For the first time in recent memory, Anglican conservatives have something to cheer about. Ever since the Episcopal Churchâ??s general convention in June, things have been moving rapidly in the Anglican world, and this past week was no exception. There were not one but two events sure to shape the future of Anglican polity and doctrine, following fast on the heels of a major statement by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. But instead of the almost obligatory gloominess of conservatives in response to, well, any significant action of their church, there is today a powerful sense of hope among many of the Anglican faithful, thanks to the long-awaited convergence of Canterbury, the Global South, and a substantial number of orthodox American bishops.
The case for hope starts with Abp. Williamsâ?? pastoral letter of September 15, addressed to the global primates. Just as in his previous letter to the primates, Williams affirmed the orthodox theological position on sexual ethics, recognizing it to be the mind of the Communion. Likewise, Williams duly noted that the actions of the Episcopal Church in convention could at best be called a â??mixed responseâ?? to the requests of the Communion, thus posing some â??very challenging questionsâ?? for the upcoming primatesâ?? meeting in February. At the same time, the archbishop cautioned conservatives against impatient and hasty actions that could lead to further schism. There is, he warned, no â??rapid short-term solutionâ?? to the current crisis capable of bypassing the need for Communion-wide discernment. The long-term solution, however, he made quite clear by his appointment of Archbishop Drexel Gomez, a conservative primate from the West Indies, to chair the forthcoming Anglican Covenant design group. It bodes very well indeed for Anglican identity that the Covenant, which will ultimately become a condition of full Communion membership, is to be overseen by a primate committed both to theological orthodoxy and Communion unity. And, not least, it bodes well that the Archbishop of Canterbury firmly wishes that it should be so.
Viewed as a whole, Archbishop Williamsâ?? actions and words can only be seen as positive from the perspective of those who hope to see the catholic substance of Anglicanism preserved. The Church of England is quite clearly not willing to give up either her children or her heritage, and while many conservatives have been understandably impatient at the seemingly glacial progress of Canterbury, it must not be forgotten that Williams is unable to jump ahead of decisions that can ultimately be made only by the entire Communion. Canterbury moves slowly by its very nature, but the irrevocable logic of the Covenant process guarantees its forward motion. So long as the majority of the Communion is dedicated to the preservation of Anglican catholicity and identityâ??and it isâ??the time will come, and soon, when the Covenantâ??s promise of mutual ecclesial subjectivity will entrust orthodoxy to that upon which it has always dependedâ??the Spirit-guided sensus fidei of the whole body of believers, living prayerfully under the authority of Scripture.
Jordan Hylden First Things