A round up of Primates meeting news and reaction

Here is a round up of news reports from The Church Times and elsewhere about the Primates meeting last week.

The Canterbury Tale, is an account of the goings on in the actual gathering:

The GAFCON agenda

AS HAD been promised, there was no pre-arranged agenda. On too many occasions before, conservatives had felt manoeuvred away from confrontation by organisers. Thus, when the first day was spent thrashing out the agenda, and every Primate was allowed to nominate topics, the most popular was the Episcopal Church in the United States and its recent decision to support same-sex marriage. Second came a question on polity, and how to cope structurally with disagreement. Third was the official recognition of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). These were the issues that the GAFCON representatives had wanted.

The walk-out that did happen

Despite the vigilance of the handful of waiting reporters, the walk-out by the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali, was discovered only when he wrote about it on his Church’s website late on Wednesday. The Archbishop of Canterbury said at the Friday press conference that he did not know why the Primate had left; but Archbishop Ntagali had made it clear on his website that he was complying with his Province’s ruling not to be in meetings with US Episcopalian representatives unless they repented.

The repentance realisation

One revelation was that the call for repentance was genuinely felt, and not just a ploy. At one point, the US Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, was called over to explain the depth of his Church’s commitment to sexual equality. His hearer appeared to grasp this for the first time.

The walk-out that didn’t happen

The threat of a walk-out meant that much of the week was spent attempting to keep conservatives in the meeting. But GAFCON did not arrive with the rest of the Global South in its pocket. Respect for Archbishop Welby, an open facilitating process that involved no manipulation, and what appeared to be a growing liking for Bishop Curry kept everyone in the discussions.

David Chillingworth, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, writes:

Under the pressure of deep division, the Primates’ meeting has chosen unity over diversity, and suggested that the Episcopal Church in the US has put its autonomy before its respect for the unity of the Communion.

It is important to remember that this is not just about the Episcopal Church in the US. Other provinces, including the Scottish Episcopal Church, are moving in a similar direction. None of this is undertaken lightly. Our challenge in Scotland is how we can sustain the internal diversity of our Church as we enter a debate about canonical change that would permit same-sex marriage.

I fear that our meeting in Canterbury this week will make that harder, because it risks sharpening difference within our own Church. Tensions about our response to sexuality issues are experienced intra-provincially — within provinces — as much as inter-provincially, and there is an interplay between them.

The Rev. Dr. Jesse Zink, says “if it doesn’t work, try something new:”

There is a clear pattern. The Episcopal Church in the US takes a step towards further welcome of LGBTQ people, and leaders of other Anglican Churches send them (and occasionally the Canadians) to the corner. Yet being sent to the corner seems neither to sway the Episcopal Church’s direction nor to please conservative Anglican leaders. Both continue to march in opposite directions, each with little apparent regard for the other.

Some look at this pattern and argue that it means the Anglican Communion is broken; or, if not broken, then not worth saving. Calls to walk out, ease participation, and end funding abound. But there is another course of action: rather than try the same strategy again (and again and again), what if Anglicans tried something different?

In the wake of the Primates’ meeting, many people have said that the true strength of the Anglican Communion is its network of global relationships at the grass-roots level of the Church around the world.

I have found this to be true. In places as diverse as Ecuador, Nigeria, or South Africa, I have found Anglicans eager for relationship, and keen to learn more about how our different backgrounds influence how we worship the same God.

If this is the strength of the Anglican Communion, we should highlight that strength. Instead of focusing on a handful of older male archbishops, we should intentionally place our focus on the diversity of lay people, clergy, and bishops who call themselves Anglican.

Christian Today reports on a petition signed by over 85 Cathedral deans, retired bishops, and other clergy in the Church of England saying that the ABC’s apology for the church’s indifference or persecution of LGBTI persons must be followed with action:

The latest letter, signed by more than 80 people including cathedral deans, retired bishops and senior clergy and laity, says that failure to carry into action the commitments on equality and opposing criminal sanctions would seriously undermine trust and lead to further pain for LGBTI Christians.

They say the stance taken in the Primates’ Communique is a welcome first step: “These are significant and important words, which will engender hope that the Church might finally start to alter the way in which it conducts this debate. That said, we believe that words alone are not enough.”

The letter draws attention to the lack of action on commitments first given in 1998, when similar words were used in Resolution 1.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which laid down a conservative, Biblically-orthodox line on sexuality.

The 85 signatories tell the Archbishop: “You will therefore understand that we will want to hold the Primates to account for their commitments. We are deeply aware that words without action will undermine further the trust of our LGBTI brothers and sisters, and sadly cause yet more pain.”

William Countryman blogs:

We now have significant elements of schism among Anglicans. There are churches that refuse to share communion with The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, and wish to have the secessionist elements grouped together in the Anglican Church in North America officially recognized as their replacements. There are those who resolutely oppose this program. If the Archbishop of Canterbury hopes to prevent this situation from becoming more entrenched, he must probably aim at buying time in which to foster the growth and consolidation of the group that sees the matter as adiaphoron and rejects the idea of dividing over it.

