Primates seen as dictatorial

25 April 2007

by Simon Sarmiento

Alarmed by the Windsor process: Professor Marilyn McCord Adams at the LGCM conference on Saturday

Alarmed by the Windsor process: Professor Marilyn McCord Adams at the LGCM conference on Saturday

THE Revd Professor Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University, has severely criticised the Windsor report, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the communiqué from the recent Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam (News, 23 February).

In an address to the annual conference of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in London on Saturday, she questioned the legitimacy of the Windsor report on a future structure for the Anglican Communion, and accused the Primates of seeking to exercise “dictatorial powers”. She also called for a General Synod debate on the proposal for an Anglican Covenant.

Reviewing recent Anglican history, she noted: “None of [the] instruments of union or their pronouncements had any legally binding legislative or juridical force.” The Windsor report was nevertheless “written in a tone of presumptive legitimacy”, and set forth “a new authoritarian polity for the Anglican Communion.

“The Windsor report has not yet been passed or covenanted to by any national Church, and so as yet has no de jure force.” Despite this, it had extended that same principle of presumptive legitimacy to other study documents, for example Issues in Human Sexuality and Lambeth Resolutions — none of which had any legal force, either, she said.

Now “a clear and present danger arises” from “‘the Windsor process’ that has been accelerating with alarming speed”. She said that the Primates at their meeting in Dar es Salaam had interpreted this new polity so that “the Anglican Communion is to be governed by a collective papacy: an international college of Primates exercising dictatorial powers.

“In taking this authority to themselves, the Tanzania Primates interpret ‘the Windsor report polity’ to mean . . . that the Primates themselves have authority to act alone to dictate policy, and threaten sanctions on national ecclesial bodies.”

Referring to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s reflection last year “Challenge and Hope” (News, 30 June), Professor McCord Adams said: “The Archbishop’s conception of the Church combines with the Tanzanian communiqué to send the message: national or ‘local’ ecclesial bodies are only organs of an international, intercultural body-politic. They . . . are not in themselves real Churches, any more than a finger or a gall bladder is a human body in itself. . . National or ‘local’ ecclesial bodies should not decide whom to ordain and whom to bless all by themselves.”


She continued: “Body-of-Christ imagery is not apt for the human side of the Church. . . The organic body is a Fascist-Marxist political model, which had proved politically disastrous as a way to organise the human state, and is idolatrous . . . The best model for the human institutional side of the Church is not the organic body, but the liberal state.”

Hence the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Church of England, and “the loose federation that the Anglican Communion was (and legally still is) were more apt than the authoritarian structures that [the Primates] are now trying to substitute for them.”

Professor McCord Adams noted that the General Synod had not yet been invited to consider the Anglican Covenant. She suggested that a Private Member’s Motion in the Synod might challenge the nature and purpose of the Covenant.

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