The Primates of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion have just concluded their first meeting in five years. Their concluding statement indicates that because of our decision at the 2015 General Convention to allow same-sex marriages, for a period of three years The Episcopal Church (TEC) will “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal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.”
I want to echo, support and give thanks for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s statement to his brother Primates (and they are all men):
“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. 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 baptized 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.
“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. 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.”
The pain is real. The Primates punishment sounds harsh – and it is, to a degree. But The Anglican Communion is less a structure and more a network of relationships. While we have been given a “time out” for three years in TEC’s participation on some of the formal bodies of the Anglican Communion, it will not – as far as I can tell, have any effect on our participation on the Anglican Consultative Council or other formal or informal networks that have long been the hallmark of what it means to be Anglican.
I take a large measure of comfort in the primates’ unanimous desire to continue to “walk together”. That says to me that there is a widespread recognition that we need to stay in relationship. That across the Anglican Communion we can acknowledge difference and disagreement – and still be in relationship with one another through the living Christ whose reach knows no bounds.
I am reminded by the challenge given by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to the 700 bishops from around the world at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury England in 2008. Rabbi Sacks was then the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, a gifted scholar and the author of a very important new book, Not in God’s Name, about the need for Muslims, Christians and Jews to remain in relationship. He knows the Anglican Communion intimately, having grown up in Anglican schools in Britain. He told us that we were one of the largest, if not the largest voluntary organization in the world. He said – no, he shouted, you have to stay together – for the sake of the rest of us.
That is not always easy to do. There are disappointments and misunderstandings and painful outcomes. Sometimes “walking together” is as much as we can do. And that can count for a lot.