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Reactions pour in to the Primates’ pronouncements

22 January 2016


Sorry about the hurt: Archbishop Welby at the press conference in Canterbury on Friday

Sorry about the hurt: Archbishop Welby at the press conference in Canterbury on Friday

THE challenge facing the task group, the body — not yet appointed — whose job it will be to mend the Anglican Communion after last week’s gathering of Primates, was manifest this week as people reacted to the final communiqué from Canterbury.

At one extreme, a statement from the conservative GAFCON group expressed regret that the Episcopal Church in the United States had not faced more punitive consequences, or a demand for repentance, for its support of same-sex marriage. At the other, a number of US Bishops reiterated that support.

The President-Bishop in Jerusalem and the Middle East, Dr Mouneer Anis, wrote on Wednesday: “Some reacted with outrage and others with triumph. Sadly I found little grace in these reactions.”

The communiqué (see below) states that the Primates are “requiring that, for a period of three years, the Episcopal Church [in the US] no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies; should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee; and that, while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision-making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity”.

The US Presiding Bishop, the Rt Revd Michael Curry, said last week that the decision would bring “real pain”: “For many who have felt and been rejected by the Church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our Church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”

He argued: “Our commitment to be an inclusive Church is not based on a social theory, or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”

A statement from GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) argued that the consequences meted out “must not be seen as an end, but as a beginning”. It expressed “doubt about the effectiveness”, and regretted that there was no recognition that the Anglican Church of Canada “has also rejected the collegial mind of the Communion by unilaterally permitting the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of those in active homosexual relationships. We fear that other provinces will do the same.”

There was a need for recognition, it said, that: “the continuing brokenness of the Communion is not the result simply of failed relationships, but is caused by the persistent rejection of biblical and apostolic faith as set out in Lambeth Resolution 1.10. We are therefore disappointed that the Primates’ statement makes no reference to the need for repentance.” The Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, a conservative breakaway Church, Dr Foley Beach, said: “The sanctions are strong, but they are not strong enough.”

Other Primates praised the outcome. Dr Anis described how different the gathering was from previous meetings of the Primates, and spoke of “frank and gracious” discussions.

“We have now a real opportunity to follow through the recommendations of this Primates’ Meeting. In addition to this, we have a good space to discuss the best possible shape of our Communion that would guarantee the expansion of the Kingdom of God.”

In a reflection published on Wednesday, he gave his account of the dynamics of the meeting and its pivotal moments:

"Some of the Primates came with the desire to walk apart: those who support same-sex marriage in one direction and the others who do not in another. On the other hand, there were those who believed that the issue of same-sex marriage is not a core doctrinal issue and hence is not an essential of faith. These are the two ends of the spectrum.

"In the middle, however, there are Primates who are aware that within TEC and Canada, there are people who hold the standard and acceptable teaching of the Anglican Communion in regard to the issue of human sexuality. Any kind of complete exclusion will affect these people. These Primates in the middle believe in diversity, but not unlimited diversity: diversity on the non-essentials and unity on the essentials of faith like the authority of the scripture.

"The Primates voted on what consequences there should be for TEC in response to their action. Six Primates voted for no consequences and a simple rebuke, but the overwhelming majority, 30 Primates, voted for some form of consequence of varying severity. This showed that while there was a wide range of opinions about what form the response should take, there was a fundamental consensus that there should be some real consequence."

In a press conference on Friday, the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, defended the Primates’ decision, which had been taken “for the good of the Church, to create order”.

In contrast, many of the blogs written by US bishops defended their Church’s position on same-sex marriage.

“I have never been prouder to be a member of a Church that boldly steps out, in the name of Love and respects the dignity of every human being,” the Bishop of Pennsylvania, the Rt Revd Audrey Scanlan, said.

Some had strong words for the Primates. The Bishop of California, the Rt Revd Marc Andrus, suggested in a blog that Dr Martin Luther King Jnr would have recognised their actions as “antithetical to the way of Christ”. He accused the Primates of having “made peace among themselves by scapegoating the Episcopal Church, and even more fundamentally by further marginalising lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. The political powers who plotted the betrayal and execution of Jesus believed that it was expedient to sacrifice one person for the good of order and ‘peace’.”

Alternative views were expressed. The Bishop of Springfield, the Rt Revd Daniel Martins, suggested that the Primates’ response was “not only appropriate, but actually quite restrained”.

