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General Convention 2006: "Stepping Back" Toward Revisionist Victory?

General Convention 2006: "Stepping Back" Toward Revisionist Victory?

Report/Analysis
By Auburn Traycik, Editor
The Christian Challenge (Washington DC)
http://www.challengeonline.org

THE FUTURE of the U.S. Episcopal Church (ECUSA) and its standing within the Anglican Communion now appears set to be determined chiefly by the June General Convention's decisions on compliant-sounding resolutions that, as presently written, would nonetheless leave ECUSA "pointing in the same direction."

This, after the Diocese of California averted a second major convention struggle-and probable schism in the Communion-by passing up the chance to elect another actively gay bishop on May 6.

The election of a second such prelate would have presented an opportunity for considerable drama: Some claimed-and some did not believe-that the House of Bishops would this time narrowly refuse to back a non-celibate homosexual, and if so, that gay activists and their supporters would gather willing bishops to consecrate the candidate illegally.

The California diocese, however, chose a liberal, pro-gay, but married man with two grown children-Alabama Suffragan Bishop Mark Handley Andrus-to succeed Bishop William Swing. In so doing, delegates bypassed by a wide margin six other candidates, three of them partnered homosexuals, and one of those a lesbian. Placing second, and more favored among the laity, was the Rev. Canon Eugene Taylor Sutton, a black cleric serving at Washington National Cathedral, who also was not among the gay nominees.

The election of any one of the homosexuals would have forced the June 13-21 General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, to register a stark up or down vote on the consecration of the candidate, one that either failed the church's pro-gay stand or handed Anglican primates (provincial leaders) a clear-cut means of declaring that ECUSA is "walking apart" from the Communion.

That would have been a lose-lose situation for more moderate liberals, those deputies or bishops who likely want continue support for homosexuals, but also want to try to, or feign trying to, patch things up with the wider Communion for unity's or expediency's sake.

These include bishops-there are said to be some-who want to "maintain unity" because they are "genuinely sorry" that the Communion was so disrupted by General Convention 2003 decisions approving same-sex blessings and the church's first openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson (now a recovering alcoholic), even if they supported those decisions. But moderate liberals also appear to include those prelates prepared to slow their pro-gay agenda in a bid to retain Communion credentials and secure invitations to the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, in anticipation of further revisionist gains in the decade between Lambeth '08 and '18.

ON THE SURFACE, the election of Andrus, 49, which aided the moderates, may seem to suggest that the diocese yielded to pressure from the Archbishop of Canterbury and others not to widen the Communion's conflict, and thereby handed a defeat to radical liberals who want ECUSA to be honest about its stand and accept the consequences (as evidenced by their efforts to pack the California slate with homosexuals).

Remarkably, such pressure came even from Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold-the same man who agreed with fellow primates in 2003 that Gene Robinson's consecration would have devastating consequences for the Communion, and then acted as Robinson's chief consecrator, setting those consequences in train. In the run-up to California's election, however, he said the diocese "needs to respect the sensibilities of the larger Communion." When it makes its "wise" decision, it "will then be up to the House of Bishops to give or withhold their consent"-a thinly veiled warning that the House might this time nix another homosexual bishop.

However, such official "encouragement" looks unlikely to have been determinative in California, given the level of support Andrus received (on the third and final ballot, he garnered the backing of over 72 percent of the clergy and 54 percent of laity). None of the gay nominees received more than a handful of votes. Reportedly, some members of the diocese felt that Andrus significantly outshone homosexual nominees at the episcopal candidates' "walkabouts" before the election. As well, church gay activists know that there will be other opportunities to put forward their candidates for the episcopate: although it has not announced its nominees yet, the Diocese of Newark's episcopal election in September is one to watch.

NEVERTHELESS, the California election seems to have put more moderate liberals in the driver's seat for General Convention. Their "vehicle" for getting where they want to go looks to be the report and recommended resolutions of a special ECUSA commission which go a bit farther than some predicted-but not nearly far enough, conservatives say-in trying to meet the expectations of the 2004 Windsor Report and Anglican primates.

