jQuery Slider

You are here

CANTERBURY: Schism averted in the Anglican Communion

CANTERBURY: Schism averted in the Anglican Communion
Anglican Primates agree to restrict the US Episcopal Church for three years


By David W. Virtue in Canterbury
January 14, 2016

Some 36 archbishops (two were absent) who oversee some 80 million Anglicans worldwide gathered at the spiritual center of the Anglican Communion this week and in the course of their deliberations suspended The Episcopal Church US (TEC) over its actions approving changes to the doctrine of marriage. The archbishops said TEC can no longer represent the communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies and should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee that pertains to the doctrine or polity of the Church.

It was a smack over the head for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. "This is not the outcome we expected, and while we are disappointed, it's important to remember that the Anglican Communion is really not a matter of structure and organization."

Curry then went on to say that there will be heartache and pain for many, but then averred that "it may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God's children are fully welcomed...!"

That was not the message the Primates sent him.

The Archbishop of Canterbury also appointed a Task Force to maintain conversation with the intention of restoring relationships, rebuilding mutual trust and healing the legacy of hurt and "deep pain" and a "fundamental departure from the faith."

These sanctions were first touted in the Windsor Report and later at Dar es Salaam but were not fully implemented despite nearly two decades of sexuality talks that have torn the fabric of the Anglican Communion. This time it was hoped that the sanctions depriving TEC of a voice and a vote for three years would lead to repentance, leading to the affirmation of the orthodox Christian Faith when the situation would be revisited by the Primates.

While no direct mention was made of the Anglican Church of Canada the statement added that "possible developments in other provinces could further exacerbate this situation."

The Anglican Church of Canada currently allows blessings for same-sex unions, and its leaders are set to vote on whether to allow same-sex marriages when they meet in Toronto in July. Should they take that step, it could mean a suspension for Canada too.

The meeting of Anglican leaders also included the Anglican Church in North America's Archbishop Foley Beach (see my interview here http://tinyurl.com/j5ywnun) and Archbishop of York John Sentamu. It was convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to discuss pressing issues facing the third largest family of Christian churches in the world.

The worldwide Anglican Communion has been riven by discord since the U.S.-based Episcopal Church consecrated an openly partnered homosexual man as bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire in 2003. The consecration brought to the forefront long-simmering disagreements about scriptural authority and resulted in impaired communion between the Episcopal Church and more traditionalist provinces located primarily in the Global South.

One can read the Primates' statement as one more attempt to kick the can down the road laced with Anglican fudge or as a great gift to the communion. After a long week of tense meetings, the document is clear, but its implementation and what will happen after three years is still uncertain. Anglicans have no Magisterium or pope, and enforcing anything is virtually impossible. We will not know whether any great gains have been made until three years down the line when the next General Convention of the Episcopal Church is held.

At the beginning of the meeting a motion was put forward requiring the Episcopal Church to voluntarily withdraw from the meeting. It was rejected. The Archbishop of Uganda was committed by his Church's canons and constitutions not to attend "meetings" with TEC. He observed that not only was this in fact a meeting, but he found the atmosphere and the dynamics of what was taking place manipulative. He left after the second day. No other primates followed him.

Why? VOL was told that there were 21 new archbishops present with cultural and linguistic differences that could not be left to the mercy of revisionist archbishops. For this reason, the GAFCON primates stayed. In hindsight that seemed to be the right move.

Some markers are worth noting however.

The Primates moved to protect a traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman. They agreed that the church is not permitted to redefine marriage to suit the current cultural climate in the West.

The communique spoke of a real desire to walk together. This is new because the last time the primates met in Dublin, Ireland one third were no shows. The Archbishop of Canterbury at a later press conference shot down any talk of a "federation" or affinity-based network of churches. Their unanimous desire was to stay together as one Communion.

Archbishop Beach indicated to VOL that there was a loving tone among the body. Many of those attending were new, and while the legal suspension represents a last ditch stand, he believed some sense of "godly sorrow" leading to repentance was apparent. It is this writer's belief that no such change can or should be anticipated.

Beach himself withdrew from the vote on the Communique, but he was recognized by the ABC as a de facto primate with plenty of voice but no legal vote.

What of the Archbishop of Canterbury himself? His managerial reconciling skills clearly worked in consort with his Director of Reconciliation Canon David Porter. It is hard to fault his ability in regards to conflict resolution, but we will not know till three years down the line if it was all smoke and mirrors or the real deal. The jury is out.

From the perspective of the GAFCON primates, Egyptian Mouneer Anis carried the ball in conversations, thus setting Welby up as a trustworthy player. He is not a GAFCON Primate himself but believes deeply in the unity of the Anglican Communion and therefore the ABC. One hopes his trust and confidence is not misplaced.


The following is the communique from the Primates 2016 gathering.

Jan. 15, 2016

Today the Primates agreed how they would walk together in the grace and love of Christ. This agreement acknowledges the significant distance that remains but confirms their unanimous commitment to walk together.

The Primates regret that it appears that this document has been leaked in advance of their communique tomorrow. In order to avoid speculation the document is being released in full. This agreement demonstrates the commitment of all the Primates to continue the life of the Communion with neither victor nor vanquished.

Questions and further comments will be responded to at a press conference tomorrow at 1500. Full details are available here.

The full text is as follows:

1. We gathered as Anglican Primates to pray and consider how we may preserve our unity in Christ given the ongoing deep differences that exist among us concerning our understanding of marriage.

2. Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.

3. All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.

4. The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.

5. In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates' meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.

6. Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships.

7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

8. We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognizing the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.


Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top