I am increasingly disappointed by what Archbishop Rowan Williams has to say these days. Please note very carefully that I have not said I am disappointed in the man nor that he himself is a disappointment as ABC. He is doing his best to bring his considerable talents to bear on the role. But I imagine him to be constrained by what other leaders around him permit him to do and to say. If the others have said that tomorrow they are returning to home base to watch the footy, there really is no point issuing a command to go over the top of the trench in an offensive against the enemy. What ++Rowan says these days is what he feels he is able to say as truthfully representative of the reality of our life together (and apart) as Anglicans and thus my disappointment is with what the Communion is allowing him to say.
Take this published letter to the Primates, following the recent partially attended Primates' Meeting. It says this and it says that. Much is unexceptional, talking about our solidarity with one another in prayer and other support in the difficult times we are experiencing. It says an almost tautological thing about the aims and achievements of the Primates' Meeting: we did not set out to do X and so we did not achieve X; previously we had not thought about whether we can do X, though we acted as though we could do X and now we have given it a bit of thought, we think we cannot do X, so that justifies not setting out to do X, and thus we did not achieve X. (It doesn't say that the primates who might think differently would have steered the discussion in a different direction).
Here is the big gaping whole in what ++Rowan says: he does not address why we should value our actions and prayers for fellow Anglicans compared with engaging in action with and prayer for fellow Christians. Lots of Christians in Christchurch, Japan and Libya are NOT Anglican. Why not pray for them? Why not act with them in solving problems? What is special about Anglicans reaching out to Anglicans? It is that we have more in common with each other than with other Christians.
So when we find we have differences, where and how are we going to sort out our differences with a view to making ongoing fellowship among Anglicans more worthwhile than fellowship with other Christians? As far as I can tell from this excerpt from the letter, there is no answer to this question!
"The recent Primates’ Meeting in Dublin did not set out to offer a solution to the ongoing challenges of mutual understanding and of the limits of our diversity in the Communion. But it is important to note carefully what it did set out to do and what it achieved. In recent years, many have appealed to the Primates to resolve the problems of the Communion by taking decisive action to enforce discipline on this or that Province. In approaching the Dublin Meeting, we believed that it was essential to clarify how the Primates themselves understood the nature of their office and authority. It has always been clear that not all have the same view – not because of different theological convictions alone, but also because of the different legal and canonical roles they occupy as Primates. Some have a good deal of individual authority; others have their powers very closely limited by their own canons. It would therefore be difficult if the Meeting collectively gave powers to Primates that were greater than their own canons allowed them individually, as was noted at the 2008 Lambeth Conference (Lambeth Indaba 2008 #151).
The unanimous judgement of those who were present was that the Meeting should not see itself as a ‘supreme court’, with canonical powers, but that it should nevertheless be profoundly and regularly concerned with looking for ways of securing unity and building relationships of trust."
The last part of the last sentence is particularly disturbing. The Meeting won't do anything substantive to change the situation but the situation needs changing and the Meeting should do everything it can to make anything other than a substantive change. Non-sense?
Or, another critique of this important sentence: when we ask what secures unity and builds relationships of trust we come back (in this context) to commonality of vision, belief, values. What is the Meeting going to do when it finds that is cannot look for ways to secure unity and build relationships of trust without tackling "the ongoing challenges of mutual understanding and of the limits of our diversity in the Communion."
At the heart of what the Communion is asking its chief spokesperson to say on its behalf is a contradiction: a refusal to act on what it knows it needs to act on.
We are talking ourselves to the grave. Individual Anglican churches may survive this corporate act of ecclesial suicide but the Communion itself is talking itself to death. It can only take so much contradiction before it vapourises into thin air. It would not be the first time in church history that a collection of churches with great promise has disappeared into the sands of time.
Remember, in recent days, we have been seeing a serious attempt in an Anglican church to formalise communion without baptism. If that takes place some Anglicans will move to a position of having less in common with other Anglicans than with many other Christians who insist on reasonable, Scriptural and traditional eucharistic discipline.