Andrew Carey: Two-Tier Communion Proposed

Two-tier Communion proposed
By Andrew Carey

A FORMAL split in the Anglican Communion may be necessary following the Episcopal Church’s ‘incomplete’ response to the Windsor Report, according to a statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Responding to last week’s General Convention, Dr Rowan Williams suggested that the only hope for the Communion was an Anglican Covenant by which constituent Churches limited their own autonomy for the sake of the greater whole.

Those Churches, he said, which refused to sign the covenant could become ‘Churches in association’ which were “bound by historic and perhaps personal links, fed from many of the same sources but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion.” For some time Dr Williams has stressed the gravity of the situation, arguing that a move towards a federal Anglican Communion was no more workable than the current structures. His latest statement indicates how far his thinking has gone towards a formal separation within the Anglican Communion following the US General Convention.

After intense pressure last week on the final day of the Convention by Presiding Bishop Griswold and his successor-elect, Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, bishops and deputies finally accepted a watered-down resolution on a moratoria of the consecrations of practising homosexual bishops. The resolution urged bishops and standing committees to act with ‘restraint’, but was criticised for falling short of the language of the Windsor Report. The Council of African Provinces in Africa last weekend released a statement expressing severe reservations about whether the actions of General Convention had done enough to meet the demands of the Anglican Communion.

They expressed sadness that the Convention had been unable to embrace the recommendations of the Windsor Report. They said they would study ECUSA’s actions and statements and meet with Global South Primates in September to present a “concerted pastoral and structural response. “We assure all those Scripturally faithful dioceses and congregations alienated and marginalised within your Provincial structure that we have heard their cries,” they added. If anything, Archbishop Williams’ statement went further than the African response in suggesting that ECUSA had not responded adequately to the Windsor Report. But his view that the Anglican Communion could split into an inner core of ‘constituent churches’ and ‘churches by association’ will cause shock around the world.

“This leaves many unanswered questions, I know, given that lines of division run within local churches as well as between them… It could mean the need for local churches to work at ordered and mutually respectful separation between ‘constituent’ and ‘associated’ elements; but it could also mean a positive challenge for churches to work out what they believed to be involved in belonging in a global sacramental fellowship,” Dr Williams said. The Archbishop defended the rights and liberties of homosexuals, but said that the traditional view of human sexuality “should not be automatically seen as some kind of blind bigotry against gay people.” He argued that whatever the presenting issue, “member Churches can make significant decisions unilaterally and still expect this to make no difference to how it is regarded in the fellowship… It isn’t a question of throwing people into outer darkness but of recognising that actions have consequences – and that actions believed in good faith to be ‘prophetic’ in their radicalism are likely to have costly consequences.”

A statement from the American Anglican Council welcomed the statement. “We applaud the Archbishop’s clear assessment and his call for necessary structural changes embodied by ‘constituent’ and ‘associate’ Churches centred upon a covenant with an ‘opt in’ mechanism.

“We view this as a positive direction for the biblically faithful minority currently within ECUSA, and we commit to assist in an ordered and mutually respectful separation between ‘constituent’ and ‘associated’ elements’ of ECUSA. We view this proposal as the way to ensure clear theological and doctrinal unity based on Anglicanism’s traditional view of the supremacy of Scripture.” The Rev Richard Jenkins, speaking for Affirming Catholicism, welcomed the Archbishop’s statement, but added: “We are all diminished by division and need each other’s insights to flourish. If a formal covenant is intended to help us to live in solidarity with each other then it must function in a dynamic way, not simply acting as a brake on every development. This will be a difficult task, but one which we will apply ourselves to.”