Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Invitations Issue a Deepening Mess

The bishops of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda have issued a response to the decisions of the Archbishop of Canterbury in not inviting bishops of the AMiA for Lambeth, 2008.

The Rwandan bishops say they're not going, either.

Unless, of course, what they ask for comes to pass: that The Episcopal Church "repent" of ordaining openly gay and lesbian clergy and, presumably, the consecration of +Gene Robinson; and the Archbishop of Canterbury invite all bishops consecrated from Rwanda (including those in the AMiA.)

I honestly hope they're not holding their breath . . .

What I found more puzzling, though, was the language of the communiqué -- most of all, this paragraph:

In a letter sent to Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini on 18 June 2007, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote, “You should know that I have not invited the bishops of AMiA and CANA. This is not a question of asking anyone to disassociate themselves at this stage from what have been described as the missionary initiatives of your Provinces…. I appreciate that you may not be happy with these decisions, but I feel that as we approach a critical juncture of the life of the Communion, I must act in accordance to the clear guidance of the instruments of the Communion….” We would like to know if there are instruments in the Communion more important than the Primates and Provinces themselves.

(emphasis added)
A curious argument. This appears to me to appeal to the same kind of provincial autonomy The Episcopal Church articulates around our actions. Yet an assertion of autonomy runs counter to all the other language in the Rwandan communiqué attacking us for not abiding by the "counsel" of the Instruments of Unity.

Well, I wonder which way should it be? I suppose I lean towards autonomy: both for the Episcopal Church of Rwanda and the Episcopal Church in the United States. But then autonomy for others is only attractive when they do what we want them to, right?

The paragraph continues:
The Archbishop of Canterbury also refers to the consecration of the AMiA and CANA bishops as irregular. We would like to know why their consecrations are considered irregular when the actions of TEC are not considered irregular. We feel that the words of the Archbishop are tantamount to a threat, and we cannot accept this.
Precisely what is threatening in the Archbishop of Canterbury's words quoted here?

Threat or no threat from the ABC, the (counter-)threat of not attending Lambeth, 2008, does not appear to me to be exactly taking the moral high road in this mess. But then the reality of the Anglican Communion is that about the only substantive threat any one can make -- parishioner, clergy, congregation, diocese, or province -- is with one's feet: that is, of course, to leave. That the bishops of Rwanda seem increasingly prepared to do if their demands are not met. It demonstrates a principled if not, in my view, charitable stand.

I also sense a big unarticulated subtext here. This may not in fact simply be war by proxy on The Episcopal Church as much as a serious effort to undermine the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the "focus of unity." Perhaps this is, in some deep way, an anti-colonial move rooted very much in understandable cultural resentment. More to the point, it serves only to highlight the ongoing effort to form an alternative province (in North America), if not an alternative Anglican Communion. A weakened Canterbury is essential to these efforts.

Put yet another way, this is not all about us.

I am deeply saddened by the rift with a province of the Anglican Communion that so recently endured unimaginable horrors. The profoundly Christian work of reconciliation following the terrors of genocide seems almost insultingly overshadowed by this war of words over sexuality and petty fights about who is invited and who isn't.

We do indeed reap what we sow: colonialism begets longstanding isolation, suspicion, and outright hostility.

Moreover, and quite tragically, it seems the Archbishop of Canterbury has indeed effectively contributed to further dividing an already divided Communion by inviting some bishops and not others.

I dare not speculate how much more the situation will deteriorate before he returns from his study leave.

But I do know two things from working at the parish level of the church:

Threats are never helpful when trying to resolve conflict.
Counter-threats only make the situation worse.

Welcome to Schism Land.

Lord have mercy.

1 comment:

KJ said...


Thanks for this article. I go to other blogs for "left" and "right" whining, but come to you for the objective analysis.