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Reactions to the Primates: Americans express their sadness, conservatives their doubts

15 January 2016


”This will bring more pain”: Archbishop Michael Curry speaks during a news conference after his election as Presiding Bishop, at the General Convention at the end of June 2015

”This will bring more pain”: Archbishop Michael Curry speaks during a news conference after his election as Presiding Bishop, at the Gener...

BISHOPS in the United States have reacted with sadness to the demand by Primates that their Church be censured. They have defended their support for same-sex marriage, and two have described the decision as unChrist-like.

At the same time, Bishops belonging to the conservative GAFCON group have cast doubt on the effectiveness of the sanctions, which “must not be seen as an end, but as a beginning”, they say.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, the Rt Revd Michael Curry, said on Thursday that the decision would bring “real pain” to many, and invoked the pain of his forefathers, African slaves.

“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love, and being a Church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain,” he said. “For fellow disciples of Jesus in our Church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more 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 went on: “I stand before you as your brother. I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then, even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.”

Referring to scripture, Bishop Curry sought to counter suggestions that his Church’s position on same-sex relationships represented a capitulation to Western culture.

“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,” he said.

“While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the Church today: ‘All who have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.’”

A statement released on Thursday by the chairman of GAFCON, Dr Eliud Wabukala, and its general secretary, Dr Peter Jensen, former Archbishop of Sydney, welcomed the sanctions, but questioned their adequacy.

The Episcopal News Service learned from one Archbishop that, on Wednesday morning, a tougher sanction has been proposed, requiring the Episcopal Church in the US to withdraw voluntarily from the Anglican Communion for three years. The proposal was taken to a vote, but failed by 15 to 20.

Of the sanctions that were passed — non-participation in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, non-membership of the standing committee, and no vote on matters of doctrine or polity — the GAFCON statement said: “This action must not be seen as an end, but as a beginning.

“There is much that causes us concern, especially the failure to recognise the fact 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.”

The statement said that, for years, the Anglican instruments of unity had been “unable to guard biblical truth and restore godly order”. There must “therefore be doubt about the effectiveness of the sanctions that have been agreed”.

There was a need for recognition, they 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.”

GAFCON was “recognised by an ever-increasing number of people”, it went on.

US Bishops issued strong statements on hearing the news from Canterbury. Anticipating the anniversary of the birth of Dr Martin Luther King on Friday, the Bishop of California, the Rt Revd Marc Andrus, suggested in a blog that Dr King “would have recognised the actions of the Primates 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’.”

The Primates had acted “covertly”, he went on, and “allowed their deeds . . . to be done in the shadows” and “deviously”.

”How could the faithful of the world have prepared for such an outcome based on the public statements of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who spoke about the possibilities of schism, but did not mention a vote to suspend a member of the Communion?”

The Bishop of Western New York, the Rt Revd Bill Franklin, expressed sadness in his blog. “I had hoped that the gathering would move away from legalism and lines in the sand towards relationship and mutual respect,” he wrote. “That does not seem to be the case.”

The statement “singularly fails to address the issues of human rights and justice. . . Unity and communion cannot be purchased at the expense of the human rights and dignity of other people. To do so is to betray Christ’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves.”

Other Bishops were more circumspect. The Bishop of Springfield, the Rt Revd Daniel Martins, tweeted that he was: “less than elated, but disappointed. And certainly not surprised. Within range of what I expected and hoped for. Grateful.”

Bishop Curry looked to the future. “The pain for many will be real,” he said. “But God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the Church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way. And like you, as we have said in this meeting, I am committed to ‘walking together’ with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family.”

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