Much in the news and in the blogosphere is the invitation of Anglican Primates by the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet in Canterbury 11-16 January 2016. Our thoughts and prayers are with this meeting and its preparation.
Much of the response to this announcement is around “What is the Anglican Communion?” and “What is the future of the Anglican Communion?”
One of the problems is that “Anglican Communion” is a homonym. People use “Anglican Communion” to mean different things. It is a homophone and a homonym. And it is people who struggle with the root word ‘homo’ who are, often as not, part of the problem. [Please, let’s not bring homographs into this!]
Here is one definition of “Anglican Communion”, the one I vow and sign up to in the Constitution of my church:
This Church is part of and belongs to the Anglican Communion, which is a fellowship of duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces or Regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, sharing with one another their life and mission in the spirit of mutual responsibility and interdependence (Constitution Preamble).
The GAFCON Anglican Homonym
The Archbishop of Canterbury has included Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), in his invitation.
Reminder 1: ACNA is not a member of the Anglican Communion as defined by the Constitution quote above.
Reminder 2: Unlike other languages, English has no authority for deciding how words etc. are used. To put it bluntly, in the English language the lunatics are not only loose – they are running the asylum. People can use the word “Anglican” in any manner that catches on.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
There is a response from the GAFCON Primates about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation, underscoring that they reiterate “they have previously advised the Archbishop of Canterbury that they would not attend any meeting at which The Episcopal Church of the United States or the Anglican Church of Canada were represented”.
In this GAFCON communiqué they stress:
It is therefore of some encouragement that the Archbishop of Canterbury has opened the door of this meeting to the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, Archbishop Foley Beach. He has already been recognized as a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion by Primates representing GAFCON and the Anglican Global South at his installation in Atlanta last October and he is a full member of the GAFCON Primates Council.
Did you see what they did there? They have a different use of the term “Anglican Communion”, a homonym. They think that they, rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury, can define who is in this Homonym-Anglican-Communion.
A very British Communion
The Church of England’s ties to politics and hence to the British Empire are inherited in the Commonwealth-(formerly the British Commonwealth)-like Anglican Communion. In 1789 the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America began after the thirteen American colonies declared independence from the British Empire. NZ Anglicans were next up with our own Constitution in 1857. 1867 was the first Lambeth Conference – a meeting of bishops we could listen to with respect. They met every 10 years or so. In 1971 there was the first meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. And in 1979 there was the first meeting of the Primates’ Meeting. None of these meetings can make decisions binding on local churches (usually called provinces).
There is no requirement for our archbishops to attend the Primates’ Meeting. There is no requirement for our bishops to attend a Lambeth Conference. There is no requirement for us to participate in the Anglican Consultative Council. I appreciate that our church does, and I urge us to continue to do so.
There is also no requirement for us to accept any of the decisions made at those meetings. I have seen energetic reflections whether what is being called next January is a “Primates Meeting” or a “Meeting of Primates”. I can see absolutely no difference whatsoever in terms of decisions made affecting our church.
So, to those who suggest that this is some sort of watershed, or that this is the end of the communion, or finally admitting the demise of the communion recently, nothing has in fact changed recently whatsoever.
Not a Transitive Relation
A relation R is transitive if A stands in relation R to X and X stands in relation R to B, then that means A stands in relation R to B. Equals is transitive: 2+1 = 9÷3, and 9÷3 = 5-2 means 2+1 = 5-2.
But being in full communion is not transitive. If Church A is in full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury; and the Archbishop of Canterbury is in full communion with Church B, this does not mean that necessarily Church A is in full communion with Church B. It may be. But it also may not be.
The ill-fated, so-called “Anglican Covenant” attempted to make “full communion” a transitive relationship within the Anglican Communion, so that everyone would not just be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury – but also with everyone else.
Whatever our Constitution said, New Zealand Anglicans’ communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury became an impaired communion in 1977 when women began being ordained here. They could not function in the Archbishop’s diocese, nor in his church, the Church of England. From 1989 there were male priests here ordained by a woman bishop. Those male priests could not function in many places in the Church of England, and still cannot – because the Church of England has accepted that there be places where even males cannot function if they’ve been tainted by hand-laying contact involving women.
The Anglican Communion has lived and functioned as an impaired communion for four and a half decades now – about a third to a half of its existence.
I am in favour of the ordination of women. The Anglican Communion became an impaired communion when women were ordained. But as women form the majority of our church, it’s not comfortable to say that. Far better, for many, to make the issue of disunity a minority – LGBTs.