Author note: This is a report intended for the Calgary Anglican Essentials chapter meeting. It’s also posted here: https://theagetocome.wordpress.com/2007/02/22/report-on-the-2007-primates-meeting-in-tanzania. Feel free to use it for its intended purpose, that is to give a brief overview of where we are now in the Anglican Communion, and how we got here.
So, how did we get here? It seems like a good idea to give a little bit of background to the current crisis to be able to make sense of current events. Where did this all begin? Well, it began in Genesis 3, with “Did God really say…” It began with the serpents’ deception and the beguiling of Adam and Eve. It began with both Adam and Eve choosing what seemed good in their own eyes, rather than obeying God.
Am I being facetious in stating this? I do not think so. All sin and turmoil both within the Church and without has this as its source. There is nothing that is happening in the Anglican Communion that has not happened before, and will not happen again – until our Lord returns. Still, while these things inevitably come, remember the ‘money’ verse – that is the gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church. We may be beset by heresy, just like Anathasius amongst the Arian bishops, but we have this promise: if God be for us, who can be against us?
How do we trace the threads that have lead to this current battle in Anglicanism? I am no historian, nor do I have the room to detail every move that has brought us to this pass. So consider this as simply a basic overview.
We can probably trace the current controversy back to the 1960’s (albeit that there are roots that go deeper). It was then that the Episcopal Church in the USA refused to discipline Bishop Pike, who publicly criticised basic Christian doctrines such as the concept of the Trinity and the Virgin birth. In 1966 he resigned, but the damage was done. The Episcopal Church had tolerated a bishop who seemed unable to confirm basic Christian doctrine. Whether this was down to weakness, protecting their own, secret agreement or some other reason is somewhat moot.
Through tolerating that evil, we left the door open for further heresy. The Church that tolerated Pike became the church that embraced Spong. We get ‘thesis’ that might be better described as ‘antithesis’. For instance: ‘Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt’. Certainly, something is bankrupt here.
This is the background to the current controversy. Sooner or later things had to come to a head. Now, it may have taken 40 years, but come to a head it has. And, because of that long incubation period what we are having to face now is much much worse than it needed to be. Indeed – ‘awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death’ may be entirely applicable. The good news is this – we have awakened, and we are strengthening. God is merciful – we have not slumbered to our own destruction.
The issue that has brought things to a head at this time is human sexuality – in particular homosexuality. This is really just a presenting issue, though it is often mischaracterised as something more. It is the battleline between those who would hold onto the faith once given and the plain interpretation of scripture and those who would reinvent both in order to bow down before the gods of this age.
The key line drawn was at the Lambeth conference in 1998. There, amongst other things was resolved that “in view of the teaching of Scripture, (this conference) upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”. Many in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada disagreed with this analysis.
Fast forward to 2003. Despite being warned that it would tear the communion, in July 2003 Gene Robinson, a practising homosexual divorced from his wife was elected bishop of New Hampshire. Earlier in that year, the Diocese of New Westminster in British Columbia added to the mix by issuing a rite of same-sex blessing. Similar rites have been issued in other dioceses in North America, officially or otherwise. In 2004 the Anglican Church of Canada went further to affirm “the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships”.
What has followed has been four years of turmoil. Just as stated the communion has been torn by these actions. 22 of 38 Anglican provinces are in a state of impaired or broken communion with the Anglican Church of Canada and the US Episcopal Church.
In 2004 the Windsor report was issued (Anglicans do like their reports) which set itself up in opposition to these innovations. The Dromantine communique in 2005 went further and requested “that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference. During that same period we request that both churches respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion.”
The Canadian response has yet to be given (due in June 2007). The US ‘response’ was given in June 2006 and left a lot to be desired. Probably the best thing to be said is that it set a new standard for creative use of words. An apology was (sort of) forthcoming. On the matter of practising homosexual bishops an undertaking was given to “exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church”. Words defined so widely to mean anything and therefore nothing. Indeed, the same words are being used as a pretext to avoid consenting to the election of orthodox bishops. On the matter of same-sex blessings nothing was said at all.
That brings us up nicely to date. In February 2007 the Primates met once again in Tanzania to consider the US response to what was requested of them in 2005. Following is an order of events as they occurred.
First up to bat was a sub-group committee report (see:http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/2169) (Anglicans love their committees too). In many words, they gave a green light to 2/3rds of the the Episcopal Church’s (TECs) response. They decided that TEC had apologised very nicely. They also decided that they had agreed not to consecrate any more homosexual bishops. On the same-sex blessing issue, although they tried very very hard, they had to concede that it was unclear as to whether TEC had responded adequately to the request.
Much wailing and gnashing of teeth was then to be heard on the orthodox side, as this interpretation of events was charitable to say the least, particularly considering the major contortions TEC had undergone to avoid saying anything at all. However, this was a report originating from the Anglican Communion Office (kind of like the administrators of the communion) which has a decided liberal bias. It also turned out that one of the members of the sub-group (quite possibly the orthodox member) had not seen the report before it was published.
Further wailing and teeth gnashing was to be heard on the news that the primate (presiding bishop) of TEC had been elected to the standing committee of the primates. This is the body that meets between primates meetings to do additional primatey things outside of the main meetings. However, this body is elected by regions, and it turns out that the three liberal primates (Canada, US and Brazil (the latter which is an offshoot of TEC)) has the votes to make it happen.
