I suppose it is inevitable that a person of my age and generation should find himself somewhat uncomfortable with some of the rhetoric surrounding the terms “colonial” and “post colonial”. I will grant that there is much lament about the colonial period, finding extremes in the frightfulness of the Belgian monarch’s personal administration of the Congo, the extremes of Manifest Destiny as applied to Native Americans, British reactions to the “indian Mutiny” and later the Amritsar massacre and American suppression of the Filipino independence movement, to name but a few. At a different level was the misguided, but perhaps culturally understandable stance of missionaries towards native dress and customs, lampooned delightfully in Noel Coward’s “Uncle Harry’s Not A Missionary Now.”  However some good word might be put in for the benefits of education, medicine, and Christianity itself, remembering that all of us who believe in Jesus are the heirs of the Church’s mission to the ends of the earth. As the Christian Calendar of saints reminds us again and again, many gave their lives and not all cultural suppression was misguided. The death by exposure of children and the elderly, the eradication of Sutee or the activities of the Thugee being cases in point.

For those who feel secure in ranging America on the side of anti-colonialism, “The Imperial Cruise” by James Bradley is instructive reading. The prose is somewhat purple and the book heavily one-sided, but the record of the United States emerges starkly as one notes the investment of many of its leaders in the culture of white imperialism towards African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics on this continent and policy abroad, particularly in Latin America and Asia. Against this one may place the idealism of Woodrow Wilson and the anti-colonial stance of Franklin D. Roosevelt and post world war two foreign policy, instances of conversion rather than a continuity of culture and history.

It was inevitable that Harold Macmillan’s “Winds of Change”, the dismantlement of the British Empire and the emergence of independent nation states would alter the relationship between the emerging “Global South” Provinces of the Anglican Communion and the Mother Church. At first the American Church, born in a war of national independence against the colonial power seemed to be a paradigm for “Third World” Anglicanism. Indeed the American Church seemed to portray vividly the ambivalence of sentiment and attachment now experienced in Africa and Asia in formerly colonial Anglican outposts. At this precise moment that ambivalence is demonstrated both in the United States and abroad for different reasons and in a rather odd fashion. The present Archbishop of Canterbury is attacked in some places for his alleged paternalistic, colonial pretensions and in others because he has not exerted a sufficient paternalism in his efforts to counter the controversial policies of the North American provinces.

At root what is now in collision is the doctrine of the Church’s universality and the independent locality of local Provinces. Behind the hot button issues lies a deeper and fundamental debate about what we mean when we proclaim, “We believe in one, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”. In his Pentecost missive the Pope seeks to reaffirm that wherever Christians are located, there fundamentally is the Catholic Church. He gives room for local expression and of course identifies the Church with the Roman Catholic Church. Despite such an identification, the Pope raises a fundamental issue for Anglicans.

Having spent the last sixty-five or so years proclaiming a practice of Provincial “particularity” have we reached a point where we have underestimated or undervalued our belief in the unity of the Church?  Lugubrious commentators on the “left” and the “right” herald the collapse of the Anglican Communion, either because it seems hopelessly colonial in its efforts to describe what we used to call the unifying “marks” of the Church -one, holy, catholic and apostolic – in a way which compromises local autonomy and cultural expression, or to others because it fails to magnify those marks in a way which stands “above” local autonomy and cultural expression. The Pentecost letters written by the Presiding Bishop of TEC and the Archbishop of Canterbury articulate two very different visions of what unity and diversity mean and very different interpretations of what the work of the Holy Spirit would seem to be in guiding the Church “into all truth.”

Something perhaps providential may be emerging. For if the issue dividing the Communion is not primarily about human sexuality (a symptom)  but about what we mean by “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” in guiding the Church in mission as it magnifies Unity and expresses locality, surely the agencies of the Communion should be debating the language of the “Anglican Covenant” within such a context? Perhaps in simplistic terms we should be moving from the intractable problem of sex to the problem of unity in diversity as inspired and vivified by the Holy Spirit, the voice of Jesus in the life of the Church?  From a doctrinal and ecclesiological standpoint the first three sections of the Covenant language might set the agenda for such a study. By that I mean something more than a polite nod to classical Anglican theology and structure, something like the “Historical Doctrine” section in the US Prayer Book, but a consideration as to whether the first three sections are a living testimony of what “Anglicanism is, rather than what it was.  It may then and subsequently be determined whether the breadth and limits of Anglicanism may be lived into and what consequences emerge if Provinces cannot consent to both the breadth and limits of Anglican diversity.

Such a study ought to involve the Provinces at every level. What could emerge is a foundation from which it would be possible to examine controversial issues in a mutually comprehensible and “affectionate” manner.

5 Responses

  1. Father Clavier,

    As a Catholic (but former Episcopalian) I feel it necessary to offer one specific, but very slight correction to your comment that the Pope “identifies the Church with the Roman Catholic Church.” Were you to omit the word “Roman” you would be precisely correct.

    The Roman Catholic Church refers specifically to that portion of the Catholic Church which uses the “Latin” or “Roman” Rite. In addition to the Latin Rite churches (which are, admittedly, the vast majority of the “particular churches,” i.e., dioceses, which comprise the sum total of all of those bishops in communion with the See of Peter), there are about 23 others, including Maronite, Melkite, Coptic, etc., who use a non-Latin Rite. There are thus about 24 different Rites used within the Catholic Church, and only those using the Latin Rite constitute the “Roman” Catholic Church,

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  2. Keith: I am aware of the other “rites” but use the term as Anglicans have always so done to describe that worldwide fellowship of Christians in communion with the See of Rome.

  3. So what do the BIshops mean by UNITY (p517 ’79 BCP) or John 17:11? Not I believe bowing down to Rome, much though I admire that institution, but as ABC put it at Lambeth 2008 united in listening to those who are marginalized, and seeking a united prayerful way of actually doing something useful for them. By them, I also include children of divorced parents, single parents, young people committed to free sex, the gay/transsexual/bisexual, the uneducated, those oppressed by colonialism today (our oppressive ideas as well as our ruthless exploitation). It is urgent that we stop being political leaders and start announcing the ‘Good News’ so that all can announce it each in his own culture.

  4. I think what you are suggesting will fill a gap within Western Christianity in terms of how to articulate a pneumatology that is closely tied to ecclesiology. The Eastern Christians seem to have resolved it in some way, and perhaps that is where the Anglican Communion should start. Or should I say, should have started, given the degree of contact between Anglicans and Orthodox before the war or even before.

    One aspect of pneumatology is the Spirit’s power to transform people’s inner lives so that they can witness to God by good works. An ecumenical consensus is emerging on “grace alone” as being the basis of justification, and this is where we should start. The transformation of lives through what Wesley calls “prevenient grace” means that everyone–even the marginalized–stands under judgment as to whether the Spirit’s work bears fruit in them.

    There is a reason why I have reservations about catch-phrases like “preferential option for the poor” and “listening to the margins.” In many ways, we are all poor and marginalized in the light of God’s love and power. But we are all equal when it comes to our call–and our response is most important.

  5. You expressed very well what I was trying to say. Maybe that is what the ABC is leading towards.

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