ALEXANDRIA 2009: Orthodox Anglican Primates Offer Clarity on Primates Meeting
Two Irreconcilable Religions Now Coexist in the Anglican Communion
By David W. Virtue in Alexandria
VOL sat down with two orthodox Anglican archbishops, the Most Rev. Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone and the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi who gave their personal reflections on what took place this past week at the Primates meeting. VOL later spoke with the Most Rev. Ian Ernest of the Province of the Indian Ocean.
Here are their thoughts on what took place.
The Anglican Communion will not split apart in the foreseeable future. 35 Archbishops meeting on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea now have total clarity about issues of authority and sexuality. There is no doubt in their minds that somewhere down the road the communion will divide.
So how was this Primates meeting different from previous ones?
"There was a freshness of the Holy Spirit here. It was wonderful. There was a special spirit in this meeting. I believe it had something to do with prayer. God was teaching us as a group. The difference between Dar es Salaam and Dromantine is that in those places there was a lot of anger and underlying tension. Here there was also some anger and tension, but the atmosphere was very calm. The orthodox groups had a peace and clarity about them. There was a measure of grace and love," said Archbishop Greg Venables of the Southern Cone. "The Liberal expression of the faith hasn't got life and truth."
There was no minority report because one wasn't needed, Venables told VOL. "We were all agreed. There are two very different understandings of the Christian Faith now living together, indeed at war with one another in the Anglican Communion and the situation has no long term resolution. It would take a miracle to keep it together and Dr. Rowan Williams understands that. He will try and keep it together for as long as he can under his watch."
VOL cited the prophet Amos, "How can two walk together unless they be agreed?" The Argentinian evangelical said this meeting was the probably the best he has ever attended because everybody listened and everybody heard each other, even the eight new primates were up to speed on the issues and clarity was obtained. Long term, it cannot stay together. The GAFCON Primates were clear in what they believe and so were the liberals. Venables said that Canadian Archbishop Fred Hiltz articulated the other side well. Everyone got the message. US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori made her case, but did not press it. She came late, said little and left early, VOL was told.
"As we finished we felt that what happened here was worthwhile and things are clearer than it would have been were we not here. The liberal Primates made things a whole lot clearer. We were upfront about what we thought and what they think. There was no pretending about anything," said Venables.
"We were under no allusions about how to solve the problems." The communion is divided, said Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi.
The Anglican Communion is broken and it is beyond repair. It can never be repaired, was the message these primates gave.
"It is divided because we don't agree. We found ways to set up to see if we can talk to one another. We found theological definitions about why we don't agree. We might be able to have meetings in the future but we will always disagree. There is no denial that we are not in communion," said Venables. There is the real possibility that some orthodox Primates will not attend future Primates meetings because clarity has been reached. "The lion of Nigeria (Archbishop Peter Akinola) is going home satisfied," said Orombi.
The Most Rev. Gerald Ian Ernest of the Province of the Indian Ocean confirmed that there were now two religions existing side by side in the Anglican Communion that were irreconcilable.
There was no talk of a federation that apparently is not going to happen and was not even on the table.
The tall articulate, outspoken African Primate said he would love to have spent more time "touching the core issues of broken relationship. We only talked about consequences. We never covered why we are divided." Orombi described it as "painful."
"We talked about the issues in Dromantine and Dar es Salaam. The pain is big. People don't want to face the facts. Here we were able to talk to each other. This was very good for us. We began to say this is my conviction."
[b]THE NEW PROVINCE - ACNA[/b]
Both Primates reiterated that there was no recognition of the new North American Anglican Province (ACNA). There seems little likelihood of this happening because it would have to go through the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), which totally toes the liberal line and so it would never happen. Williams had earlier pointed out that there was no official request only a Common Cause partnership. Both men said, however, that ACNA is thoroughly Anglican and would be in fellowship with Anglicans like themselves, but they need to propose something.
Venables and Orombi both articulated their position by saying that while the Anglican Communion was not a Communion any more, they would still be in the Anglican Communion.
