Author Archive

The Wisdom of the Cross: Some reflections on ACC-14 and the Anglican Covenant

Written by:
Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

A number of persons from around the Communion have asked me for my perspective on the recent ACC meeting’s treatment of the proposed Anglican Covenant. There are at least two reasons, I suppose, why my opinion might be solicited. First, I have been a member of the Covenant Design Group that, over the past two and half years has worked at the drafting of this document. Obviously, I have a particular stake in what happens to the work we have spent over 30 full days in prayer, study, and labor producing. But second, I have long argued that doctrinally traditional Anglicans like myself should both be engaged in the Covenant’s promise and articulation but also willing to maintain that engagement from a posture of continued communion within and among our divided member churches. There are many who now wonder whether the outcome to the ACC meeting undercuts that argument.

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May 13 2009 | Articles

The Eastern Congo and the Failure of Christian Witness

Written by:
Monday, February 2nd, 2009

When Laurent Nkunda was captured leaving the eastern Congo on January 22, 2009, a tentative sense of relief was felt by many in and around the area. Nkunda has been the leader of a “rebel” army that has, since 2004 at least, roamed the north-eastern areas of Congo, killing, raping, and pillaging the populace in the name of defending Tutsi Congolese from the attacks of Hutu extremists who had infiltrated the area after their expulsion from Rwanda in the mid-1990’s. Most recently, his army staged an offensive that seemed bent on overcoming areas protected by the UN following an agreement in 2003. Hundreds of thousands of people fled, as Congolese and UN forces retreated, and Nkunda’s soldiers, raping and looting as they went, moved in. For the first time, a man who had been ravaging a depleted and war-weary populace for 5 years, made it onto the front pages of a few American newspapers. With news of his capture, and transport to Rwanda, the publicity chapter appears closed.

Closed once again. For the sense of relief is at best tentative, given that Nkunda’s perpetrated horrors are but one set among a string of ongoing violent assaults upon the well-being of the people of eastern Congo. It is a long episode of victimization and degradation that goes back to the mid 1990’s and before, and that has seen the deaths of upwards of 5 million Congolese – some put the figure higher. This includes large numbers of women and children, many from the disease and starvation that has followed war and displacement. Political and internationally-brokered resolutions to this tragedy have come and gone, and the closure of Nkunda’s role on this list may well mark but another temporary lull. Occasionally, the newspapers and television stations around the world have noted the passing aspects of this long suffering, but only briefly, only in passing. Meanwhile, groups like Human Rights Watch, the International Rescue Committee, and subcommittees of the UN, along with brave individuals – local leaders, exiled Congolese, reporters at a distance – have been compiling dossier after dossier of documentation on the atrocities that have left millions dead, even more displaced, and rendered the area a shifting ground of survival amid famine, disease, and violence. And what this documentation points to is the explicit involvement, collusion, and willful ignorance of governments, businesses, and yes, even of churches.

Even churches. It is a matter worth studying more carefully as to why some disasters garner public interest more than others. Darfur, for instance, has now for a long time been at the center of international and Christian concern. Zimbabwe also, although with much less Christian interest. But the eastern Congo? Only in the Fall of 2008 did an All-Africa Council of Churches decide to put together a team of representatives, led by the Anglican Archbishop of Burundi Bernard Ntahoturi, to act as church delegates to surrounding governments of the area seeking their help in bringing peace. In itself the visit was significant, and marked a major shift in Christian witness. For one thing that has been all-too evident in the travails of the eastern Congo is the way that church leaders themselves have been so entwined with the politics of the major players and supporters of the wars in Eastern Congo – Rwanda, Uganda, Congo itself, and various internal interests – that the notion of looking for a Christian witness for peace in the land has been all but pointless. Abp. Ntahoturi this past Fall listed some of the realities that have been the daily faire of the Congolese, not just this past year, but for almost 15 years: “The suffering of children fleeing into the bush with or without their parents, women atrociously raped, abused and sometimes buried alive, old people and innocent civilians cowardly killed, and the malicious destruction of property and community life.” He concluded with the obvious, if repeatedly ignored, observation that silence from churches during “such a serious humanitarian disaster” makes it impossible for clergy to preach the love of God. But fifteen years of silence will not be easily overcome, let alone explained to God.

