Exacerbating Disunion

Essentially, the Anglican Communion is sundered, and is no longer accurately described as a “Communion.” It should be restyled “the Anglican Disunion.”

This is ostensibly a blog covering matters Anglican, but the news from that front has been so desultory that till now I have refrained from writing about it.

Essentially, the Anglican Communion is sundered, and is no longer accurately described as a “Communion.” It should be restyled “the Anglican Disunion.”

There is no single cause of the brokenness, but certainly one major cause has been the lawlessness of ECUSA. (That is one acronym for what was formerly the Episcopal Church of the USA, of which I was once a regular member; it also referred to itself as “TEC.” Now those initials — for me, at least — stand only for the words “The Episcopal Congregations [in the USA]”, since a denomination that has made blasphemy part of its official rites is no longer entitled to be called a church).

Those who need more background will find at this page links to all the previous posts here describing the breakup process.

A year ago January, as reported in this post, the Archbishop of Canterbury managed to gather most all of the Anglican Primates at his see for a discussion about the state of the Disunion. The outcome of that discussion was an agreement “requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal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.”

Just three months afterward, the Anglican Consultative Council (a deliberative body in which lay persons, clergy, bishops and Primates all take part as elected representatives of their respective denominations) held its sixteenth triennial meeting in Lusaka, Zambia. Representatives from ECUSA attended, but refused to honor the Primates’ requirement to abstain from certain deliberations of the Council having to do with “doctrine or polity.” Nor did the Council bar them from doing so.

The Episcopal delegates not only refused, but they gloated about the Council’s refusal even to consider the Primates’ requirement. In an open letter they sent to ECUSA after the meeting, which was published in the official Episcopal News Service, they reported that although Archbishop Welby had communicated the results of the January meeting to the Council, “ACC members seemed to have little energy for answering the primates’ call for consequences”.

(Needless to say, a number of the Primates not in attendance at ACC-16, including mainly the ones affiliated with the organization known as GAFCON, treated this “lack of energy” as a personal betrayal of them by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He has constitutional authority over the ACC as its permanent President, and certainly could have brought their requirement up for a vote. Instead, he simply mentioned it in his report to the ACC, and failed to push it after that.) 

Thus just as they flouted Resolution 1.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference in 2003, when they approved the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson contrary to that Resolution, and just as they have repeatedly, in the years since, rejected all calls to change their course, ECUSA is determined to walk apart from the former Communion while keeping up the pretense that their actions have not turned it into a Disunion. (“How could it be a ‘Disunion’?” I hear them asking. “We still attend all its meetings!”)

Not only do they insist on exercising their full authority and rights when it comes to participation in Anglican-wide affairs, but they rub it in the GAFCON Primates’ faces every chance they get. For instance, Archbishop Welby has invited all Anglican Primates (with the exception of ACNA’s, whom he had invited the previous year) to another meeting at Canterbury next October. Just last week, the official news organ of the Anglican [Dis]union published a story about his invitation, and his expectations for the meeting. In the process, they rather loosely characterized ECUSA’s actions at ACC-16 in Lusaka (by serving up what is called “Anglican fudge” to describe what happened).

The ECUSA delegates to that meeting issued a response challenging the story’s accuracy, and ACNS had to add some further explanation by way of making the fudge thicker. (See the updated story here, and the explanation at the end. What ACNS added is the last sentence to the next-to-last paragraph.)

The upshot is that ECUSA once again saw to it that the other Primates were told in no uncertain terms that ECUSA had never yet acceded to their demands, and was not about to change its course.

Needless to say, the GAFCON Primates (who had already signaled that they would be unlikely to accept Archbishop Welby’s invitation, in view of what they saw as his betrayal, above) were amused neither by ACNS’s waffling, nor by ECUSA’s response.

Where are we, then? Nothing really has changed since last January. There is supposedly a “Task Force” at work trying “to maintain conversation among [the Primates] with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, [and] healing the legacy of hurt . . .” It met last September and according to the ACNS story linked earlier, is due to meet again this year.

Well, as they say, good luck with that. For the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to try to keep the conversation going by appointing ECUSA’s Presiding Bishop to the Task Force. Doubtless that was an act of good faith taken just after the meeting last January, after the Primates had agreed (in their Statement just linked) on their “unanimous desire to walk together.”

But that desire to walk together was expressed before ECUSA and its ACC delegates — once last April, and now again just last week — reiterated their determination not to yield one inch, to walk apart, and to stick it to the other Primates who had called for ECUSA’s discipline.

It’s a little hard to carry on a dialogue when one of the parties continually shouts the others down, and rejects any consensus.

When the Primates representing a majority of the world’s Anglicans do not show up for the ABC’s meeting next October, the ones who do attend will probably express regret at the absences, and then go on with their meeting. They will not, however, hold ECUSA accountable for the breakup it has caused.

And by rights, of course, if both the ABC and ECUSA’s Presiding Bishop were to abide by the requirements laid down last January, then Archbishop Welby should not have invited the Most Rev. Michael Curry to attend this year, and the latter should not accept the former’s invitation. But he will — so ECUSA’s defiance of the agreement reached at the Primates meeting last January, and the ABC’s betrayal of his colleagues, will continue right into October and beyond.

The separation will by then be a fact of life, and each side will thereafter just meet on their own. As foretold long ago by the Primates who met in an urgently called session in London in October 2003:

To this extent, therefore, we must make clear that recent actions … in the Episcopal Church (USA) do not express the mind of our Communion as a whole, and these decisions jeopardise our sacramental fellowship with each other. . . If [Bishop Robinson’s] consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).


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