News of a plan to create a new North American Anglican province that would be defined by conservative theology rather than a geographic location may have been greeted with enthusiasm by delegates at the Anglican Network in Canada's first synod last week, but Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, described the plan as "disturbing."
The plan is scheduled to be publicly released on December 3 in Chicago at a gathering of the Common Cause Partnership, a coalition of conservative Anglicans who oppose moves within the Anglican Church of Canada toward blessing same-sex unions and the ordination of an openly gay partnered man as bishop of New Hampshire in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.
"What's quite disturbing, in my opinion, about this proposal is the determination to create a province based on theological grounds," Hiltz said November 17. "The creation of provinces, as I have always understood it, is based on mission. It is based on a commitment to embrace and give flesh to an expression of the gospel in a particular context. There is a geography associated with that context, there is a set of cultural needs, a set of social needs."
He also noted that the Anglican Consultative Council is the only body of the church that can create a province, and it does so, only "after a long period of discernment and testing the viability and capacity for the province to maintain itself in the spirit of mission." The Anglican Consultative Council is also the only body of the church that includes bishops, clergy and laity.
Hiltz was also critical of the Common Cause Partnership's determination to go forward with its plan with or without the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury. "That is quite simply not in keeping with Anglican tradition. Part of the essence of being Anglican is that you are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. We respect his office as first among equals. We respect the wisdom and experience of that office and we look to the office for guidance." He also noted that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has already stated that the only ecclesial body he recognizes in Canada is the Anglican Church of Canada.
Those working on a draft constitution acknowledge that the creation of such a province based on differences in theology is unprecedented in the Anglican Communion, but ANiC Bishop Donald Harvey said that support from conservative primates in the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) -- which met in Jerusalem in June -- gives them confidence that the primates will give the proposal serious consideration, perhaps when they meet next in Egypt in February.
Hiltz responded by saying that it is an assumption, perhaps a "huge assumption," to think that the views of the GAFCON primates accurately represent the views of the millions of Anglicans in their provinces. "The experience that I had at Lambeth [the decennial meeting of Anglican bishops] and that lots of other Canadians had at Lambeth was that the primates speak, but they don't necessarily represent the views of all the people," he said. "And they don't in every case represent the views of their bishops ... There were some bishops who were told by their primate do not go to Lambeth and 'if you go you could be deposed'."
He asserted that many other views were represented at the Lambeth Conference, which he characterized as having a spirit of openness, good will and a general determination to find ways to keep the communion together. "I think the difference between GAFCON or the group that's connected with GAFCON and the rest of the communion is that the rest of us in the communion are trying -- and it's a challenge -- to build bridges, to create links, to keep in conversation with one another," he said. "It has become more and more clear that those associated with GAFCON are not so committed to building bridges and keeping in conversation but rather to separation."
Finally, Hiltz asserted that cross-border interventions (which include meetings with parishioners about separating from the Anglican Church of Canada) by ANiC representatives are continuing, contrary to the moratoria and the Archbishop of Canterbury's call for "gracious restraint" on both sides. "Across the board, everyone is frustrated by these cross-border interventions, not the least of which are poor bishops whose synods haven't even had a conversation about same-sex blessings, let alone made a decision, and they've got people like [Southern Cone primate Gregory] Venables interfering in their diocese," he said. "We really struggled hard at the House of Bishops around how do we respond to this call for gracious restraint and the vast majority of bishops were able to say 'Okay, we'll honor gracious restraint,' but you could just feel underneath that a sense of 'we're committed to this, but give us some evidence that those who are given to cross-border intervening are going to hold off.' And there is little or no evidence that they are. In fact, it appears that their behavior is more aggressive."