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February 02 2009 | Articles

An Open letter to the Covenant Design Group

Written by:
Sunday, January 11th, 2009

To the Members of the Covenant Design Group and the Windsor Continuation Group:

I write to you as a concerned member of the Covenant Design Group, as a committed member of the Episcopal Church (USA), and as one whose professional and spiritual life has been and continues to be devoted to the strengthening of our common witness as Anglican Christians. This is a simple plea for us to do our work better in the midst of continuing ecclesial disintegration.

What motivates this plea at this time? On the one hand, no more than the general evidence of ongoing divisions within North America and the Communion at large. The recent Lambeth Conference has done nothing to mitigate these, as far as I can see. On the other hand, particular evidences arise every day that demonstrate not only a lack of mitigation, but further retrenchment of polarization and division.

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January 11 2009 | Articles

The ACNA Constitution: In Line with the Covenant?

Written by:
Monday, January 5th, 2009

Work in formulating and adopting an Anglican Covenant is proceeding, and with renewed focus. I judge this to be the case despite some vocal claims that the project is both pointless and perverse. Most of these limited and negative claims have come from Western Anglicans intent on maintaining their local autonomy in terms of non-accountability to other Anglican churches and the Communion at large; and among these voices, not surprisingly, is a preponderance of Americans. But there have also been conservative voices, associated with the primarily non-Western group known as GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference), that have labeled the Covenant process as “futile” and “irrelevant” because of its purported lack of theological and disciplinary substance.

I was deeply disappointed that almost 200 Anglican bishops associated with GAFCON did not come to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and so failed to engage a discussion on the Covenant with their colleagues. One might be left with the impression, in fact, that they share the negative views of both liberals and GAFCON spokespeople, something that, although not fatal to the Covenant itself, at least presents major challenges. However, the recent publication of the provisional Constitution for the proposed province of the Anglican Church of North America, warmly supported by and supporting GAFCON, seems to provide a very different perspective. For this Constitution in fact embodies many of the very things the current Covenant draft articulates, and in some measures provides even more latitude to members. Whether consciously or not, the Constitution reflects important aspects, in its own proposed intra-provincial relations, that we have long argued are necessary, possible, and realistic elements of communion-oriented commitments. To this degree, the Constitution demonstrates, perhaps despite itself, a convergence of vision with the current Covenant direction.

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January 05 2009 | Articles

What I Have Learned These Past Five Years: Reflections in Advent, 2008

Written by:
Monday, December 15th, 2008

The last few years of struggle within the Episcopal Church (TEC) and within the Anglican Communion have taken their toll on many persons and congregations, and on our common life in a larger way. Every day brings some new report on the impending or already achieved “break-up” of Anglicanism and on the spectacle of “global schism”, even while Anglican leaders insist that this hasn’t happened yet. Many congregations in the United States, and some in Canada, have left their denominations for other forms of Anglican relationship. Even more congregations, including many that have left TEC, have been torn by conflict or bled by tension and malaise, and TEC’s membership has shown a steady and alarming drop in the past three or four years. Declarations affirming something “new” about to begin or demanding something “old” be restored are issued from various groups, and the project of developing “adequate structures” or even canons for this or that ministry, mission, and witness is seen by many as a necessity, even if understood in contradictory ways.

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December 15 2008 | Articles

A New “Province” in North America: Neither the Only Nor the Right Answer for the Communion

Written by:
Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

A new “province” for North American Anglicans is now promised to be “up and running” in the next month or so. It will comprise the 3-4 dioceses that have voted to leave TEC; the associations of various congregations that have left TEC (e.g. CANA) and those started outside of TEC from departing groups; it will also include congregations and denominations within the Anglican tradition that have formed over the past decades in North America. All of these groups now form part of an association called Common Cause.

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November 18 2008 | Articles

Truthful Language and Orderly Separation

Written by:
Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

The Anglican Communion is currently pursuing a number of activities in response to the acrimonious struggle over sexual teaching and discipline within our churches. These activities have been encouraged by the Communion’s leadership, including at the recent Lambeth Conference. I have, to various degrees, been a supporter of these activities, not least because I have trusted those who have promoted these means towards ecclesial healing. I am increasingly skeptical, however, that the way these activities have been framed – descriptively and practically – represents the true nature of our disputes.

