Monday, February 1, 2016

The NFLization of the Anglican Communion: Primates Go Roger Goodell

Well, it's about time, I guess, for Crusty to weigh in on the current debacle in the Anglican Communion.  The Episcopal Church has, apparently, been "suspended" or faced "consequences" or been put in a "time-out", various terms which COD has seen in church and popular  media headlines in the past week.
As a Crusty Old Dean, COD knows all about double secret probation.
 Crusty has avoided writing about this clusterf**k up until now, mainly because he wanted to wait a bit and see how the pieces began to fall into place.  COD is wary of writing in the immediate aftermath of anything, mainly because misinformation, lack of information, and plain old spin usually abound in varying measures.  Best to bide Crusty's time and wait for the the picture to become a little fuller.

And yeah, lo, verily, it has.  Let's try to sort out the mess here.  What are some things we've learned in the past couple of weeks about this Primates' Meeting?

1)  First off, it wasn't a Primates Meeting, for two reasons.  One, it was intentionally referred to as a "gathering" and not a formal meeting by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Two, it included someone who is not an official primate of the Anglican Communion, namely, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America.  So it is not the Primates Meeting at all which imposed these "consequences."

2)  It called for "consequences" for The Episcopal Church's approval of rites for same sex marriage at the 2015 General Convention.  Interesting that consecration of openly gay persons to the episcopate appears not to have been mentioned, which was the grounds for the last round of consequences, in 2010, when Episcopal Church representatives were removed from ecumenical dialogues of the Anglican Communion.  Crusty knows because he was one of the people removed from an international ecumenical dialogue.

These were specifically called consequences, not "sanctions", since the effort is to squarely lay all the blame on The Episcopal Church.  Consequences, you see, are solely a result of someone's or somebody's or something's actions, thus laying all the blame squarely on the purported perpetrator, and leave out the Star Chamber that thinks them up from the equation.  It also shows the incredible ability of the global Anglican Communion
Crusty means the metaphorical and not literal Star Chamber.  The actual Star Chamber did have due process.
to make this solely about The Episcopal Church, and not, say, other provinces where this goes on -- the notable example being Canada.  The bill of attainder, apparently, is alive and well, as unelected, unaccountable bodies meeting in private continue not only to define the offense, but what is involved in committing the offense, and any penalites to be imposed.

3)  Apparently a group of primates leaked the "consequences", which involved The Episcopal Church not participating in any inter-communion meetings or gatherings on doctrine or polity.  Once leaked, a number of primates then promptly left the meeting before the final communique was released, which included more nuanced language, including condemnation of homophobic language and affirming God's love for every human being.

4)  There was also at this meeting, apparently, a demand for repentance from The Episcopal Church, which included a new prooftexting verse, Amos 3:3: "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" [An amazing prooftexting verse because the Bible and the history of Christianity do, indeed, talk about people walking together even though they don't agree on everything.  Like the fact that unlike, say, Methodism or the Presbyterian tradition, Anglicanism has tended to have very few schisms, just to give one example of the top of my head. Or, to counter-prooftext, Gamliel's words in Acts.  Or Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares.] When there was no repentance, a majority of the primates bolted on the excuse they needed to catch their flights.  Crusty can damn well bet you that had The Episcopal Church decided to repent, all the primates would've been there to see their perp walk.

The above isn't some fevered dream; it comes, more or less, from the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Communion's official communications.  A decent rundown can be found here on Episcopal Cafe.  Elements are also contained in the address of the Secretary General of Anglican Communion in Miami as part of the events leading to the installation of the new bishop of Southeast Florida, which can be found here.

There's been a tremendous amount of ink and energy spilled, and the fallout from this meeting has been ongoing.  Crusty was in Europe at the time of the primates non-meeting, and actually got to
We're here to clear up any confusion. Mischief managed.
watch the press conference on the BBC (it was the only channel on in English on his hotel TV).  There have been any number of blog posts.  A friend of Crusty's from seminary called him with condolences that The Episcopal Church had been kicked out of the Anglican Communion.  "Nobody died, dammit," was Crusty's reply.

