AM on Advent Letter - 2nd Critique

12/01/2008 22:41

For AM, the focus of the problem in terms of people is then defined as “those who consecrated Gene Robinson to be a bishop” and the refusal to withhold fellowship is focussed on the fact that “the Archbishop accepts” that they “will be present at the Lambeth Conference”.

This is most likely true as the Archbishop certainly has not withdrawn the invitations. However, it must also be stated that the invitation list is still open to change and AM does not acknowledge this. The Letter states that

I have underlined in my letter of invitation that acceptance of the invitation must be taken as implying willingness to work with those aspects of the Conference’s agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a Covenant….I intend to be in direct contact with those who have expressed unease about this, so as to try and clarify how deep their difficulties go with accepting or adopting the Conference’s agenda.

The letter also includes in the remit of the proposed advisory group –

to consider whether in the present circumstances it is possible for provinces or individual bishops at odds with the expressed mind of the Communion to participate fully in representative Communion agencies, including ecumenical bodies.

While these commitments may not now be able to influence Lambeth invitations it certainly shows that the issue of “withholding fellowship” is not being rejected by the Archbishop as starkly as suggested by AM.

With colleagues in the Anglican Communion Institute I have argued for some time that non-invitation to Lambeth should be implemented as a form of discipline. ACI proposed in a major submission to the Lambeth Commission (Communion and Discipline) that this should be applied, at that time to those who consented to Gene Robinson’s election in 2003. I therefore share AM’s concerns here and wish the Archbishop had been able to withdraw invitations. However, I believe that their appeal to Windsor here is flawed.

AM claim that the fact that the Archbishop “accepts that those who consecrated Gene Robinson to be a bishop will be present at the Lambeth Conference” is “in contradiction to the clear assertion of the Windsor Report (para 134), that those who took part in the consecration of Gene Robinson should withdraw from representative functions”. The reality is in fact much more nuanced. Para 134 – which AM cites – reads

pending such expression of regret, those who took part as consecrators of Gene Robinson should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We urge this in order to create the space necessary to enable the healing of the Communion. We advise that in the formation of their consciences, those involved consider the common good of the Anglican Communion, and seek advice through their primate and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This paragraph clearly fails to support their claim that the Archbishop has contradicted Windsor. This is so on two grounds. First, the call for consecrators to withdraw is ‘pending such expression of regret’, a reference to the previous part of para 134 calling on TEC ‘to express its regret’ for its actions at GC 2003. An expression of regret was offered by GC 2006 and, although I and others argued it was not quite what Windsor sought, the Primates at Dar clearly accepted it. It could therefore be argued that this part of 134 no longer has force as the consecrators are embraced personally within the corporate regret offered by TEC and the acceptance of this by Dar. Second, AM omit the key final sentence of para 134 – “We urge all members of the Communion to accord appropriate respect to such conscientious decisions”. This strictly means that the Archbishop of Canterbury would be acting contrary to Windsor if he did not respect the consecrators’ conscientious decisions and simply withdrew his invitations if they conscientiously decide to accept.

Where AM is (almost) right, however, is that Windsor clearly thought it best that the consecrators should not participate in Communion life “in order to create the space necessary to enable the healing of the Communion” and it does appear that their participating is frustrating rather than enabling healing and is not for “the common good of the Anglican Communion”.

Windsor urged the consecrators to “seek advice through their primate and the Archbishop of Canterbury”. As a result, while it is false to say the Advent Letter is “in contradiction to the clear assertion of the Windsor Report”, the spirit of the Windsor Report is probably best implemented if the Archbishop includes all the consecrators in those with whom he is in direct (and appropriately private) contact to “clarify how deep their difficulties go with accepting or adopting the Conference’s agenda”. As part of that he could encourage them to show their commitment to “implementing the recommendations of Windsor” by seeking his advice about their participation at Lambeth. If they insist on coming he could (although the tension with respecting conscientious decisions noted above remains) be urged to consider using the authority he has which is acknowledged in para 110 (not para 134) and “invite participants to the Lambeth Conference on restricted terms at his sole discretion” as “full voting membership of the Conference is perceived to be an undesirable status” which “would militate against the greater unity of the Communion”. It remains the case, however, that this must finally be his judgment and there is strong evidence that non-invitation would also militate against the greater unity of the Communion.


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