Categories like “moratoria” and “reception” and “listening”, for instance, are now prominent elements in our strategic ecclesial discussions. Unfortunately, they no longer appear to be useful categories, in large part because they do not accurately reflect the actual relationship of expectation and possibility that the disputing parties hold, one to another and with respect to their own commitments. When one party says, while responding to the request for a “moratorium” on specific actions, “yes we will consider it; but there is no going back on our underlying commitments”; and another party says at the same time, “yes we will consider it; but only on the condition that you others give up your practical commitments”, then the very category of “moratorium” functions in very different ways in each case. Similarly, when “reception” is a “process” that seeks to discern the Christian authenticity of an innovative practice, but also does so by the very means of rooting that practice within the life of the church in different areas, the notion that discernment has a possibly restraining role to play seems practically undercut. Or when “listening” presumes an ecclesial practice even as it refuses to evaluate that practice, one is not so much listening as receiving justification ex post facto.

Indeed, the practical logic of the situation we are now in as a Communion has exposed the inadequacy of these categories, and has raised questions about the very nature of “council”, consensus, and decision-making. With this, our churches have been challenged to reconsider from the ground up whether or not we are capable of maintaining the integrity of our common life at all.

The “practical logic of the situation we are in” is one, quite simply, where our Communion, and the churches within it, are beset by radically unequal – or asymmetrical – engagements with the presenting issue of sexuality. It is not simply that the views of gay inclusivists and traditionalists are “incompatible” and “irreconcilable” (although this may be true, theologically). Rather, because the practical asymmetry of these two views’ applications has been ignored and the two engagements have been forced one upon the other incoherently, a dynamic has been set loose that can move in one of only two directions: either the extinguishing of the traditionalist party itself as a vital ecclesial existence, or the dissolution of a church that holds both parties together. This fact has enormous implications for the practical realities of a number of activities that are currently demanding our attention as a Communion. These include the vexed debates over “moral equivalence” between the requested “moratoria”; the process of “reception”; the “listening process”; even the argument over Rowan Williams’ putative hypocrisy (or “mental illness” as one person called it) over having held personal views theoretically “open” to gay inclusion, even while he now firmly promotes ecclesial adherence to the traditionalist teaching of the Church.

How would I describe these unequal engagements? In short: we have reached a situation where it is clear, in the sense that people have stated the conclusion and demonstrated it, that a change of practice is both unexpected and impossible for gay inclusivists, while a change of attitude for conservatives is both expected and theoretically still possible.

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September 09 2008 | Articles

True Christian Unity? Reflections on the Lambeth Conference

Written by:
Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Anyone who has observed the Anglican Communion over the past few months knows that the outcome to the recent Lambeth Conference is not simply going to be smooth sailing for our churches. The press itself has veered wildly in its evaluation of the Communion throughout the Conference: first, there were declarations of Anglicanism’s imminent demise, then claims of dire victory for liberal or conservative forces respectively, then the crowning of Rowan Williams as the Great Peacemaker, and now, most recently, the stoking of new acrimony with stale “revelations” of the Archbishop’s long-known support of yesteryear for a positive consideration of gay inclusion (a support he has since significantly modified in a traditionalist direction). Even leaders and followers within Anglican churches seem to be caught up in the extreme oscillations of punditry emerging from what one theologian has called the “silly season” of the media’s church reportage, what with Primates, bishops, and “regular” church members issuing contradictory declarations of joy and doom, recrimination and self-congratulation. In all of this, one would scarcely guess that the Church, including the battered body of Anglicanism, belongs to God and not to the warring groups of ecclesiastical strategists.

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August 10 2008 | Articles

An Open Letter to the Bishops Gathering at Lambeth

Written by:
Sunday, July 13th, 2008

To the Bishops gathering for the Lambeth Conference:

I write to you personally and openly. I hope that at least some of you will take my words to heart, not because they are mine (which, on their own, would not count for much), but because they represent the mind, I believe, of many in the Communion who are not as vocal in the councils and organs of communication within our church as some.

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July 13 2008 | Articles

A short primer in defense of an Anglican Covenant

Written by:
Monday, June 23rd, 2008

In 1997 the so-called “Virginia Report” of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission began a rich process of reflecting on the needs of a growing, diversifying, and changing Anglican Communion. This included analyzing and re-thinking in some cases the current structures and relationships among Anglican churches around the world and generally demonstrating the demand for greater explicitness and deliberation in the way the Communion functions. The Report’s opening theological discussion (2.1) sets out the reality of divine “Covenant” as the fundamental means by which God’s purposes are enacted historically.

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June 23 2008 | Articles

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