Philip Turner–Unity, Order And Dissent: On How To Dissent Within a Communion of Churches

In short when communion is not sustained by a central juridical authority but by mutual recognition and submission within the body of Christ, there must be a means of dissent that coheres with these formative commitments. There must also be a means of addressing dissent that retains communion between a dissenting province and the Communion as a whole. Ecclesial disobedience as set forth above provides both an instrument of dissent and a response that prevents communion from lapsing into constantly dividing segments.

How are mutually recognized forms of belief, practice and worship to be sustained within a communion that does not have and does not want a centralized juridical structure? Given Anglicanism’s commitment to locally adapted expression of Christian belief and practice, in a world of competing nationalisms a covenant based upon mutual recognition and mutual subjection within the body of Christ is the only way I see to achieve this goal. Nevertheless, a shared understanding of dissent within a covenant relation must be part of the way in which the Communion sustains its common life. Apart from such an understanding, those who dissent will have no wisdom about the proper way to express their dissent, the Instruments and provinces of the Communion will have no wisdom about how to respond, and the Communion as a whole will inevitably devolve into a federation or (worse) a host of fragments that once formed a remarkable example of catholic Christianity.

To return to the beginning of this essay, the Archbishop of Canterbury, TEC’s Presiding Bishop, the ACO and the Primates will all be involved in the upcoming meeting in Ireland. Whether they admit to it or not, the question of dissent within a communion of churches will rest just under the surface of all their conversations. One can only hope and pray that the issue raised in this essay, the nature of ecclesiastical dissent, will rise to the surface of their conversations and receive the sort of attention that will allow the Anglican Communion to retain its identity, its unity and its integrity.

More concretely, the issue is this. What steps can the Primates take when they meet to bring the question of dissent out in the open where it belongs? There is an answer to this question, and it involves all the players that will come to Dublin. First, because it is the Archbishop of Canterbury who “gathers” the Primates and because his office is the primary locus of moral authority within the communion, the answer begins with him. He has authority to set the agenda for the Primates Meeting, and he should announce publically that the issue of TEC’s dissent from the moral authority of the Instruments is on the agenda. Further, if as is rumored, the Presiding Bishop has refused a request voluntarily to withdraw, the Archbishop should employ his authority to gather and withdraw her invitation….

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Analysis, Anglican Primates, Archbishop of Canterbury, Ecclesiology, Instruments of Unity, Theology, Windsor Report / Process

13 comments on “Philip Turner–Unity, Order And Dissent: On How To Dissent Within a Communion of Churches

  1. tjmcmahon says:

    [blockquote]if as is rumored, the Presiding Bishop has refused a request voluntarily to withdraw, the Archbishop should employ his authority to gather and withdraw her invitation[/blockquote]One fears that in the modern day, the prophets are shouting, but there is no one there to hear them. I don’t agree with every word coming from ACI nowadays, but one prays that the Archbishop of Canterbury will read and heed what they have to say- and particularly Dr. Turner in this latest. Or at least thoughtfully consider the damage he is doing by not heeding the voices of 3/4 of the Communion. The choice is before him- to actually enforce the “relational consequences” of his Pentacost letter, or to abdicate what little respect his office maintains and let TEC destroy the Communion.

  2. A Senior Priest says:

    I see the ACI as moderates in the umm… conversation these days. But, increasingly this kind of rumination has even less relevance to me and many others than the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  3. rugbyplayingpriest says:

    I couldn’t even get through it all. We do not need convoluted ways of managing difference. We need to preach the Gospel, obey the Gospel and dispel all that is contrary to the Gospel. The Anglican Church is in meltdown because it seeks to make a home for heretical views. This has the same effect on the body of believers as seeking to make home for cancer without removing it would have on the human body.

    What is worse those who stand for the Gospel here in England are being bundled out of the back door and labelled traitors for refusing to play the live and let live game. It is all so very sad but only hands even more power to the heretical

  4. Jill Woodliff says:

    The ACI has served an important role in carefully observing, documenting, and analyzing events in the Anglican Communion–without pay. I thank them.
    There is one aspect of the events that several observers have alluded to but no one, to my knowledge, has fully developed (perhaps because, alas, we see through a glass darkly). Not only are we dealing with human institutions; we are also dealing with the demonic (Ephesians 6:12).

  5. cseitz says:

    Dear Jill–we have several faithful contributors. Anyone who is redirecting money from TEC could kindly consider supporting our work. We’d be most grateful.

  6. Sarah says:

    RE: “The choice is before him- to actually enforce the “relational consequences” of his Pentacost letter, or to abdicate what little respect his office maintains and let TEC destroy the Communion.”