Recent press reports that ECUSA was preparing to step back from its pro-homosexual policies-a claim that dismayed some liberals and gay activists-were soon declared unfounded by conservative leaders, particularly as the resolutions do not urge the moratorium on non-celibate homosexual bishops sought by the Windsor Report, only the exercise of "very considerable caution" in putting them forward. (More on the resolutions in a bit.) The convention could act to strengthen the resolutions in Columbus, but that remains to be seen. As things stand, though, the "step back" seems a largely tactical and illusory one actually designed to enable liberals to go forward with their Communion status and their revisionist agenda.

As well, moderate liberals seeking to appear compliant with Communion expectations are still likely to get a hard run for their money in Columbus from homosexuals in the church. To be sure, the longstanding gay group Integrity welcomed the special commission report and proposed resolutions, saying that the panel had made a "strong statement that this church will not scapegoat its lesbian and gay members." But Integrity and other "lesbitransgay" advocacy groups also plan a big presence and ambitious legislative program at General Convention, under the umbrella of "Claiming the Blessing." Integrity says it wants to "keep the momentum it has gained through 30 years of respected, successful advocacy and witness." What perhaps said it all, though, was the title of an article by John Clinton Bradley in Integrity's spring magazine: "No Turning Back."

At this writing, too, the church's left wing had begun "massive media campaigns of disinformation, half-truths and spin" aimed at conservatives, painting them as schismatic, destabilizers of ECUSA, and bankrolled with millions of dollars from right wing foundations, reported Episcopal e-journalist David Virtue. A centerpiece of the initiative was a two-part series by Washington (D.C.) Window Editor, James Naughton, titled "Follow the Money." The accuracy of "bankrolling" claims aside, Virtue wondered why it would be "wrong for the orthodox to have serious financial backers when liberals have professional bagmen like George Soros who have poured billions of dollars into liberal organizations."

ALL THINGS (at the moment) considered, U.S. conservatives see little chance that the convention will adequately meet the minimal requests made of it, and-more importantly-no chance that it will answer the call underlying them, which is for real repentance and a broad return to scriptural fidelity and orthodoxy.

"Anybody with any sense knows that ECUSA is not going to repent," said Canon Bill Atwood of the Ekklesia Society. He recalled a survey in 2000 which showed that 42 (out of some 110) Episcopal dioceses had practicing homosexual clergy serving, 32 dioceses would ordain active homosexuals, and 22 dioceses were performing same-sex blessings. "They're not going to stop that," he maintained. "If Nineveh comes to us in Columbus, God will be glorified and we can rejoice and be reconciled. But I'm not holding my breath."

"Slowing down is not stopping," said Cynthia Brust, Communications Director for the American Anglican Council (AAC). She thought that the resolutions as proposed could create a perception that ECUSA is conforming, but said "the key...is, are there moratoria?" Clarity could be gleaned, she said, by examining whether the convention really agreed to the two types of restraint asked of it.

Still, some conservatives are worried that General Convention, bolstered by California's internationally-watched election, may do well in appearing accommodating and obscuring areas in which it falls short of expectations-thereby creating the kind of post-convention confusion and muddle in which liberals thrive, and conservatives flounder.

"The battle going into Columbus is obfuscation versus truth, and generalities versus specifics," said Canon Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina.

Some sources said the impression of compliance could be augmented if the convention opts for a more conservative-leaning candidate for presiding bishop, though on the whole most do not expect the choice of successors to Bishop Griswold to make much difference for ECUSA.

Whatever happens, many will look to Communion leaders for clarity. But perhaps surprisingly, there are mixed opinions among those consulted by TCC on whether the conservative majority of Anglican primates and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams would be able or willing to identify the inadequacies of ECUSA's position and judge the U.S. Church's status in the Communion accordingly. Pressure One would not conclude this from recent developments, however. Indeed, as liberals and gay activists prepared to head determinedly into General Convention, international pressure on them was ratcheted up by Archbishop Williams.

