ANGLICAN COMMUNION HAULS ITSELF BACK FROM THE BRINK OF SCHISM
21 January 2016 | by Stephen Bates – ‘The Tablet’
The predicted break-up of the Anglican Communion over gay marriage did not happen last week. Archbishop Justin Welby managed to keep all the warring Churches on board at the meeting he convened at Canterbury. But the matter is far from resolved
At the end it was a classic Anglican fudge. The archbishops and presiding bishops of the worldwide communion, meeting for five days last week in Canterbury, held together without a schism, or even a walkout, except by the Archbishop of Uganda. But they did so both inconclusively and at great symbolic cost over the Church’s position on homosexuality.
It is an argument that has simmered away amid threats from conservative Africans and recalcitrance from liberals for at least a dozen years and still shows no sign of resolution. Once it was about gay bishops, now it is about same-sex marriages, permitted these days in the United States, Canada, Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, though not generally in churches.
An agreed statement at the end of the meeting pledged a limited sanction against the US Episcopal Church (TEC), which has gone furthest in authorising gay marriages, but also an ameliorating condemnation of homophobic prejudice and violence; though without any sanctions against those African Churches in Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya which have openly campaigned for their countries to imprison gay people.
It left both sides dissatisfied. To evangelical conservatives, the statement was an inadequate start to a long-hoped-for crackdown; to liberals it showed the communion siding with those who want to lock up gays over those who want to celebrate their love for each other.
What I find most interesting about this article in the U.K. Roman Catholic newspaper ‘The Tablet’ is the picture beneath the headline. The poster-carrying protesters may – or may not – have been present outside the meeting of the Anglican Primates in Canterbury (there is no indication of the location or context of the protest demonstration pictured).
However, what is most striking is that the actual protesters shown in the photograph are obviously people from an African or similar ethnic community, whose leaders from the Global South have been most vociferous in their protest against the more liberal Provinces of the Anglican Communion’s acceptance of LGBTI membership and ministry in their local Church bodies. This helps to illustrate the fact that their are African people who do not go along with the conservative moral stance against homosexuality insisted upon by their Church representatives at the recent Primates’ Meeting.
While the only African Primate leaving the meeting in protest (his suggestion that TEC be severely disciplined by the Meeting was not followed through) was the Primate of Uganda – a Province known to have been supportive of the criminalisation of LGTBI people in its own country – it should be understood that other Provinces on the African continent – including South Africa – are actually supportive of LGBTI rights in their own provincial jurisdiction.
The author of this article speaks of a typical ‘Anglican fudge’ being arrived at – on the decision not to split on the issues of gender and sexuality that had occasioned the ABC’s invitation to the Primates. However, there were significant activities that took place in the meetings that allowed the Primates – whatever their particular viewpoint on this issue – to step back from further schismatic action taking place. (There has already been a split in North America, with the raising up of an alternative ‘Anglican’ presence in both the U.S. and Canada in the Gafcon-sponsored para-Church under the title of ‘Anglican Church in North America’ (ACNA), whose ‘Archbishop’ was invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury as an observer to the Meeting – ACNA has, as yet, no official status within the Communion but is understood to be in the process of making an application to join).
If the word ‘fudge’ means that the different Provinces of the Communion can actually agree to co-exist – without formal interference in the affairs of individual provinces – then perhaps this sort of fudging response might be thought to be better than outright schism. What may not be clearly understood by the Roman Catholic commentator, is that there is no ‘Magisterium’ in the Anglican Communion that can enforce the sort of disciplines available, for instance, in the Church of Rome – whose Pope and Vaticanal authorities can use the power of excommunication against dissident Church members.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand