First Thoughts on Gregory Cameron’s St Asaph Speech

Very interesting lecture from the Deputy Secretary of the Anglican Communion and former chaplain to Rowan Williams when he was the Archbishop of Wales, Gregory Cameron here (tip of the TinFoil to Ruth Gledhill at The Times). He offers a sweeping view of the history of the Anglican Communion and goes on to assert – in direct opposition to the Episcopal Church assertions in court in Virginia – that we all belong to the same Church:

Canada or in Africa; that Canadians can be elected in New Zealand and New Zealanders in Australia. Even members of the Church in Wales can find themselves appointed to all sorts of bishoprics within the Church of England. I really don’t believe that this could happen if there wasn’t a very real sense that people felt that essentially Anglicans from all over the world were members of the same Church. In fact, it is interesting to note that of the six Anglican primates in Britain and Ireland, three have Welsh backgrounds, the Primate of All Ireland is English, and the English primates are Welsh and Ugandan.

He also recognizes the darker side of our life together as Anglicans, of what he calls a NATO-style alliance of the Americans. Now, note very carefully – he doesn’t differentiate which Americans – with multi-millions dollar assets and trusts, the Episcopal Church is a juggernaut on the financial front. But he doesn’t say “The Episcopal Church” now does he? Very interesting – a diplomatic swipe that plays to the insecurity and prejudice of non-Americans, while building up the Global South – where have we heard that before? Suddenly, in one fell swoop, Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bob Duncan are comrades. Now what’s wrong with that?

But alongside these ties of friendship – the so-called bonds of affection which have been described as holding the Anglican Communion together – there has lurked an unconscious sense of superiority and dependency: a sense that all the really educated theologians find their homes in Oxbridge, and that all the really big money comes from the United States.

It has been said, with a certain sense of irony, that in the Anglican Communion, the Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the English write all the documents. Put like that the idea is almost laughable, but the dark side to the life of the Anglican Communion is that too often the theological graduates of the seminaries of the NATO alliance do unconsciously adopt an air of educational superiority, while many American church leaders do not even seem to notice, even while they often unconsciously rely upon, the implicit obligations which they place on the recipients of their largesse.

He gives clear background of the phenomenal growth of the Church in the Global South and then writes:

It should not be surprising therefore to discover that the twenty-first century has brought a growing impatience with the cultural and financial dominance of the NATO aspects of Communion life, and with it, a growing critique of the Churches of the West. Not only are we in the West shrinking in numbers unlike the growing Churches of the South; for many critics, the Churches of the West are losing a sense of their identity as they get lulled into the liberalism and relativism which are presumed to be the hallmarks of the modern Western society.

Cameron goes on to point out that development of the “Global South” in the Anglican Communion and the unique challenges the Global South face that western parts of the Anglican Communion have failed to understand in their own prophetic march into the future:

For many in the life of the Communion, therefore, it is high time that the Compass Rose swung away from the West and towards the South. A sign of this growing confidence can be seen in the establishment of the “Global South” as an Anglican Communion network. The network evolved from a series of “South to South Encounters” organised from 1994 onwards to empower the Anglican Churches of the developing nations in their mission and life.

By the time of the Third South to South Encounter held in Cairo in 2005, the Anglican Communion had been hit by the crisis following the election of Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, and growing controversy about the Blessing of Same Sex Unions. These developments have catalysed the Global South into the powerful lobby that it is today, as they have articulated a clearer and clearer sense that they are the authentic heirs of the Anglican tradition, and upon whom the mantle falls to call the erring Churches of the West to a renewed faithfulness.

Sadly, Cameron then makes a major blunder.

He gives the two sides of the current theological divide equal weight – a major theological and strategic blunder. He has been paying lip service to the Global South, but at the expense of minimizing the real theological and structural breakdown in North America. We are suddenly reminded of this letter.

This lecture was given as if it was from the perspective of someone feigning objectivity – but that is a misnomer. He is a member of the inner ring, a bureaucrat in the Anglican Communion, an institutionalist, we still can’t forget about that. Having apparently walked out into the field and accurately describing the lay of the land, he then fails to grasp the theological and political reality in front of him. It’s like a general out in the field of the battle stands to address his troops, explain why they are there and then goes on to ask questions about why they are there – as though that is what they are supposed to be doing there. It’s an interesting trivia exercise, but it’s not leadership.

Perhaps it’s not about leadership – but about shifting the field of play away from Jerusalem or New York, and back to Canterbury.

And the West wonders why the Anglican Communion is failing – here we have a clue. Cameron’s solution is the Anglican Covenant at the expense of all the Americans – which again fails to understand that the division is so deep and so profound that agreement on what the word “Christ” means is virtually impossible. It’s global – not confined to the boundaries of North America. Does he think that the Church of England laity are asleep, that somehow the COE’s decline is a aberration and not a declaration that the spiritual waste land is not spreading through the ranks?

Cameron seems to be claiming ground based on a common intellectual antipathy towards Americans – which again, sounds very familiar.

Add to that the clear understanding we now have from Rowan Williams statement on Monday that he continues to think that the Episcopal Church is not dissolving into heretical teaching – when will that man get out of his Golden Palace and get on a plane and come over and not spend a few weeks lurking about Georgetown University, but rather Pittsburgh? Or Ft. Worth? Or even Northern Virginia? Haven’t seen him in court lately.

Cameron is accurate in laying out the problem – and coming from someone so close to the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is heartening. But the result, the appeal that everyone have good British manners is marked with incredulity. It’s as though Cameron has arrived at the party an hour before it’s ending – it’s not over, but it’s no where near the beginning. Much of this rhetoric would have been appropriate perhaps ten or fifteen years ago, but to wait until after the consecration of the bishop of New Hampshire to finally – and even then, with much handwringing – accurately portray the reality that there really is a crisis in the Anglican Communion, no really – begs of someone trying to keep the lampshades on the lamps and not on everyone’s heads.

Talk is one thing, walk is another. What we saw in Jerusalem was both – we heard the talk, we see the walk. 1,2000 Anglicans making the effort to get into Israel and out is no small task. It was an incredible undertaking that took place in miraculous time and demonstrates deep commitment not only from the bishops and clerical orders, but most especially – from the laity.

It is almost comical – these institutionalists lamenting about “primatial” structures, when it is the laity who are building the structures. The fact that Cameron – while I do laud his accurate overview of the situation and yet lament his appeal to institutionalism – fails to grasp the lay revolution now underway is sad. At the heart he sees the division as cultural far more than theological or the fact that in the West and the South there has been a massive revival amongst the laity that has been going on for thirty years. That revival is now finally finding itself challenging the antiquated structures of the church. The sleeping giant woke up.

A covenant will work if we agree on what the words mean. But we do not. And that is why we are in crisis. If we do not agree on the definitions of the words, how can we agree to a covenant?

In the Episcopal Church the bonds of affection were shattered nationally a long time ago. Rowan could inquire the witness of individuals of when that moment occurred. Those bonds still exist between orthodox Episcopals and the orthodox in the Church of England. It’s also clear that the progressive elements in the COE do not come near to the depth of division we find in the Episcopal Church or the Church of Canada – indicating that in fact, the COE is about ten years behind us.

Case in point, Gregory Cameron concludes his speech with these stirring words:

Here is the true pole to which the Compass Rose of the Communion points – not to any North or South or East or West, but to the reality in each heart of the living experience of Christ: a Christ who calls us to be transformed, who calls us to holiness, but who calls us to be profoundly committed to one another, precisely because he is is committed to us.

However, in the Episcopal Church that phrase “experience of Christ” has so many definitions, that we cannot agree even on what the word “Christ” means. I would daresay that the progressives who drop in to the Cafe would have no problem at all with that final paragraph – which is precisely why Cameron- and perhaps the liberalistic leadership of the West – still don’t get it.

But perhaps that’s not the intent – to “get it,” but to refocus the attention away from Jerusalem or New York at the expense of inflamed prejudices and back toward Merry Olde England.