The conservative primates had precious little incentive to attend the Dublin meeting.
• The New Testament warns against any kind of fellowship with false teachers—like invitees Hiltz and Schori—that might serve to legitimize their authority, such as participating in a meeting in which they are seated as legitimate representatives of the Christian faith.
• The Archbishop of Canterbury’s refusal to disinvite Katharine Jeffert’s Schori and Fred Hiltz had already effectively subverted the agreements and decisions of previous meetings, presaging yet another impotent aftermath subsequent to Dublin.
• And the prohibitive cost of cross-continental travel, in the face of these disincentives, made the prospect of attendance a near foolish one.
Now, looking back on Dublin, it is reasonable to ask whether there will ever be a fully attended Primates Meeting again?
The Dublin Primates passively led about by their Delphic facilitators produced a “working document” that, if implemented, ensures no significant Communion work will ever emerge from the Primates in the future. The document affirms that the Primates together provide “guidance” and “leadership” to the Communion and that they “address issues” important to Communion life. But it suggests that they do these things not through any formal procedure of consideration or official decision making process, but through
“prayer, study and reflection, caring for one another as Primates and offering mutual support, taking counsel with one another and with the Archbishop of Canterbury, relationship building at regular meetings, being spiritually aware, being collegial, being consultative, acknowledging diversity and giving space for difference, being open to the prophetic Spirit, exercising authority in a way that emerges from consensus‐building and mutual discernment, and leading to persuasive wisdom”
The Primates Meeting as envisioned by the Dublin document would “address important issues” in a fashion similar to check-in time at a 70’s teenage prayer group—caring, sharing, yarn crafts, warm hugs for all. The Primates Meeting will become the Primates Mental Health Retreat Center and Spa.
Some have already laid the blame for this outcome at the feet of the conservative primates for “not showing up”. Had they “shown up” the conservatives might have disrupted the agenda and forced through a communiqué like the one at Tanzania and we wouldn’t have to wade through all of this groupthink rot. It’s possible. But even if they had, a Dublin Communiqué wouldn’t have any more transformative umph than the Communiqué from Dar Es Salaam. The Primates can spill as much ink as they like but Canterbury and the ACO write the epilogue.
At least the truth about the Primates’ Meeting is out in the open now. The working document from Dublin is the first step in formalizing what has been hidden in plain sight all along. Since 2003 the Primates Meetings have had one purpose: to ameliorate the primitives.
The new reality is that the “primitives” are no longer willing to play nice and be ameliorated.
Here’s the future as I see it. The ACO will continue, for many years hence, to organize splendid get-togethers for the Primates. Liberals and moderates will attend and have a very nice time sharing and caring and issuing various gaseous statements about climate change and world peace.
Lambeth will go forward as scheduled in 2016 with even fewer global south participants as will the various ACC gatherings.
The Covenant will remain as unacceptable to conservatives as it is now and probably get worse. If it is ever actually successful at joining provinces together, it will be a motley crew bound by watery promises.
At the same time the conservative primates will also continue to meet. And there may be a gathering of orthodox bishops and Primates somewhere at some point in the future and if so, it will mark the beginning of new initiatives and missions and ministries.
The two sides will go about their own business without much engagement across theological lines.
Since the conservatives will not go to many Communion meetings, the official face and voice of the Communion will become more and more bizarre and will be increasingly ignored by serious people…in much the same fashion serious people ignore the Episcopal Church in the United States. But that will bother the conservative primates and bishops less and less as they, like everyone else, go about their business paying little heed to the circus music wafting from Canterbury.
This will not be “the end of the Anglican Communion.” It will not even be the beginning of the end. Don’t expect any dramatic provincial breaks with Canterbury or any calls for a new official Communion center. Do expect the theological and relational ditch presently separating the conservative provinces from Canterbury, the Communion Instruments, and the liberal/moderate provinces to steadily widen to a chasm, a gulf, a deep dark ravine of healthy differentiation. But think of it as a separation rather than a divorce.
And there it will stay for the foreseeable future. I suppose you might call it a de facto split but there won’t be an official one. Formally everybody will be connected to Canterbury. In reality everyone will be much happier than we are now or have been for the last nine years.
Maybe things could’ve been different had there been different leadership and different bit players? Perhaps Griswold and Carey would have been a better mix than Schori and Williams? I tend to think not.
Since 2004 we at Stand Firm have argued that nothing short of firm, unwavering, discipline would restore the health, wellbeing, and unity of the Communion. And sure enough, all that stuff in the bible about not coddling, negotiating with, or granting legitimacy of any kind to false prophets has—despite the protestations of certain gentle, dovelike, peace-loving conservatives—turned out to be true. The Communion needed a Josiah. We got an Eli.
Now conservatives have nothing left to do but go about the business of the gospel and leave Canterbury to the mercy of God. May he grant it.