Or else what?

Updated: the Anglican Scotist considers some similar issues.

The Primates of the Anglican Communion have set a September 30 deadline for the Episcopal Church to accept a set of unpalatable recommendations or face unspecified consequences. As we think through our response, we need to arrive at a realistic sense of what those consequences might be. Thoughts?

I think the timing of the deadline indicates that if we don’t give the Primates what they want, the majority of our bishops will not be invited to the Lambeth Conference, and that various other provinces will declare the 15 countries within our Church an open mission field. In practical terms, I wonder whether either of those developments would create significant problems for us. I would very much like to hear from people who think that they would. (And the rest of you, too, of course.)

In analyzing the potential consequences if we say “no” to the Primates, I think it is also helpful to consider what is likely to happen if we say “yes.” Will the parishes that have left the Episcopal Church return? Will internal opposition cease? Will Peter Akinola tell Martyn Minns that the United States is no longer mission territory and designate him bishop-without-portfolio? I think all of these outcomes are unlikely. Read this reflection on the meeting in Tanzania and I think you will, too.

A more realistic hope is that if we do what the Primates are asking, and the Akinolytes continue on their present course, the moral weight of the Communion’s disapproval will fall upon them, and not on us. What would be the practical benefits of such a shift? If the reports that Archbishop Akinola had a plan to split the Communion in his briefcase in Tanzania are correct, one imagines that’s he’s held on to a copy, and might produce it at any time. So it seems to me that the Communion is going to split whenever Archbishop Akinola and his advisors decide that it is in their interests to split it.

If we say no to the Primates, I think we will be faced with reduced membership in the Communion, though perhaps not outright expulsion. (I am unclear on whether the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Consultative Council makes the final determination on this issue, and I ask you to refrain from argument by assertion if you weight in on this point.) However, we would have sent a clear message about our commitment to the full inclusion of all Christians in the ministries of the Church; we’d have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice for our beliefs, and we’d have turned aside an attempt to change the way our Church discerns the will of God (a concept done no justice by the legalistic term “polity.”)

On the other hand, if we say yes, we may, through skillful diplomacy, be able to remain in the Communion long enough for the Primates to become tired to the Akinolytes’ antics, and to accept that if the Nigerian faction cannot dominate the Communion, it will split it. We would do this at some cost to our gay and lesbian members, to our consciences and to our convictions about how God reveals himself to the Church. We’d face the challenge of changing the mind of the Communion (with or without the Akinolytes) on the issue of gay relationships, and we’d still have to figure out whether we could live with a Communion Covenant that may well concentrate power in the hands of the Primates, but we’d retain our membership in body that has been historically and theologically important to us, and in which we find the majority of our partners in world mission. (My sense is that we will have plenty of partners in mission no matter what we do, so maybe that last point isn’t crucial.)

If we say yes to the Primates, and remain in the Communion, we will probably minimize domestic fallout in the “Camp Allen” dioceses (which includes Texas, our second-largest) and some others (including, perhaps, Virginia, our largest.) But we would probably trigger fallout in many other dioceses, including those encompassing some of our larger metropolitan areas. It isn’t clear to me which response would minimize dislocation.

I am aware that one can respond to the questions I am asking by saying that the Episcopal Church should do the moral thing and let the chips fall where they may. I recognize that that response is appealing to those on both sides (myself included) who think they know what the moral thing is. But just for the sake of argument, let’s consider what would be best for the health of the Episcopal Church, and the viability of its future, because that, in some measure, must inform our response.

What are the consequences of our yes? Of our no?

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