Other than these two bits of news we all had to wait until the final communique to find out what had actually happened during the meeting. The time passed slowly and the Anglican blogosphere was full with much agonised speculation and the occasional freakout. Smelling salts were passed round. Eventually Monday came, and it was a good day.
The two main things that came out that day (after protracted negotiation) was a draft covenant and the communique.
First things first. What is this covenant you speak of? When you think of covenant, think long-term. The Anglican Communion as it is, isn’t really a communion. It is more a loose collection of churches associated more through their history than a common covenant. When we used to agree on fundamentals of faith, this was good enough. However, this is no longer the case, and has been recognised as such. Hence, the formation of the Anglican covenant. Will it work? Hard to tell at this stage, but it is the beginning of an attempt to build a genuine communion.
The draft covenant can be found here: http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/2272/
Second thing is the communique, which can be found in it’s entirety here: http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/2286/. Again, unfortunately it is rather wordy. It also suffers from a severe case of a document produced by committee. In particular the divisions within the primates are very obvious in this document which attempts to try and say two different things at the same time.
With all this said, the communique is unanimous in upholding traditional teaching, and also has teeth. I have summary of the key points below, much of which can be found here: http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/?p=1291
Communique key points
The Archbishop of Canterbury said at the press conference that ‘the meat of our recommendations is paragraph 17. This reads “At the heart of our tensions is the belief that The Episcopal Church has departed from the standard of teaching on human sexuality accepted by the Communion in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 by consenting to the episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed same-sex relationship, and by permitting Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions. The episcopal ministry of a person living in a same-sex relationship is not acceptable to the majority of the Communion.” ‘
The report of the sub-group has effectively been over-ridden. Para 23 reads “Further, some of us believe that Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention does not in fact give the assurances requested in the Windsor Report.” And Para 24 says, “The response of The Episcopal Church to the requests made at Dromantine has not persuaded this meeting that we are yet in a position to recognise that The Episcopal Church has mended its broken relationships.”
The communique says ” We recognise that there are individuals, congregations and clergy, who in the current situation, feel unable to accept the direct ministry of their bishop or of the Presiding Bishop, and some of whom have sought the oversight of other jurisdictions.”
It then goes on to develop a rather convoluted scheme where some of TECs Presiding Bishop powers are delegated to a Pastoral Council, which then delegates to a Primatial Vicar. This is a cumbersome scheme that is potentially unworkable. It also could be the genesis of a new orthodox province in the US.
The primates requested through the presiding bishop that the house of Bishops of TEC:
1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the Bishops will not authorise any rite of blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through general Convention – see Windsor 143, 144 – and,
2. confirm that the passing of resolution B033 of the seventy-fifth general convention – means that a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent – see Windsor 134; unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the communion – see Windsor para 134.
The Deadline for the answer is September 30th 2007.
“If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.”
Within the bounds of Anglican-speak, this is strong stuff. The wheels of Anglicanism may grind exceedingly slowly, hopefully they will be seen to grind exceedingly fine too.
In any case, while this conversation may indeed be taking a long time, it is going in the right direction. You might be able to reduce it to something like this:
AC (1998): Don’t do this.
Primates (2003): Really do not do this.
TEC/ACC (2003): We’re not listening, lalala….oh look we did it, what was that you said?
AC (2004): This was bad, we know you heard us, and we really don’t want you to do this again.
Primates (2005): We really mean it – you must tell us you are not going to do it again and until you do, go sit in the corner.
TEC (2006): Mumble….sorry….maybe…..mumble. Fingers crossed behind back.
Primates (2007): What’s that you say? Speak up there. You have until we count to 5.
That’s really where we are right now. We have until the primates count to 5 – or September 2007 if you want to be literal. What will happen then? Hard to say, really. I’d imagine that more mumbling will be taken as a ‘no’. That may well result in invitations to the next Lambeth Conference being withdrawn, which would be a de-facto suspension from the Anglican Communion. Of course, it may not – the nature of ‘consequences’ has not been elucidated. The other option is that we as a church may say ‘yes’, which would be wonderful, because in doing so we will have to abandon this ‘new thing’ and return to the fold. Of course, we may say ‘yes’ and go ahead with this new thing anyway. That may buy TEC/ACC a little more time, but such duplicity would not go unnoticed.
This puts the spotlight more firmly on Canada too, with the General Synod coming up in June 2007. The primate of Canada’s response to the Tanzania communique can be found here: http://www.globalsouthanglican.org/index.php/comments/archbishop_hutchison_says_church_must_look_seriously_at_primates_request/. According to him “this is something that the Canadian Church will have to look at seriously”. What that means in practice is yet to be seen.
However it is safe to say that the ACC is under further pressure to conform to doctrinal normals if it wants to remain part of the Anglican communion. And, will it do so? That is another one of those questions that is hard to answer. For sure, I think mumbling will be the order of the day. Equally, mumbling is unlikely to be satisfactory. The Canadian church is probably more institutionally bound to the communion than the US church. However, it is also closely bound to the US church and is infected with the same heterodox disease.
At this time, the best thing to do would be to pray. Over the summer, both churches must agree to or decline the two requests made by the primates in Tanzania. It is time to choose.
Deuteronomy 30:15-18 (New International Version)
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.