Comment

 

What happened at Dromontine? Reports have naturally conflicted. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has reportedly claimed that ‘some Primates were out for blood’ and that Bishop Duncan of Pittsburg and others had acted ‘inappropriately’ behind the scenes. Archbishop Venables of the Southern Cone is on record as believing that the meeting was Spirit-led, and that it constituted a major defeat for the liberal provinces.

We suspect that neither side is right. The truth is that a monumental struggle has been engaged for dominance of the world-wide Communion, and that the outcome presently appears to be in the balance. Not for long.

Both sides have their strengths. The so-called two-thirds-world Primates are in the majority, and their provinces are the most numerous and growing. The liberals have control of the central secretariat and the consequent power to manipulate agendas. They also have the money.

What complicates matters is the lack of any clear relationship between the so-called ‘instruments of unity’ of the Communion. These are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting.

The Archbishop calls the Lambeth Conference, which in turn created the Anglican Consultative Council. He is ex-officio chairman of the Primates’ Meeting. But what, if any, are the structural relationships between these various bodies and persons? It is hard to say. The recent meeting of the Primates, for example, resolved to request that the US and Canadian representatives dis-invite themselves from the next meeting of the ACC. The chairman of the Council, Bishop John Paterson of New Zealand, has said that ‘such requests raise questions about the inter-relationship between the various instruments of unity which will need to be examined…at our next meeting.’ In other words, No.

Meanwhile the Anglican Communion Office (in effect a fifth instrument of unity, which believes it has the right, and certainly has the proven ability, to manipulate the other four) is already preparing to sideline the Primate’s Meeting in the hope that the three years between now and the next Lambeth Conference can be occupied by a programme of ‘listening’ to homosexualist groups which will result in a partial reversal of Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998.

Since all parties are united in their opposition to any increase in power for the Archbishop of Canterbury; since none of the other three ‘instruments’ is likely to agree to any increase of authority for any other; and since provinces are understood by all to be free, independent and autonomous, there are only two solutions available.

Either traditionalist provinces will be ground into acquiescence by the protracted period of ‘listening’, or they will become impatient with it and simply leave. Either way the liberals (who made it clear, in the crisis over the ordination of women, that they could not care a fig for unity) win hands down.

 

hen people call us ‘anti-gay’, they miss the point. For gayness is not the issue, or more precisely, it is not the substance of the issue.

Gayness (or homosexualism) is a symbol. In a church lacking cast-iron forms of traditional authority (see above), the temptation to engage in an ideological power struggle is almost impossible to avoid, for one’s convictions are endorsed in proportion to their mastery.

Certain issues are totemic. They possess a significance much greater than their immediate content. Their success marks the success of whichever party is promoting them. In this sense, it is not the issue that is important, but its acceptance as the issue, that will signify to the world who has won and who has lost.There were many, of course, who believed in the ordination of women to the priesthood out of genuine if misplaced conviction; but there were many more for whom its success would mark a modernizing, contemporary relevance for an ageing, establishment church. They were not concerned to have women priests, but they were concerned to win the ideological battle of which women priests were the principal symbol.Women priests looked like a liberal sign. Unfortunately, once instituted, it was then taken, by outsiders especially, to be so normal and obvious as to signify nothing at all. Something more truly liberal was needed, a clearer and more unequivocal symbol of ideological progress.

Practising gay clergy might have been just one token issue among many, if evangelicals had not happily seized upon it for themselves, for exactly the opposite reason. Its rejection could become a clear, uncomplicated symbol, in a world of liberal temptation, of faithfulness to the word of holy Scripture. The rejection of practising gay clergy became as clear a sign of ascendancy for one side, as the acceptance of such clergy had become for the other. This was a fight both parties wanted.

One adulterous bishop in the US and a silly little service of celebration from Canada [ND Aug 03] must seem, to outsiders, the most trivial grounds for serious dispute. Yet, the acceptance or refusal of these apparent ‘incidentals’ now amounts to the decisive battle of the campaign.

The substance of the issue matters greatly, as further articles in this month’s edition will testify, but the furious dispute is less about the substance and more about the symbol. Who will win? The answer to this question also matters, but this has never been a reason to be nasty to gays.

 

With the effective suspension/ removal/withdrawal of the provinces of Canada and the United States, and with the retirement of Penny Jamieson in New Zealand last year, there is – it came as a surprise to the editors – not a single serving woman bishop in the whole of the Anglican Communion.

If – and it is an unexpected truth worth repeating – if there is not a single serving woman bishop in the Anglican Communion, then why, we may quite reasonably ask, does it seem so obvious to so many that this innovation should be introduced into the Church of England?

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