the cards, if ABC Williams calls the shots.
All that being said, I still hold Archbishops Orombi and Venables in the highest regard as men of God. I do wish, however, that the orthodox primates had not lent their voices to the unanimity of this deeply-flawed Communiqué. It bodes little good for orthodox Anglicanism in North America. I earnestly hope that the leadership of ACNA will not alter our plans one iota because of this Communique's existence. And I hope that the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans' international leadership will act swiftly to bring Archbishop Venables' vision of a re-structured Anglican future to fruition, if that be God's will.