Three Thoughts About the Anglican Primates Meeting
by Anne Kennedy
January 15, 2016
The Primates of the Anglican Communion are wending their weary ways home and we have, now, time to look at what they did and try to understand the implications for the future. I would rather do anything else, really, than think about this any more, but I read some headlines as I was trying to go to sleep, most of them exceedingly misleading. CNN reported that TEC had been "suspended" from the communion, which is rather grand a word for what we are looking at, and Fr. Longenecker used the word 'excommunication'. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I only want to say a few things about the statement, all three of them reflecting my own weariness.
First, as usual, I'm depressed that, but for the mention of 'Christ' in the first line, the document isn't discernibly Christian. There are no appeals to scripture, the formularies, or gosh, even an odd prayer book lying around. This indicates to me that the conversation must have been very broken indeed. In previous iterations of this mess, some nod, on both sides, some pretense of caring, was indicated in documents and statements that appealed to bible-ish sounding language. Anymore though, the language of the Christian scriptures, over the difficulties of the last decade, has been replaced with formulas like 'walking together', "rebuilding of mutual trust" and "recognizing the extent of our commonality". These could be said by anybody of any religion, or any yoga class. I didn't expect other than this, but I'm noticing it again as usual.
Second, observe with me who the winner is, if we want to get all crass about it. Does the Episcopal Church win, as they are in the habit of doing? Not entirely. They don't lose, really, except some small status. They are functionally the same but now they can call the clarion cry of victimhood and solidarity for the LGBT community and all in the name of the gospel. So, then, does the ACNA win? Um, no. Somehow, after walking away from the damaging lie of heresy, we are now sort of, well, what are we doing? Sitting around with it? Having a voice and a vote? What is the word for that? If you had told me ten years ago that at the end of it all, my Archbishop would be invited to sit with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and then the Presiding Bishop would be so "disciplined" that he couldn't sit on interfaith committees for three years, and that that would somehow constitute a triumph, I would have immediately walked away to become Presbyterian. Oh well, I guess, water on under the bridge. No one can know the future.
Which leads us to the obvious winner. And how masterfully the game was played. Well done, Welby. Observe his triumph. He has achieved 'unity'. Everyone came and sat down to tea and prayer. He has preserved his own dubious embrace of Same Sex Civil Unions by Parliament in England. Doesn't anyone remember? Lambeth 1.10 was all about SSBs, was about the unbiblical nature of the defiantly unrepentant embrace of the homosexual relationship and the acts that constitute it. That's what we've all been roiling over for ten freakishly long years. But in four closed off, cell-phone free days, Welby moved the post. It's not SSB's, it's the definition of Marriage. Which lets him out, and Canada. See, God doesn't care about what people do, he cares what the church calls it.
Third, and, thank goodness, finally, I want to articulate a tiny kernel of hope--a weary hope, but hope none the less. The Anglican Way has never been one of those Christian options that lets the adherent feel any pride. Most people think that we were birthed into the world through a divorce. In reality, the theological richness of our common life was penned by a man who lost his courage. When it came to the point of dying, he said, 'oh never mind', but then! Observe God's grace. He went back to his cell, he was stricken to the heart by the words of the scripture he so loved, and he recanted again. He went to the stake to be burned after all. Most reasonable Christians look at Anglicans and their quiet flirtations with Rome, their archaic use of vestments and language, and think, 'really'? But for some of us, the Anglican Way has been the way of life. It has been the place where the richness of scripture, the beauty of the liturgy, the discipline and order of the church year, the theological depth of the formularies and prayer book have been that life saving tether described so beautifully by George McDonald. You think you're lost in the dark, but then, between thumb and finger, you find the thread leading you to the Ancient of Days. In all the fits and starts and sin and loss of courage, of confusion and trouble, God has used his church to accomplish his will in the world, in the lives of ordinary people, to save them from the power of sin and darkness and bring them to the knowledge of his glorious Son.
As the bishops fly home and try to get ready for Sunday, I pray that God will yet have mercy, that he will forgive where forgiveness is needed, that he will strengthen where strength is lacking, and that he will make a way for the whole world, West and South, to proclaim his saving Word.
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