This will not be an easy matter, given the global character of Anglicanism. The status of lesbians and gay men (still more of transexual persons) varies enormously from culture to culture. And it is part of the larger issue of gender, which also remains unresolved among us. It is no accident that many of the churches that are particularly angry about the embrace of homosexual persons are also opposed to the ordination of women. And it is no accident that the leadership of these groups is entirely male and presents itself as emphatically heterosexual.

But the fact that the task is difficult does not mean that it can or should be lightly abandoned. The unity of the church is more than an institutional convenience, more than a theological premise, and more than a concern of professional ecumenists. It is a matter of deep spiritual value. God’s creation of humanity in God’s image and likeness, implies, as I have said elsewhere on this weblog, God’s search for friends. And since God has created so many of us and of such different temperament, experience, and culture, it seems reasonable to infer that our very multiplicity is part of what we bring to God as God’s friends. The great danger of Christians in any one place or time is that we shall begin to identify the gospel with the practices and prejudices of our particular time and place. Only a community of discourse that is large and varied enough to disrupt that kind of fossilization is ultimately adequate to the needs of our growing friendship with God, this friendship for which God created us and to which we are learning to respond through God’s grace.

The Rev. Dr. Roger Ferlo from Bexley-Seabury writes:

Once again, the primates have assumed a kind of papal authority well beyond anything ever granted them by our loosely ordered member provinces. Perhaps the suspension of voting rights was a diplomatic compromise aimed at avoiding the outright expulsion of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion (the Anglican version of excommunication, I suppose). But in effect, the Primates′ vote once again denied to more representative bodies of the church—whether the Anglican Consultative Council or our own General Convention—their equal right to weigh in on a matter which in many sectors of the African church is a matter of life and death for LGBT people and those parents, friends and clergy who love them.

For me personally, the Primates’ action comes as no surprise, as it is consistent with the narrow Biblical hermeneutic and ill-suppressed homophobia that has haunted these gatherings since at least Lambeth 1988, and even long before. My early ministry was in Pittsburgh, where I witnessed the unfolding of this sad story at first hand, at a time when a well-financed dissident wing of the Diocese hijacked words like “Anglican” and “orthodox” for their own schismatic purposes. They eventually hijacked the entire diocese, to the lasting pain of many faithful people. It is doubly painful that the leader of the resulting breakaway polity, first formed in Pittsburgh—the Anglican Church in North America—was for the first time offered seat and voice at this Primates’ gathering.

For better or worse, it must now be admitted that such narrow Biblicism and punitive theology are as much a hallmark of our contemporary Anglican ethos as any perspectives more generous and benign that you might find reflected in my course syllabus. I will be sure to include some conversation about this—the shadow side of Anglican ethos—in my course next week. How can I not?

But I will take comfort—and trust my students will as well—in the fact that the cramped reading of doctrine, one that reduces faithful people to racial, gender or sexual stereotypes, comprises only a short chapter in the ongoing story of the Anglican ethos—an ethos marked more by Jesus’s full embrace of human dignity than by the petty exclusions of small-minded, frightened churchmen.

Bishop Pierre Whalon in the Huffington Post:

So here we are again, this time for three years, as a result of our decision to allowtrial use of same-sex marriage rites. And a task force is to be appointed to discuss the state of affairs going forward.

What does this mean? In the great scheme of things, it will have no effect on congregations around the world. I commend to you, Gentle Reader, the statements of our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, on these “consequences“, and on the meeting as a whole, his first. Also, very much worth reading is the description by Philip Richardson, Archbishop of New Zealand, of the real import of this meeting, also his first.

He writes, “This [meeting] was no clinical or academic exercise. These were stories of real people, usually the poorest of the poor… Every archbishop who spoke was describing communities under their care, people they visit and know.” (He also noted the media’s frustration.)

Kelvin Holdsworth blogs:

Do I doubt that God loves me utterly as a gay man? No.

Do I have even the slightest inclination that God might be in the business of withholding blessings from gay couples simply because a bunch of church leaders haven’t yet recognised the gay pride rainbow that God painted in the heavens above Noah whilst announcing that divine love was a covenant for everyone? Of course not.

I think that it might be helpful for a quick dose of very simple queer theory here.

Justin Welby and his desperately out of control media team worked very hard to get us to believe the fiction that the Anglican Communion is a “Family” of churches. All the rhetoric coming out of the Anglican Communion offices over the weeks leading up to the Primates’ Meeting was directed towards selling us the Communion as a family.

The US Church has just come out.

And the Communion Primates rather tragically acted out one of the ways that families sometimes tragically behave. They behaved exactly as dysfunctional families sometimes do by excluding the one coming out rather than embracing them. The behaviour of the Primates mirrors parents who reject a gay child and who meet honesty with rejection.

Past Posts