Though he is known to have some liberal sympathies, Dr. Williams has lately issued some significant warnings and statements upholding Communion policy, and begun a series of private consultations with senior Church of England bishops and advisors to consider potential fallout from ECUSA's General Convention.

In his series of utterances, the Archbishop stated, for example, that the Communion is in danger of a "visible rupture" that could take decades to heal. Responding with "deep unease" to the list of nominees for Bishop of California, he also called on ECUSA to uphold a moratorium on the consecration of non-celibate homosexuals, reiterating that the mind of the Communion on sexuality matters cannot be changed by one province alone.

Williams' series of private consultations with senior English bishops and others, including representatives of the conservative Anglican Mainstream, began at Lambeth Palace on April 24, with discussions reportedly including how to deal with a range of possible outcomes of General Convention, how the international Anglican "instruments of unity" should respond, and what impact there would be on the C of E. One report said Williams was believed to be taking advice on whether he indeed has the power to "disinvite" bishops to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, though he has long been recognized as having authority to decide who to invite to Anglican meetings.

The issues at stake in these "next critical months" in the Communion's life are "too important...to allow events to overtake us," said a leaked letter of invitation to the April 24 consultation from Dr. Williams' head of staff, Chris Smith.

"The wording of the invitation makes it fairly clear that Lambeth [Palace] is expecting no backtrack from ECUSA and is therefore working out how to manage the oncoming schism," wrote The Times of London.

One source with a line into the consultations claimed, however, that participating bishops have agreed that whatever effort ECUSA makes to comply with the Windsor Report will be acceptable (a position that would seem to relieve Williams of having to "disinvite" Episcopal bishops to Lambeth).

But Dr. Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream said: "We are very concerned that a fudge isn't good enough. What we're looking for is repentance and the rescinding of decisions of the General Convention 2003."

And, it is Anglican primates who look to be the primary determinants of whether or not ECUSA has separated from the Communion. (There are, of course, disagreements over whether they have "authority" to do this, though it would seem that there is likewise no "authority" preventing them from declaring an opinion about ECUSA's Communion standing and governing their future actions accordingly.)

Bishop Griswold also revealed that he had a private meeting with Dr. Williams in Canterbury to discuss measures that ECUSA proposes to defuse the current crisis. Meanwhile, however, Williams has declined an invitation to make an appearance at the eight-day General Convention, citing pre-existing obligations. And in March, he sent the Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish, to deliver some sobering words to the Episcopal House of Bishops meeting (on which more in a minute).

And, in a signal move, Williams recently dashed hopes that liberals evidently had of overturning or undermining the 1998 Lambeth Conference's sexuality resolution (1.10) when the Conference meets again in 2008. He said in March that, while provinces will offer reflections at Lambeth '08 stemming from the process of listening to homosexuals called for in 1.10, he saw no "enthusiasm" or reason for reopening debate on the resoundingly-adopted resolution, which deems homosexual behavior "incompatible with Scripture." He stated that, despite "bitter controversy" over the issue, it remains clear that Lambeth 1.10 represents the mind of the Communion on sexuality.

The AAC said this left ECUSA with an "even more strongly defined choice." It must not only uphold Lambeth 1.10 but "abandon its agenda to revise Scripture and 2,000 years of teaching and practice on human sexuality, and...affirm the foundational tenets of Christian faith... Any other course represents a decision to walk apart." The Proposed Resolutions

It has been three tumultuous years since ECUSA's General Convention consented to the consecration of New Hampshire's gay bishop-elect and agreed that rites for the blessing of same-sex unions are within the bounds of church life. It was, said the AAC, the culmination of a "revolution in stages" against the apostolic faith; notably, the same convention defeated a resolution (B001) affirming the authority of Scripture and basic tenets of Christian faith. The convention actions and the subsequent consecration of Gene Robinson (along with the implementation of same-sex blessings in the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster) plunged the Communion into turmoil.

