Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Bishop of Albany responds to the Canterbury primates communique

I pray that The Episcopal Church will humble itself and honor the Primates’ request

This past week I have read and re-read a multitude of articles and reports on the recent actions taken by the Primates of the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion during their meeting in Canterbury, January 11th to the 15th. This was the first meeting of the Primates in five years and was at the invitation of ++Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. I am very appreciative of Archbishop Welby, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and the other Anglican Primates for their willingness to come together during this time of great division over issues of human sexuality and marriage in an effort to lay the groundwork for bringing healing and unity back to the Anglican Communion. While there are some hopeful signs resulting from their time together, it wasn’t without great cost and the final results are still yet to be seen.

The Primates discussed a multitude of topics during their five days together, including: The Anglican Church of North America’s (ACNA) possible future as an officially recognized member of the Anglican Communion, the growing impact of climate change, the reality of religiously motivated violence, comprehensive child protection measures, evangelism, and a proposal to call for a Lambeth Conference in 2020. The primary topic of discussion, however, and the one that captured most of the headlines, was the Primates’ recommended restrictions placed on The Episcopal Church in response to The Episcopal Church’s decision this past summer at General Convention to change the marriage cannon, making it “gender neutral” (Resolution A036), and to approve liturgies that can be used for same gender marriages (Resolution A054). 

The following are excerpts from the official statement released by the Primates on January 14, 2016 (emphasis mine):

  1. We gathered as Anglican Primates to pray and consider how we may preserve our unity in Christ given the ongoing deep differences that exist among us concerning our understanding of marriage.
  2. Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.
  3. All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.
  4. The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.
  5. In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.
  6. Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships.
  7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church 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.
  8. We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognizing the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.

As you might imagine, there have been a multitude of responses to the Primates’ Statement both within The Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion. There are some who are greatly angered and question the authority of the Primates to take such actions. (The Primates are one of the four Instruments of Communion. The other three are the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Consultative Council). There are others, to include some of the Primates themselves, who don’t believe the actions outlined in the Primates’ Statement go far enough. Some of the Primates believe that The Episcopal Church should volunteer to formally withdraw from the Anglican Communion. Many people are greatly saddened by the current state of division, distrust, and hurt within the Anglican Communion and the message that sends to the world. Perhaps most people are simply wondering what it all means and how it will impact our day-to-day life and ministry within our parishes and our Diocese.

If the “recommendations” of the Primates are followed, The Episcopal Church will continue to be a member of the Anglican Communion at least for the next three years, though in an impaired relationship, restricted in its participation in the upper levels of governance and decision-making within the Anglican Communion. The exact impact at the diocesan or parish level regarding interpersonal and mission relationships is still yet to be seen. It is my hope and prayer that the Diocese of Albany’s faithfulness in honoring that which has been asked of us by the wider Anglican Communion in upholding the authority of Holy Scripture and the Church’s traditional understanding of marriage will help keep the doors open for mission and positive Christ-centered relationships between Albany and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

As many of you know, the Diocese of Albany, both at the Diocesan level and parish level, is actively involved in a number of strong friendships and mission relationships with dioceses and parishes throughout the world. They include the Diocese of Down and Dromore, Northern Ireland; the Diocese of Maridi, South Sudan; Northern Malawi; the Diocese of Toliara, Madagascar; Bishop Grant and Wendy LeMarquand in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa; and the Dioceses of the Arctic, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Peru. I pray that each of these will continue.

There is some argument as to whether the suggested sanctions should be seen as punishment or simply the consequences of The Episcopal Church’s actions at General Convention. As much as I dislike the thought of being in an impaired or restricted relationship with the rest of the Anglican Communion over the next three years, I pray that The Episcopal Church will humble itself and honor the Primates’ request for the overall sake and good of the Anglican Communion. I understand why the Primates took the action they did. For several years now, The Episcopal Church has not only acted independently regarding issues of human sexuality, but in opposition to what the vast majority of the wider Anglican Communion has asked of us.

Technically, the Primates’ “recommendations” as outlined in their recent Communiqué are simply that – recommendations. However, there is no doubt that in issuing their recommendations to the Anglican Consultative Council and the various governing bodies of the Anglican Communion, the majority of the Primates expect them to be honored and followed. If The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Consultative Council choose to ignore the Primates’ recommendations at the upcoming April Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Zambia (as some would like), I believe it will undo all the on-going efforts of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates to bring healing, trust and unity back into the Anglican Communion. It will lead to further distrust, hurt and division, threatening the very existence of the Anglican Communion, as least as we have known it.

The Anglian Communion is currently the third largest Christian body in the world. If it breaks apart, as it easily could given its current fragile state due to the high level of mistrust and division that exists, The Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion’s influence and impact in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world will be severely impacted. That is not what God wants as witnessed in Jesus’ prayer for the Apostles and the Church. Jesus said, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we all need to think about the message we as Christians are sending the rest of the world. There is no question that there are a number of very important issues facing the Church, to include marriage and how best to minister to gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters in Christ. However, as we struggle with these issues and others, I pray the Lord will give us the grace and will to do so humbly, guided by the Holy Spirit, and filled with love and respect for one another, truly seeking God’s will and not our own.

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