The Archbishop of Canterbury responds to the Jerusalem Declaration
But Cantaur has responded, and it is heartening indeed to read that appears to accept that the Declaration represented significantly more than some in the media appear to indicate. A third of the Anglican Communion’s bishops and a majority of its adherents can hardly be lightly dismissed as the tautologous ‘Conservative traditionalists’. Plainly, they speak for the majority and centre, not the extreme.
Thus it was, that Dr Williams was able to acknowledge that nothing doctrinally contentious was being asserted at GAFCON. In his own words: ‘The “tenets of orthodoxy” spelled out in the document will be acceptable to and shared by the vast majority of Anglicans in every province, even if there may be differences of emphasis and perspective on some issues.’
That phrase ‘the vast majority’ is telling indeed, and credit must be given for such recognition, even if it might discomfit some of the Archbishop’s more obsequious theological bedfellows. In the spirit of Anglican give-and-take, it must be acknowledged that Dr Williams identified certain areas where the GAFCON proposals have not been fully thought-through and we would be ill-served by an intelligent Primate who could not highlight such matters (and, please, no tiresome attempts at humour about how the Archbishop looks like a primate, or how we are already ill-served by him):
Two questions arise at once about what has been proposed. By what authority are Primates deemed acceptable or unacceptable members of any new primatial council? And how is effective discipline to be maintained in a situation of overlapping and competing jurisdictions?
It would perhaps be expecting too much of a fallible human institution to advance a complete and unassailable proposal on its first draft. The questions cannot be long left unaddressed. However it is in his deft adoption of metaphor that the Archbishop renders interesting ground for discussion.
He suggests: "An impatience at all costs to clear the Lord's field of the weeds that may appear among the shoots of true life (Matt.13.29) will put at risk our clarity and effectiveness in communicating just those evangelical and catholic truths which the GAFCON statement presents."
However, this does rather suggest that he accepts that there are weeds that detract from the flowerbed of Anglicanism, and a vigorous enquirer might invite him to identify what the nature of those weeds might be, and where the Weedol may be found to deal with the pesky irritants.
Cranmer is no gardener (though he cultivates his beard which is most uncomfortable this weather), but is given to understand that a weed is a plant that has self-seeded into an area where it is not wanted. If His Grace’s Roman Catholic communicants could resist the temptation to apply this definition to the Church of England in its entirety, what better illustration could one seek of the presence of Bishop Gene Robinson amongst the Episcopacy?
Her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth I (at whose tomb Cranmer paid homage just last week) was unwilling to open a window into men’s souls, and so it became the better part of the Anglican tradition to permit the high and the low, the radical and the eccentric, to bud and blossom through benign neglect in the peripheral hedgerows of the Communion. As long as they spread their scent and spawned their seed in a private corner, few were bothered by their existence, and fewer were even aware of it.
But what we have now is a malicious plague of undesired and undesirable bindweed, and it is corrupting the Lord’s harvest and strangling the fruit of the garden. The Archbishop of Canterbury should hold to his metaphor and be the good gardener who plainly recognises what needs to be done. He might ask for a brief moment to assess the full extent of the damage, but the longer he takes to source the Weedol, the more the harvest will be diminished, and the greater the threat to the fruits of the Spirit.