Crusty has nothing much to add with the post-mortem, and commends, if you want to sort out truth from fiction, Andrew McGowan's excellent rundown, which can be found here.

Crusty, instead, would like two focus on a couple of other issues.

1)  One has to do with ecclesiology.  Back when he was ecumenical officer, Crusty was meeting informally with a senior official at Lambeth Palace who was talking about the issues around sexuality, and Crusty interrupted and said, "With all due respect, this isn't only about human sexuality, this is all about ecclesiology.  Human sexuality is the presenting issue which has laid bare the fact there is no agreed upon ecclesiology for the Anglican Communion.  If anything, the Anglican Communion as we know it is an anomaly, not the norm."

To put another way:  in his book "Collapse", Jared Diamond notes that one of the factors in societies which experience catastrophic collapse is that they take an anomaly to be normative.  They overbuild in an area that is prone to droughts at a time when it is not in a drought; they rely on a certain food source which is prone to interruption at a time when it's not interrupted; and so forth.

Well, one could argue we've built a conception of the Anglican Communion on such an anomaly instead of looking at the broader historical norm.

For the greater part of its existence, the Anglican Communion was loose collection of entities with some kind of connection to the see of Canterbury, and nobody really knew what to do about it.  The Church of England didn't know what to do with the Scottish Episcopal Church, a descendant of Charles I's failed attempt to appoint bishops and a Prayer Book for Scotland in 1637.  For almost 150 years, it existed in a kind of in-between place, like Neo in that stupid train station in the Matrix movies, or as some kind of crazy aunt locked in an attic, with the Church of England pretending it didn't exist.  While the Church of England consecrated bishops for The Episcopal Church, the first overseas bishop consecrated was for Nova Scotia, not the United States, and the consecration of bishops for the USA was a byproduct of the fact the Church of England was waking up and realizing it had increasingly far flung extensions of itself.  It wasn't until 1874 that clergy of the Episcopal Church were officially recognized as being validly ordained and permitted to serve in the Church of England (though this had happened unofficially, to be sure, prior
Even Colenso had rights of due process.
to the Colonial Clergy Act).  Bishop Colenso in South Africa defied a synod called in Cape Town which deposed him because he said it didn't have any authority over him, and he was right; he won the appeal of his deposition and was reinstated, and, like the Scottish Episcopal Church, was duly shunned and ignored.  The Archbishop of York boycotted the first Lambeth Conference because he thought (in part) it was an illegal and uncanonical entity.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a haphazard patchwork of independent provinces formed -- New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, Wales -- with only a decennial, advisory and not legislative body, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, to coordinate.

In the mid to late 20th century, the pace picked up, as the number of province increased dramatically with areas in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and South America joining the communion.  Attempts were made to define what, exactly, the Anglican Communion was, leading to the inclusion of a Preamble to the Constitution in 1967 for The Episcopal Church, which is as good a definition as any.  It defines the Anglican Communion as "a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer."

Other "instruments of unity" were slowly added:  the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Gathering, in addition to the Lambeth Conference and the Archbishop of Canterbury as a first among equals.

But no single, definitive, decision-making or defining body was ever created.

2)  A second issue has to do with authority and due process -- and here we can see a pattern.  In the past ten years, the Anglican Communion has moved to throw any efforts at consultation and due process out the window and has been creating ad hoc expressions of authority, accountable to no one, and often administered behind closed doors. 

While intensifying in the past 10 years, this has been going on for almost 20 years.

a)  The 1998 Lambeth Conference passed resolution 1.10, which defined marriage and condemned homosexual activity.  This, in turn, has been treated with a kind of binding authority while  lots of other Lambeth resolutions or pronouncements have not.  In his address in Miami, Bishop Idowu-Fearon makes the following jaw-dropping comment:

"Although this resolution was passed by the majority of the bishops in 1998, it has not been unanimously acted upon by the churches of our communion."

When did we suddenly decide that Lambeth Council resolutions needed to be adopted by provinces, and that failure to do so is somehow not the norm?  This statement is utterly mind boggling and speaks to this haphazard, ad hoc accretion of centralized authority, which is, in itself, selective and arbitrary.

