At 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, October 21 any respect I have been able to maintain for Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and any hope for the survival of the Anglican Communion as we currently know it, died.
At 5:15 p.m. I was reading the House of Bishops and Deputies List – a list-serv for members of those two General Convention houses – when I came across a copy of a letter dated October 14, 2007 from Williams to Bishop John Howe of the conservative Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. Bishop Howe read this letter to the Standing Committee of his diocese last Thursday (October 18), and released this afternoon.
The letter was staggering in its misunderstanding of the polity of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church and shockingly naive in its understanding of where most Episcopalians stand with regard to any interference in our own affairs by foreign Prelates.
Perhaps more significantly, though, it is the betrayal of beliefs that Williams held dear for so long – right up, in fact, to the point where he became Archbishop of Canterbury, when – he says – unity became his ministry.
It is now clear that Williams is willing to abandon any individual and even whole Provinces of the Anglican Communion in the cause of “unity”.
I say “unity” in inverted commas because it is not really unity at all, but the bowing of a misguided, naive, and incompetent leader to what one person has described as the “Bullydox” of the Communion: those very narrow “Neo-Puritan” conservatives who wish to reinterpret Anglicanism to be something that is not the “large tent” we are all so familiar with but a prison wherein they alone guard and define what is “acceptable” for others to believe.
It is also clear that, having squeezed our House of Bishops in such a way that a significant part of our own Province has expressed outrage at their apparent abandonment by their own bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury has pulled the rug from under our Bishops’ feet and invited acts of disobedience by dissidents in any Province of the Communion who disagree with any internal issue of that Province.
In so doing the Archbishop of Canterbury has opened a Pandora’s Box of problems that will almost certainly destroy the Anglican Communion as we know it.
Many progressives – including myself – supported our House of Bishops’ recent New Orleans statement, and cautioned many within our province to control their anger at its apparent abandonment of some of our members. We now owe those members an apology – they were right not to trust Williams, and they were right that our House of Bishops should not have done so either.
The letter makes a number of astonishing assertions, claims, and statements regarding the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, including:
● He, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the Primates of the Communion, has the authority to decide the “status” of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion (only the Anglican Consultative Council has any recognized constitution, and it is questionable if even this constitution can be said to have authority over constituent provinces)
● Provincial structure is irrelevant in the Communion; only the diocesan relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury through the diocesan bishop matters, as long as the clergy of the dioceses are “loyal” to that bishop (the Baptized are, essentially, “chopped liver” in this polity. Apparently “the head can [now] say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’”).
● By implication, the authority of the Constitution and Canons of our Province are not binding on the dioceses which make up our Province. Dioceses are therefore free, according to the Archbishop, to depart the Episcopal Church with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s blessing.
● Ironically, the Primates cannot have any authority or relevance either – only the bishops in their relationship to Canterbury seem to matter. Of course, this is inconsistent, but then, consider the source!
● Loyalty to the Windsor Report is more important than sacred oaths taken at baptism or ordination. The Windsor Report ceases to be a report and takes on a legal aura, becoming something that has binding authority within the Communion.
The message in all of this is clear – we have no friend in Lambeth Palace; the Archbishop of Canterbury is willing to sacrifice us to his ‘god’ of Unity.
But this is also freeing for us as a Province: we now know what to expect, and can form our response without the need to wonder where the Archbishop will ultimately stand, because it will not be with us.
General Convention in Anaheim is certainly going to be interesting!
© October 27, 2007 Nigel Taber-Hamilton