++Rowan Sends Letters

++Rowan has sent ’round the world this morning two letters–one for Advent and one for Christmas. Ever the liturgical snark, my first instinct was to wish he had sent the Christmas one later than the Advent one if even only by a day or two…

There will be lots of talk about these letters and their contents. I may weigh in on them–I may not. But I do want to suggest that the Advent letter be analyzed with two entirely different questions in mind:

  1. Does this letter reflect the Anglican understanding of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury? How well does it go about being faithful to our Anglican ways of relating to each other?
  2. How should the Episcopal Church respond–in so far as we are able to respond in any kind of unified way?

Again, I want to stress that I see these as two entirely different questions that will help us gain a better sense of where we ought to be moving in response to this missive.

13 thoughts on “++Rowan Sends Letters

  1. John-Julian, OJN


    It seems to me that the international Anglican, inter-provincial role of the Archbishop of Canterbury (i.e., differentiated from his role as Bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury and his role as Primate of All England) is simply to invite to Lambeth those bishops with whom he considers himself to be in communion. And it has traditionally been those invitations which have defined “Anglican” – I mean, that’s the outward and visible sign. Everything else on his part, it seems to me, is a personal (i.e., not role-based) undertaking. The “instrument of unity” thing is a brand new concept (to the degree that it goes beyond Lambeth invitations and communion-with-him). He can certainly express personal opinions, or set prerequisites for his invitations to Lambeth (i.e., he can thereby “define” who is Anglican and who isn’t), but not much more than that.

    (BTW I am so sad that he doesn’t express personal opinions on the homophobic monstrosities of Nigeria et al.)

    The Episcopal response: well, the reality is that not within the course of at least several generations can the rest of the “non-Western” provinces be expected to catch up with the anthropological, sociological, psychological, and political development of 21st century Western cultures and provinces. It is just not reasonably possible.

    Given the 300 years it took for America to move from the 17th c. Massachusetts Bay Colony cultural norms (btw, almost identical with many African cultural norms today) to those of the present, and even factoring in the Internet and globalized economies, I’d say there is no chance in an Anglican cultural consensus for another century.

    And the chance that TEC will simply back track at GC 2009 and wait for that consensus seems not only remote, but sociologically inappropriate. I think the only response would be: “We are doing God’s work as well as our vision of God’s will allows, and we think you all are doing the best by your own lights. Our great hope is that the differences (which are not dogmatic) can be tolerated by both you and us. If not, then we shall simply have to continue to seek God’s will by ourselves along with any who care to join us in our journey.”

    Some of the Africans (notably) were once massively put upon by the British Evangelical missionaries (CMS) which widely insisted on the denial of entire ancient cultural (not just religious) norms – bringing in Mother Hubbards and coats-and-ties to cover beautiful black bodies, replacing the sociologically “feminine” African cultures with the “masculine” patriarchal culture of Britain. And now the terrible mis-direction of those missionary endeavors has come back to haunt us. The 19th century remains solid and stands against the 21st century, and those 200 years can not be expected to vanish overnight.

    [And – religion aside – can you imagine that Mugabe has just been given another term as president of Zimbabwe? I mean, that’s as sociologically insane as re-electing Bush!]

    Anyway, all of that saddens me immensely, but I think we must recognize that it is the face of cultural reality. I does interest me that the more improved communications develop, the more are divisions, revolutions, battles occur. Nothing is beyond the horizon anymore as it once was, and I think God will have to send an entire new race of prophets to straightens thing out.

  2. Christopher

    I found Jared’s post apropos. If this is the future of the Anglican Communion, it will be a future without me. I finally realized I can’t live with this anymore.

  3. Derek the Ænglican

    I’m not sure what you mean by “this”, Christopher.

    The way I read it, ++Rowan is embracing a conciliarist stance. The consensus of the communion is that it is not ready to change so that’s what he’s going with (i.e., my take on question 1 above.)

