Communion Light – or Heavy?

A tale of two Primates

Let me start by being up front:

I strongly believe,as a liberal or progressive or, if you really insist revisionist, on matters relating to human sexuality that last week was a bad week for the Anglican Communion.

I would have preferred a looser fitting communion to have emerged from the conference, an idea floated by ++Justin. But this didn’t happen. Has the opportunity to re-shape the communion gone forever? I think it probably has.

My own view is that by 2020 it is possible, highly possible, that the Anglican Communion, will have disintegrated, with critics blaming either Archbishop Justin or those liberal Episcopalian types such as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

The critics will be wrong, however, for the future of the Anglican Communion will be determined by the arch conservatives. 

++Justin and +Curry, in my view, both emerged from last week have chalked up a few notches on the leadership score board.

Archbishop Justin deserved credit not because he secured some form of significant victory, because he didn’t. At best he has taken the communion, perhaps, against the odds, into ‘time added on for injuries.’

He deserves huge credit for ensuring that the discussions about human sexuality (why do we use  this phrase when we really mean homosexuality) were not limited to the scope of marriage. Above all Justin was courageous enough  to court ridicule and risk total, and personal, failure.

Justin was right to remind his colleagues, and the world, that the church has both caused pain and withheld love from same sex brothers and sisters. And, he was right in ensuring his critique was global:

I want to take this opportunity personally to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain, in the past and in the present, that the church has caused and for the love that we at times completely failed to show, and still do so, in many parts of the world, including this country.’

For ++Justin the church is not an innocent bystander and by implication neither are his arch-episcopal colleagues. Yes primates it is official: you, as bishops, have been and continue to be agents of pain and injustice. Not my words, but Justin’s.

More on the epoch changing implications of this later.

Bishop Michael Curry was grace personified. He accepted his ‘yellow card’ with such dignity it beggars belief. In reacting to his estrangement he thanked all who had prayed for both him and the Episcopalian church. He reminded each and every one of us of our mission to bring salvation into the here and now through the eradication of all forms of injustice and, he proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord. Finally he dared to say that the T.E.C. may well have a vocation to challenge and lead the Anglican Communion in issues relating to human sexuality and, he spoke without bitterness or rancor.

So what will determine whether the Anglican Communion has a future? I think it all comes down to the quote below  taken directly from the ‘Communique’ issued by the Primates. I suggest that on this one quote hangs the future of the Anglican Communion.

‘The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.’

Sadly, some conservative primates were, with indecent haste and little forethought, keen to stress that the precise nature of condemnation and the exercise of pastoral care should be decided upon locally. If ‘we’ really are a communion, or even a domination, this idea should be given the heave-ho. Why?

Because, the whole point of being in a communion is collective responsibility and mutual accountability. That was the rationale for excluding  the T.E.C. from active involvement in shaping the life of the communion over the next three years. 

The conservative primates simply can’t have it both ways. You are either ‘resolved to work together’ (their words) or, to work in isolation. In a communion you can’t determine your own terms and conditions. The conservative success last week was in establishing this in relation to doctrine. The liberal success was in enshrining this principle in relation to justice; specifically justice for the global LGBTI community. And it is only because both the conservative and the liberal teams (a nicer word than opponents)  were able to make partial gains that we are now in time added on for injuries.

And so, each and every primate and province faces a self-imposed, and collective, challenge namely to demonstrate to their brothers and sisters in Christ that their commitment to end violence and prejudice is concrete and real and that they don’t simply fall into the trap of saying ‘I wish you well,’ without actually doing anything to radically reduce homophobia.

The (predominately conservative) Primates have actually pledged to change the face of human history. Maybe they really mean it; maybe they need to be more careful when signing on the dotted line, but lets give them the benefit of the doubt and ask the question that arises from their amazingly bold, and collective, statement: are the primates really up for it?

If they are the Anglican Communion may have a new and better future. If their words are shallow, if they refuse to accept the principles of mutual accountability, ‘peer group review’ and the judgment of their ‘colleagues’ (even their ‘liberal’ colleagues)  despite the noblesse of the language used in the ‘Communique’ then the communion is already in a state of palliative care and deserves to be put out of its misery.

Conservative Primates over to you. You have set yourselves a hard task. It is unlikely that you are going to change your core doctrine, yet you have pledged to change human history. And, you have pledged to do it, not in isolation but together as members of a communion. You have said that you will love liberal colleague and your homosexual neighbour as yourself.

What does this mean, what does it look like, what are the specific actions that will make this a lived reality? What is grace demanding of you given the commitments you have made?  

These are your questions.

________________________________________________________________I find Andrew Lightbown’s article, referenced by Simon Sarmiento on ‘Thinking Anglicans‘, to be another very deep and thoughtful reflection – from the point of view of an admittedly gay person – on the outcome from the Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury. 

Andrew’s mention of the expression of penitence for the Communion Churches’ treatment of homosexuals, by the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the assembled Primates, needs to be validated by some sort of action that is consistent with that apology, or its is simply ‘a gong booming or a symbol clashing’, which Scripture tells us is useless as a tool for the implementation of Gospel justice.

Of course, the Archbishop of Uganda – bless him – was not able to live with the implications of that apology and left the Meeting before the formal communique – containing this apology – was promulgated. The reason being that his own Province of the Anglican Communion has expressed its desire that TEC be expelled from the Communion – precisely because of its innovative acceptance of homosexuals within the life and ministry of its provincial Church.

Almost as if to dodge the real issue, however, the reason for the discipline inflicted on TEC has been stated as its re-definition of the Institution of Marriage (to include Same-Sex-Unions).  Now everyone is aware that this was hardly the underlying presenting problem. Same-Sex raltionships of any sort are, and have been, a problem for Uganda and each of the GAFCON Provinces, whose institutional homophobia has been attributed to certain passages of the Bible that have been cited as authoritative – even today – as determining gender and sexuality issues in the 21st century.

Former dealings with issues of human justice – such as slavery and the equal treatment of women in the Church – have also been attributed to the authority of the Bible. However, such issues, quite rightly, have now been addressed, progressively, in the context of an enlightened view of society. The Church, which has been erected on biblical ideals of justice underpinning the treatment of society’s most vulnerable, needs to keep up with current understandiongs of what justice means for every sector of society, and that includes those who are unjustly marginalised for something they have no control over – their sexual orientation.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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2 Responses to Communion Light – or Heavy?

  1. murraysmallbone says:

    If one compares this whole episode to a downturn in the “Business Cycle”(Economics), then Justin Welby as Central banker seems to have pulled the right levers for corrective action.The commitment of Love from GAFCON rings hollow;outcomes will be judged on actions.
    In Nature’s cycle those species which do not make adaptions become extinct.
    In any limitation of Freedom, it is not the other you imprison but rather yourself.
    The wind may bend the grass, but the grass remains.

    Jesu mercy! Mary pray!

  2. kiwianglo says:

    Greetings, Murray. Long time no see. You’re right about the situation. Keep on praying!

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