And to the obvious surprise of ECUSA liberals-who were indulged by Communion leaders in pioneering earlier innovations that also lacked broad consensus, the ordination of women priests and bishops-the crisis has not blown over. Among other things, 22 of 38 Anglican provinces have reduced or broken communion with ECUSA. Additionally, the realignment of conservative North American Anglicans has quickened and become more organized, notably with the formation of the Canterbury-recognized Anglican Communion Network (ACN), consisting mostly of faithful still in ECUSA, and its links to various faithful associations and extramural Anglican bodies. The realignment also has taken some unprecedented turns, as more congregations have fled ECUSA and come under the oversight of foreign Communion bishops.

In 2004, the Lambeth Commission issued the Windsor Report, which-as Commission member, the Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, put it-"was about how the...Communion can continue to operate when a province or diocese acts directly against the stated mind of the Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the Primates, and the Archbishop of Canterbury" (the Communion's four advisory "instruments of unity"). The Report called (among other things) for ECUSA to express its "regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of [Gene Robinson] and for the consequences which followed"; it also called for a moratorium on the "election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same-gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges"; and a moratorium on all public rites of blessing same-sex unions.

The 2005 the Primates' Meeting held at the Dromantine Center in Northern Ireland, and subsequently the ACC meeting in Nottingham, England-where U.S. and Canadian representatives defended their homosexuality policies-gave a general welcome to the Windsor Report and reaffirmed Lambeth Resolution 1.10. And both bodies asked ECUSA (and the Anglican Church of Canada) to withdraw its members from the ACC in the run-up to Lambeth '08, and respond through its legislative body to questions posed to it in the Windsor Report, while considering its "place within the Anglican Communion." In other words, ECUSA was effectively suspended from the global church, and asked to choose between its support for homosexual practice and its Communion membership.

ECUSA leaders have so far expressed regret only for causing pain to the wider Communion, not for the unbiblical action of consecrating Robinson. And, in a move widely seen as vindictive, Episcopal bishops agreed to a temporary halt on the consecration of any bishop, gay or straight, and to authorizing public same-sex union rites (though the ban is not binding on clergy in all cases, or on private ceremonies). A final answer, however, is still expected from ECUSA's General Convention.

NOW, IN A REPORT titled "One Baptism, One Hope In God's Call," released April 10, the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion proposes to make what initially looks like a conciliatory response to the wider Communion.

Appointed by Bishop Griswold and House of Deputies President, the Rev. George Werner, the mostly liberal special commission was charged with "[preparing] the way for a consideration by the 75th General Convention of recent developments" in ECUSA and the Communion "with a view to maintaining the highest degree of communion possible." Griswold and Werner said the commission's document is first and foremost "theological," and secondarily "a beginning" and not the end point for conversation and legislative decisions.

The report includes six sections covering topics arising out of the current feud, plus a brief conclusion, and offers 11 recommended resolutions. The resolutions could undergo revision as they are prepared for debate in Columbus by an 18-member special legislative committee.

But among the resolutions as they stand now are some deferential-sounding calls for the convention to: commit to "interdependence" in the Anglican Communion and to the "fellowship of churches that constitute" it; commit to the Windsor process as it relates to communion and discerning "the nature and unity of the Church," and to the (Lambeth 1.10) listening process; commit to the process of developing an Anglican "covenant," recommended by the Windsor Report as a way to help ensure unity among provinces that adopt it ; endorse "effective and appropriate pastoral care for all"; demonstrate support for Anglicans around the world by supporting the Millennium Development Goals, including regular giving to support international development work; and approve a curious canonical amendment that seems intended, in part, to ensure, after many long years, the end to discrimination against orthodox clergy and aspirants to ordination.

But while there are several significant caveats to be noted in those first motions, the rubber really meets the road in some of the few remaining ones.

Over the course of two proposed resolutions, ECUSA would express "regret" for pain caused by the actions of General Convention 2003, for contributing to the "strains on communion," and causing "deep offense" to many faithful Anglicans; it would also apologize and repent for breaching the "bonds of affection" in the Communion "by any failure to consult adequately with Anglican partners before taking these actions." But this appears to miss the mark again. According to Bishop Wright, the Windsor Report's reference to breaching the bonds of affection equates not with a failure to consult but with "going against the stated mind of the instruments of unity."

