Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

On the Death of the Anglican Communion

“The Anglican Communion is dead. Long live the Anglican Communion!”


My prediction about the sun setting on the breakup of the Anglican Communion is coming true, even as I write before the final session of the primates gathered at Canterbury.

Enough has leaked from the gathering to be able to form a picture of what went on. The Archbishop of Canterbury and his staff had tried to direct the progress of the group’s deliberations by resorting to a standby from ++Justin Welby’s corporate days: the RAND-developed group facilitation mechanism known as the “Delphi Technique.”

That technique tries to direct an outcome by strictly controlling dissenting voices, and channeling them into increasingly ignorable “minority views”, with the object of developing a so-called “consensus” that in reality represents the carefully-preserved majority thread. The attendees are  divided into small discussion groups which do not communicate with each other until after the supposed group “consensus” is announced by the facilitators, based solely on the carefully selected “majority” views in each mini-group.

This manipulation was too much for one Primate, Archbishop Stanley Ntgali of Uganda. He decided to leave the gathering on its second day, and explained his reasons in an announcement that castigated Canterbury’s manipulation of the discussion process.

It turns out that many of the other Primates attending were new to the game, and had little understanding of the divisive steps taken by ECUSA in 2003 with the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson, contrary to the expressed wishes of the Primates then in office. These newer Primates were also put off by the manipulative Delphi process directed by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s staff.

The departure of Archbishop Ntgali served to galvanize their awareness of what was at stake, and they began to listen to their GAFCON colleagues more closely. In the course of events that followed, the Delphi process appears to have been scrapped, or else completely bypassed, and the GAFCON Primates and a clear majority of their colleagues reached a consensus that the Episcopal Church (USA), with its adoption of same-sex marriage rites at General Convention 2015, had gone too far.

An agreement evolved that would require ECUSA’s suspension from Communion-related activities for three years. This would give ECUSA a sporting chance to decide in its General Convention (to be held in 2018) that it really did not mean to go against the majority of the Anglican provinces in approving same-sex church weddings that blasphemed the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and substituted same-sex love as a model for the relation between Christ and His Church.

With the primate of Canada (Archbishop Fred Hiltz) remonstrating that his church had not gone so far (at least, not until its next General Synod later this year), the primates decided to extend their sanction at this point only to ECUSA, and to leave the Anglican Church of Canada to its future deliberations.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry protested that his church was trying only to be faithful to the Holy Scriptures as its leaders perceived them, but the clear voice of the Bible in opposition to same-sex concourse (whether in or out of so-called “marriage”) spoke louder than his protests. As a result, Presiding Bishop Curry will have to explain to his House of Bishops (and to General Convention in 2018) that they could face further sanctions — even permanent expulsion — from the Anglican Communion if ECUSA continues openly to contravene the sense of the Anglican Communion embodied in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

The reaction to the Primates’ sanctions among Episcopalians committed to that church’s revisionist agenda was overwhelmingly negative, as might be expected. An announcement of the Primates’ Statement posted at Episcopal Café garnered more than 100 comments as of this writing — most of them derisive and derogatory. There were many calls to cut off the Episcopal Church (USA)’s subsidy to the Anglican Communion Office — as though ECUSA should withhold its money from those who dissent from it, while expecting its own dissenting members to voluntarily surrender their churches and bank accounts in lieu of being sued for them. (The double standard of liberals — “one rule for me, another for thee” — marks them every time.)

So what will come of the Primates Meeting 2016, and of the Anglican Communion as a whole?

First of all, note that Archbishop Foley Beach of ACNA remained a participant almost to the end. This fact alone serves as a marker that the new Anglican Communion — however it evolves in the years to come — will no longer be limited as the old one was, particularly if ECUSA ceases to play a significant role. (Thefull statement issued by the Primates at the end of the meeting notes: “The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church of North America was recognized as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognize that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction.”) 

Second, note that the Primates, in and of themselves, were not gathered as one of the Communion’s Instruments of Communion; nor does the Primates Meeting alone control the membership list of provinces in the Anglican Communion. ECUSA accordingly could, if it dared, simply ignore their “sanctions”, and show up as usual at Communion gatherings, and insist on its right to participation and to vote. But that would be a highly provocative stance to take, and might result only in more formal sanctions applied properly and unanimously.

That said, if we assume that ECUSA will voluntarily withdraw from participating in votes on the Communion’s “doctrine or polity” for a period at least three years, the principal consequence will be that ECUSA cannot vote on whether its suspension will be continued before that three-year period is up. Its General Convention will meet July 2018 in Austin, Texas — and it is completely predictable that the legislation passed by that body will not backtrack from anything that has gone before, but will probably exacerbate the differences between it and the majority of the Communion. The Primates who voted for a three-year sanction will be presented with a fait accompli, and they could well vote to make ECUSA’s suspension from the Communion permanent as a result.

This development will strongly depend on whether the GAFCON and Global South Primates build and maintain their connection with the Primates from the rest of the Communion over the succeeding three years. But there will be another factor at play, namely, the amount of money which ECUSA and its wealthier dioceses and parishes spread around in the Communion during that same period.

The old saw about the Communion used to go something like this: “The Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the British make the rules.” It now appears that the British alone no longer make the rules, and that the Americans are already not paying as much as they did before. (The Africans, it may safely be said, have never stopped praying.) The latest statement from the Anglican Communion Office shows (see the last page of the link) that ECUSA has paid through 2014 less than half of what was requested (£204,772 of £538,280). Thus the withdrawal of all funds by ECUSA may turn out not to be the decisive step that many Episcopalians conceive it to be.

What is certain is that in three years, the Anglican Communion will not be what it is now, nor anything like what it was in 2003: the Episcopal Church (USA) has already seen to that. If the recent sanctions provoke ECUSA to amend the Preamble to its Constitution, and to cease proclaiming itself as “a constituent member of the Anglican Communion”, both the Communion and ECUSA would be the better for it.

ECUSA as a former Anglican province has long since decided to walk apart from its fellow Anglican provinces, in its single-minded elevation of human justice over God’s justice as expressed in unequivocal Holy Scriptures. It is time to stop the pretense that it remains willing to be “in communion” with the See of Canterbury — at least, so long as Canterbury remains faithful to Lambeth 1.10, and especially if ECUSA withdraws its financial support (as, in all honesty, it should once it withdraws its membership). Let it find its new communion partners among those who likewise think the Holy Spirit is doing a “new thing” among them, and let the test of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39) decide who, ultimately, is in the right.

The Anglican Communion is dead. Long live the Anglican Communion!

And thanks be to God.


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