Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A College of Primates?

Mark Harris posted a very useful piece yesterday in his blog Preludium describing how the forces for realingment are still persuing a fundemental change in how we as Anglicans understand ourselves. Part of this process is the diminishment of the historic role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in favor of a higher role for the combined Primates.

He notes:
Just a few months ago Anglicans spoke of the “four instruments of unity.” Those were: The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates. Then it was decided in the Windsor Report to suggest that the Archbishop be “the focus of unity” and the other three “the instruments of communion.” This suggestion was quickly made the order of the day by the Anglican Consultative Council who might have known better had there been full attendance and involvement of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church.

The idea is this: that the Anglican Communion be characterized by a more central structure that is at once isolated from the challenges (and checks) that the realingment folks have experienced from constitutional and synodical systems and yet has enough checks on it to keep the tone of the central authority essentially conservative.

The process has had many steps. Challenge the legitimacy of individual churches to act on their own doctrine, polity and practice; de-fang the one instrument of unity that was actually constitutional and equally accountable to all the provinces; and subordinate the role of the Archbiship of Canterbury to one of figurehead in favor of the role of the primates.

All discussions of sexuality aside, over the last three years (and longer) the entire discussion as to who gets to "own" the Anglican "franchise" in the USA, has turned on the attempt to delegitimize the actions of our own General Convention in 2003. The appeal of the Network and their related groups is that we are accountable to the broader Anglican Communion, but how that accountability has been defined has been rather fluid. It has shown up as an outright re-write of history (as in the Windsor Reports description of the reception of ordained women). It also appears in how the non-constitutional and purely consultative Primates Meeting took on a constitutional role that did not heretofore exist, and in the assumption that the purely collegial nature of the Lambeth Meetings has been transformed into a teaching and legislative role.

Here is where I think the trend is going. If the Realingment people have their way, the Archbishop of Canterbury will become the titular and symbolic head of, for lack of a better term, a College of Primates. The College of Primates will want to deal with issues of doctrine and discipline using the language of collegiality and dialogue to cover an increasingly central and probably invasive form of international Anglicanism.

Given the fact that some of these Primates have shown little zeal for limiting cross-province incursions and defections--when these are in other people's provinces--and that they have selective, dogma-based, approach to determine who is in communion with whom, it is not hard to imagine a central authority that will attempt to limit the effects of the Anglican Church with the most lay and clergy involvement in the actual formation of doctrine, discipline and worship: you-know-who.

So the ABC becomes a figurehead, the College of Primates becomes a kind of Anglican curia, and the other two "instruments of Communion" become platforms to disemminate discipline rather than venues to foster communion and encourage common ministry.

The question for us as we prepare to head to Columbus this weekend is whether the work of the Panel on Communion can actually slow the process enough to preserve the Anglican Communion as one built on bonds of affection, or if the Communion will continue to slide towards a structure built on discipline and order.

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