    I agree. I think more fundamentally though the choice is and has been to choose whom he loses. And I think he has made that choice.

  7. Sarah says:

    RE: “They can, in short, make clear the seriousness of their objection to the decision of the Archbishop of Canterbury to gather the Primate of a province that has rejected the authority of the Communion’s Instruments and has done so with a high hand. They can place before the Communion a simple fact. A fork in the road has been reached. One way leads to what the Archbishop of Canterbury has termed a “two track communion.” The other leads to a communion in which there are “two integrities” in respect to sexual ethics. . . . The upcoming meeting of the Primates provides a God given opportunity for the Primates to take such a step on behalf of the Communion as a whole. One can only hope and pray that they see the challenge that lies before them and that they rise to the occasion.”

    I think that 8-10 Primates have already risen to the occasion by stating that they are not attending the Primates meeting. Their not attending accomplishes the things listed above. I hope there will be more who do not attend.

  8. cseitz says:

    I think the main issue Turner is focusing on is the difference between dissent and disagreement, and putting in the record that TEC does not have the courage to dissent and pay the consequences (as with this ethical tradition). The consequence, a form of ‘revolution’ (to use his terms) that sees the communion collpase. The real question is how the main lines of the Communion can remain coordinated in the light of this meltdown, and carry on. To act as though there are just some disagreements and all will be well if we seek to honor that, is to refuse to accept the genuine collapse of a genuine communion and its instruments. Proponents of the TEC line do not seem to believe anything is collapsing and act as if an untrustworthy SC, etc is OK…when it will be managing only a portion of the erstwhile communion because it is widely perceived as biased and most have voted with their feet. So the choice is to stay away en masse (I believe the number is fourteen at present); attend and insist the reality be faced. But in either case — and it’s not clear it matters that much — what is really needed is coordination and a leadership able to keep the widest bloc together as we move into very uncertain water.

  9. A Senior Priest says:

    Why would TEC want to dissent and insist on paying the consequences when it is possible to dissent and NOT pay the consequences? TEC have gotten away with their prophetic game, so they win in this little charade. Unfortunately for them and everyone connected with them (including, to my mind, orthodox Anglicans everywhere), the catastrophic loss of credibility extends to all.

  10. cseitz says:

    One cannot dissent and not pay the consequences — that is not dissent. The point of the essay is to say that TEC lacked the moral conviction necessary for dissent, so called it/calls it ‘disagreement’ when it was/is at a much higher level than that. In consequence we have a lawless and collapsing communion. That is not the tradition of MLK or Ghandi and so is not the dissent of these ethical stand-takers (whether you agree with them or not) — so TEC cannot legitmately claim their mantle or that tradition. Instead, they are bringing the communion into collapse and claiming they are not doing so. This needs to be clarified — time does not stop when the collapse comes and there needs to be a way to consider what has happened, so as to move fruitfully ahead in God’s time. Judges was followed by Hannah’s Song, but Judges also rendered a verdict over what went wrong and why.

  11. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    This is an excellent essay. I admire the efforts of ACI and others, but like Sarah perhaps I am doubtful. RW is a stubborn man, and a foolish man in inviting KJS to Dublin and undermining yet another instrument. I suspect he hopes to cobble together just enough at Dublin to limp on to the next joke Standing Committee and ACC meeting; what a poverty of ambition.

    I was struck by the argument of RW recently of how his current process was necessary for supporting many of the struggling and persecuted churches, but I could not square how his support of endless ‘listening’, moral prevarication and indaba, not to mention his protection of TEC was actually supporting them.

    But there is no need to fear – Anglicanism is growing and healthy, and if RW and the CofE will not lead, there are others who will, and perhaps the future lies with them, whatever happens to our churches. Perhaps for the small and persecuted churches mentioned above the best we can hope for is not to impede them or act as a millstone. Better would be to join in their enthusiasm, and perhaps their growth.

  12. Philip Turner says:

    Reading the comments on this piece both here and elsewhere prompts the following comments.
    1. I have the same doubts about Archbishop Rowan’s handling of this situation as do most.
    2. I also doubt that the suggestions I have made will be acted upon.
    3. My primary purpose in writing this piece and others has not been to map out a winning strategy, but to place before those who read the sorts of things I write the unanswered questions about what it means to be a Communion of Churches that has no central jurisdiction. The near future of our Communion lies in the hands of those who now hold offices within the Communion. I do not have my hands on those levers. I have only a pen, and the work of a theologian is both to articulate and criticize the belief and practice of the church. This piece and others like it are intended first of all to shape a necessary argument in the ongoing life of our Communion
    Philip Turner

  13. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    #12 Bravo, Ultimus Romanorum.