The Province of Kenya issued a statement on Wednesday, June 13, 2007, announcing its intention to consecrate The Rev. Canon Bill Atwood as a Suffragan Bishop “to support the international interests of the Anglican Church of Kenya, including support of Kenyan clergy and congregations in North America.” Their further “goal is to collaborate with faithful Anglicans (including those in North America who are related with other provinces). A North American Anglican Coalition can provide a safe haven for those who maintain historic Anglican faith and practice, and offer a way to live and work together in the furtherance of the Gospel.”
So, what does this mean? It is illustrative of the truism, “nature abhors a vacuum.”
In this analogy, nature is the Anglican Communion. What is the vacuum? The lack of leadership from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I have long been a supporter of the Archbishop’s leadership and the difficult position that he has been in. I have gleaned his writings and comments for those tidbits that would give an indication of the direction in which he would lead the Communion.
He has been quoted to say that “actions have consequences,” leading me, and others, to believe that he would allow the TEC to suffer the consequences of their decisions in some form of discipline. He said that he gave a September 30th deadline for the assurances from the American Episcopal House of Bishops so that invitations to Lambeth could be sent out or withdrawn in response to the American bishops’ responses. He said that the primates would decide what course of action they would take.
This all made sense in light of his perceived ecclesiology: he did not want to make an arbitrary decision that would give subsequent Archbishops of Canterbury more power that might be abused later; he had a conciliar view of the authority of the church and its bishops. All this made sense to me until the invitations to Lambeth were issued in an untimely manner, and the actions of the American Episcopal church bishops that consented to and consecrated the bishop of New Hampshire that has caused this rupture in the Communion.
The act of issuing these invitations at this time has shown that some actions have not had any consequences. The American House of Bishops’ response to the Primates’ CommuniquÃ© from Dar es Salaam clearly rejected the pastoral scheme of the CommuniquÃ© and dismissive of the underlying concerns of the Primates.
Since the actions of the American Church seem to have no consequences with respect to the full Communion, contrary to their stated concerns, we are left with the consequences of inaction. The inaction of the primates as a whole and our Archbishop of Canterbury have resulted in the consequences of yet another Anglican bishop being consecrated by another foreign (African) province to provide oversight for churches who want to leave the Episcopal Church because the actions of their American bishops have been shown to have no consequences at the international level.
In short: nature abhors a vacuum. Because the conciliar vision expounded by the Archbishop of Canterbury is either not working or not being followed we are left with everyone doing what is right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). This has led to the multiplicity of foreign jurisdiction Anglican bishops in the United States, lawsuit upon lawsuit, inhibition and deposition upon early resignation and retirement.
How does Jesus view us? I suspect just as he did when he saw the crowds: “he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
We are a bishop-based church. Whether one believes that bishops are of the esse or the bene esse of the church, it is time for our bishops, both primates and diocesans, and especially the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in consultation with the Archbishop of York, to step up and bring some order out of this chaos. We are witnessing the breakup of the Anglican Communion before our very eyes. It has been given to the primates to enforce their own CommuniquÃ©. If they do not, the Anglican witness in the United States will truly be diverse, with a multiplicity American-born Caucasian bishops from Bolivia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Venezuela, overseeing their little niches of Anglicans in the United States, while the greater cause of Christ is hampered by our sad divisions that speak the lie to all our self-affirmations of unity. Maybe this is what God wants. Maybe this is what Anglicanism deserves.
–The Rev. Canon Dr. Neal O. Michell is Canon Missioner for Strategic Development in the Diocese of Dallas; this is posted here with his permission