In practical terms of our mission and ministry, the Primates’ statement will have very little impact.
A majority of Primates (chief bishops) of the Provinces (gathering of dioceses of national churches) of the Anglican Communion have stated that members of the Episcopal Church should “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal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.” This is for a period of three years. In other words, the Episcopal Church is in being asked to again step back from the Anglican Communion.
Why? At its core, this is about our decades long conversation within the Episcopal Church and our actions over the past two decades to fully include the LBGT community in the full life of the Church including ordination and marriage. This, of course, has happened as our cultural context and our understanding of humanity has changed.
What does it mean? Frankly, I was not surprised by the outcome. It is in many ways better that I had feared. In practical terms of our mission and ministry, the Primates’ statement will have very little impact.
In the early 1930s the Archbishop of York, later Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, proposed that we Christians apply four basic Christian principles when addressing any issues of the Christian life and morality, and social and economic justice. They are: (1) the sacredness of personality, (2) the fact of fellowship, (3) the duty of service, and (4) the power of self-sacrifice.
The sacredness of personality is the principle that affirms the value of each of us as individuals before God. The basis for this principle in our Christian life is the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. The Incarnational Principle affirms the sacredness of individual human persons as products of creation and the foci of redemption. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14) These words from John’s gospel graphically express the reality of a God who lived, laughed, suffered and died within our human lives. All humanity—each of us individually—is sanctified by the mere fact of the Incarnation. We each are a sacred personality.
The second principle—the fact of fellowship—reminds us that we live in Community. This is the Pentecost Principle. There is no such thing as a natural human being: a lone wolf—especially a Christian lone wolf. One cannot be a Christian outside of the fellowship of believers. Our relationships do matter; the conduct of each of the individuals within the fellowship is the concern of the whole. We are not a collection of individuals, but a community created at Pentecost. We are responsible for one another.
The third principle—the duty of service—reminds us of our collective responsibility for one another. This is the Apostleship Principle. The fact of fellowship is preserved by the duty of service.
The fourth principle—the power of self-sacrifice—reminds us that in all aspects of our lives we are, as Christians, called beyond our egotistical beings to the service of others and God. We meet self-sacrifice as a divine imperative at the foot of the cross. God in Jesus Christ gives us the living love of selfsacrifice. We are bonded to God in the sacrifice of His Son. This is the Atonement Principle.
At this point in our common life, the Episcopal Church has decided that inclusion of our sisters and brothers is important. We have therefore opened the Sacramental Rites of ordination and, at least to some extent, marriage to those previously excluded.
For the Church, it is a struggle of different applications of the “Pentecost Principle” as we are called to new and renewed ways of living out of the “Incarnational Principle.” We are therefore called to continue to engage and care for those with who we disagree (the Apostleship Principle). We must keep in mind, however, that we cannot ask others to self-sacrifice. So, for now and once again, the Episcopal Church may well bear some form of separation from aspects of the Anglican Communion as we offer welcome and inclusion in the full life of our corner of the Church. The “Atonement Principle” may be the most difficult. In this case, however, it is no great burden.
All of this shows, I think, the basic Anglican temperament that is at the core of our tradition and moves us beyond ecclesiastical structures alone. So, in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer today (see http://www.anglicancommunion.org/resources/cycle-of-prayer/download-the-acp.aspx), I said a prayer for the Diocese of Aguata (Niger, Nigeria) and the Most Reverend Christian Efobi. I remembered my students from over thirty years ago at Trinity Theological College, Umuahia, Nigeria. We will continue with our ministry being about God’s mission in the world. We will continue to welcome and to care.
We will continue as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ as best we can. We will continue to be faithful in working, praying, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom of God. We will continue to pray for Anglicans around the world. And as Episcopalians, we will continue to be Anglican at our core.
Aloha ma o Iesu Kristo, ko mākou Haku, +Bob
The Right Reverend Robert L. Fitzpatrick + Keali‘ikoaokeakua