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Editor David Bennett Responds to the Anglican Primates Statement

Written in October 2003; Addendum: 2006

Seeing as this article is intended for a wider catholic audience, I should explain the basics first. The Anglican Communion is at a breaking point. In the next few weeks, the communion as it is known today may be fractured and realigned. The Primates of the Anglican Church recently issued a statement following their two-day meeting, placed below with my comments. My opinion of this document is mixed. The statement has some hard words it is true. However, in being so balanced, it really has brought nothing to effect immediately. In fact, Presiding Bishop Griswold has said it is not a rebuke. However, looming large behind all of this, between the lines in the statement, is a large, messy, split if Gene Robinson is consecrated on November 2nd. In fact, if Robinson is consecrated, disruption will begin immediately, conservative elements will leave, federate among themselves, and seek guidance from foreign bishops, no matter what the Primates' documents say. Check and see if I am right on this.

I must note that Bishop Frank Griswold (the USA Primate) agreed to the recent Primates statement condemning the election of Robinson, even though he voted to confirm Robinson back in August! He says he definitely will be in New Hampshire to consecrate Robinson unless the Second Coming occurs (I kid you not; even the press found this statement distasteful). His "spin" in all this is that the Primates believe the statement "as a body" but individual primates are "free to disagree." Such mental acrobatics seriously call into question the moral and ethical authority of ECUSA and bishop Griswold himself. This is rather troubling. The Episcopal Church (I am a member), which has been in decline over the last 30 years, stands to lose many members from this whole thing.

Either way, I am very disappointed in what has happened recently, as ECUSA has ignored the pleas of the wider communion and the wider Christian Church. It has also disregarded the classical interpretation of Holy Scripture. The rebellious child has chosen its own path rather than live in harmony with the family. The diocese of New Hampshire has said it will still consecrate Robinson despite objections from the Anglican Communion (they said this less than 24 hours after the Primates meeting - so much for prayerful reflection). Michael Ingham of New Westminster sees no reason to stop performing same-sex unions. All of this proves that American unilateralism and western hubris are alive and well. Even after Archbishop Williams recently issued a statement warning against Robinson's consecration, the consecration is on as scheduled. All of this in my mind has drained ECUSA of any moral and spiritual authority (and integrity) it once had, proving to me that ECUSA is moving in a different direction than I am.

Many of us are going to have to make decisions as to whether we stay with ECUSA, realign, or go to another communion. I love the Anglican Communion, and whatever happens I will always be a classical Anglican at heart. I have invested much time, energy, and money into the Episcopal Church (and I thank and love the many priests, friends, and professors I have met over the years!), but there comes a time in some relationships when it is time to move on. Yes this is frank talk, but the situation demands this kind of honesty. Thus for the sake of the wider communion, I call on Gene Robinson to step down. I also call for Michael Ingham to step down as well, as even his continued presence is a strong symbol of turmoil and schism. Furthermore, I ask that bishop Griswold refuse to participate in the consecration of Robinson. While I'm wishing for the impossible, I call for everyone in the United States to give me ten dollars each.

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Statement of the Primates (my comments in red)

The Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Moderators of the United Churches, meeting together at Lambeth Palace on the 15th and 16th October, 2003, wish to express our gratitude to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, for calling us together in response to recent events in the Diocese of New Westminster, Canada, and the Episcopal Church (USA), and welcoming us into his home so that we might take counsel together, and to seek to discern, in an atmosphere of common prayer and worship, the will and guidance of the Holy Spirit for the common life of the thirty-eight provinces which constitute our Communion.

At a time of tension, we have struggled at great cost with the issues before us, but have also been renewed and strengthened in our Communion with one another through our worship and study of the Bible. This has led us into a deeper commitment to work together, and we affirm our pride in the Anglican inheritance of faith and order and our firm desire to remain part of a Communion, where what we hold in common is much greater than that which divides us in proclaiming Good News to the world.

Common worship and discernment are good goals. However, as to the last sentence I would say "perhaps" what we hold together in common is greater, emphasis on "perhaps." We shall see in the upcoming weeks as dioceses in the US and Canada react to the meeting whether commonality is valued over unilateralism. Holding together something in common involves recognizing when unilateral acts deviate from the common ground we share. Certain dioceses and provinces have seen fit to almost scoff at the notion of a "communion," despite using buzzwords like "inclusive."

At this time we feel the profound pain and uncertainty shared by others about our Christian discipleship in the light of controversial decisions by the Diocese of New Westminster to authorise a Public Rite of Blessing for those in committed same sex relationships, and by the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) to confirm the election of a priest in a committed same sex relationship to the office and work of a Bishop.

These actions threaten the unity of our own Communion as well as our relationships with other parts of Christ's Church, our mission and witness, and our relations with other faiths, in a world already confused in areas of sexuality, morality and theology, and polarize Christian opinion.

Indeed all the above statements are true. However, the question remains, does Western Anglicanism in North America care more about the unity and authority of the wider communion or their own agendas? ECUSA and the Diocese of New Westminster have seen fit to ignore Lambeth's resolutions in the past, so what will change? I doubt bishop Griswold has canceled his upcoming flight to New Hampshire. Press releases from New Hampshire say the consecration will continue as planned. Bishop Ingham has said he will continue his same-sex unions even though the Primates have condemned such acts. He sees the new resolution as actually vindicating his position! So it will likely be business as usual. So long as the agendas are pushed, it matters little who comes and goes (even if everybody but a few go).

As Primates of our Communion seeking to exercise the "enhanced responsibility" entrusted to us by successive Lambeth Conferences, we re-affirm our common understanding of the centrality and authority of Scripture in determining the basis of our faith. Whilst we acknowledge a legitimate diversity of interpretation that arises in the Church, this diversity does not mean that some of us take the authority of Scripture more lightly than others. Nevertheless, each province needs to be aware of the possible effects of its interpretation of Scripture on the life of other provinces in the Communion. We commit ourselves afresh to mutual respect whilst seeking from the Lord a correct discernment of how God's Word speaks to us in our contemporary world.

We Anglicans have traditionally allowed different interpretations of scripture to coexist together. This is generally a good thing...when the wider church moderates scriptural interpretation. In other words, as long as the interpretation differences do not strike at common core beliefs, difference of interpretation is permissible. Even in our minor differences of interpretation, we have also held to core essentials, at least until the late modern period. We share these core beliefs with Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestant groups. It is only recently that Anglicanism has been said to encompass a large number of entirely divergent beliefs and interpretations at once (even atheism). Even though the document challenges each province to be aware of the needs of other provinces, we have seen that ECUSA has failed to heed this warning recently and in the past (women bishops, Robinson, etc). Why would they listen now?

We also re-affirm the resolutions made by the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues. We commend the report of that Conference in its entirety to all members of the Anglican Communion, valuing especially its emphasis on the need "to listen to the experience of homosexual persons, and ... to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ"; and its acknowledgement of the need for ongoing study on questions of human sexuality.

There is a very good balance here. However, what is "moral force" anyway? ECUSA and New Westminster have shown that moral force is analogous to optional homework assignments in school...good but entirely optional. From what I have seen, the leaders in ECUSA have little, if any, concern for Lambeth resolutions. I have heard many ECUSA leaders speak, and they have scoffed at those who suggest that we cannot do our own thing whenever we please (damn-it!!).

Therefore, as a body we deeply regret the actions of the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church (USA) which appear to a number of provinces to have short-circuited that process, and could be perceived to alter unilaterally the teaching of the Anglican Communion on this issue. They do not. Whilst we recognise the juridical autonomy of each province in our Communion, the mutual interdependence of the provinces means that none has authority unilaterally to substitute an alternative teaching as if it were the teaching of the entire Anglican Communion.

