The end of conciliarism, which accords with the practice of the early church, is to be regarded as tragic. The Anglican tragedy, like its medieval counterpart, may be seen as stemming from the reluctance of the central authority to relinquish or even dilute its control. This reluctance is not necessarily a matter of perversity, however. To be sure, the reluctance of Anglican Communion Office, instanced by their keeping the ACC in line in Jamaica, has seemed motivated by a desire to avoid offending TEC, which provides much of their funding. But from their perspective TEC’s financial support may appear essential for the proper functioning of the Communion. They have seemed concerned also to avoid alienating the liberal wing of the Church of England. But this may be not just out of ideological predisposition. It may also reflect a belief that the CofE could not afford the resulting exacerbation of its divisions.
To Archbishop Rowan himself, with his brilliant mind, deep learning, and winning personality, such considerations may have less application. The explanation in his case may lie more in his espousal of a theology militating against closure on any issue, and thus supportive of the inclinations of the Anglican Communion Office, as of the interests of TEC, by default. Charles Raven, in his 2010 book Shadow Gospel: the Theology of Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion Crisis, made an impressive case to this effect. As for Rowan’s adherence to such a theology despite all his sophistication, being essentially an academic, without secular or even significant parish experience, perhaps limits his awareness of the outside world.
If, then, there is to be a revival of Anglican conciliarism, it will have to come not from the Instruments in their now compromised state but instead out of churches of the Global South, together with their Western allies. These churches have laid a basis for it already in Gafcon, their conference in Jerusalem in June 2008. There the Spirit was clearly at work, producing conciliarly the extraordinary Jerusalem Declaration. So far, despite the South-to-South Encounter in Singapore in April 2010 and the CAPA meeting in Uganda last August, the Global South leaders have not followed up on it. But by absenting themselves from the Dublin Primates’ Meeting and thereby sealing its irrelevance, they have taken on a responsibility to do so. For the sake of conciliarism and of Anglicanism itself, they need now, in American terms, to step up to the plate.