The commission's offerings include "no rejection of the decisions of the 2003 General Convention," the official Episcopal Life admitted.

More significantly, as earlier noted, one resolution urges merely that "very considerable caution" be exercised in "the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church" and will further strain communion. (Reportedly, some commission members had wanted to use "refrain from" in the advice on future episcopal consents, but obviously they did not prevail.) The resolution also makes no promises about not ordaining gay deacons or priests-because the Windsor Report did not ask for any, and the primates did not expand on its requests.

Another resolution concurs with the Windsor Report request that the convention not authorize public rites of blessing for same-sex unions. But the same resolution allows "a breadth of private responses to situations of individual pastoral care for gay and lesbian" church members; in other words, private same-sex blessings could continue. But some say there is a loophole that would allow public rites to continue as well.

As proposed, the resolution on same-sex blessings appears to be in compliance with the Windsor Report, which sought only to proscribe public ceremonies. However, the commission's claim that General Convention has never yet authorized public gay blessing rites is disingenuous, as, in 2003, it gave a blanket okay to whatever liturgies that "local faith communities" wish to use for same-sex blessings: such communities "are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions," the convention said. AAC's Mrs. Brust maintained that these local rites are still being used publicly.

"It's happening all the time," she said, pointing, for example, to the recent lesbian union ceremony involving the head of Claiming the Blessing, the Rev. Susan Russell, and her partner.

Remaining resolutions would have the convention reassert positions the church has already taken in support of homosexuals, with which few would argue, e.g. that they are entitled to equal protection under the law, and "are by baptism full members of the Body of Christ" and ECUSA. But one clause would ask the church to commit to the communion of all the baptized "despite our diversity of opinion and, among dioceses, a diversity of pastoral practice with the gay men and lesbians among us." Brake, But Keep Going ECUSA "should slow but not halt its push for gay bishops and blessings," was one conservative writer's summation of the commission's recommendations.

Mr. Virtue called the 11 proposals "a carefully nuanced fudge that, when examined closely, offer nothing about returning to 'the faith once delivered to the saints' and therefore pose no threat to ongoing revisionism of the Episcopal Church. It also offers nothing to orthodox Episcopalians who had hoped [for] some relief or reprieve in...the church's 11th hour."

Writing on standfirminfaith.com, Fr. Matt Kennedy marveled that the "truly moderate" Windsor Report requests are still "far too stringent for the rebellious and schismatic Episcopal Church."

"What is being...proposed by ECUSA is not truly sufficient to show that [it] is intent on being a biblically-based, orthodox province," said the Rev. Dr. Peter Toon of the U.S. Prayer Book Society.

Even the moderate Living Church magazine was under-whelmed. "At first glance, the proposed resolutions included with the report seem to be in concert" with the Windsor recommendations, it said, "but instead it looks as though the commission was determined to change the words of these proposals to suit their own needs."

THAT WHAT U.S. CRITICS ARE SAYING is what Communion leaders might say as well was the clear message of the Church of England's Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish, to the March 17-22 House of Bishops (HOB) meeting at North Carolina's Kanuga Conference Center, where the prelates were given preliminary information on the commission's report and resolutions.

Langrish basically "told the U.S. bishops that the language of the special commission is not adequate," and "that if they consecrate another gay bishop or authorize same-sex relations, the Anglican Communion will break apart," and dialogue with Roman Catholics and Muslims will be finished, said The Times religion reporter Ruth Gledhill.

Significantly, Langrish spoke at the episcopal retreat as a representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which strongly suggests that the views he stated are those of Dr. Williams. As well, he was among bishops invited to the private Lambeth Palace consultations in April. And, he has, from past experience, some knowledge of the wider Communion, particularly the global South.

In his remarks to the HOB, Langrish noted the pivotal importance of the convention's response to the Communion. But he said that for starters, he had, and the wider Communion was likely to have, "real anxieties" about the call for "very considerable caution" in electing actively gay bishops. It is not clear what that means, "how it would be judged, and who would decide," he said. "Can you exercise extreme caution and still act in a way that injects further difficulty into the life of the Communion?"

