The PB on Core Doctrine

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

When the Anglican Communion’s primates gathered in January, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry made an early observation: some were keen from the beginning to discipline the Episcopal Church through either suspension or expulsion.

Bishop Curry was just as keen to defend the Episcopal Church’s vote in 2015 to bless same-sex marriage, he told members of Executive Council Friday at their winter meeting in Fort Worth. And he got his chance off the bat: the Episcopal Church’s action last summer to redefine marriage at General Convention was the first agenda item.

Curry’s case for holding the Communion together hinged largely on one plank that says Anglicans may agree to disagree because marriage is not core doctrine.

“I don’t consider marriage core doctrine,” Curry said. “The Holy Trinity is core doctrine. That Jesus Christ is fully divine and fully human — that’s core doctrine. Marriage is faith and practice. It’s not core doctrine. But that’s a debatable point.”

Indeed, many of Curry’s fellow primates saw it differently.

“The majority did see [marriage] as doctrine or core doctrine,” he said. “No individual entity in the church catholic can change doctrine. That was the perspective, probably, of the majority.”

As a consequence, the primates barred Episcopalians from holding positions that represent the Communion in ecumenical affairs for the next three years. Nor will Episcopalians be allowed to participate in decision-making on matters of the Communion’s doctrine or polity.

Curry offered council members a brief glimpse into the atmosphere and dynamics that led to the decision. He was one of three North Americans who each received 10 minutes to speak. The other two were the Most Rev. Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America and the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada.

When he spoke, Curry said, he stressed that the Episcopal Church has taken an evangelistic turn, as evidenced by his election in 2015 to a post he envisions as Chief Evangelism Officer.

“I said to the convention and to the bishops: ‘I really would like to be the Chief Evangelism Officer,’” Curry said. “Twenty-five years ago, if you had said that, you would never have gotten elected presiding bishop. But it happened. And that tells you that the Episcopal Church is about following the way of Jesus.”

Primates listened politely, he said, both in open session and in hallway conversations.

“There were some frank, tough, always respectful — polite but tough conversations that were formal and real informal one-on-one conversations,” Curry said.

Curry said one of the important moments came when the primates resolved to walk together, at least for now, without spelling out exactly what walking together would entail.

On Saturday, the Council learned that Curry’s witness had been an inspiration to the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), which will consider a proposal to redefine marriage when its triennial General Synod meets July 7-12 in Toronto.

“We watched with interest what happened at Canterbury,” said the Very Rev. Peter Wall, the ACC’s liaison to Executive Council. “We know that our church might well be under the same kind of scrutiny.”

Wall said he fears the ACC’s House of Bishops is apt to defeat the proposal to redefine marriage. He said many in the church know “how far behind we are” in a country that has allowed same-sex marriage in every province for a decade.

Closed Doors

As Executive Council prepared to enter a closed session Friday to discuss misconduct allegations against three senior staff members, the panel added a second agenda item: protocol for interacting with the press.

The topic of how to interact with the news media was not originally on the board’s agenda. On Thursday the matter appeared on a revised agenda as an item to be discussed before the executive session.

After public business in plenary session concluded on Friday morning, the Rev. Gay Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, announced that “personnel matters and media interactions” would be handled in a session that was about to begin.

In November, during orientation for new board members, Executive Council discussed in open session how to engage the news media. Members received guidance that they could talk with the press as individuals but should not claim to speak for the council.

TLC is the only independent news outlet covering the meeting.

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