Adrift on the Via Media
The Archbishop of Canterbury delivered his “second presidential address” to the Lambeth Conference today. The Lead has the full text. The address is, if nothing else, extremely Anglican. ++Rowan tries to speak to both sides and bring them together, but alas, while he did this beautifully at General Synod, I'm not sure he has done so here. He began by almost redefining what it means to take the via media:
The answer, I hope, is that we speak from the centre. I don’t mean speaking from the middle point between two extremes — that just creates another sort of political alignment. I mean that we should try to speak from the heart of our identity as Anglicans; and ultimately from that deepest centre which is our awareness of living in and as the Body of Christ.
He then valiantly tried to explain to the left what the right feels, and to the right what the left feels – although he called them the traditional and the not so traditional believers, rather than the left and the right. And here, I think, is where his address began to fall apart. In many ways, the inclusive liberal forces ARE the traditionalist forces. Many of Nigeria’s Anglicans are also Pentecostals who attend Anglican services in the morning and speak in tongues come evening. I have nothing against that, but let’s not suggest it’s traditional Anglicanism. What’s more, Ruth Gledhill had an article earlier this month suggesting that once upon a time, women may have been ordained. So please, don’t tell me, whose favorite hymn is “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” that I am not traditional. Additionally, one of the things he said we liberals might say was,
What we seek to do in our context is to bring Jesus alive in the minds and hearts of the people of our culture. Trying to speak the language of the culture and relate honestly to where people really are doesn’t have to be a betrayal of Scripture and tradition. We know we’re pushing the boundaries — but don’t some Christians always have to do that? Doesn’t the Bible itself suggest that?
Well, sir, it all depends on what you mean by “boundaries.” I readily acknowledge that the ordination of women and gays pushes the boundaries of typical understandings of the Church, but I do not for a second believe it pushes the boundaries of the Gospel. It is fine, of course, for others to believe so, but it is not fine for ++Rowan to paint that as the position of the liberal forces. I deeply appreciate his attempt to show each side the other in a new light, but if one is going to represent each side to the other, one must represent them accurately. Such an attempt requires a full understanding of both sides, and perhaps the good Archbishop has shown us that that is not an understanding he holds. This could also explain why he keeps trying to acquiesce to the GAFCON forces, hoping to keep them in our tent even though they have shown, time and time again, that they will not compromise or accept anything less than full control of other provinces.
On another note, The Lead also has a powerful piece about a violence against women workshop that I might share with both my Idaho and New Hampshire rectors. And by most bishops’ accounts, it sounds like the Indaba groups are generally productive and the media reports of Conference quarrels are a bunch of horse hockey. My own bishop has said so, and Bishop Alan Wilson of Buckingham, England devoted a whole post to debunking specific stories in the British press. The doom and gloom of the press aside, bishop after bishop is writing that there is a feeling of understanding and dedication unfolding at Lambeth. This is most welcome news.
I do not know where the Anglican Communion is headed. A number of proposals are being “considered,” but none are likely to come to pass. Mark Harris at Preludium and James at The Three Legged Stool both have good roundups of that business. Harris says that “It's just a matter of time before something blows.” He may be right. My own thought is that the Communion will continue, without the GAFCON forces but with as strong an Anglican an identity as ever. The only question, I think, is how much damage will we do to ourselves trying to compromise with those who will not compromise before we finally learn, or they finally leave? When will the ABC realize he should reach out not to the Akinolas and Orombis, but to the conservatives actually at Lambeth, actually in conversation? But perhaps it matters not. I grew up Episcopalian, not Anglican, and Episcopalian I shall remain.