Both men said that Dr. Rowan Williams is not the Pope. He does not have the authority to throw anyone out. The communion has no Magisterium.
Both men said that the daily Bible studies highlighted their differences. Liberal and orthodox primates simply don't read the scriptures in the same way and they don't believe the same things. "We believe it is about the gospel," said Venables. "The gospel was preached in this meeting, liberals heard what we said and believed. I have not felt such calmness and peace and we really knew and felt the anointing of God."
He said the new primates were more listeners than talkers. He said the Global South Primates held together as one. There was no compromise.
Asked about the much bally-hoed "listening process" that focused almost exclusively on homosexuality, both men said that it would now include Common Cause folk and not simply homosexuals.
How is the American church going to interpret all this? Both men said there was no magic solution. (Much laughter at this point)
Asked what they felt were the differences between Dar es Salaam and Alexandria, Orombi said Dar es Salaam was different. "There was a ring of security that made us feel like we were in a cage.
"Here the set up is great. The prevailing issues saw a lot of maturity. The heat was very high, but there was a realism at the beginning that we were a broken communion. Initially there was a great deal of trouble even talking. We (the orthodox) started a process to get there. We soon found we were not part of the same faith. We soon discovered that there was the Christian faith and something that was not the Christian faith."
Is this a wound that will lead to amputation? Yes, but no one is sure when. One orthodox archbishop said The Episcopal Church won't repent. "When we called for repentance, we found two different understandings of the word. Calling for repentance by liberals is not the same thing as when evangelicals call for repentance. We were working from different dictionaries with different definitions of repentance. When evangelicals called for repentance they meant repentance from all sin. When liberals call for repentance, they mean something different like repenting for not including homosexuals in their midst as full members of the communion. We will never agree," said Venables.
Is there a mechanism to prevent the continual dragging, out year after year, of the now recognized differences among Primates? In short, is this just kicking the ball forward?
Both men concluded by saying that they believed there was a recognition that the communion has fallen a bit and they honestly need to get to grip with the theology that holds them together.
"They believe in moral relativity. You have your view of Jesus and we have ours," Venables said.
"We need to understand a two-prong approach that is debating and reaching out to the needs of other people otherwise mission is going to be lost. We also learned that we have two very different understandings of mission. They (the liberals) are blind. With the clarity we now have we, can go forward and do mission which is to preach the Good News of the Kingdom," said Venables.
Both men said there was no time scale, making people uncomfortable. The Archbishop of Canterbury will engage people immediately and will invite them to state what they think and where these people are at. The ABC has brought people in for such a purpose.
"Everyone is a broken state. It was recognized that there were lots of Anglicans out there who are true Anglicans, but who do not belong to the Anglican Communion," said the Primates.
Both men painted Rowan Williams as "sensitive" showing no partiality to either side. He dealt fairly, both archbishops said. He chaired very sensitively.
Both primates said they didn't know what this would look like. Who we are as a real communion is now up for grabs.
The Covenant was another way of discovering that we are not in communion, said both men.
Both primates said GAFCON has had an enormous influence on the Primates. "The marks of what we stood for were very clear. Nobody doubts what we believe as Christians and that has helped this process," they said. "We are stronger now than we have ever been and we plan together. The Windsor Continuation Group recognized that GAFCON took place and that a number of bishops did not go to Lambeth."
Both men concluded by saying that the "gracious restraint" called for in the communiqué means back off. "We are hoping that will happen. We hope that there will be pastoral concerns for orthodox Anglicans in North America and that they will be heeded."
Eucharist was conducted in the morning, but at least 20% - 25% of the primates including mostly the GAFCON primates did not participate. Both men were pleased that the consecration at St. Mark's cathedral did not include sacramental worship.
"To be an Anglican, one has to know Christ. We recognize Rowan as our leader, but he does not have the final say, Jesus does. God's hand and His Spirit was on everything," said Venables.
"The important thing to remember," said Venables, "is that being in communion is about the integrity of the gospel. There needs to be an answer about how we move forward and it is coming and we will get there. Ultimately it is all about the gospel."
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