    If this is so, then our best move is, following counsel that Marshall Scott and others have recommended before, is to accede to the wisdom of the whole—and absent ourselves from the Communion for a time to embody the Gospel as we understand we have received it and ought to embody it on these shores. And this may in fact mean surrendering property to those who have parted ways with us—but if the prophetic message is prophetic and is of God, than we had best obey…

  4. aconservativeblogforpeace

    The buzz I’ve read (yes, much of it is conservative buzz) says it’s more Cantuarian dithering but the bits I’ve read essentially agree with you and me (though each might put it differently). Centralisation – treating him like a Pope – is nothing to do with it. You’re right, it’s conciliarist. It’s about what most Anglicans worldwide want and ++Cantuar simply reflecting that. Much like if a bishop says no sale, a parish has to move, left or right, frankly, TEC’s walking alone acting unilaterally on these issues, prophetic or not, logically put it out of the Anglican Communion. (A worldwide democracy in action.) Which wouldn’t and shouldn’t affect most Episcopalians. Entirely fair.

  5. bls

    Not “unilaterally” again! Anybody ever heard of a country called Canada, maybe? Interesting that TEC alone continues to be Rowan Williams’ whipping boy. He doesn’t like the United States, it’s become obvious to me.

    But who cares anymore? I’m sick to death of the Christian Church and sick to death of bishops (and priests, and laity) and their bigotry, and I don’t give a damn anymore what happens. It’s pretty much irrelevant to me (and to most of the world, as they exit the doors and don’t come back).

    You all enjoy your purity and holiness, now….

  6. josh

    Off-topic: Derek, thank you for that marvelous piece on Episcopal Café with the O Antiphons! I’d heard of them but never seen them. Your good timing allows us all to use them as we count the last days of waiting and watching. I know one Daily Office visitor who will love seeing them.

    O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem…

  7. aconservativeblogforpeace

    Good point about Canada. HM Dominion always has been less in-your-face than its boisterous, independent southern neighbour. TEC could be targeted because it made a bolder move with Gene Robinson and it’s bigger and richer than the Anglican Church of Canada. From the conservative POV the same-sex blessings there are as much as communion-sunderer as in the States.

  8. C. Wingate

    I think the advent letter could have been a great deal shorter but I suppose he felt all the side explanation was necessary. Anyway, it boils down to a pretty straightforward and reasonable message: he’s not a pope and won’t dictate theology, but he can’t go off and accept every kinked bit of polity thrown at him. Lambeth is going to have to act more as a synod and deal with ECUSA’s deviancies and the AMiA dubio-bishops as a council.

    The liberals are mad at him because he’s putting the church ahead of the beliefs he supposedly shares with them. (Given continued commentary from him about gay marriage I’m beginning to doubt that he shares as much as they think, but that’s neither here nor there.) The conservatives– well, the rumblings about a counter-Lambeth have put things in a quite different light. A week ago I would have said that the pro-split side was being impatient; now I’m wondering how much the liberal radicals were right in smelling a conspiracy. I don’t think RW is dithering, but it may well be that his plan to force the bishops to work it out is going to collapse under the weight of all the posturing from the extremes.

  9. bls

    My fondest hope is that the Anglican Communion sinks into the sea, just as Canon Edward Norman predicted it would.

    Not that anybody will notice, anyway, given the (conveniently ignored) fact that hardly anybody had ever heard of it before about 30 years ago. It’s basically a fiction anyway; the problem at this point it that it is getting in the way of evangelism.

    The Churches continue to empty out because of the association with right-wing politics and the irrational hatred of gay people.

    I don’t think we can really afford to be associated with this any longer. We have a beautiful and important message and it’s getting lost in the hysteria from the so-called “Global South” and their pals. We should be 10 times the size we are; we’re one of the few voices that a lot of people outside the church will listen to, I think. What about them? What about us? Why the hell do we care about the damned Anglican Communion? We need to be about our own business at last; we need to form our own worldwide communion based on Anglican ecclesiology (which this one isn’t) and grow at last.

    Now is the time, really.

  10. bls

    (And I don’t think we need to worry about a possible lack of “conservative” voices, either.

    The people who want to destroy us are not “conservatives” – not of a type that I recognize, anyway. And I’m no leftist; I’ll be one of the more conservative (theologically) members of our new Communion – and I don’t mind.

    There are plenty of gay conservatives, actually – and they aren’t going anywhere else, I assure you, while the church is in full-on anti-gay mode. Which I’m sure it will be for another century or so.

    We just can’t afford to be around these reactionaries any longer. We’ll be fine, and I think better than fine. We have work to do, so let’s get to it.)

  11. Derek the Ænglican

    Well, bls, I’d agree certainly agree that we have a beautiful and important message to get out and it’s high time we get about doing it.

    Too, I dislike both the rhetoric and the assumptions from both sides that automatically equates gay with liberal in all areas.

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