The much-anticipated Advent Letter has arrived! It is hard to overemphasize the importance of the Archbishop’s letter to the Primates and to the rest of the Anglican Communion.
There is much to commend in this letter (The Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon’s analysis is very helpful). It reaffirms the Bible as our primary authority, reaffirms the traditional view of Christian sexual ethics (1998 Lambeth 1.10), and it acknowledges the hurt caused the Anglican Communion when one province acts without regard for the entire Communion.
However, what is not said in this letter may be its most important feature. History might say that this was one of the greatest missed opportunities of all time.
Archbishop Williams could have simply said, “With the advice of the Primates and for the sake of healing our Communion, I rescind the previous invitations to the July 2008 Lambeth Conference, and I hereby invite every bishop in the Anglican Communion who will agree (in writing) to the processes outlined in the Windsor Report and the Dar es Salaam Primates CommuniquÃ©, including their personal pledge to uphold 1998 Lambeth resolution 1.10 as the agreed upon standard of conduct for Anglicans worldwide.”
Instead, the Archbishop let stand the previous invitations to Lambeth which includes the attendance of bishops who supported and voted for Gene Robinson’s consecration against the advice of the Primates, and even allows for the possibility that Bishop Robinson himself will attend Lambeth 2008 with visitor status. The invitation list includes bishops who currently allow and sanction same-gender blessings, who ordain noncelibate gays and lesbians to holy orders, and who have said they will not stop these practices no matter what the rest of the Communion says. And the invitations specifically excludes all bishops ordained by Rwanda (AMiA), Nigeria (CANA), Uganda, etc. for U.S. oversight, no matter how loyal they are to the teaching of Anglicanism.
In his genteel English (Welsh) style, Rowan Williams does say that “acceptance of the invitation must be taken as implying willingness to work with those aspects of the Conference’s agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor,” but such a wishy-washy reminder will clearly not deter revisionist bishops from attending. We have indeed become a church without boundaries. In case there’s any question about this, Williams goes on to say, “I have repeatedly said that an invitation to Lambeth does not constitute a certificate of orthodoxy but simply a challenge to pray seriously together and to seek a resolution that will be as widely owned as may be.” The “let’s vote on what Anglicans believe this week” – the lowest common denominator approach – empties our Anglican heritage of any content.
In another miscalculation, Archbishop Williams has chosen to not convene a Primates meeting before Lambeth. Instead, he will “convene a small group of primates and others…to work on answering questions arising from the inconc> lusive evaluation of the primates to New Orleans.” The Archbishop told the Primates at Dar es Salaam that he would consult them on invitations to Lambeth, which he did not do. He could have upheld the Windsor Report by inviting those who uphold the traditional values endorsed in the Windsor Report, but he did not. He could have revised the invitation list in the Advent Letter to support Windsor, but he chose not to do so. And the end result is the Windsor Report is rendered virtually meaningless, and the Windsor process has been exposed as a ploy to buy time. There could be very detrimental results from this Letter, including the disintegration of one of the Instruments of Unity (Lambeth Conference) and the diminution of the authority of another Instrument, the Primates Meeting. It looks to me like the man behind the curtain has been exposed.
The telling part will be how the Primates respond to the Advent Letter in the weeks to come.
In the meantime, Christ Church continues to maintain its strong gospel ministry and strong relationships with the healthy parts of the Communion, while working with Bishop Lillibridge for the realignment. Bishop Lillibridge has valiantly fought for the Windsor Report, and it is the Windsor bishops who are most hurt by these developments. I agree with Bishop Iker, the Episcopal Church is not going to turn back from its present course. That means that our future will be very interesting and challenging – and hopeful. I continue to think that it has never been more exciting to be a Bible-believing Anglican in America, and that God has prepared us for such a time as this!
–The Rev. Chuck Collins is rector of Christ Church, San Antonio, Texas