Chillingworth warns of consequences of change

17 June 2016

SCOTTISH EPISCOPAL CHURCH

The Scottish Primus: Dr David Chillingworth

The Scottish Primus: Dr David Chillingworth

THE Primates of the Anglican Communion would impose sanctions on the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) if it chose to change its Canons to allow same-sex marriage, the Primus of the SEC, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, confirmed to the General Synod at its meeting in Edinburgh last Friday.

He believed that the Primates’ meeting had acted beyond its powers at its January meeting in Canterbury (News, 22 January 2015), when it announced that, for a period of three years, the Episcopal Church would effectively be sidelined, no longer representing the Communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, and prevented from any part in decision-making about doctrine or polity. The Primus met the Archbishop of Canterbury two weeks ago to ask — in what he described as “a very open and straightforward conversation” — the specific question whether this would also apply to the Scottish Church if it completed the process of canonical change in 2017.

“The answer is that it will,” he said. “Most directly, I will be removed from the role of Anglican co-chair of the International Anglican-Reformed Dialogue.” Other effects would be limited: SEC bishops would, he said, be “present and fully involved” in the Lambeth Conference due to take place in 2020, and the SEC would continue to be actively involved in Anglican and diocesan networks.

The Primates’ action had left the unanswered question “Who oversees the limits of Anglican diversity, and what happens when those limits are crossed?” Archbishop Chillingworth said. The Global North was experiencing massive social change in respect of human sexuality, while the Global South remained deeply conservative and under pressure from the “steady and inexorable movement of Islam southwards into Africa”.

The legacy of colonialism, he said, made measured and respectful dialogue very difficult: “Different understandings of collegiality and leadership confuse expectations about how issues will be addressed.”

Adopting a sanctions-based approach to the internal discipline of the Anglican Communion, which had already rejected the Anglican Covenant, seemed to be “a real pity,” he said. The SEC proposals were the will of General Synod, and so nothing changed there, but, “What does change is that each of us now understands what the impact of any change will be on the Communion and our place within it. We should be respectfully mindful of that.”

The issues were both complex and painful: “an unhappy and still unfolding story,” he concluded. The Primus had earlier alluded, in his Charge to the Synod, to the “deep pain in relationships which are very close to us and which matter greatly — in the Anglican Communion, and in our relationships with the Church of Scotland and the Church of England.”

The unplanned early release of the Columba Declaration on common mission and common context, which came at Christmas 2015 from the joint study group of the Church of England and Church of Scotland, led to much hurt in the SEC, he said, particularly over the language of “crossing borders”. The C of E has no jurisdiction in Scotland. The Faith and Order Board described the public release of the declaration before the final text of the report was distributed in January 2016 as “a matter of deep regret”, but said that the SEC had received “full and gracious apologies”, and was happy to accept those apologies.

SEC representative speaks of Lusaka meeting. The SEC’s representative on the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), Alistair Dinnie, gave one of the most ardent and well-received presentations of the Synod meeting when he spoke of his apprehension before attending the meeting in Lusaka in April.

“As a gay man, the prospect of visiting a country that maintains sanctions against homosexuality did give me some pause for thought,” he said. “Given the backdrop of the decision taken [at the Primates’ Meeting] in relation to an issue that could not be more personal, was also something I had to think about.”

“But, my goodness, I’m glad that I went. . . I felt amongst those there that there was little desire to rake over past arguments, or rub salt into old wounds; far more, a sense, whilst noting what had gone before, of a genuine desire to find commonalities, to focus on the things we held in common: in short, to be in communion.”

The sense of the Communion’s power and influence had come as “a big and inspiring surprise,” Mr Dinnie said. “For all of my personal frustrations, and at times anger and hurt about the way the Anglican Communion deals with issues of homosexuality, when the Archbishop of Canterbury stands up and restates the opposition of the Communion’s Primates to criminal sanctions for homosexuality, in a country which maintains such sanctions, that matters.”

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