A Communion On The Edge
By Auburn Traycik
IT WAS IN LATE FEBRUARY that Anglican primates politely asked the doctrinally-wayward North American churches to make themselves scarce and observe certain moratoria while deciding between their pro-homosexual agendas and Anglican Communion membership.
The requests constituted the first substantive attempts to restore order and unity in the Communion by disciplining those violating its consensus.
But in the weeks since, rebel U.S. Episcopal (ECUSA) and Canadian Anglican leaders have more than lived up to the low expectations that many conservatives had of them, proffering partial or largely optical "compliance."
And if the liberals were rocked by what was widely seen as another blow to their liberal revisionist cause--the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new Pope--they are hiding it well.
Incidences of liberal pressure against faithful ECUSA clergy and congregations continued to be reported--most notably that involving the "Connecticut Six" clergy. Their pro-gay bishop was still threatening at this writing to inhibit and possibly depose them for seeking the "adequate" alternative episcopal oversight urged by Anglican primates, but unavailable through the Episcopal bishops' DEPO (Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight) plan.
Meanwhile, oppressive theological conditions in many parts of ECUSA have spurred further losses; departing ECUSA clergy are routinely being inhibited and deposed for "abandonment of communion"--even though many of them have come under the oversight of another part of the Anglican Communion--and seceding congregations are only rarely offered settlements allowing them to keep parish property, though many of them are eschewing court fights over real estate and starting over elsewhere.
Moreover, for the moment anyway, the North American liberal "virus" seemed more rather than less likely to spread. The Scottish Episcopal Church--whose bishops recently made the surprise revelation that someone in a "close" same-sex relationship is not barred from ordination--continued to threaten to become a third front in the international Anglican conflict over homosexuality and authority. As of mid-May, three meetings between Scottish bishops and leaders of a group representing many of Scotland's largest Evangelical congregations had failed to resolve a clash that could lead to a split in the church.
Not even the Mother Church is immune. In late May it was reported that, under a new proposal, homosexual priests in the Church of England could enter into soon-to-be-legal same-sex "civil partnerships" in order to get many of the financial advantages of married couples, without losing their licenses to be priests.
The only catch was that such clergy had to promise to be celibate--an expectation widely met with ribald laughter. London's Sunday Times said the bishops were trying to uphold church doctrine, but felt the new law left them with little choice but to accept the new "right" of gay clergy to have civil partners. However, the change, which has been provisionally agreed, "is likely to reopen the row over homosexuality that has split" the Communion, the newspaper said.
MEANWHILE, AN IMPORTANT INTERIM MEASURE for beleaguered Anglican faithful, the "Panel of Reference" primates (provincial leaders) commissioned "as a matter of urgency" in February to "supervise the adequacy of pastoral provisions" made by provinces for congregations at theological odds with their diocesan bishop, has had (in the conservative view) an astonishingly slow and discouraging start. This, despite reports that over 70 complaints (at least) were awaiting the Panel's review.
Only one of the Panel's nine or more members had been appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury at this writing (three months after the Panel was commissioned). Unofficial sources said that some initial choices for the Panel declined to serve, and Archbishop Williams was still waiting for responses from some other possible appointees.
Then there was the one known appointee, chosen as the Panel's chairman: just-retired Australian Primate Peter Carnley, a liberal not at all known for tolerating and providing for orthodox Anglicans. That, and Carnley's recent remarks about the Panel's work, have led some conservatives to worry that the Panel--no matter who else is named to it--is a non-starter.
THE PROBLEM with all this for the liberals is that their resistance to repentance and reform and to protecting harrowed orthodox Anglicans now seem to have risks and consequences.
The possibility that ECUSA and Canada could be excluded from the Communion--still discounted by many in light of the Communion's lack of binding top-level authority--is nonetheless not as easy to dismiss these days, given the growing determination of the conservative majority of primates, who have shown no willingness to just walk away. As well, as long as North American liberals do not come back into line with the Communion on sexual morality, they weaken the primates' February pledge not to undertake new cross-boundary interventions, and ensure that Anglican realignment will continue.
Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, for example, recently said he is going ahead with the "Convocation of Nigerian Churches in America," which he said last fall was coming for expatriate Nigerians and others unable to find a compatible "spiritual home" in ECUSA or the Canadian Church.
Meanwhile, 21 ECUSA bishops made what may be an initial approach toward achieving an orderly separation in ECUSA.
The prelates sought the support and help of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold in establishing a bipartisan commission to examine whether the differences on "essential matters of faith and practice" which they say are causing division in ECUSA and stressing the wider Communion, are "irreconcilable." Among other things, the bishops sought an urgent meeting with Williams in late May. (It was not clear that this meeting took place, though two of the letters' signers were known to be in England at the end of May.)
The requests were made in April 6 letters sent privately to Williams and Griswold, but which were nonetheless leaked, though none of the sending or receiving parties appears to be responsible for exposing them. The leak riled all concerned, especially Griswold, who had not known, but thought he should have been told, that the ECUSA bishops also wrote a letter to Williams, albeit one quite similar to the letter they wrote him.
The real story, however, was the letters' content and its signers. Because the letters were meant to be private, the signatories have declined further comment on them. But they express hope that the prospective commission will help determine whether it is possible for Episcopalians to "walk together with one another and in a wider Communion."
They say a "realistic appraisal" of life in ECUSA is needed, citing statistics showing decline in the church--with average Sunday attendance expected to drop "below 800,000 in 2004" (when numbers are tallied)--and refuting claims that only a minority of Episcopalians oppose the General Convention's pro-homosexual decisions. The petitioning bishops want the proposed commission (whose status is unclear at this writing) to provide for the "welfare" of all Episcopalians.
The letters' 21 signatories, while mostly conservative, included some centrist/corporatist bishops not heretofore identified with the conservative movement, e.g., Don Wimberly of Texas and Edward Little of Northern Indiana--the first sign, perhaps, that the possibility that ECUSA could lose its Communion membership is being taken seriously by some Episcopal prelates. Eighteen of the 21 signers are diocesan bishops, out of 100 domestic dioceses. About half of the signers' dioceses are among the ten aligned with the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) within ECUSA, which also encompasses some 200 parishes in non-aligned dioceses, and the traditionalist Forward in Faith, North America (FIF-NA) as a non-geographical convocation.
Meanwhile, FIF-NA's President, Bishop Keith Ackerman of Quincy (IL), said following April's ACN Council meeting in Bedford, Texas, that it was clear that the separate orthodox province for which members had been praying "is rapidly emerging," but will be "much larger than we would have imagined, going from Canada to the Southern Cone" (South America).
God, he said, "is clearly doing a work far greater than we either desired or deserve. We are living in a period that is like a war zone, where allies come from places we would never have imagined." WHAT ALL THIS seems to add up to is a Communion on the edge, one ripe for more dramatic change.
Tellingly, Bishop Griswold--who lately tried to change the subject, saying he would like to focus on issues like HIV/AIDS in Africa--nonetheless told Episcopal communicators in Salt Lake City in late April that there is no escape from the homosexual issue--and that he did not know if ECUSA could hold together due to disagreement over it.
Of course, the most immediate danger of schism, in his view, comes not from ECUSA's liberal push on the issue, but from "entities" within ECUSA that are determined to "make a domestic question and international question." He blamed "right-wing forces" for "driving a lot of the active displeasure" among overseas primates.
Some primates say that conditions in the Communion are not just status quo but worse than before. One, Southern Cone Archbishop Gregory Venables, said the Communion's dire situation had been exacerbated by the "lack of responsible and coherent follow-through to the primates' clearly expressed views."
Even the Communion's "divine optimist" warned recently that the ingredients for schism are still there, and admitted, "We are in trouble." Irish Archbishop Robin Eames has had to use all the skills he acquired trying to mediate in the long-running Northern Ireland conflict as head of the Lambeth Commission, which produced the Windsor Report, and of an earlier "Eames Commission" which helped finesse women's ordination in a Communion divided over it. Recently, he called on liberals and conservatives to lower the temperature of their debate and recognize cultural divisions between North America and Africa in particular.
