Today, September 12, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 on the Sunday programme. He is in London to speak at St Paul’s Cathedral. He was asked about the consecration of Gene Robinson and its impact, as well as about his reaction to the forthcoming Lambeth Commission [Eames] Report arising from the impact of that consecration. He claimed to have been surprised by the world-wide interest in and reaction to the consecration, and he refused to comment on what he would say or do if the Report recommends discipline for the ECUSA.
However, he did use the expression “classic Anglicanism” several times and claimed that the position he holds (and the General Convention works to) is such.
Whatever does he mean?
He appears to be assuming that the situation today where different provinces (e.g., ECUSA & Nigeria) have very different theological & moral positions is to all intents and purposes identical with the situation of say fifty years ago. Then there was much talk of Anglican comprehensiveness -- the holding together churchmen who were Anglo-Catholic, Latitudinarian and Evangelical, with shades in between and from very high church to very low church in terms of ceremonial.
But is he right?
Certainly the Anglican Communion had the character of unity in diversity until recent times, even though the unity was strained from time to time and the diversity ran the risk of being too varied at times. All the varying forms of churchmanship held to a common core of doctrine and morality and gave allegiance to The Book of Common Prayer & The Ordinal (but not always to the Articles of Religion or The Athanasian Creed). The individual provinces did flex the muscles of their autonomy occasionally, but they did not generally use it against the wishes of the whole body, and certainly not to deny a cardinal doctrine or expression of morality.
The arrival in some provinces of the ordination of women severely tested – and does still – the unity in diversity as provinces have used their autonomy in this instance in ways that made fellowship with others problematic. In response to this the first Eames Commission of the 1980s came up with the anglicized doctrine of reception, which attempted to permit provinces and dioceses with different views of the ordination of women to live together in a basic peace and with a basic fellowship as the process of reception, testing and discerning proceeded. (see my 64 page booklet on Reception – www.latimertrust.org )
It seems that Presiding Bishop Frank wishes to use the term classical Anglicanism of the situation in the Communion after the arrival of the ordination of women and the doctrine of reception, and during the time when one or two provinces have deliberately and knowingly stretched the diversity past the point that most if not all other provinces believe is acceptable or right.
In other words Griswold wants to retain the expression “classical Anglicanism” for a diversity where there is no longer even a minimal basic unity, because a majority of provinces has stated very clearly that they are not now in, or will not be in, communion with a province that publicly and deliberately accepts homosexual partnerships as approved by God and persons from them as suitable candidates for ordination and consecration.
Let us recall that Classical Anglicanism was a system which can be compared to a wheel, with the hub (center), the spokes and the circumference. This is unity in diversity with definite limits set by the circumference to the diversity.
Frank is deceiving himself into thinking that even where the spoke penetrates the rim and sticks out through the tire, or even where the spoke is not actually fully attached to the hub/center, the wheel still is in place! Let him recall Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?”
As a global phenomenon classical Anglicanism is fractured or gone. Let us hope that after the Eames Report is published on October 18, moves will begin for its restoration, for the glory of God and the good of His Church. Meanwhile let us not forget to pray for Bishop Frank.
The Revd Dr Peter Toon September 12 2004.