Speaking Truth To Power – Sanctions Threatened Against Scottish Episcopal Church
It has been learned today that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has privately threatened to sack the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, David Chillingworth, from ecumenical dialogue if members of the church’s General Synod do not do as they are told with respect to same-sex marriage.
This will be an extension of the sanctions applied to the Episcopal Church of the United States of America by the Primates’ Meeting in January of this year, after ECUSA agreed to acceptance of marriage equality within their own province.
It is fair to say that this communication to our Primus came as a surprise to members of our own General Synod. There was a press conference immediately after that Primates’ Meeting in which Justin Welby was asked directly whether other provinces taking similar decisions would face the same sanctions as ECUSA, and at that time he said very clearly and very publicly that the answer to that question could not be known. A number of questions must therefore be asked. What has happened since January to allow the Archbishop of Canterbury to unequivocally answer a question about a change to canon law that has not yet happened and cannot happen for at least another twelve months ? If something has happened, why have the public and the Communion not been told about it before now? And by whose authority does he make that threat? These are questions that I think deserve answers.
Bishop David has said before and he said again today at Synod that he believes that the Primates acted beyond their powers. He has said that there are times in the last six months and in the last two weeks when he has been upset and angry about what has happened. And, today, quoting Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, he has said that although this hurts, it will ultimately not change what we do.
In the Scottish Episcopal Church, our Primus is the first among equals in a province which through its long and proud history has been a leader in positive progress throughout the Anglican Communion. This has happened. I was tempted to be outraged, to greet this announcement with wailing and gnashing of teeth — but outrage is not a mission strategy.
The mission of the Scottish Episcopal Church must now be to speak truth to power.
“It will not change what we do, and maybe it is a price worth paying,” said Bishop David.
I was very proud of him when he said that, and I believe that he is right. If this is the price we pay for being on the side of the greater good, then bring it on.
Read also: Comment by Kelvin Holdsworth On Being Threatened
Just when level-headed Inclusive Anglicans thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury had ceased leading the conservative push against the more liberal-minded Anglican Provinces in the Communion that have decided to allow Same-Sex married people to feel part and parcel of their local Anglican Churches; we get this sudden threat made against the elected Primus of SEC (the Scottish Episcopal Church) that, if the current session of the SEC General Synod makes any move towards the Marriage of same-Sex Couples, he (Bishop David Chillingworth) will be removed from any position of authority in ecumenical dialogue in which Anglicans are involved.
Having recently presided over an historic ACCORD with the Scottish Presbyterian Church, without first consulting the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury might well be seen to be taking yet another high-handed step – akin to that taken by the conservative Anglican Primates against TEC (the US Episcopal Church) on the same issue.
What the ABC and any other Provincial archbishop need to take into account is the fact that the Anglican Communion is a voluntary group of self-governing Anglican Provincial Churches. It is not governed by fiat from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Neither is it subject to rule by the Anglican Primates’ Meeting. There is no Anglican Vaticana Magisterium, and there can be no effective anathema issued by any single provincial Church against another.
It will be most interesting to see how the SEC General Synod votes on the issue of Same-Sex Marriage. The spirit of independence that led Bishops of SEC to consecrate the first Bishop for the establishment of the North American Episcopal (Anglican) Church – when the Church of England would have nothing to do with it – will no doubt be at work in any decision made by SEC on this important matter of Church discipline. Whatever happens, though, the Church of England needs all the friends she can retain in the current disputes – unless the ABC throws in his Province with the GAFCON prelates in any upcoming split in the Communion.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
Posted Wed. 15 June 2016:
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