"I personally do not think we have schism," Eames said, "but the ingredients are there...I have never seen such divisions in the world church as I have at this moment."
But another observer thought that Eames' view showed why the two sides cannot connect. "Eames continues to see the problems as cultural when they are very clearly moral and theological," said conservative Episcopal journalist David Virtue.
The Primates' Requests
In their February 24 communique from Newry, Northern Ireland, the primates, readers will recall, asked the North American churches to "voluntarily withdraw" their members from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC--one of the Communion's four advisory "instruments of unity") during the lead-up to the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops while they "consider their place within the Anglican Communion."
During that time, both churches were asked to answer "through their relevant constitutional bodies...the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report."
This apparently sought a response to requested moratoria on the consecration and "public" blessing of those in homosexual relationships--two of the recommendations that the 2004 Windsor Report made for holding the Communion together through the current conflict. As well, the primates' communique asked all provinces to consider whether they will commit to "the interdependent life" of the Communion.
But, while asking America and Canada to withdraw members from the ACC's June 21-28 meeting in Nottingham, England--its only meeting before Lambeth '08--the leaders invited both churches to send spokesmen to explain the rationale for their pro-gay decisions. The provision was requested by liberal primates, according to Archbishop Venables.
It was--on the surface--a mild set of requests in response to a crisis ignited in the global church by ECUSA's 2003 approval of a divorced, actively gay bishop (Gene Robinson); same-sex blessings in ECUSA and the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster; and the Canadian General Synod's declaration of the "integrity and sanctity" of adult homosexual relationships.
But it was widely interpreted--most importantly by conservative primates themselves--as an effective suspension of the North American bodies and possibly the start of a permanent split. In fact, even before primates met in Northern Ireland, over half of Anglican provinces had reduced or ended communion with ECUSA--a reality reflected in the lack of official, joint eucharistic services during their February meeting. Moreover, the primates modified two Windsor Report recommendations less favorable to conservatives.
They agreed, during the probationary period, not to initiate new "cross- boundary interventions" to care for faithful congregations in revisionist contexts, but that current arrangements (generally involving foreign oversight of clergy and parishes that have left the North American churches) would continue.
And, they called for an orderly process for such congregations to seek protection (and presumably address what conservatives see as deficiencies in schemes like DEPO, a temporary and rather hard-to-get provision that leaves the liberal diocesan in charge of the parish and arrangements for it). Hence, the Panel of Reference, which is to be overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates.
Together, the two measures signaled that the cessation of border-crossings depends upon the improved provision of adequate episcopal ministry for embattled orthodox Anglicans through the cooperation of liberal bishops involved.
"While the language of the [primates'] communique is gracious and diplomatic," said the conservative American Anglican Council (AAC), "the intent is crystal clear: the American and Canadian Churches have been told to stand down" from the ACC (a pan- provincial body of bishops, clergy and laity). "In addition, they have been presented with a clear choice to permanently walk together or walk apart. The parameters for 'walking together' are also definitive: [ECUSA] must repent of its heretical actions and embrace once more in word and in practice the faith and order of Anglicanism."
The Art Of Non-Complying "Compliance"
The North American churches' reaction to calls to temporarily "stand down" and halt pro-gay actions, though, has been something akin to a combination tap dance and magic act. When ECUSA's Executive Council took up the request to absent Episcopal representatives from the ACC's June meeting, for example, it effectively said (as one commentator put it): "Let's not--and say we did."
The Council boldly declared that it was "voluntarily" withdrawing ECUSA members "from official participation" in the ACC meeting, but still asked them to attend the gathering to hear reports "and to be available for conversation and consultation."
The Council's response to the primates' communique "is a technical yes but an actual no," said Pittsburgh Episcopal Bishop Robert Duncan, Moderator of the ACN. "The primates asked the ECUSA delegation to withdraw from the [ACC]; the only appropriate response is therefore to stay home."
The Council is "setting up an opportunity to lobby and influence the [Nottingham] meeting" that the ACC should disallow, unless it gives "excluded" and "isolated" faithful Episcopalians the same privilege, said the American Anglican Council.
