What follows is a Christmas letter to Anglicans from Church of England and No Anglican Covenant Coalition (NACC) member Jean M Mayland on behalf of the NACC. The letter represents a reply to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent letter.December 9, 2011
To my fellow Anglicans,
We greet you all in the name of Jesus, whose re-birth in us at Christmas we all long for in this Advent season of darkness, waiting, and hope.
We rejoice in the fellowship of our Anglican Communion, which is held together by bonds of affection. These bonds appear gossamer thin, but they have held us all together for a very long time. They are founded on a base of trust and friendship and are rooted in our shared worship and our Anglican appeal to Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. We rejoice that, over the years, we have been able to maintain a unity that encompasses differences in belief and practice. We have learnt how to live with different ideas and to be open and welcoming to those who are searching for meaning in their lives.
We were pleased to read in his Advent letter of the hope and help that the Archbishop of Canterbury has been able to give during his visits throughout the Communion in 2011. Many of us have visited other churches of the Communion and have been humbled by the suffering and the faith we found there. Equally, we have been impressed by the witness shown in countries where materialism and secularism are rampant. We recognize that our common mission needs to be carried out in different ways in different places. This has been respected in the past.
We are saddened that some Communion churches are now deeply divided over one issue and, for the first time in the history of our Communion, are not prepared to live with differences. Some Anglican churches and some individuals in other churches seem entirely unable to accept the fact that some Anglican churches may have an entirely different attitude towards gay and lesbian people and believe that it is essential to their mission to treat such people with full respect and equality. Beneath this division are different ways of interpreting the Bible, different attitudes towards authority, and differing degrees of importance accorded human reason.
This new intolerance has led to the drawing up of the proposed Anglican Covenant and to demands for moratoria on certain actions until all Communion members have agreed on them. Had such moratoria on innovation been in place years ago, the first woman priest would never have been ordained in Hong Kong, and we likely would have no women priests in the Anglican Communion today.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has stated that the Covenant is essential and claims that it “outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled. It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function.”
Yet action has already been taken against The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA because Episcopalians did not observe the moratoria concerning gay clergy.
In our view, the structures of our Communion and churches—the bureaucracy, canon law, etc—ought to reflect our theology. The great bust-up over gay bishops and the continuing border-crossings are the product of theological disagreement, not weaknesses in the bureaucracy. Central to the dispute is the epistemological question of how we Anglicans go about deciding what God wants us to do. In one camp, we have those who claim that the supreme authority of scripture overrides all other truth claims; in the other camp, we have those who claim that extra-biblical processes have real authority, too. Because those in the former camp view theirs as the only legitimate account of Christianity, they are naturally intolerant of other accounts. The question the leaders of Anglicanism ought to be addressing, therefore, is this: are we to move towards uniformity and intolerance, or are we to defend toleration and diversity against the forces of uniformity?
We believe that the No Anglican Covenant Coalition is defending the traditional toleration and diversity of Anglicanism from a desire to force us all into a way of uniformity.
The Archbishop wrote, “I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.”
For our part, we would continue to resist the acceptance of the Covenant with all our energy and commitment.
We maintain strongly that the Anglican Communion must regain its ability to live with difference and to recognize that it is essential that churches be free to carry out their mission in ways appropriate to their particular circumstances.
In England, for example, if Parliament holds firm on Civil Partnerships being able to take place in religious buildings, the situation comes nearer when General Synod will be pressed to allow this in the Church of England. Surely Synod would not be prepared to move forward in this way only to be told “we cannot do this lest we break the terms of the Covenant.” We need to minister here in England and not in Nigeria.
The Archbishop asks for alternatives to Covenant adoption. We can think of any number of alternatives to what we continue to see as a deeply flawed and ineffectual effort at conflict management:
- We would put first the responsibility of the Communion to be active in mission in its own way and in its own setting.
- This mission would be carried out on the basis of the Covenant for Communion in Mission from IASCOM.
- There should be an expansion of ministry and mission coöperation between Communion churches focused not on the mechanics of the Communion or disagreements on policies, but on doing the things Jesus actually commanded.
- We should continue to provide forums for the sharing of views between Communion churches, as in the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process, which is “a biblically-based and mission-focused project designed to develop and intensify relationships within the Anglican Communion by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.” (See here and here.)
- We should encourage visits across church boundaries to seek information and to open up dialogue, but not to interfere in the business of other churches.
- The traditional, purely consultative function of the Lambeth Conference should be reasserted, and such resolutions as are passed should be clearly represented as advisory only and not legally binding.
- We must maintain our Communion as a Communion where authority is dispersed. We are not a Papal church nor one governed by a Curia.
Finally, we look forward to a time when the Communion abandons this vain attempt to impose a Covenant on its members and seeks out new ways of fellowship, care, and mission in the name of Our Lord.
Yours in Christ,
Jean M Mayland