It reminds Crusty of the story a rabbi once told him about the Torah: "There are two places in Torah which forbid the eating of pork.  Every pious Jew tries to uphold this commandment.  However, there are many, many more places in Torah which command us not to gossip, libel, or speak ill of our neighbors.  Would that every pious Jew tried to uphold these far more numerous commands as much as the one about pork."  It'd be wonderful if people actually tried to do something other than ignore authority when it they want to but demand others be held accountable when it suits them.

b)  Another example is the Windsor Report, one of the products of which was suggesting the creation of a binding authority in the Communion, which eventually lead to the Anglican Covenant debacle, where some provinces approved the Covenant, some did not, some kicked it down the road and never took action, some made their own interpretations of the covenant (one province, when it adopted the Covenant, further added that Lambeth 1.10 was now the definitive and binding teaching of the Communion as part of their resolution adopting the Covenant), and one mystifyingly "subscribe[d] the Covenant."  The Report called for various moratoria -- on consecrating openly gay persons as bishop, on approving same-sex marriage, and on interfering in other provinces.  One of its appendices contained a rough outline of a "covenant" as a suggested way to adjudicate future conflicts within the Communion.

c)  Then there were the shenanigans at the 2005 Anglican Consultative Council.  Most of the ink spilled on this meeting had to do with the resolution which barely passed, 30-28, which called on The Episcopal Church "voluntarily to withdraw its members" from the ACC -- which only passed because The Episcopal Church did not vote on the resolution.  While that resolution got most of the press, perhaps more important were efforts to undermine the representative nature of the ACC:  proposals to add Primates to the ACC, increase its membership from 78 to 115, and reduce lay representation in the only elected and representative body in the Communion from one-half to one-third.   This was a massive power grab by bishops to pack the ACC that makes FDR's Supreme Court-packing scheme look amateurish.

d)  Then there was the 2010 decision which removed the Episcopal Church from some international commissions for violating the Windsor moratoria.  Here we had an actual, concrete example of the Roger Goodell-ization and Star Chamber-ization of the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury defined what constituted a Windsor Report moratoria violation, decided what the penalty would be, did so with no consultation or discussion, and gave no opportunity for The Episcopal Church to make any defense or response.  This puts even the NFL's
"That Rowan Williams guy is gangsta."
kangaroo court (trying people twice for the same offense; refusing to share evidence used in making decisions; appointing oneself arbitrator for appeals to one's own decisions) to shame.

Crusty will elaborate a bit, since most people probably don't know or even remember the 2010 decision, since most Episcopalians don't give a crap about ecumenical relations.

The Archbishop of Canterbury released a letter saying Episcopalians would be removed from all ecumenical and faith and order international commissions and dialogues as a result of formal decisions made at the synodical level concerning blessing same sex marriages and the consecration of an openly gay person to the episcopate, as described in the letter: "provinces that have formally [emphasis in original], through their Synod or House of Bishops,  adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged."  

Let's count the problems here. 

--the definition of the decisions being taken at the provincial, synodical level was defined solely to apply to The Episcopal Church.  And it was incorrect.  The 2009 General Convention called for the development of liturgies to be presented at the next Convention, and called for "generous pastoral response" in dioceses where civil unions or same sex marriage was legal.  2009 GC simply did not FORMALLY (remember, it was what the Star Chamber made its standard) approve same sex blessings.  Also, Bishop Glasspool's consecration was consented to only by bishops with jurisdiction, who only make up about half of the House of Bishops, the consents were not taken in any regularly called meeting of the HOB, and thus the House of Bishops did not FORMALLY consent.  The lay and clerical consents were done by the Standing Committees of various dioceses, which are not a synod; the House of Deputies is the synodical body, thus this was not an action of a synod at a provincial level.  As bills of attainder go, this was pretty crappily written.  When Crusty pointed these numerous issues out to an official at Lambeth Palace, the official scoffed, "I think you're trying to parse this too finely."  Crusty replied, "You're the ones that wrote the definition, not me."

