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Primates reprimand Scots over gay marriage, but will not fall out

04 October 2017

Preparation: Primates at choral evensong in Canterbury Cathedral, on Monday evening

Preparation: Primates at choral evensong in Canterbury Cathedral, on Monday evening

A SIGN reading “business as usual” at Canterbury Cathedral applied neatly to the Primates’ Meeting, one old hand suggested on Tuesday morning. Within hours, the press had heard that “consequences” had been agreed for a Church that had voted to allow same-sex marriage; that Global South Primates might walk out (this from a US spokesman); and that, despite it all, a split was not inevitable. Those who had been present in 2016 could be forgiven for a feeling of déjà vu.

News of the “consequences” (the word “sanctions” is never used) for the Scottish Episcopal Church was widely expected. Last year, the former Primus of the Scottish Epis-copal Church, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, warned his General Synod that they would be imposed were it to change its canons. The vote went ahead regardless (News, 17 June 2016).

On Tuesday, his successor, the Most Revd Mark Strange, asserted: “This decision was ours to take as a self-governing Province of the Anglican Communion. However, I recognise that this decision is one that has caused some hurt and anger in parts of the Anglican Com­munion.”

He pledged to do all he could to rebuild relationships. “But that will be done from the position our Church has now reached in accordance with its synodical processes, and in the belief that love means love.”

Interceding: at the start of evensong in Canterbury Ca­­thedral, on Monday evening, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, the Most Revd Michael Curry, leads prayers for the victims of the Las Vegas massacre shooting

At a press conference at Canterbury Cathedral Lodge late on Tuesday afternoon, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the “consequences” for the Scots would be the same as those meted out to the Episcopal Church in the US (TEC) last year (News, 22 January 2016): “We didn’t take a formal vote: there was no need for one.” There was a “consensus”, he said. Bishop Strange had accepted the “consequences”.

According to the wording agreed at the meeting last year, the Scottish Episcopal Church “will no longer represent us on ecumenical and in­­terfaith bodies, should not be ap­­pointed or elected to an internal standing committee, and that, while participating in the internal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”.

Discussions about the Scottish decision had prompted “a lot of ex­­pressions of disappointment, strong feelings from many of the Provinces”, Archbishop Welby said.

Yet he had observed “a very different mood to many previous Primates’ Meetings. It was more of a family that’s having to face the fact that something has happened that is causing grief than a club that doesn’t like one of its members.”

This reading of the mood was seconded by the Primate of Hong Kong, the Most Revd Paul Kwong. “The expressions were much more forceful in the past,” he said. “Ten years ago, people began to say the Communion is going to split, fall apart. . . These last two Primates’ Meetings . . . it seems to me that we are walking much closer.”

Anglican Archives“Family”: Archbishop Welby speaking at the Primates press conference on Tuesday, flanked by the general secretary of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, and the Primate of Hong Kong, the Most Revd Paul Kwong

The Primate of Australia, Dr Philip Freier, said that he could “resonate” with the concerns of those disappointed by the Scots’ actions. “There is a strong centre in the Anglican Communion which is sup­porting an unchanged position on the doctrine of marriage.”

The confirmation of fresh “consequences” will reignite a debate about the extent to which they are bind­­ing. Common ground exists be­­tween GAFCON and members of TEC with regard to whether last year’s actually took effect. GAFCON points to the actions of TEC repre­sen­tatives at the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in Zambia last year (News, 8 April 2016). The represent­atives have confirmed that they did, indeed, vote on matters of doctrine and polity — and that the prohibition on rep­resenting the Communion and participating in policy debates im­­posed by the Primates’ Meeting in January 2016 was largely ignored by the autonomous ACC.

On Tuesday, Archbishop Welby insisted that his explanation of how the TEC “consequences” had been im­­plemented had left those Primates present “satisfied”. “I think I can show very clearly that everything that was decided that could be carried out was carried out.”

He confirmed that the Primates in Canterbury had had “lengthy discussions” about the instruments of the Communion: “What powers they have and what powers they don’t have.” On Monday, hours had been spent debating “what walking together means, and what it doesn’t mean”. He has previously acknowledged that the Primates’ Meeting has no legal authority over its provinces, and that no instrument of the Communion can legally bind another (News, 15 April 2016).

Actions taken at the Zambia ACC meeting included the election of a standing committee. Among those elected was Alistair Dinnie, a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church who last month married his partner, Peter. It is understood that Mr Dinnie cannot be re­­moved legally from the committee, and that any change in the committee’s make-up would have to wait until elections in 2019, when the ACC meets in São Paulo (News, 29 September).

GAFCON held a press conference in a boutique hotel near to the cathedral on Tuesday afternoon, be­­fore Archbishop Welby’s press con­ference. It was led by the Revd An­drew Gross, director of communications for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and press officer for GAFCON.

Those GAFCON Primates who had chosen to attend this week had come hoping that TEC would repent, he said. If this did not materialise, they were “not sure they can remain”.

SCOTTISH EPISCOPAL CHURCHSunshine parade: Scottish Episcopalians, including the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange (second from right), and the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth (far left) show their support for Glasgow Pride

It is understood that, in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, all the Primates rallied around the Presiding Bishop of TEC, the Most Revd Michael Curry, and invited him to lead prayers at the start of evensong on Monday evening. When asked about this, Mr Gross initially said: “I haven’t heard anything about that.” Later in the briefing, however, he said that the invitation had put GAFCON Primates in “a difficult spot”.

Asked at the later press conference to respond to Mr Gross’s comment, Archbishop Welby said: “I don’t think we ought to bring church politics into Las Vegas. . . I suppose that I would be surprised and disap­pointed by that comment.”

Mr Gross denied claims made by the general secretary of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, that African leaders were being manipulated by “very strong minority Conservatives” in the US (News, 16 December). It was “completely wrong-headed,” Mr Gross said. “North America is not driving this.”

At the Canterbury Cathedral press conference, Dr Idowu-Fearon said that he stood by his comments: “I have not seen anything to the con­trary.”

Archbishop Welby, too, stood by his comments to GQ magazine that the differences within the Communion were “irreconcilable”. The Communion “continues with profound struggles,” he said. But a split was “certainly not inevitable”.

He ran through a long list of issues to which time would now be devoted at the meeting: terrorism, persecu­tion, war, reconciliation, prayer, ev­an­­gelism, mission, trafficking, and climate-change. “We are not quite as fixated, perhaps, as we used to be,” he suggested.

Forthcoming Events

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

4-8 July 2022
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From HeartEdge and St Augustine’s College of Theology.

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