THE DECISION on withdrawing from the ACC had been passed to the Council from the Episcopal House of Bishops (HOB), which (as noted in the last issue) also fudged its way through the primates' and Windsor Report's entreaties.
Answering the call to cease consecrating actively gay bishops, the ECUSA prelates said in a "Covenant Statement" that they would not ordain any new bishops at all--regardless of sexual orientation--at least until next year's General Convention. And, they vowed not to bless same-sex couples or authorize public gay blessing rites for at least a year.
In fact, they asserted that ECUSA has not authorized such rites-not mentioning that the General Convention voted to allow any diocese to perform them according to its liturgical whim. Also, their pledge does not necessarily bind clergy or private same-sex ceremonies.
Griswold subsequently acknowledged that many bishops are "making some provision for private pastoral care (of homosexual couples), recognizing that it's not a formal action of the church." He believes this to be consistent with the "distinction the primates made between what is public and official and what is private pastoral care to gay and lesbian people within the context of the local congregation."
The replies from ECUSA's Executive Council and HOB were cordially received by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but conservative Anglican leaders were not at all amused.
Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi expressed "grave concern about the early indications of ECUSA's response" to the primates' communique, which he reminded that Griswold supported.
In a letter to Archbishop Williams, Orombi said the HOB's Covenant Statement evinced no genuine "change in direction" on same-sex blessings, nor does its year-long non-consecration pact constitute repentance; rather, it "follows the pattern of a boycott and protest, and holds the entire church hostage to the very thing for which they have been asked to repent. That an entire House of Bishops could think this was a good decision leads me to be very concerned for the quality of episcopal care being accorded to American Episcopalians."
And in Orombi's view, the Executive Council flouted the primates' request for withdrawal, which he said was meant to be, not just from one ACC meeting, but "from all [ACC] activities and involvements at all levels until the Lambeth Conference of 2008. It seems to me that ECUSA's Executive Council has mandated their representatives to not only go to the ACC meeting in Nottingham, but to go as advocates for their cause and...decisions."
"ECUSA has used the...words the communique requested, but somehow they have managed to use them to mean the opposite of our intent," he wrote. "I, for one, am tired of playing semantic games. The presiding bishop has failed us once again. The breach- -the tear--is worse, not better," he concluded. He appealed to Archbishop Williams to "intervene and salvage the upcoming ACC meeting," though he did not detail how. Words like "disingenuous" and "duplicitous" were used in similar criticisms of ECUSA's responses in an April statement by Archbishop Peter Akinola, leader of 17.5 million Nigerian Anglicans.
But he said the real issue "is not a temporary cessation" of the consecration and blessing of homosexuals, "but a decision to renounce them" and willingly embrace the teaching on sexual morality generally accepted throughout the Communion and described in the 1998 Lambeth Conference's sexuality resolution (1.10).
And, reacting to the liberal churches' resistance to full withdrawal, Akinola declared his belief that "the primates do not expect ECUSA and the Canadian Church to participate in any" Communion structures "until they have chosen to respect the mind of the Communion. Until they decide to return--something for which we earnestly pray--the sad truth is that they have walked away from the Communion."
DESPITE ALL THIS, the Anglican Church of Canada delivered a virtual replay of ECUSA's response to the primates' communique.
In a 13-point statement issued from their meeting in Windsor, Ontario, April 25-May 1, Canadian bishops affirmed their continuing membership in the Communion and apologized for the "pain" caused by "synodical decisions in some parts of the Canadian Church."
But they declined the request to halt same-sex blessings, agreeing only to ban further dioceses from performing the rites until the matter is decided by the church's General Synod, which next meets in 2007. In fact--in an apparent tit-for-tat--they pointedly used about the blessings issue the same language the primates had used for cross-boundary interventions: the pledge neither to "encourage [or] initiate" such actions.
"Several primates have made it clear that the phrase means there should be no further actions beyond those already started," said New Westminster Bishop Michael Ingham, whose diocese officially approved and implemented homosexual blessings with his support. To Ingham, that meant the gay union ceremonies could continue in the eight parishes (out of 78) in which they have already begun in his diocese. New Westminster's synod confirmed this position in mid-May.
