Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I arrived in Nottingham, England in time for a press briefing prior to the American Episcopal Church and the Canadian Anglican Church giving their respective presentations supporting their actions in ordaining an openly homosexual bishop and permitting same-sex blessings.
Some 75 delegates are here, about a dozen odd media and a score of observers including a number of para Anglican organization leaders. It's an interesting mix. There are leaders from Anglican Mainstream, the American Anglican Council, and numerous organizations on the left including Integrity and members of British gay and lesbian organizations as well.
Beneath the surface of general bonhomie there is considerable tension. Both the Americans and Canadians feel humiliated by not being allowed here officially. But their "unofficial" presence is keenly felt and they are making the most of it by talking to as many people as they can in order to persuade them of their point of view. Public relations if not good theological relations is necessary. They are also passing out a book "To Set Our Hope on Christ" to every person present. No stone is being left unturned to win and convince.
There has been considerable anger expressed by several orthodox organizations about the public exposure of the Canadian and ECUSA and the fawning attitude of Canon Kenneth Kearon, ACC secretary general in his praise of ECUSA, and there was a lot of rumbling and noise on Monday about the seating of both provinces as "observers" not "delegates" while seeming to be treated like delegates. Cynthia Brust of the American Anglican Council has blasted the ACC for this.
During a coffee break I bumped into two leading orthodox Primates - Peter Akinola (Nigeria) and Bernard Malango (Central Africa). Both men are having a hard time listening to the Americans and Canadians making their pitch for homosexual acceptance. It goes against everything they believe, and they watch and listen with incredulity at a Western Church in decline endorsing a behavior they find offensive, and which is killing them, while their provinces are growing by leaps and bounds with a clear understanding about human beings, especially Christians, should behave.
They are restless as they listen to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold make his pitch for homosexuality. Primate Akinola, 62, squelched any rumors that he is about to retire. He has at least 8 years - minimum - to go, and even then there is no guarantee he will step down. He's in a fighting mood, and as we talked he pushed a two page statement of what he thinks about what is going on here into my hands.
It was two pages with a headline that read: Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). A Reminder to us all about what God says...
The first page began, "What does God say about Love and Obedience", then "What does God Say we SHOULD NOT do? (His caps not mine.) And then a page of biblical texts on "What does God say we SHOULD do?"
This African leader does not mince his words. He has no intention of rolling over to anybody and "listening" - the request of Lambeth resolution 1.10 - has its limits and telos, and when it is all done there will be no compromise on this issue. None.
During a coffee break Archbishop Rowan Williams came over to chat. I am always touched by this man even though I disagree with him. He looks pale and tired and while not passing on all that we spoke about, he was candid that prayer was just about all he could do at this time, the polarizations are clearly beyond his control to bring together. "It's up to God to cope with it all, I can't," he candidly said.
It's hard not to like this man and feel sorry for him at the same time. His job is simply unenviable; who the blazes would want it? One wonders what joy he is getting out of the Faith when he sees the church he heads so polarized. "I pray more and talk less," he said. Indeed. An insider who knows him well says that if he received a six figure offer to go to Harvard or Yale he would jump at. He certainly would add gravitas to either institution. He's a scholar at heart. He is a brilliant administrator and can hold meetings together and delegate, but what he can't or won't do is offer clarity that leads to a decision that could split the Communion.
"There is a strong scriptural presumption against change, a long consensus of teaching in Christian history, and a widespread ecumenical agreement, it may well be thought that change would need an exceptionally strong critical mass to justify it," said Williams in his presidential address.
That, I think, is where the Communion as a whole stands, says Williams. "That is why actions by some provinces have caused outrage and hurt. To invite, as does the Windsor document, those provinces to reconsider is not to say that there are no issues to be resolved, no prejudice to be repented of (because there unquestionably is much of this); it is not to reject the idea of an 'inclusive' Church or to canonize an unintelligent reading of the Bible. It is to say that actions taken in sensitive matters against the mind of the Church cannot go unchallenged while the Church's overall discernment is as it is without injuring the delicate fabric of relations within the Church and so compromising its character."
Those close to the archbishop say that in the end he will come down on the right side on the issues. He is a scholar, he also not a fool about what the vast majority of Anglicans think and he won't betray the Global South and the minority orthodox in the West. We shall see.
But this Anglican Consultative Council meeting is another line in the sand. Lambeth 2008 will be the final line if there is not schism before then following ECUSA's General Convention in 2006. What will come out of this ACC meeting will be definitive, even though the fourth Instrument of Unity has no legal or ecclesiastical power to DO anything. But watching the faces of the orthodox primates one senses that what they will take back to their people what they have seen and heard, and that could be decisive about what they decide to do.
The Americans came well prepared for this event. A 130-page booklet "To Set Our Hope on Christ" - A Response to the Invitation of Windsor Report #135 was distributed to the media and I will excerpt the relevant sections that pertain to this meeting.
In his opening words Frank Griswold, ECUSA's Presiding Bishop gave his stomp speech about "listening", and "not rushing to judgment" and "listening with the ear of the heart," with his standard line that the "mystery of communion requires time to be together and speak face to face...the Body of Christ is not an abstraction...we are bound together in baptism for which Christ is the head", and "we live the mystery of Christ in the world and we minister to the tear in our world." He ends by telling us that "homosexuality is an embodied reality".
It is the usual theobabble that frustrates straightforward thinkers about such behaviors. What the blazes is an "embodied reality"? Is it some sort of Star Wars character or perhaps Darth Vader in drag? Griswold loves the word "mystery" it appears regularly when he talks and usually when he runs out of "pluriform" or "diversity" or "embodied reality" talk.
"Culture" is also important for Frank Griswold as well. Here he treads on his own version of solid ground. On page 19 of the booklet "To Set Our Hope on Christ" there is this. "It seems very likely that there was no phenomenon in the time of the biblical writers directly akin to the phenomenon of Christians of the same gender living together in faithful and committed lifelong unions as experience this today."
INTERPRETATION: We cannot take the bible seriously on this issue, and the word "porneia" is not what it means today, and if it does, ignore it. Also I Cor. 6:9 is not relevant or Paul was just plain wrong.
Then Griswold says this; "We affirm the wisdom and holiness of Scriptures and assume, most gratefully, that we are to be instructed by them."
But then he says this: "Yet not every biblical norm is directly relevant to every situation in our time. Discernment is required, through the direction of the Holy Spirit, in order to ascertain the Lord's will for us in every time....where Christ leads us."
So according to Griswold one can pick and choose what Scripture one will be obedient too; one can place the self and self fulfillment above Scripture and the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing and we should simply get on board.
In this the second day of the ACC meeting, both provinces gave solid accountings of their position. They were abundantly clear along five lines.
* They made their theological case for homosexuality. * They shared their stories.
* They have no intention of apologizing or backing down, regretting only the hurt they caused.
* They asked the AAC to respect their interdependence in the communion.
* They want to remain in the Anglican Communion.
What this event was not about:
* It was not Anglican.
* It was not Christian.
* It was about being in the Club...on their terms.
Canadian Archbishop Andrew Hutchison summed it up when he said, "Through this consultation comes through a Canadian commitment to the communion, the Instruments of Unity and partnerships around the globe. We are deeply concerned; the bishops in Canada unanimously received the Windsor Report and recognized its importance."
This might be Hutchison's hope, but it remains to be seen if, at the end of the day he and his province and the Episcopal Church, will in fact any longer be partners.
You can read a number of reports on this conference in today's digest.
David W. Virtue DD
On the Mainline
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