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Bishops remain divided over Women's Ordination

By David W. Virtue, DD
January 15, 2020

The College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) reaffirmed the biblical stand on sexuality, which they said means living under the authority of Scripture, while recognizing the reality that some people experience unwanted same-sex attraction.

Meeting in Melbourne, Florida, the bishops assigned a task force chaired by Bishop Stuart Ruch III "to develop a theological and pastoral statement that articulates the hearts of the bishops for many who have various kinds of sexual brokenness."

This echoes Lambeth Resolution 1:10, "which recognized that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships."

With a nod to those who experience same-sex attraction, the ACNA bishops said they engaged in a unified conversation around the opportunity for pastoral care to those within our churches who are same-sex attracted. "We identified the ways in which the church has not always seen and heard the reality of men and women living with strong same-sex attraction, and we discussed the importance of developing greater clarity around this pastoral ministry and providing more theological leadership for our province. Our discussion included the greater debate within the larger evangelical church around the kind of language that should be employed to describe a faithful follower of Jesus."

Holy Orders

On the thorny issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood the bishops remain divided.

"We have discovered again and again that there are layers upon layers of differences in ecclesiology, hermeneutics, theology, and tradition. These layers result in deep differences in our perspectives on the nature of holy orders in general and the role of women in orders in particular. We recognize that there is great pain over these differences both within our working group and throughout the Province. During the week, we spent time in small group discussions on this topic, both formal and informal. The working group continues to encourage the College to lead in both lament and prayer as we seek a way forward."

A resolution of this issue seems unlikely any time soon with some ACNA dioceses allowing it, while others do not. Archbishop Foley Beach is opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood but recognizes the ordination of women to the diaconate.

"Over the last three years, the Bishops' Working Group on Holy Orders has continued to serve by proposing creative and innovative ways to continue the discipline of conversation, seeking to understand the varied differences in our perception of the nature of holy orders."

The issue of the two integrities will continue into the foreseeable future.

However, the issue of homosexuality was not the only sexuality issue on the bishops' minds. The growing interest in pornography, fornication and adultery reminded the bishops of the staggering statistics of pornography involvement in all sectors of society, including the church.

"The internet has radically increased access to pornography and dramatically lowered the age at which it is first experienced," they said on their communique.

Jay Haug, Founder and Executive Director of Living Without Lust, based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, told the bishops that the involvement in all sectors of both society and church was a "huge challenge" which could not be ignored.

"The good news is that there are effective support groups available and principles for recovery for the many who are caught in addiction and there is assistance for all to help avoid any involvement in pornography," he said.

Prayerbook & Catechism

The bishops gave approval to a traditional language version of the Book of Common Prayer 2019. They said parts of the traditional language version will be available electronically in the near future and the book will be in print by the summer of this year.

A report from the Prayer Book Task Force was also received. The bishops are producing an Altar Book for the Book of Common Prayer 2019, the book Occasional Services, and a lesser feasts and fasts book to be called Sanctifying Time. The College commended the work of the members of the Task Force and thanked God for the contributions they have made to the wider Church.

The bishops received with great joy the final version of the Catechism, To Be a Christian. Copies of the final edition of the catechism were made available.

Issues of Race

The College spent time in discussion and prayer about issues of race, racism, and recent mass shootings. Particular attention was given to the great need for multi-ethnic outreach and church planting, ensuring that all peoples are reached for Christ and to addressing the public witness of the Province and our dioceses on matters of justice.

Via Apostolica

Last year, on January 10, 2019, Bishop Todd Atkinson was accepted into the College. He would come under the authority of Canadian Bishop Charlie Masters, Bishop of the Anglican Network in Canada.

Global Relationships

The Anglican Church in North America continued to maintain and develop strong, strategic, and growing relationships with Anglican provinces around the world. Through the international ministry of Archbishop Beach and as a result of his ministry as Chairman of the GAFCON Primates' Council, the global missional relationships and outreach of the Province have been strengthened through new and existing partnerships.

The GAFCON Primates' Council represents most of the world's active Anglicans.

This will be viewed as a slap in the face at Archbishop Justin Welby and the Anglican Communion Office, which has been critical of the new networks set up by GAFCON outside the purview and control and ACC.

The bishops of the Anglican Church in North America were extended an invitation to attend and participate in the Kigali 2020 Bishops' Conference in June, which will provide an opportunity for the bishops of GAFCON to stand together, uphold the faith once for all entrusted to the saints, and strengthen gospel and ministry ties that bind us together in Christ.

The College also received a report from Canon Phil Ashey and Bishop Bill Atwood (Dean of International Affairs) on the Global South Anglican Covenant adopted by the 7th Global South Assembly in Cairo on October 11, 2019. This Global South "Cairo Covenant" addresses the "ecclesial deficit" or lack of discipline for false teaching in the Anglican Communion. GAFCON continues to address the "gospel deficit" of false teaching by proclaiming Christ faithfully to the nations and authenticating Biblically faithful Anglicans.

The College recognized the different charisms that GAFCON and the Global South have expressed in upholding the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and rejoice in the renewed opportunity presented by the Cairo Covenant for both GAFCON and the Global South to work together for the sake of Gospel mission and the recovery of genuine Communion among Anglicans. The College received the invitation to review the Cairo Covenant in preparation for ratification by the Provincial Council in June 2021.

Ecumenical Relationships

The ACNA's Ecumenical Task Force for ecumenical partners endorsed concordats with the Episcopal Missionary Church and with the Independent Catholic Philippine Church (also known as the Iglesia Catolica Filipina Independiente). These concordats will be presented for approval to the Provincial Council in June.

The ACNA said they would continue dialogue with numerous church bodies with the goal of healing the Church and working towards Christian unity. Archbishop Thomas E. Wallace and Rev. Theron Davis Ham were guest observers at the conference. They are from the New Day Kingdom Assembly Church, which is exploring the "Anglican Way."


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