Democracy is about voice and vote, one to one. Communion is about the body of Christ broken and shared and revealed among us. We can choose, as citizens, not to participate in the democratic process, but we cannot be denied access unless we have shown flagrant disregard for the rule of law.
The Anglican Communion is not a democracy. Our relationships are supposed to be more profound than the most ideal civil contract could hope to define. We are a remnant of the British Empire, cobbled together initially by luck, ambition and trade winds. We are profoundly diverse among ourselves, and, for me, this is the great misunderstanding of last year’s deliberation about membership and dues payment to the Anglican Consultative Council.
The Anglican Communion does not exist because of the commonalities Anglican share across latitude and longitude. Our significant diversity on earth-shattering matters creates the need to be in conversation. A gathering of distant bishops at the Lambeth Conference historically has served that purpose.
In 1968, as people’s movements gained strength everywhere -- strengthened by the independence movements across the French and British Empires -- and air travel became increasingly affordable and communication across time zones more regular, Lambeth decided lay people, women and parish clergy from around the world needed to be in conversation. The Anglican Consultative Council was first convened in 1969 to serve that purpose.
The ACC as a deliberative body representing Anglican Christians from around the world has spoken out against gross injustices like apartheid in South Africa and the separation wall in Israel and the Occupied Territories. ACC statements can be made with force and integrity because of the presence of Anglicans living out both sides of those issues and those not at all affected by them who are present in faithful conversation in the deliberative body.
In 2005, the United States and Canada were asked to withdraw from participation in the meeting of the ACC in Nottingham, England, except to make a report in explanation of our governing body’s consent to an openly gay bishop in the United States and, in Canada, the blessing of legal same-sex marriages.
Maybe because I live in a democracy, I can’t understand the logic of the request. It seems to me to be far more compelling to have everyone who is a member attend, deliberate and then, if our church is so far out of step with what is required for Anglican conformity, let the whole body either bring us around or vote its disapproval. The integrity of the body is gone if members are silenced. We assume in a deliberative body that the good of the whole might be in tension with our individual needs, and we find balance.
This is not about the war in Iraq or Texaco Oil exploiting Nigeria or Coca Cola poisoning water supplies in India. Yes, we have guilt, anxiety and true remorse as Westerners for the actions of our government and the transnational corporations that feed our endowments and bank accounts. Yes, Canterbury has guilt over centuries of imperial domination that impoverished India, Caribbean nations and Africa. Yes, a shrill, inverted Victorian piety was imported as Christianity around the planet by the missionary societies that accompanied the British East India Company at the end of the 19th century. Yes. All of those things are true, but guilt will not cause us to act with more justice; guilt leads us to believe, incorrectly, that the movement of creation is controlled by us, when in reality it is the work of God unfolding in grand mystery.
If the $550,000 increase in asking by the ACC for this triennium to fund the listening process, create commissions, write reports and fly primates towards each other is guaranteed to be primarily for us to hear the voices not heard, we must do it. There is only one group left not heard: gay, lesbian, trans-gendered and bisexual Anglicans from developing countries. I think that could be an important enough listening process for the General Convention to consider denying the increased funding requested by the historically black colleges, zeroing out of a national line item for Appalachian Ministries and eliminating the increase for our covenant with Liberia.
An increase in funding to support the bruised egos of the already powerful primates of the Anglican Communion, regardless of the color of their skin or churchmanship, seems to me cynical, guilt-ridden and appeasing. I have yet to be made aware of the acts of international justice, edification or even simple amusement that have come from a meeting of primates, but who knows what’s possible with increased funding.
Maybe “no taxation without representation” could be the alternative theme for General Convention 2006. We could have our own Columbus Tea Party, declare once again that we do not exist solely at the discretion of England or Nigeria or whomever in whatever kind of hat proposes to tell us how much it costs this year to be told to repent of what God is doing among us.
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