Langrish also effectively said that regrets expressed for "pain" caused are insufficient. At issue, he said, was the creation of a bishop for the Church Catholic "who was in a relationship not liturgically sanctioned by the Church" and without seeking the assent of the wider Church.

He warned that, while "no one can force another province or diocese either to go or remain (in the Communion)... no diocese or province can enforce its own continued membership simply or largely on its own terms. There has to be engagement. There is no communion without a shared vision of life in communion."

Concluding with a flourish, Langrish said: "So it does seem to me, as I listen to those other parts of the Communion that I know best, that any further consecration of those in a same-sex relationship, any authorization of any person to undertake same-sex blessings, any stated intention not to seriously engage with the Windsor Report, will be read very widely as a declaration not to stay with the Communion."

How well did the U.S. prelates listen?

After the HOB meeting, Arizona Bishop Kirk Stevan Smith still seemed to think the proposed resolutions offered a way forward. That, because they signal ECUSA's pledge to "work to conform" to the Windsor expectations, "[w]ithout backing away from decisions we have made."

California's Bishop Swing said "we are fighting over freedom, among other issues," and that there is "a mad dash to create a worldwide final arbiter-a Windsor Report or an archbishop or instruments of unity-which would...put an end to all of the mischief caused by freedom."

Conservative Central Florida Bishop John Howe noted that some of his colleagues at the meeting immediately sought to clarify that the resolutions were not "forbidding" sexually active gay bishops. He added that, while "many...bishops would not vote to authorize same-sex blessings at this moment...they will not forbid them...And we all know they are being performed all over this country. Not to forbid is to authorize."

As shown by a recent survey of Episcopal bishops (see more in "Focus"), some bishops are prepared to say that they would vote differently than they did three years ago. "But (I believe) that is because of the consequences of that vote, not because they have actually changed their minds on the substance of the question," Howe said.

Most ECUSA bishops are "genuinely sorry" for having damaged the Communion and "do not want to see [it] destroyed," he said, but are "not repentant for the decision to confirm Gene Robinson's election...for they do not believe it was wrong."

And this, he predicted, will not be "enough to satisfy the primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury."

"If General Convention fails to adopt a stance of genuine compliance with the Windsor recommendations (which I am certain it will not do), I don't see how the Archbishop has any alternative but to declare that the majority of ECUSA has decided to 'walk apart' from the Anglican Communion." The Primates And U.S. Conservatives

But that, according to some sources, remains to be seen.

One well-placed conservative leader says there are varying views among the conservative majority of primates on the resolutions as they stand, and that some could by swayed by the perception of compliance that ECUSA wishes to give, or are looking for any excuse to get past the conflict. He thought that, while 12-15 primates will not be satisfied with anything but orthodoxy, others would be willing to accept something less.

His lack of confidence about solidarity among the primates extends to Archbishop Williams, whose actions he believes have had the net effect of supporting the liberals-as shown, for example, by the dilatory Panel of Reference charged with helping embattled faithful clergy and laity, which the Archbishop appointed and put under the leadership of a primate hostile to orthodox views. Williams has "killed" the Panel, and thereby encouraged liberal bishops to continue oppressing the faithful, by allowing his staff to filter information to it, the leader told TCC.

Further, he said there is a "big fight" underway over whether or not the primates should meet within a few months after General Convention, rather than wait until their scheduled meeting in February, as he claims Archbishop Williams wants the leaders to do.

The Archbishop of the Southern Cone (of South America), Gregory Venables, also contended that Dr. Williams and some other officials do not wish the primates to meet early, an idea he thought ridiculous. "If one of my children fell down a hole I wouldn't say I'll deal with it next Tuesday," he remarked.

Venables maintained, however, that if such a meeting can be managed (though it may require private funding) and there is opportunity for the primates to freely discuss the ECUSA response, they would likely reach "solid" consensus on U.S. Church's status in the Communion.