--the decision conveniently left out everybody who violated the crossing of provincial boundaries until eventually, due to people pointing it out, the Anglican Communion office did acknowledge this.  Crusty actually pointed this out to the then Secretary General of the Anglican Communion that provinces crossing provincial boundaries, also one of the moratoria, were not sanctioned.  He was told these action were not formally taken at the provincial, synodical level, which, remember, was invented as the standard so that it would apply solely to The Episcopal Church.  Crusty pointed out where the Province of the Southern Cone had specifically, at its provincial synod, amended its canons to create missionary diooceses which had not previously existed in order to allow the diocese of Fort Worth to apply to become a missionary diocese, and those canonical changes, approved by the Synod of the Southern Cone, were posted at the time on the webpage of the diocese of Forth Worth.  He also pointed the then Secretary General to the website of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda which noted the decision of the House of Bishops to consecrate additional missionary bishops for North America.

--the decision was initially applied to members of full communion dialogues, for example international commission with Lutherans and Old Catholics, until people pointed out that these were not ecumenical conversations, but full communion partners.  By their very definition, ecumenical dialogues are dialogues with other communions on the way to deeper unity, while full communion commissions seek to deepen unity already achieved.  As a result, a couple of people initially kicked off got their seats back on these bodies.  Thus they did not even know which dialogues their decision appropriately applied to.

 Without consultation, without discussion, without opportunity to defend oneself, and without even knowing how properly to implement the decision, the Archbishop of Canterbury defined what a moratorium violation was and announced the penalty so that it would only apply to The Episcopal Church.

e)  and now the Primates un-meeting.  Not even an official primates meeting is now, apparently, invested with an authority unlike any other body in the Communion?  The Primates' communique states that:

It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity. 

Crusty's first response, when reading the leaked consequences, was "The Primates, even in an official meeting, don't have that authority."  They cannot "require" anything.  They have no authority to determine who "will not take part" in decision making.  This is simply astounding. Once again, a small group, meeting in private, has abrograted any semblance of due process and defined a new form authority seemingly on the fly.  Sure, one could parse this and say that this need to be referred to various, relevant bodies that may have that kind of authority.  But the statement doesn't.  It states these consequences as the result of the primates' decisions.  The Secretary General repeated this in his remarks in Miami the past week, speaking as a fait accompli, stating that

"TEC no longer represents the Anglican Communion on ecumenical or interfaith bodies; while this consequence applies to TEC as a whole, it practically involves a three-year absence of a gifted priest, ecumenist, and Bible scholar who serves on our dialogue with the World Communion of Reformed Churches. A member of TEC will not be elected to the next triennium of the Standing Committee. Current members of TEC serving on internal bodies of the Communion will not be part of decision-making on matters of doctrine and polity."

[BTW as someone who is now five and half years in limbo as an Episcopalian kicked off an ecumenical dialogue, so glad you're grieving for this gifted ecumenist and all I got was a form letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury.]

In 10 years from the Anglican Consultative Council in 2005 we've gone from  a resolution from a duly called and representative body asking us voluntarily to withdraw to having consequences imposed by an unofficial gathering.  Read that sentence again.

So what's next?  The answer, to Crusty, has always been pretty simple:  just give up on the anomaly of 1960-2000 and acknowledge the Anglican Communion has always been an ecclesiological mess.   Provinces will engage in common mission and ministry with those who are willing on areas where they agree.  We did that for a couple hundred years and while it wasn't perfect, we managed to, you know, expand into a global communion, establish schools, hospitals, and universities, restart dialogue with the Catholic Church, enter into full communion with the Old Catholic Church, mobilize massive relief efforts for both World wasn't as if we were incapable of doing anything without the "instruments of unity."  Seems clear to COD we need to be more of a federation or fellowship -- but with all on an equal footing, and putting an end to these convoluted attempts to create tiers of membership in various star chambers.  Let's go back to how the Communion worked in 1920, live with the confusion, and wait to see what kinds of structures emerge in the 21st century instead of clinging to the system created in the 1960s as a kind of neo-colonialism by primarily English speaking, Western provinces.

