14 January 2012


15 January, 2011. When I wrote this post, I was not aware that the Very Rev. Jeffery John, a victim of unconscionable (but sadly not unusual) injustice in the Church of England, had found his patience with persecutors and betrayers exhausted and taken as is his undoubted right, to the civil courts seeking justice. I hope his action prospers. In any case, the reference to him below was based on my observation of that injustice and not his now public, entirely appropriate outcry against it. Jim B.
When Comprehensive Unity began its fight against the Covenant, there were among the twenty three of us, roughly twenty six strategic visions. We are after all, a group of progressive Anglican intellectuals and that is not a group known for single strategic views. We managed to agree on the goal, the general strategy - tell the truth about the Covenant, the leaders (that was amazing!) and the internet resources. Beyond that, not much, and in fact a few folks who were invited to the party, while agreeing, "in principle" were unable to subordinate their individual visions to the whole's.

This is both our strength and weakness. Most of us continue to have our own blogs, Twitter, and Facebook resources and we continue to make the case (which is actually fairly easy) against the Covenant. That collection of voices, focused on a single point, with a whole range of nuanced perspectives and polemics is our strength.

Dr. Williams is a smart centralizer. He and we know our weakness. We are not the sort of folks who can easily agree on the shape an alternative should take. We range from those who see the communion as a loose coalition, to those who would see it as a more active, integrated ministry of equals. So by saying, "there is no alternative" and doing none of things within his power to solve, "the crises" Dr. Williams has zeroed in our problem. Unethical, surely, but it is politically savvy. Sometimes I think we progressives under-estimate our opponents' political acumen while over estimating his decency.

My vision, and it is merely mine, one lone voice, little regarded in his parish or diocese, is of a communion that recognizes the abilities of the various churches within it, and attempts to focus them on the needs. So for instance, TEC is good at social gospel, not so good at church planting. We could offer some help to churches that really know about doing church planting but need to learn how to focus activist and charitable energy while learning some evangelism techniques. Do we need that? Consider that 95% of the clergy who are listed in our deployment database do not list, "evangelism" or "growth" as skills. They are correct!

That sort of communion would not need an archbishop who directs belief, it would need a network and exchange structure. It is hard to think of Dr. Williams endorsing it. It recognizes that the world is flat, and that we frankly do not need an international hierarchy. Is that dismissive of the current hierarchs? You bet! They know it too. Which is why a "flat world" approach is not salable in Canterbury.

What of doctrine and dogma? How does this network handle disagreement on things like women bishops, gay bishops, mutual ministry, biblical interpretation, and polity? Perhaps by simply being. If we honor our own Anglican tradition, then the boundaries of the Anglican community are actually quite clear: we are those who honor each other's ministries,and ministers; we are those who take the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral seriously; and we are they who are prepared to differ and argue (vociferously) about everything else.

That sort of divesity within the communion would mean TEC allowing CANA or whatever that organization is becoming into the mix, in exchange for CANA getting over the idea of replacing TEC, and at least giving up preaching against TEC ordinations. It would mean the CoE actually honoring the Forward in Faith folks and at least temporarily permitting them their "third province" or "flying bishops." And it would envision a Nigeria where the gay and lesbians could be either part of the church or a parallel, RESPECTED body. It would be a community where Sudan could welcome the presiding bishop of TEC while vocally disagreeing with her. No, this could not happen overnight -- it would take time and good faith negotiation.

The emergent church is not one that wants, "my lord bishop." That is a real problem for those who have walked on their principles and friends (cf. Jeffery John) to get where they are. When Dr. Williams says there is no alternative, he is partially correct: there is none he can envision. He sees none because he cannot see one in which he is not the central lord bishop. I can.


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