This seems to establish a new kind of authority in the Anglican Communion, one that is more centralized than regional, while recognizing local diversity. However, once again, we are on the honor's system, leaving many in North American dioceses like New Westminster, New Hampshire, Newark, and Pennsylvania to endure all sorts of nonsense, even when the wider community supports the more traditional positions. As "progressive" dioceses hemorrhage members, where is the wider Communion?

To this extent, therefore, we must make clear that recent actions in New Westminster and 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. We have a particular concern for those who in all conscience feel bound to dissent from the teaching and practice of their province in such matters. Whilst we reaffirm the teaching of successive Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own, we call on the provinces concerned to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates.

I find this both good and disturbing. While it makes clear ECUSA and New Westminster are out-of-line, it also puts the proverbial hens in the hands of the foxes (who just invaded the henhouse). ECUSA has been very hostile to alternative oversight in the past, so why would they constructively work for alternative oversight now? Besides, I doubt those seeking alternative oversight would wish to give money and time to ECUSA anyway. It also leaves traditionalists, who morally object to their bishops' actions, with very little to do except wait inordinately for the bureaucrats to work. In ECUSA this might mean waiting until 2006! By then there might be one or two traditionalists left in need of oversight.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) has explained to us the constitutional framework within which the election and confirmation of a new bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA) takes place. As Primates, it is not for us to pass judgement on the constitutional processes of another province. We recognise the sensitive balance between provincial autonomy and the expression of critical opinion by others on the internal actions of a province. Nevertheless, many Primates have pointed to the grave difficulties that this election has raised and will continue to raise. In most of our provinces the election of Canon Gene Robinson would not have been possible since his chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop.

Grave difficulties=communion impairing difficulties. We are talking "take our altars and go elsewhere" type difficulties. Also, technically Robinson is not even eligible for holy orders in the US either, but who's getting technical? I suspect when many bishops and priests in ECUSA take their vows to defend and uphold the faith and canons, there almost has to be snickering.

If his 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).

This is a fairly strong warning. I believe the Primates should have dealt with these issues at the current meeting, rather than simply shaking their fist, giving another warning, and proceeding to study the issue further. However, it is an important and strongly worded warning. This does not address the problem that Robinson's ordination is not the only problem facing ECUSA right now. Besides, the mind of the American Church is that Robinson is fitting as a bishop, consecration or no consecration. I have a feeling that none other than our presiding bishop will consecrate him. So once again, the words are appropriate, but ECUSA will not listen.

Similar considerations apply to the situation pertaining in the Diocese of New Westminster.

I see a problem here. Michael Ingham has acted. His diocese has same-sex liturgies and 11 of his biggest parishes have left. His diocese is being torn apart and the Primates still give us a wait-and-see approach. This is troubling.

We have noted that the Lambeth Conference 1998 requested the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish a commission to consider his own role in maintaining communion within and between provinces when grave difficulties arise[1]. We ask him now to establish such a commission, but that its remit be extended to include urgent and deep theological and legal reflection on the way in which the dangers we have identified at this meeting will have to be addressed. We request that such a commission complete its work, at least in relation to the issues raised at this meeting, within twelve months.

This is perhaps a good thing, but will it be too late?

We urge our provinces not to act precipitately on these wider questions, but take time to share in this process of reflection and to consider their own constitutional requirements as individual provinces face up to potential realignments.

This might be too little, too late. ECUSA has already acted precipitately on these wider issues, and I suspect realignments will occur sooner than 12 months. I cannot imagine that all those who have been hurt and frustrated by these recent actions will put everything on the back-burner for 12 more months, since the Primates meeting itself has been viewed as the cutoff date for action. Others and I have been patiently and prayerfully waiting for the Primates meeting, discerning what to do. Now the time has come for tough decisions.

Questions of the parity of our canon law, and the nature of the relationship between the laws of our provinces with one another have also been raised. We encourage the Network of Legal Advisers established by the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting in Hong Kong in 2002, to bring to completion the work which they have already begun on this question.