It was “a natural consequence that flows from General Convention having overreached, changing the essential nature of a sacrament without even seriously consulting with, let alone having striven patiently for consensus among, the other churches of the communion. General Convention did not do this naïvely, but consciously, with full knowledge that proceeding would rend the fabric of the bonds of affection, and cause potentially irreparable harm.”

The Dean of St Philip’s Cathedral, Atlanta, the Very Revd Samuel G. Candler, suggested in a blog that the Primates’ “requirements” would not be enforced. He urged his Church “never, ever, to withdraw from our voting participation” in the Anglican Consultative Council.

Members of the ACC, which meets every three years, are appointed by the Provinces. It is due to meet in Zambia in April. Two American members, the Bishop of Connecticut, the Rt Revd Ian Douglas, and the Revd Gay Clark Jennings, have confirmed that they will attend. Bishop Douglas is also a member of the ACC’s standing committee.

The director of the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University, Professor Norman Doe, has described the communiqué as “unenforceable” and “completely unacceptable interference with the autonomy of each of these bodies as they transact their own business”. It was “absolute nonsense” to suggest that an ecumenical body, such as ARCIC, or an Anglican body such as the ACC, was bound by a decision made by the Primates’ gathering, which enjoyed no jurisdiction.

The Primates talked of other topics. One of the Primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the Most Revd Philip Richardson, spoke of “exhausting” listening, on topics including religious extremism to rising sea levels to human trafficking.

“We listened so long and so hard, we found our understanding deepen, and our own categories and assumptions challenged. . . We learned that we are all of us interdependent, and that we need each other.”

In a reflection published on Wednesday, the Archbishop of Brazil, the Most Revd Francisco de Assis da Silva, said that discussions about censuring the Episcopal Church had taken up a "disproportionate amount of time". 

Although other issues had been discussed, including refugees and human trafficking, "I regret that we did not spend more time discussing what, in my view, is really relevant to our testimony as the Church of Christ."

In his online reflection, published on Thursday, the Archbishop of Canterbury described the vote on whether to walk together, or apart, taken on the Wednesday, as a "God moment".

"What happened next went beyond everyone’s expectations," he wrote. "It was Spirit-led. It was a ‘God moment’. As leaders of our Anglican Communion, and more importantly as Christians, we looked at each other across our deep and complex differences – and we recognised those we saw as those with whom we are called to journey in hope towards the truth and love of Jesus Christ. It was our unanimous decision to walk together and to take responsibility for making that work."


Question of the week: Do you approve of the Primates’ solution to the Communion’s problems?


The communiqué in full  


'Strongest statement' on gay issues THE Archbishop of Canterbury issued a personal apology to LGBTI people last week, and said that he would “love” to see a change in laws that criminalised them.

Opening prayers at a press conference in Canterbury on Friday, he included the LGBTI Africans holding a vigil outside the cathedral. They were a reminder of “the pain and suffering of many LGBTI people around the world, and the extreme suffering in some countries where they are criminalised”.

He went on: “Personally, I want to say how sorry I am about the hurt and pain, in the past and present, the Church has caused and the love that we have at times failed to show and in some parts of the world still do, including here.” This had caused some people to “doubt they are loved by God”, he said.

The communiqué included, he said, “a very strong statement — the strongest that has been made yet, although it was implied before — on the criminalisation of LGBTI people”.

Asked about whether the Communion should be lobbying governments to change anti-gay laws, he said that he would “love to see a change”, and spoke of the Church of England’s part in campaigning against the criminalisation of homosexuality in the early 1960s. But he emphasised the power dynamics at play given the legacy of colonialism. He expressed sympathy for politicians who said “We have heard quite enough from former colonial governments about how we should live”.

The Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, expanded on this theme. “There are gays and lesbians in Africa, of course, and we have always had them,” he said. “But generally on the continent our culture does not support the promotion of this type of lifestyle. I know a lot of gays, but they would not start propagating it as a way of life.”

He spoke of “strong groups from outside coming to impose what is culturally unacceptable on us. . . If the West would just leave Africans, we know how to live together with our differences. The Church has a role to play, I agree, but I would not support the word ‘lobby’. Let the Church play a role and begin to make everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation, feel part of the family, and we will have some respite.”

It was, he said, “the responsibility to every Anglican to give pastoral care and protection to those who have a different sexual orientation”.

Tracey Byrne of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said on Sunday that actions must follow words. Archbishop Welby and the Primates must “take a long, hard look at how their words and actions contribute to the very pain they say saddens them. We don’t see any sign of that just yet.”


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