BROKEN bridges to the wider Anglican Communion will not be repaired by recent actions of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Archbishop of Canterbury has stated in a reflection that advocates a “two-track” Communion based on accept-ance of the Covenant proposals.
The issue was not human rights or dignity, but whether the Church was free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings seen as analogous to Christian marriage, he said in Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future, published on Monday.
A “yes” would have had to be preceded by “the most painstaking biblical exegesis”, strong consensus, solid theological grounding, and due account taken of the teaching of ecumenical partners. This was not the situation, Dr Williams said. The Church did not sanction the chosen lifestyle of anyone living in a sexual relationship outside marriage, and “a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences.
“So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole, does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.”
Dr Williams acknowledged the Episcopal Church’s commitment to the wider Communion, accepted its argument that resolutions D025 and CO56 did not automatically overturn the moratoriums on gay bishops and same-sex blessings, and called for penitence over the Communion’s contribution to reinforcing prejudice against gay people, which he called “sinful and disgraceful”.
But a change of attitude in society was not in itself a reason for the Church to change its discipline. A local church seeking to respond to new contexts needed also to discern the judgement of the wider Church. “Without this, it risks becoming unrecognisable to other local churches, pressing ahead with changes that render it strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe.”
He insisted: “This is not some piece of modern bureaucratic absolutism, but the conviction of the Church from its very early days. The doctrine that ‘what affects the communion of all should be decided by all’ is a venerable principle.” That could be fallible, but the opposite danger of “so responding to local pressure or change that a local church simply becomes isolated and imprisoned in its own cultural environment” should not be ignored.
No one was seeking a “risk-free, simple organ of doctrinal decision for our Communion”: there was an ecumenical dimension. “To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity.”
Dr Williams saw the Covenant as the way forward — “the only proposals we are likely to see that address some of the risks and confusions already detailed, encouraging us to act and decide in ways that are simply not local. . . They have been criticised as ‘exclusive’ in intent. But their aim is not to shut anyone out.”
No one was under threat of being “cast into outer darkness”. A “two-fold ecclesial reality” of a “two-track model” would involve “two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage”: those who could accept a covenantal structure, and those who could not. The first body would be the one with authority to speak for the Communion ecumenically.
He urged that these possible futures should be spoken about “not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication, but plainly as what they are — two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the communion.
“It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes and would need to be clearly repudiated.”
Dr Williams also sought “a clear answer” to whether the Covenant could be adopted by elements in a province that had decided not to adopt it.
He concluded: “To recognise different futures for different groups must involve mutual respect for deeply held theological convictions. This far in Anglican history we have (remarkably) contained diverse convictions more or less within a unified structure. If the present structures that have safeguarded our unity turn out to need serious rethinking in the future, this is not the end of the Anglican way and may bring its own opportunities.”
In a brief response, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Alan Harper, has said: “It remains to be seen whether, or to extent . . . [the] ‘two-track’ model will recommend itself to the autonomous provinces of the Communion. These matters all call for the most careful and unhurried scrutiny at representative provincial level.”
The Revd Colin Coward of Changing Attitude said: “If the process of accepting the Anglican Covenant, and the Covenant itself, is intended to impose the teaching of Lambeth 1.10 for the indefinite future, then Changing Attitude is totally opposed to the Covenant.”
Integrity, in the United States, said it was disappointed that Dr Williams had categorised the Episcopal Church’s commitment to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual baptised people as a “rights” rather than a theological issue; while conservative groups applauded that very thing. Those who wanted the US Episcopal Church’s exclusion from the Communion were not going to be appeased.
In a pastoral letter that followed the conclusion of the General Convention last week, the US Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, wrote: “Above all, this Convention claimed God’s mission as the heartbeat of the Episcopal Church.”
She urged church members to read Resolutions D025 and C056 for themselves. “Some have insisted that these resolutions repudiate our relationships with other members of the Anglican Communion. My sense is that we have been very clear that we value our relationships within and around the Communion, and seek to deepen them. My sense as well is that we cannot do that without being honest about who and where we are.”
San Joaquin verdict. A California Superior Court has affirmed the Rt Revd Jerry Lamb as the rightful Bishop of San Joaquin. A majority of congregations had voted to realign with the Province of the Southern Cone in December 2007, but attempted to retain diocesan property and assets. The judge ruled their action null and void. It was beyond dispute that the Episcopal Church was a hierarchical Church, whose nature was not to be determined case by case, he said.