This could be too little, far too late. The whole issue I have here is that right now we need action, not more "process." Process is a good thing, but in the Anglican Communion it is a virtue. In ECUSA process is our reason for being.

It is clear that recent controversies have opened debates within the life of our Communion which will not be resolved until there has been a lengthy process of prayer, reflection and substantial work in and alongside the Commission which we have recommended. We pray that God will equip our Communion to be equal to the task and challenges which lie before it.

Umm, the problems will be resolved when certain provinces and dioceses quit acting like protestant cowboys, and consult the wider communion before making decisions of such import as gay unions and practicing gay bishops. Prayer, reflection, and work are very good things, and must be a part of every decision. However, shedding Western hubris and the air of superiority that comes with it would also go a long way.

"Now I appeal to the elders of your community, as a fellow elder and a witness to Christ's sufferings, and as one who has shared in the glory to be revealed: look after the flock of God whose shepherd you are." (1 Peter 5.1,2a)

Lord Have Mercy...We can only pray our bishops would be such shepherds.

Letter Ends

This is a trying time for many of us. We are deciding where we belong, and where we are to go. The above document is open to wide interpretation. However, the underlying thrust is clear: consecrate Robinson and all hell will break lose (although the document is couched in much more delicate language). I suspect that the reactions of provinces and dioceses in the next few weeks will set the tone for any realignment. I cannot imagine that many "conservatives" find this statement wholly adequate, but it is a very good start. The reaction of the AAC and others will shed light on the import of the document. What will likely happen is this: if Robinson is consecrated, new alignments will begin immediately shepherded by foreign Primates and those bishops who have threatened to realign, and these new jurisdictions will not be under the guidance of ECUSA in any manner. This will happen sooner than later. Regardless, please pray for the Anglican Communion.

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UPDATE 2003: I wrote this article soon after the Primates' statement. I now see the Primates statement in a more positive light, seeing that the American Anglican Council and other traditional groups have viewed it positively and shed light on its implications. The wording is in reality more proactive than I initially perceived. Also, the Statement advocates "adequate" Episcopal oversight, not "alternative," which means that the oversight is not contingent upon ECUSA in any way. D.B.

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UPDATE October 19, 2006: In August of 2004 I became Catholic, and am glad to leave Anglican controversies behind. I pray for those left fighting for the truth within the Anglican Communion. As I read this article again, almost exactly 3 years later, I can't help but observe how wrong I ultimately was. I was right, I think, about the controversy, the issues, and the implications. I was wrong about the conservative and international reaction to the event. There has been little action, simply more process and more commissions that ultimately have said and done nothing.

I remember pinning a lot on the Primates meeting of October 2003. I was convinced this was it, when the Anglican Communion would finally expel the rebellious, egotistical child the American church had become. The international uproar over the consecration of Robinson would come to a head at this meeting, followed by action, I thought. Instead we got this letter, which despite the spin later put onto it by conservative groups, was (as I said in this article) a fairly weak response. After the Primates meeting, the next big "line in the sand" was the consecration of Robinson himself. When that passed with little more than some tough talk followed by no action, I was told after Easter 2004 the Primates would have had enough. When that date passed, I was told the American Anglican Council had no budget planned for the 2006 Episcopal General Convention, so the plan was to not be in ECUSA at that point (It is now 2006, post General Convention, and nothing substantial has happened). Then, the next line in the sand was the Windsor report, which was said to "have teeth" when in reality it was a huge mess of gooey fudge. By this point, I became Catholic and have stopped following the numerous other "after this, re-alignment is coming!" lines in the sand.

I am leaving this article up for the sake of those interested in the information it contains. However, for those Anglicans who, over three years later, are still holding on for some kind of re-alignment, I suggest you look elsewhere rather than pinning your hopes on the next big event and/or commission. D.B.

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