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MUCH ADO?

Articles have recently appeared on a number of websites and blogs attacking elements of the new constitution adopted by the Anglican Consultative Council and its standing committee.  These bodies have recently been registered under English not for profit company law and in the process, it is suggested, a number of new elements have emerged which may endanger the Communion, shift power from one group to another or even undermine the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It has even been suggested that retaining a legal status in England, the site of such property as the Communion owns, enforces the suggestion that Church of England is clinging to the vestiges of colonial authority. Others worry that the European Union might now be entitled to interfere in Communion affairs.  The primary concern seems to be that the new body may position itself to dilute such authority the proposed Anglican Covenant may vest in the Instruments of Communion, which in addition to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates Meeting and the Lambeth Conference includes the Anglican Consultative Council and its standing committee. Note that a standing committee by definition is a committee of the body which appoints it and must answer to that body.

At the root of this unease is the concern that the ACC in membership will continue to reflect the dominance of  the “Western” predominantly white churches and thus produce a buttress for the North American Provinces against attempts to discipline them. One might well reflect that the recent travels of the US Presiding Bishop to the provinces of the Communion which, with the possible exception of New Zealand are white and “liberal” underscores a backlash against the rest of the Communion, composed of people of non-white races, who now in terms of “membership” far outstrip the older white provinces.  There remains more than a hint of patronage in the determination of western liberals to, if not dominate a future Communion, at least create a political base to provide safety.  Western liberals are sure that in time, as the Third World become more “civilized” it will become more receptive to “progressive” thought and practice.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s legal officer, John Rees, has attempted to quieten the fears of those who suspect that the ACC is now a danger to orthodoxy. Poor Mr. Rees is hardly the best choice to perform such a mission after the muddle in which he participated at the last meeting of the ACC in Jamaica and his office is not noted for its efficiency or the swiftness of its actions even in small matters.

Yet one must observe that the resignation of important traditionalist members of the standing committee has been ill-advised. One may not logically complain that seats are being filled by inappropriate people when they are vacated by those who now accuse the ACC of being some form of a liberal bastion. While traditionalists continue to run away rather than participate, their voices and votes won’t count however large their constituency may be. It is as if traditionalists really want the Communion to appear liberal in order to excuse their desertion. If traditionalists remained they would govern. Certainly they would call the shots in a Communion which would not be entirely to their liking, but that’s Anglicanism. If the traditionalist agenda is to create an Anglican Communion of like-minded people why not become Roman Catholic?

There remain utterly puzzling developments such as the appointment to the ACC of a South African priest of advanced liberal views, and that from a province whose new primate recently chided the Episcopal Church for the consecration of Bishop Glasspool.

The point of the Covenant is to secure the borders of conformity and perhaps create a status for those who find such territory too narrow which does not drive them into schism. It is not the object of the Covenant to create an Act of Uniformity. Anglican liberality, the right to think, to question, to explore defines, in part, who we are. The object of the Covenant is not to silence dissenting voices but to constrain local synods from enacting measures which compromise the essential faith and order of the Communion, defined in the first three sections of the proposed Covenant.

Having said this traditionalists should be most careful that they don’t sound like conspiracy theorists or a sort of Anglican tea party. Over and over in the past forty years traditionalists have lost the sympathy of others by their unwillingness to temper their voices or their plans. Chicken Little isn’t a Gospel evangelist.

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