By the Rt. Rev. Maurice Benitez, Bishop of Texas, Retired
Bp. Benitez responds on the House of Bishops/Deputies mailing list to the flurry of criticism of the Archbishop of Canterbury, following the recent public exoriation of the ABC by +Marshall.
I address this posting to the increasing number on the HOB/HOD network who lately have been exceedingly critical of the Archbishop of Canterbury and even delivered some rather severe attacks against him!
Well, what would you have him do to address this sordid mess that the Anglican Communion is now in? After all, Archbishop Rowan Williams did NOT initiate this conflict in which we in the Communion are now struggling, and which may well result in tearing the Communion apart. He did not start this brawl. He is not to blame for it. He merely has the responsibility to end it, and to preserve, to the extent he can, the unity and stability of the Anglican Communion. His primary duty to God and His Church, can be nothing less than that. His Grace certainly does not need anyone defending him, but nevertheless, to satisfy my own conscience, I am going to give it a try.
The Anglican Communion is a communion of Churches who share a common heritage. We are bound together by a common understanding of the historic Apostolic Catholic Faith, and we find our structure and content of this faith in the teachings and interpretations of the Holy Scriptures that we have received down through the ages from the Apostles and Church Fathers. We treasure the measure of diversity that we in Anglicanism enjoy in our understanding of the Christian Faith, and in our freedom to disagree and debate with one another, and to propose changes in our doctrines and practices, although not to enact unilateral and arbitrary changes until we have a clear consent and agreement from a majority of the other the members of the Communion. We enjoy what might be called a tolerable degree of diversity, even while we owe the rest of the Communion an obligation to observe the reasonable limits of that diversity in our teachings and practices, until we can convince a majority of the Communion to accept what we propose. We do this in order to preserve our unity and keep us walking together down the same road.
To keep us within our limits of diversity, and preserve our unity, we in the Anglican Communion require those of us who are ordained to take vows in which we promise "to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them." And where do we find the content of that "doctrine, discipline and worship", to which we are to conform our lives? The answer is obviously in the teachings of Holy Scriptures as understood by the Apostles and Church Fathers, and passed down to us through the centuries, as well as from our Anglican Prayer Books.
To keep all of us clergy in the Communion abiding by the vows we have made to uphold "the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church", and not instead to proclaim doctrinal novelties and offering our personal opinions from the pulpit as the teaching of the Church, (and in doing so to claim we are simply being "prophetic") we ordain the Order of bishops, who in their office have as a primary role, to maintain order in the life of the Church. However, it is exceedingly unfortunate that too often in recent years it has been those in Episcopal Orders who have led the way in instigating and propagating departures from the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Faith upheld by the rest of the Communion. And the bishops, at least of this Province, the Episcopal Church, know well the power we possess, as I will wager that more clergy have been inhibited and deposed in the last few years than in all of the previous years of our history. It is indeed sad, and ironic, that a number of our bishops, who defied the strong protest and pleadings of the majority of the rest of the Anglican Communion in choosing to walk a different path from those other members of the Communion, so quickly respond with severe disciplinary action against those clergy in their dioceses who merely would like to leave TEC, and to serve Christ under the jurisdiction of another Province of the Communion.
Furthermore, if those bishops in the Communion, chosen to maintain order in the Church, continue to lead the way in acting contrary to the order of the Church, the situation in our Province, and in the Communion as a whole, will become even more complicated than it is right now, and be accompanied by an increasingly intolerable amount of doctrinal diversity.
And we have already come to that stage where a diocese, (the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada), and even a Province of the Communion, TEC, have chosen to defy, and act contrary to "the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church", and the clear teaching of Holy Scripture as understood and upheld by an overwhelming majority of the Communion. (However, it does need to be said that there are several other provinces of the Communion who are sympathetic to the positions that TEC and New Westminster have taken, but these several provinces have exercised restraint for the sake of order, and will not act and make changes as TEC has, until some clear majority in the Anglican Communion has emerged voting for these changes.)
And these actions by TEC and New Westminster have incited others around the Communion, including bishops and Archbishops from almost all parts of the world, to take counteractions, offering pastoral care and jurisdiction to orthodox congregations within TEC, which feel they cannot any longer tolerate their diocesan and provincial leadership within our province, and welcome the opportunity to serve under Anglican jurisdictional leadership from elsewhere. And the number of these congregations choosing to depart from the dioceses of TEC, and serve under other Anglican jurisdictions, is continuing to increase month by month.
In addition, increasing numbers of primates and bishops from the rest of the Communion, countering the actions that TEC has taken, are traveling all over North America, crossing our provincial and diocesan boundaries at will, all of which is proof of the adage, that "anarchy will inevitably breed more anarchy." The bishops from Global South did not precipitate this series of anarchical acts, and begin these intrusions into our boundaries, until we in TEC first chose to make some radical changes in our faith and practice, from standards that have been upheld in our Communion, since its establishment, and has been the norm in the Apostolic Church for 2,000 years. The rest of the Communion begged us not to take this step, and we chose not to listen to them. Well, we in TEC have sown the wind, and we are now reaping the whirlwind!!
And now we come to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The man has little power outside the Church of England, although he does have the responsibility for keeping the Communion from coming apart. Given the current chaotic state of the Communion, what should he do? What would you do to restore order? What would you have him do? Frankly, I think he has proposed and is seeking to implement, a very reasonable plan . He is offering the entire Communion the opportunity to draft a Covenant, and calling all of the members of the Communion to agree to it, with the provision that those who do not agree with it, cannot be constituent voting members, but instead will be relegated to the role of associate members in the Communion.
No one knows exactly how the plan will work out in the future, but how can anyone argue with the logic and fairness of the proposal. After all, it is based on majority rule, and those of us who have repeatedly argued against the actions of TEC in recent years, have received the response that the actions of General Convention are based on the majority rule of the Bishops and Deputies, and therefore are fair. Obviously, the same principle must apply to actions of the Anglican Communion!
And I repeat, that the mess we are now in, is not the fault of the Archbishop Rowan Williams. He is merely caught in the job of having to juggle a host of balls, and somehow keep them in the air. He is a gifted and Godly man, and rather than criticize and excoriate the man, we all need to be praying fervently for him. May God bless him, as well as bless all of the rest of us in the Anglican Communion.
Maurice M. Benitez
Bishop of Texas, Retired