3)  And here's the last issue: the Amos 3:3 verse is quite appropriate, because it demonstrates that, actually, we may not be able to find common ground, at this time, on this particular question.  Crusty has a sense the complexity involved.  He was in a meeting once where a bishop from Asia said plainly, "To me there is no difference between George W. Bush and The Episcopal Church, you both just do what you want when you want."  Issues around unilateralism and legacies of colonialism are ones that Christians in the West must constantly be aware of.  We must realize the incredibly diverse and complex realities that Anglicans live in, from small, persecuted minority churches to established churches.  In some places, simply being a Christian is a life and death situation.  However, in many places, being an LBGT person is a life and death situation.  All of these things, and not just some of them, are true.

We need to acknowledge, painfully, that, while The Episcopal Church is not seeking to impose its provincial decisions on any other provinces, it may be that disagreement on human sexuality and same sex marriage is a place where no compromise can be found at this time.   

Perhaps it's time to say "So be it."  This is where all the verbiage about consultation is simply hokum.  We've been at this for over 20 years, and, frankly, for some in the Communion, there is no compromise, and all the consultation in the world wouldn't have done a damn thing.  We're not asking the rest of the Communion to adopt our understandings of human sexuality.  Crusty thinks we just need to walk separately with as much charity and goodwill as possible.  Division is a sin, to be sure, and schisms always much harder to heal than to create.  But as Gram Parsons once sang, "It's time to stop pretending things are real."

For all the talk of respecting the development and vitality of Christianity in the global South, we also need to squarely ask ourselves whether our centralization and emphasis on a "single" Anglican Communion is not, in fact, investing in the last legacy of colonialism: the notion that there can be only "one" Anglican church is a legacy of establishment, and perhaps truly to embrace diversity and be a globalized church we must let that go and see what might emerge.

And please, after almost 20 years of this, let's stop the NFL-ization and Goodell-ization of the Anglican Communion.  No more Star Chambers.


  1. Excellent analysis and very sound recommendation: "Crusty thinks we just need to walk separately with as much charity and goodwill as possible."

  2. Yes, excellent.

    "Crusty thinks we just need to walk separately with as much charity and goodwill as possible." Why not: "we just need to walk where we are led with as much charity and goodwill as possible." If we say "separately", wouldn't we be turning away from Jesus's prayer that we all be one?

  3. Very important point, William, I do not hear that division is something to be lamented and is a sin against God's will for us. I think we should walk with whomever wants to walk with us in partnership and mission.

  4. As much as I hate to say this: while we are indeed still part of "a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church...etc" we likely do not propogate "the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer." Because...God is doing a new thing (once again!)

  5. The Crusty Dean's analysis of the structures of the Anglican Communion since 1960 as a "kind of neo-colonialism by primarily English-speaking Western provinces" parellels the Gafcon analysis of the future of the communion. Their view suggests that new structures will emerge as provinces build relationships with each other. The crusty Dean's view of what that new reality will look like may differ, but it it intriguing that his analysis of the difficulties with the instruments of communion is so similar to Gafcon's. They both may well be right. John Sandeman

  6. I find little to dispute in this analysis. One important issues is not addressed by COD, however: our financial support of the Anglican Communion bureaucracy. Surely, these funds could be put to better use to advance the Gospel.

    I would have us dismantle the ACC, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting, and the Standing Committee. (I guess we have to leave the Archbishop of Canterbury alone. :-) )Replace it all with an occasional worldwide Anglican Congress in which laypeople are majority participants. The Congress should have no power over anyone or anything.l

  7. I cannot for the life of me understand how Justin figures he can get away without this biting him on his proper English butt. Same sex marriage is legal in England. Since dear old mother CofE is a state church the pressure is going to build to not just allow but require CofE clergy to perform same sex marriages. It does not take a good deal of imagination to see poor Justin hoisted on his own petard.

  8. Yes to all that. Especially that insisting on "communion" (whatever that means) is to try to ignore the giant elephant of unilateralism, power inequity, and colonial resonance that infects this entire issue. Let's stop poking it and see if it will heal when left alone. (Apologies for mixed metaphors.)

  9. Yes to all that. Especially that insisting on "communion" (whatever that means) is to try to ignore the giant elephant of unilateralism, power inequity, and colonial resonance that infects this entire issue. Let's stop poking it and see if it will heal when left alone. (Apologies for mixed metaphors.)


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