How does the Anglican Communion Institute
see the present challenge in the Communion?
1. There is no doubt that people at certain and varying points feel the need to leave the Episcopal Church – most likely because of the burden they have to protect their spiritual and emotional health. This is all quite appropriate. It is not, however, a “strategy”. It is a matter of individual discernment for the moment. On the other hand, “separation” of Christian bodies requires, well, a “body” to act and to act in a corporate fashion. Our concern is that this is not happening well at present, and that there are signs that it will not happen well in the near future. The result will in fact not be the protection of our Anglican corporate gifts, but their squandering.
2. The choice, in ACI’s view, is not between “biblical fidelity” and “communion”. We agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own general view, and the Windsor Report’s, that the discernment of Scriptural truth in its fullness is properly sought within the visible communion of Christ and in fact leads to the building up of this communion. I realize that this is a theological commitment that is not shared by all Christians. But it has some venerable apostolic and catholic heft behind it. For all its travails, there has been an Anglican Communion, there is one still, and we believe God calls us to nurture it into the future for the sake of the larger Church which remains scattered among the nations, and the truth to which the Church is called to witness. If one accepts this call, we believe we need to think its demands through more carefully than we are currently doing in our reactions to the Episcopal Church’s failures and errors. If people think this is a waste of time, and that the pressures of the moment are too weighty to permit such thinking through, we must simply disagree.
3. We believe that the formation now of a new province is a mistake on several levels. First, it is thus far being promoted, and risks being declared, unilaterally and autonomously by one group of dissatisfied Anglicans. Until this structural response is asked for and ordered by the larger Communion, it will prove as much a fragmenting reality as a cohering one. That, obviously, is a problem only if one shares our commitments to the Church understood as visible communion in Christ’s life and word as do we. But it should be clear that if a new province is set up without the deliberate desire and ordering of the larger councils of the Communion, it will have moved in a direction contrary to the commitments and promises of those councils already expressed – the Primates Meeting, Lambeth, and the ACC (not to mention Canterbury’s unifying moral weight). This, secondly, will undermine whatever authority these councils currently have, and will only further the disintegration of our common life. This is not an abstract worry. We are already seeing signs of this happening, as, for instance, Nigeria has formally voiced doubts about the value of the Lambeth Conferences among other things.
4. No one should be under any illusions about the unified stance around all this of even the Global South Primates and their bishops and churches. To force this issue upon them at this point would be to press them into decisions and public postures they are not prepared to make at this point. It will weaken corporate witness to Christ and finally injure many of the most vulnerable of the faithful (who are not in America).
5. A new province set up at this time would, as it has been thus far discussed, include in it a range of theological and disciplinary attitudes – bound to divergences of Scriptural interpretation – that have not been addressed coherently and seriously. Many of the ex-Episcopalians now pressing for a new province left over doctrinal and disciplinary disagreements with some of those who are now more recently seeking to leave the church. One of the reasons that we sometimes put the word “orthodoxy” in quotes is because we are well aware that the term is only loosely applicable to the collection of people and groups and continuing churches and so on whom some would like to put into the same category of commitments. Those supportive of and those opposed to women’s ordination know this incoherence well; but it goes far beyond just this matter. The Windsor Report, for all its faults, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury are, it seems to us, better attuned to the realities of our churches’ and Church’s diversity – including in the Global South – than many.
5. ACI is not counseling “doing nothing”. This is simply false. We are instead counseling a way of dealing with the failures and errors of the Episcopal Church (and, by implication, other churches in this Communion – and let us be honest in admitting that these failures, even in the Global South, are legion) in a manner that takes some of the above realities (as we see them) seriously. First, we need to gather as fully as possible those within the Episcopal Church – bishops, clergy, and congregations — who are committed to the life of Christian communion (and the reception of Christ’s word that it implies) as has been gradually articulated over the past few years through the councils of our common life. We believe that a minimum threshold at this time should include a commitment to Lambeth I.10 and Windsor’s conciliar ordering. We are using the term “constituent” bishops etc., based both on the Lambeth Conference’s, our Constitution’s, and Canterbury’s language. We believe that this group is far larger than the current membership of the Network – and those who are not members of the Network should not be impertinently dismissed as “fence-sitters” but rather should be brought together in their common commitments with other Communion-minded members of the devolving Epsicopal Church. Second, having been so gathered – and this will require more work than some seem willing to expend – they need to be formally recognized in some fashion by Canterbury and the Primates together (not simply by individuals here and there), and granted some kind of official representation (a “legate”? “vicar”?) in the councils of the Communion. Thirdly, as a body and in conjunction with the larger Communion, some provisional way of caring for clergy and congregations who are not under “constituent” oversight needs to be organized and coherently received. This need not take a long time if we are able to work together. Fourthly, we believe that the councils of unity for the Communion agree that the Constituent body in the US, and those elsewhere who similarly abide by the same threshold standards, be those only who participate in the necessarily extended “covenant process”, the rationale being that those who cannot keep promises from the past have squandered their right to determine in the future what a promise ought to be. In other words, we will not have to wait 10 years so that the ordering the Communion’s life in integrity will begin to take shape. ACI is well engaged with trying to further this vision.
6. Members of ACI, individually and together with others, have been deeply involved in struggling for the historic faith and order of the Church within ECUSA for almost 2 decades. Like many others in this struggle, we have lost jobs, been banned from academic institutions and dioceses, and consistently vilified by members of our own church. But while we have seen, during this time, the further devolution of ECUSA, we have also seen the spectacular emergence of the Communion and its Gospel commitments with the clarity of a promise fulfilled. We can testify – at least briefly! – to the fruitfulness of steadfastness, prayer, reflection, and patience. We are deeply committed to staying the course and not throwing over the wonderful grace – which we attribute to the mercy of our Lord Jesus — that has made this testimony possible.
–The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner is rector of Church of the Ascension, Pueblo, Colorado, and a fellow of the Anglican Communion Institute