On the latter, the Church Times, in its leader, said that:
the Global South absentees had wished to signal by their absence the insignificance of the Primates’ Meeting, as long as it proved unable or unwilling to enforce earlier disciplinary measures against the Episcopal Church in the United States concerning gay bishops and same-sex unions.Point taken. But the Primates who attended issued, among several documents, a Working Document which described what they understood to be the purpose of the Primates’ Meeting. It’s worth a read. The Working Document is not perfect, but then it doesn’t claim to be perfect. There are a few questions I would like to raise about it, but that will have to wait for another time. For today, I would like to suggest that this is in general a useful step.
It seems to me that what has happened with the Primates' Working Document is a bit of a reset of the Meeting, back to the original purpose. The accumulation of power in the Meeting since Dromantine, with the conservatives egged on by their "advisors," has been unhelpful, divisive and increasingly fractious. The boycott and the dismissive criticism of the Meeting by certain Primates this time was probably inevitable. The reason the Primates haven't "enforce[d] earlier disciplinary measures" is because they never had the authority to do so in the first place. Their purpose was never discipline, and the attempt to hijack the Meeting and turn it into a disciplinary body with coercive power was doomed ultimately to fail, even if it seemed to be working for a while.
In Dromantine, the Primates’ Meeting stopped acting as an Instrument of Unity, and became an Instrument of Disunity.
What happened in Dublin was that the Primates stopped being bullied. From my vantage point across the Atlantic it looks to me rather like the dynamic at the most recent meeting of the Canadian General Synod. The previous few meetings had been characterized by well-organized and well-funded efforts to push the General Synod in a direction it really didn't want to go, using a combination of threats, warnings, strategic tactics and propaganda to impose a conservative agenda on the Synod. But by last year's meeting in Halifax, the most strident and angry voices had left to pursue what they saw as their mission in other climes.
With the loud, angry people out of the room, we found that there was the possibility of a calm, rational, respectful set of conversations about sexuality. There was the opportunity to address the divide between the progressive and the conservative positions without the threats and attempts to hijack the meeting that had gone on before. There didn't seem to be a conservative war-room strategizing into the wee hours of the morning as there had been before. And the result was a document that said, in effect, that we are in disagreement about how the Church should respond to the presence of gays and lesbians, but we are in this together, and we're prepared to work at it together, and try to find a way to live with each other.
I think a similar thing happened in Dublin. I think the Primates sat around those candles signifying the absence of the advisors as much as the people who stayed away and asked themselves what their purpose was, and whether they really wanted to be the kind of group they were becoming since the last time they met in Ireland. And from the document they produced, for all its imperfections, it looks like the answer was "no".
Now as a Communion we need to do a similar thing. We need to ask ourselves whether we really want to be the kind of family of Churches that imposes a central authority on itself with a vague, arbitrary and demonstrably unjust process for imposing "relational consequences" on Churches that cross some ill-defined line in the sand. Or do we want to be the kind of family of Churches that takes seriously a commitment to each other and to each others' contexts, to worship and work and speak with each other respectfully, finding unity in diversity, rather than the illusion of unity promised but never fulfilled by the imposition of uniformity. Do we want to be what we can be at our best, or do we want to continue to go down the road of becoming our worst?
Do we want to be the kind of Communion where people refuse to come to the table unless they can use the opportunity to expel others from the table, or do we want to be the kind of Communion where people gather with all our differences and imperfections to continue to try to find ways of bringing light into the world together?
I think Lambeth 2008 and now the Dublin Primates' Meeting have given us a start. There is a way that we can build the future together as a Communion, and that way will take commitment to meet rather than refusals to attend meetings. It will take time to discuss matters respectfully rather than engage in ad hominem attacks and threats and strategizing. It will take humility rather than arrogance. It will mean, in short, a willingness to live out the Gospel in diversity.
The next step will be to rid ourselves of this troublesome Covenant.