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ACC Critiques the Virginia Report

Posted on: September 18, 1999 10:04 AM
Related Categories: ACC, ACC11, Virginia Report

Following three sessions of explanation of the Virginia Report from Bishop Mark Dyer, one of its authors, members of the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting in Dundee, Scotland engaged in a evening forum of open discussion and response to what they had heard. Their comments may indicate that the task given to the Primates of the Anglican Communion by the Lambeth Conference may face some problems. The Primates were requested in Lambeth Resolution III.8 "to initiate and monitor a decade of study in each Province on the report, and in particular on 'whether effective communion, at all levels, does not require appropriate instruments, with due safeguards, not only for legislation, but also for oversight' as well as on the issue of a universal ministry in the service of Christian unity."

"We've just had three sessions of theological hard-sell." said Robert Tong from Australia. "Are we going to have a similar hard-sell of The Gift of Authority?" he asked, referring to the forthcoming two sessions planned for that document.

He was joined by other voices reacting to the amount of time devoted to the topic, with some saying they would have benefited from receiving a critique of the Virginia Report alongside such a forceful promotion of its main themes and proposals. One member suggested that the three sessions indicated a strong sense of defensiveness of the "instruments of communion and unity', that is, the Primates' Meeting, the Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council itself.

"I'm grateful for the sessions, but I too felt somewhat snowed, and I felt that a critique was lacking," the Very Rev John Moses, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, London, who is one of the members from England, said. "It contains two contrasting trends, one which is centralising and hierarchical, and another which is synodical and is characterised of life in all our provinces. But the Virginia Report could be used as an instrument to increase the curialisation drift of the Anglican Communion," he said.

Dean Moses also warned that the Virginia Report should not be regarded as a sacrosanct document, for its theological base is Trinitarian and it therefore reflects the theological starting-point of our age. "But," he said, "in previous decades the Church started from a Christological starting-point, and future decades may well see the Cosmic Christ as the base theological model."

The Most Revd Richard Holloway, Primus of Scotland said the Virginia Report gave far more cause for concern for the Church than his own recent book on a "godless morality." He said that the ACC was one of the few structured vehicles in Anglicanism that might resist the tendency in the Report to increase the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates and the episcopate in general. He said he felt anxiety against some of its trends, for the bishops "are servants at best of a Church that is self-governing."

Concerns raised over the Virginia Report were not limited to the perceived slide into curacy. Some delegates wondered how all the time spent on inner workings of the church relate to the pains of the wider world. The Revd Winston Halapua from the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia stated that he is convinced "the Anglican Communion will be better in heaven, let us instead talk about mission outside the Anglican Communion. We have not seen issues of poverty and ethnic cleansing addressed in this agenda." The Most Revd Glauco Soares de Lima, Primate of the Episcopal Church of Brazil, said he was concerned about the ongoing colonialism between countries and churches in the North and those in the South. "The Report is a sign of a still colonial mind, even in the structures described." he said.

The fact that the Anglican Consultative Council was willing to engage the hard questions of both the process and substance of the Virginia Report, when given the opportunity, led some to say "the ACC has really come of age."