PROVINCES that have breached moratoria laid down by the Anglican Communion — by consecrating gay bishops, blessing same-sex unions, and intervening unbidden in other provinces — are to be excluded from future ecumenical dialogue, the Archbishop of Canterbury has proposed.
Writing in a Pentecost letter to the Anglican Communion, Dr Williams acknowledges that the worldwide Church continues “to experience painful division” and is at a point in its common life “where broken communications and fragile relationships have created a very mistrustful atmosphere”.
Citing the recent consecration of an openly lesbian Bishop, the Rt Revd Mary Glasspool, on 15 May by the Episcopal Church of the United States, Dr Williams says that this highlights how “there are still things being done that the representative bodies of the Communion have repeatedly pleaded should not be done”, leading to “recrimination, confusion and bitterness all round”.
Dr Williams says that the current disputes are distracting from the Church’s main priority of mission, a view articulated at the recent Global South meeting in Singapore. He writes that it was his “passionate hope that our discussion of the Anglican Covenant in its entirety will help us focus on that priority”. The Covenant was not be “envisaged as an instrument of control”.
The Archbishop goes on that, although “attitudes to human sexuality have been the presenting cause” of current divisions, the situation has been precipitated by the fact that the Communion had not “found a way of shaping our consciences and convictions as a worldwide body”, leading to widespread bewilderment and hurt.
Concerning the provinces who defy official moratoria, Dr Williams says: “We cannot pretend there is no problem. . . In our dealings with other Christian communions, we do not seek to deny our diversity; but there is an obvious problem in putting forward representatives of the Communion who are consciously at odds with what the Communion has formally requested or stipulated. This does not seem fair to them or to our partners.
“In our dealings with each other, we need to be clear that conscientious decisions may be taken in good faith, even for what are held to be good theological or missional reasons, and yet have a cost when they move away from what is recognisable and acceptable within the Communion. . .
“I am therefore proposing that, while these tensions remain unresolved, members of such provinces — provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) — should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged.
“I am further proposing that members of such provinces serving on IASCUFO should for the time being have the status only of consultants rather than full members.
“This is simply to confirm what the Communion as a whole has come to regard as the acceptable limits of diversity in its practice. It does not alter what has been said earlier by the Primates’ Meeting about the nature of the moratoria: the request for restraint does not necessarily imply that the issues involved are of equal weight but recognises that they are ‘central factors placing strains on our common life’, in the words of the Primates in 2007.”
Dr Williams says “particular provinces will be contacted about the outworking of this in the near future”.
Dr Williams mentions no timing for the move, but it can be inferred that he means it to apply almost immediately. He leaves open the more significant question of whether erring provinces should be barred from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting.
He writes: “I am aware that other bodies have responsibilities in questions concerned with faith and order, notably the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Standing Committee. The latter two are governed by constitutional provisions which cannot be overturned by any one person’s decision alone, and there will have to be further consultation as to how they are affected.” He says he will consult the other Primates in the run up to the next meeting, in January 2011.
Dr Williams speaks of the painful nature of the disputes within Anglicanism. Casting his message in the light of Pentecost, suggesting that the Communion members need to encounter each others “in a completely different atmosphere from the official meetings of the Communion’s representative bodies”.
He also insists on the obligation to continue a relationship “if we do conclude that some public marks of ‘distance’, as the Windsor Continuation Group put it, are unavoidable. . . The least Christian thing we can do is to think that this absolves us from prayer and care for each other, or continuing efforts to make sense of each other.”