"No bishop was in any doubt that I did not commit myself to a moratorium on same-sex blessings," Ingham said. (Ingham appears to feel equally unconstrained by the recent finding of the Canadian Church's Theological Commission that the matter of same-sex blessings is not merely pastoral but doctrinal, and therefore legal only if approved by two successive triennial General Synod meetings.
A spokesman for New Westminster said the finding differs from the legal opinion that Ingham got before initiating gay blessings in 2003.) Finally--though Canadian prelates recommended that the Council of General Synod agree to withdraw delegates from the ACC--the Council followed ECUSA in deciding on May 7 that Canadian representatives would "attend but not participate fully" in the ACC meeting.
Canadian Archbishop Andrew Hutchison opined that the primates' request for voluntary withdrawal did not necessarily mean total absence from the meeting. He based that view on the invitation--which Canada also planned to accept--to send spokesmen to Nottingham to explain the province's pro-gay position.
Again, the Archbishop of Canterbury cautiously welcomed the Canadian response, but primates in the global South called it inadequate and a further demonstration of "North American arrogance."
"It follows all that has been done and said until now in that it doesn't respond in any way to the obvious spirit and clear message of what the Communion has been saying," said Archbishop Venables.
Panel: Already Finished?
If the North American churches did the expected following the Newry meeting, Archbishop Williams has done the unexpected in taking so long to name the Panel of Reference and then naming Archbishop Carnley to lead it.
While voicing affection for Carnley "as a friend and colleague," Archbishop Venables said the appointment of a supporter of the revisionist agenda for such a role "reinforces the sense that, despite the overwhelming majority position in favor of historic biblical Christianity, the agenda is still being driven by a liberal minority." The appointment should have gone to someone more impartial, he said. A scholar who knows the Cambridge-educated Carnley said the latter's appointment looks like it is "designed to fulfill the letter of the Newry agreement, but to weight it against those appealing, so as to keep in with Griswold." Indeed, Bishop Griswold has warmly welcomed Carnley's leadership of the Panel of Reference.
Of course, the only "authority" the Panel will wield is moral, and will be focused on rebel provinces that have already shown themselves resistant to moral suasion. Still, it represents a first-ever move to bring international weight and regular attention to the need to provide for orthodox Anglicans in theologically hostile circumstances.
But Carnley's track record makes him ill-suited to lead such an endeavor, conservatives say; one writer even said his appointment showed "contempt" for the Communion.
The just-retired primate of Australia, Archbishop of Perth, and Metropolitan of Western Australia, Carnley has solid liberal credentials. A member of the original "Eames Commission" on women's ordination, he ordained women priests in the Anglican Church of Australia (ACA) before its General Synod approved the innovation. He told priests in Perth opposed to the change to look for some more congenial ecclesiastical situation. Several years ago, he unilaterally ordained the ACA's first self- proclaimed, partnered homosexual priest, who later left the church. Last year, he urged ACA's General Synod to think of homosexual couples as friends rather than necessarily being sexual partners. And, Gene Robinson's 2003 election, Carnley said, was not a "Communion-breaking issue."
More recently--as he approached retirement--Carnley reportedly came to recognize the impaired communion caused by ECUSA's actions and the need for limits on provincial autonomy. More remarkably, he favorably negotiated with Australian traditionalists in and out of the ACA on plans to consecrate the Rev. David Chislett a "flying bishop." When Chislett's February consecration took place, however, he condemned it, and ended talks on the traditionalist provision. And, Carnley led the drafting of the diplomatically-phrased 2005 primates' communique, the real meaning of which had to be separately elucidated by conservative primates.
EQUALLY TROUBLING to conservatives are recent comments by Carnley which differ in their description of the Panel's functioning from the primates' vision as expressed in their 2003 and 2005 statements, and from some of the guidelines issued by Dr. Williams. For example, Carnley reportedly says the Panel will be "independent"; that its "process" may lead to advice or mediation but not to a "judgement"; and that involvement in the process will be voluntary and at the request of a province's primate.
