….the whole question of diversity and communion more broadly has been a consistent Anglican concern, at least since the late 18th-century English bishops required of the nascent Episcopal Church that she reorder her Prayer Book (e.g. replacing those parts stricken from the Americans’ proposed version of the Apostles’ Creed), if she wished to have her ministers and bishops “recognized” through a process of continuous succession with the English Church. It was still a question when the first Lambeth Conference met and resolved that “it is necessary that [newer Anglican churches] receive and maintain without alteration the standards of faith and doctrine as now in use in [the Church of England]”, echoing in this instance TEC’s initial commitments from 1786. The bishops then explained that, nevertheless, “each province should have the right to make such adaptations and additions to the services of the Church as its peculiar circumstances may require”. Immediately, however, the bishops noted a proviso, “that no change or addition be made inconsistent with the spirit and principles of the Book of Common Prayer”, a standard that, if rather loose, at least pointed to a text. Further, the bishops insisted more concretely, “that all such changes be liable to revision by any synod of the Anglican Communion in which the said province shall be represented”. And here, obviously, “representation” is not viewed as a veto power for one’s own interests, but rather as a participatory role bounded by unitive action.
One can argue whether this Lambeth resolution was consistently followed through in a strict sense. And so, with respect to the broader diversity-unity question, the Communion has tended to address difficult issues on this score as they have arisen, rather than through a strict censorial mechanism, whether constitutional or confessional. But does this lack of a defined template that can measure when diversity becomes “too much”, or when the “recognizable becomes unrecognizable” indicate that in fact there is no means of discernment at all? Certainly not, since the dynamic of recognition ”“ unity and separation ”” has performed this task quite adequately: when one church is no longer recognized as representing other Anglicans before the world, diversity has exceeded the measure of unity.
And, indeed, if the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, based on whatever means by which he has made this determination (in this case, years of consultation) no longer recognizes TEC as representative of the Communion that ”“ for TEC and many other Anglican churches ”“ is substantively defined by their bonds with him, then it is a simple descriptive fact that TEC’s particular convictions have undercut common Communion commitments. There is not some other mechanism that awaits application to reveal this fact. Indeed, the claim made by the Presiding Bishop that a Covenant is needed first before this can be done, ”” and therefore it cannot be done now ”” only underscores TEC’s choice to move to the side of previously acknowledged means of discernment regarding appropriate Christian diversity with the Communion, and to claim a kind of Communion chaos on this matter that even more desperately seeks some kind of covenantal resolution.
Finally, what are we to make of the fact that the Presiding Bishop and other leaders of TEC have long sought to undercut the strength of local diversity within the American Church ”“ there are vast swaths of no-go zones in TEC for traditional and conservative Episcopal clergy and scholars, imposed quite consciously by bishops and the committees they lead? Or that they have now put in place disciplinary canons (the revised Title IV rules) that would give the Presiding Bishop the arguably unconstitutional power to inhibit fellow bishops without prior consultative permission? None of this suggests a stable understanding of the relationship between diversity and Christian unity, despite claims to the contrary in her Pastoral Letter. While the diversity-unity question deserves (and has received) significant Scriptural and theological scrutiny, its practical import is nonetheless contained within these kinds of “actions”, as Lund put it: one judges the character of a tree of unity by its fruit, if always somewhat retrospectively.