The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a Pentecost Letter to the Anglican Communion in which he responded to the consecration in May of Bishop Glasspool in the Diocese of Los Angeles. In the course of that letter he wrote:
I am therefore proposing that, while these tensions remain unresolved, members of such provinces – provinces that have formally, 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.
This seems to imply that the Episcopal Church (and the Anglican Church of Canada) should absent themselves from inter-Anglican activities. One might debate whether the Episcopal Church has “formally” breached any of the moratoria (on blessings of same-sex relationships, ordinations of gay and lesbian clergy, and border-crossing).
Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefforts Schori responded powerfully this week to Williams’ letter. She argued that Williams was seeking to centralize authority in Anglicanism in ways that had been resisted throughout its history. She also pointed out that whatever “formal” decisions had been made by particular provinces, there were many places, the Church of England chief among them, where both ordinations and same-sex blessings occurred regularly and that any move in the Episcopal Church was nothing more than recognizing the reality on the ground.
This exchange has received considerable exposure both in the press and on the internet. Diana Butler Bass, an Episcopalian herself and one of the leading commentators on religion in contemporary America commented that the conflict between Jefforts Schori and Williams is not a clash between liberal and conservative. Both are theologically liberal. Rather, it is a clash between competing visions of Anglicanism—one hierarchical and centralized, the other more democratic.
Jefforts Schori (and Bass) point out the origins of the Episcopal Church in the US in the American Revolution and in the desire to develop independently of the Church of England. Jefforts Schori cites as well the origins of the Church of England in the desire to be independent of the papacy. She goes too far when she tries to connect that with Celtic Christianity and the conflict in the early Middle Ages between Celtic Christianity and the missionaries sent from Rome.
The rise of individualism and of democracy are two long-term trends that have changed all institutions and the ways in which individuals come together to form institutions and relate to institutions. Once centralization and authoritarianism give way to localization and autonomy, it is impossible to recapture them. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are becoming new things because of those developments. The internet has changed how we communicate and how we connect. It has helped us create like-minded communities that span the globe, but it cannot create closer ties or strengthen central authority.
What Jefforts Schori is saying in her response is that the sort of Anglican Communion Williams is imagining is not something the Episcopal Church wants to be a part of. Rather, we want to work together with those who are willing to work with us, whatever our theological views. We will also build networks with people and churches across the world who share our views. Yes, this may mean loss, but it has been happening de facto for over a decade. In fact, this was begun not by the Episcopal Church but by those disaffected with the Episcopal Church who made alliances with (and were consecrated Bishop by) conservative African and Asian archbishops.
As I reflect on recent events and on the controversy that has been going since 2003 (well, in fact, much longer than that), it seems to me that the dust has largely settled. Those who were going to leave the Episcopal Church have left. New structures have been created but how they will develop remains to be seen. I’m sure there are places and people where the controversy rages, but my sense is that in those places and people, controversy will always rage. I will never forget what David Anderson said in response to a question about why he didn’t just leave the Episcopal Church. “I love a good fight,” he said.
I don’t. I love God, Jesus Christ, and the body of Christ in the world. I want to be about the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ in this world. Frankly, I don’t care any more what the Archbishop of Canterbury has to say about the Anglican Communion and about the Episcopal Church’s place in it. Frankly, I don’t care about the Anglican Communion. I care about the Church of Jesus Christ, but of course, the Church of Jesus Christ will take care of itself. It has for two thousand years. It has survived, in spite of the members, laity and clergy, who have done whatever was in their power to destroy it.