At the core of the present fragmentation in the life of the Anglican Communion has been an avoidance of the conciliar process beyond the national level and an elevation of provincial autonomy over catholic consensus through the councils of the wider church. The conciliarist principle holds that local option must submit to the consensus of the wider church, which represents the whole church, not just a segment of it. Lesser synods must submit to the decisions of greater synods. Though the Anglican Communion has the structures in place that could promote conciliarism as a way of addressing current controversies, particularly the Lambeth Conference of Bishops and the Primates’ Meeting, these instruments of unity have been prevented from functioning in an effective way.
The Windsor Report (2004) proposed a conciliar approach to addressing the crisis prompted by the Robinson consecration and the blessings of same sex unions in North America. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to discipline offending bishops by not inviting them to participate in the Lambeth Conference. The Primates’ Meeting was prevented from following through on the moratoria demands they had made of the Bishops of The Episcopal Church in their Dar es Salaam Communiqué (2007), and the 2008 Lambeth Conference was carefully orchestrated to prevent the Bishops from acting as a council of the church to address the sexuality crisis that has so deeply divided us.
Until the Anglican Communion addresses the prevailing system of elevating provincial autonomy over all else, we will be unable to function as a conciliar church and address controversy as a truly catholic body. Any claim to autonomy must be understood within the context of what it means to be a part of the larger body of the church catholic. There are limits to provincial autonomy that fall short of independence from the rest of the church and the principle of common consent. When we speak of autonomy, it is always autonomy in communion and interdependence. This has been made more difficult to address in light of the fact that the Lambeth Conferences have intentionally been designed to act merely as conferences, without legislative or canonical authority. They have not been seen as councils or synods of bishops with anything but a certain kind of moral authority. And when Lambeth resolutions are rejected or ignored, as in the last decade, there are no consequences, no discipline, and no accountability. Instead of discipline for American and Canadian bishops who openly rejected the teaching of the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1:10 and refused to comply with the recommendations of the Windsor Report, Archbishop Williams and his planning committee decided that Lambeth 2008 just would not adopt any resolutions or make any recommendations. We would simply have carefully orchestrated indaba groups and times for honest sharing of feelings.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops TEC Conflicts Instruments of Unity Lambeth 2008 Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion) Same-sex blessings Windsor Report / Process * Theology Ecclesiology
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