Carnley also prefers "alternate episcopal ministry" to alternate "oversight," and cited the possibility that requests for the Panel's help may be channeled through the liberal diocesan. "If these attributions are accurate, then the proposed response is not adequate for, nor has any credibility with, those for whom it is designed...it will not work," said AAC President, Canon David C. Anderson.
Carnley's criteria would make DEPO adequate, but if so, Anderson asked, why would the primates set up the Panel of Reference? And it is "absurd," he said, to make protection of orthodox believers dependent on the voluntary participation of a hierarchy that is suspended from Anglican councils.
"What the primates had in mind was something radical which defended [faithful] parishes and dioceses against bad treatment," Archbishop Venables said. Under Carnley, the Panel appears poised to become a group handling "disagreements between gentlemen which need to be sorted out."
The Panel "is already being seriously questioned based on the...perceived lack of urgency in the appointments, and this concern is increased by the timeline given by Archbishop Carnley for the process to unfold. Lifeboats not launched in a timely manner need not be sent," Anderson said.
Anderson called for Dr. Williams and the primates to carefully review Carnley's approach to the Panel. Whether pressure would increase against Carnley's chairmanship of it remained to be seen.
YET ANOTHER SETBACK may loom for conservatives, as well. Some think the liberal explanations of pro-gay decisions at the upcoming meeting of the (historically more liberal- leaning) ACC cannot help but distract from the ultimatum effectively given to the North American churches, and spur months of responses to pro-homosexual arguments.
Reportedly, each of the North American delegations will have 90 minutes to make their presentations at the June ACC "consultation" at the University of Nottingham.
ECUSA's presentation, to be given by Griswold and five other representatives, will address three areas: scriptural and theological issues; "the reality of homosexuality in the life and experience of faithful persons and families"; and the assertion that that "divergent" viewpoints on sexuality issues "need not be church dividing" or bar opposing parties from making "common cause together in the service of Christ's mission."
ALL OF WHICH seems to confirm that--as the ACN's Bishop Duncan told some 1,600 Episcopalians gathered in Woodbridge, Virginia, April 2, it will get worse before it gets better for orthodox believers subsisting in ECUSA in the hope of a new dispensation in the Communion.
The ACN enjoys the acceptance of Archbishop Williams and other primates, Archbishop Venables told the throng. But Duncan conceded that its members are especially vulnerable during the suspension period. That situation will be exacerbated if the Panel of Reference proves a failure.
However, Duncan believes that the primates' implicit call for the 2006 General Convention to clearly indicate whether it will walk with or apart from the Communion will be--whatever decision is made--a win for conservatives, probably even as it regards temporal matters. He believes the "suffering" ahead will lead to a theologically orthodox and spiritually vibrant future for Anglicanism in North America.
What is equally apparent, too--to come full circle--is that conservative Anglican primates remain resolved in their stand and commitment to aid faithful Anglicans without orthodox ministry.
Venables sees the primates' immediate task as being to "pray and take every opportunity to insist on what we really agreed at Newry, and not give up or walk out." And if the Panel of Reference fails, "we will not." When it comes to "true Christianity...there are no boundaries," he declared.
Likewise, Archbishop Akinola recently reiterated that theology comes before geography-i.e., that the end of new cross- boundary interventions depends on the revisionists' behavior. Maintaining good order "is important for the work of the Gospel, but it can never be used to silence those who are standing for the Faith and resisting doctrinal error," Akinola wrote in April.
"It was our common understanding in Newry that the extraordinary pastoral relationships and initiatives now underway would be maintained until this crisis is resolved. If, however, the measures proposed in our communique to protect the legitimate needs of groups in serious theological disputes (with their bishops) prove to be ineffectual, and if acts of oppression against those who seek to uphold our common faith persist, then we will have no choice but to offer safe harbor for those in distress."
Sources included: American Anglican Council, Episcopal News Service, The Living Church, The Church of England Newspaper, Church Times, VirtueOnline, Christianity Today, Salt Lake Tribune, Anglican Journal, Episcopal Life, The Associated Press, Reuters --
Auburn Traycik is the Editor of the Christian Challenge. To learn more about THE CHRISTIAN CHALLENGE, the only independent publication providing such comprehensive news for orthodox Anglicans, please visit http://www.challengeonline.org
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