For his part, Venables sees ECUSA's resolutions as "a very elaborate U-turn which leaves ECUSA pointing in the same direction it was before. It doesn't change anything at all. It's an attempt at conciliatory language that doesn't change the underlying intention of ECUSA to keep on doing the same thing. It's just trying to gain time..."

Venables sees a post-convention muddle as likely. Everyone will want to "pretend that things will be all right...Nobody wants to face the truth, but we have to," he said. The only possible hope, the only means of "shining a light into the cellar," is for the primates to step in, he said.

HOW SOON THE PRIMATES can shine such a light will be critical to conservatives in ECUSA, and especially to the movement led by the Anglican Communion Network. It seeks a united, biblical, orthodox American Anglicanism, one that, ideally and ultimately, would be expressed in an institutionally-distinct, Communion-recognized body.

The Network's progress toward its objective will be especially hindered if the convention fails to produce clarity about ECUSA's position-perhaps because it has done a good job of selling the idea that it is conforming, or because legislative machinery or timing prevents a vote on a key matter by the whole convention.

But even in a clearer situation-wherein Anglican primates determine that ECUSA has quit the Communion, but continue recognition to its faithful remnant-Network-aligned bishops feel that they face heavy choices on how best to lead a mass of people to the promised land through uncharted ecclesiastical territory.

In a recent commentary, Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker contended that either leaving or staying in ECUSA could incur serious costs and consequences that should be considered. Indeed, at this writing, Network bishops were still not agreed on a unified, post-convention strategy, though there were plans for them to meet with the Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, at Nashotah House Seminary on May 17, to try to decide among different proposals. Even so, it may be that Network affiliates in different situations may wish to or have to pursue their common objective by different routes.

Among apparent possibilities, though, is that, if ECUSA is deemed out of the Communion, the Network may not spearhead a separation from ECUSA as part of the push toward a separate province, as many expected. Rather, some or all of the ten ACN-aligned Episcopal dioceses could sit tight, taking the position that they have not gone anywhere, but ECUSA has.

Contacted by TCC, ACN Chancellor Wicks Stephens stressed that this approach would just be the start of response, but might be a "smart place to begin." He noted that, even as things stand now, if a diocese said it was leaving, ECUSA seems to lack "a good legal argument that the property of a diocese belongs" to the national church. But if that same diocese said ECUSA left it, "no one has ever litigated that question," Stephens told TCC. In such a case, he believes, a court considering the disposition of property would have to weigh the burden placed on a diocese that had not changed. Add to that the fact that ECUSA's separation from the Communion would be a violation of its constitution, and one may find significant changes in the legal perspective that has obtained in a number of past church property cases.

Some conservatives have already scored the "stay put" approach as a strategy for slow but sure death, a loss of credibility and integrity as orthodox Christians, and a plan that -though conservatives agree that ECUSA's injustice in this area should be redressed-is still entirely too wedded to property and money. One bishop among the ACN-linked Common Cause Partners told TCC he gets the impression that most Network bishops are "trying to hold on until retirement and protect their dioceses and then it will be up to somebody else. "

Several conservative leaders TCC consulted maintained that people are "fed up with waiting," and that if the Network does not move en masse soon, or has no plan for joint movement, such movement will happen in pieces.

The exact flow of people and parishes leaving ECUSA after June remains to be seen, though some predict "chaos and hemorrhaging." While most are likely to seek oversight from a foreign Communion bishop, some could opt for one of the leading orthodox Anglican bodies outside ECUSA: the Anglican Mission in America, Reformed Episcopal Church, Anglican Church in America, Anglican Province of America, Anglican Province of Christ the King, or the Anglican Catholic Church.

One can appreciate, then, the great weight that Network bishops feel. Whatever they decide will have a big impact on the future of the conservative movement.

Equally so, however, it is crunch time for ECUSA leaders, from whom many in the Communion are seeking signs of real transformation and reformation, both of which look to be in decidedly short supply in Columbus.

Sources: Global South Anglican website, The Guardian, The Living Church, VirtueOnline, The Church of England Newspaper, Christian Today, Episcopal News Service, Church Times, The Associated Press, The Washington Times.

http://www.challengeonline.org

END

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