By Mark Michael
LUSAKA, Zambia — The Episcopal Church will take additional steps to respect the consciences of those who disagree with same-sex marriage, and the Anglican Covenant is far from dead, the Most Rev. Joshua Idowu-Fearon told delegates to the Anglican Consultative Council today in Lusaka.
Archbishop Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, addressed both topics extensively in a report of his work since he began in this role several months ago.
The archbishop said he had recently visited the United States to participate in the consecrations of the Rt. Rev. Peter Eaton, Bishop of Southeast Florida, and the Rt. Rev. George Sumner, Bishop of Dallas. He also was the keynote speaker at a mission conference in the Diocese of Connecticut, which the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, one of the Episcopal Church’s ACC delegates, serves as bishop.
The archbishop said he met with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to discuss the situation of those remaining within the Episcopal Church who reject General Convention’s recent decision to authorize the blessing of same-sex marriages.
“Since the enthronement service of the new presiding bishop, a committee is being formed by Bishop Curry, the new Presiding Bishop, to work out how TEC helps those bishops, clergy, and congregations that cannot support same-sex marriage,” he said. “The hope is to make good on a resolution passed in their recent Convention that this theological and pastoral position be ‘respected’ with no coercion to conform to the practice of same-sex marriage. I am encouraged that such a committee is to be appointed, and while this will not be an easy task, I have hope that this position of respect will be maintained.
“I am also happy to let the ACC members know that within TEC today there are bishops in dioceses where same-sex marriage is practiced who make provision for those who do not accept that, with bishops from other dioceses where it is not practiced. So there is this walking together. There is this communication. There is this partnership already going on within TEC. And I know, because I have had words with the bishops who are involved in this,” he said referring to bishops in Communion Partners.
Bishop Curry confirmed that a working group was being established, on the basis of the Mind of the House Resolution X022 passed in the House of Bishops at the 2015 General Convention, which expressed “love and appreciation” for the Communion Partner bishops, and affirmed “that they are an indispensable part of who we are.”
Bishop Curry said he had met the Communion Partner bishops in February, and he had solicited volunteers for the working group at the March meeting of the House of Bishops. The working group would, he said, make recommendations about how to “move the vision of the mind of the house resolution forward.”
“My Communion Partner colleagues and I are grateful for the presiding bishop’s commitment to making the Communion Across Difference statement from the House of Bishops more concrete,” said the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield. “We look forward to establishing habits of walking together with our friends of different persuasions that enable the received theological tradition of the Episcopal Church to flourish in the midst of diversity.”
Archbishop Idowu-Fearon announced that work will continue on the Anglican Covenant, which has so far been adopted by 11 of the 38 provinces of the Communion. The Covenant, he said, would be particularly useful in an Internet age “when we disagree faster.”
The archbishop quoted extensively in his report from Norman Doe, director of the Center for Law and Religion at the University of Cardiff and a member of the Covenant Design Group. Doe has written that the Anglican Covenant would help in “setting out clearly the jurisdictional boundaries of the instruments of the Communion. … [T]he Covenant project would fill a vacuum and provide a set of house rules for the Anglican Communion to address issues.”
“The disagreements of today will eventually give way to others,” the archbishop said. “These could be even more intractable. In Professor Doe’s words: “other cases like this: stimulating litigation, jeopardizing ecumenical relations, making people ill, wasting money. … It is high time that Anglicans got a formal agreement together on how they process this.”
Idowu-Fearon said many of the provinces that have already approved the Anglican Covenant are smaller cultures in which English is not dominant. For them “being a part of a bigger communion provides valuable connections and protections.” Other provinces have failed to bring the Covenant to a vote, or have approved only its first three sections, which set out the principles of Anglican identity, while refusing to approve the fourth section, which lays out a process for adjudicating disagreements.
The Rt. Rev. Steven Cottrell, an ACC delegate from the Church of England, asked Archbishop Idowu-Fearon for clarification about how the Covenant process might proceed. He asked about this, he said, with some reluctance, because he feared that making a final decision on the Covenant might drive the Communion apart.
“One of the great things the Anglican Covenant process has done is it has kept us talking together and walking together,” Cottrell said. “Somehow this has kept us around the table.”
Idowu-Fearon responded that the ACC’s standing committee had taken “a serious look and found that sections 1-3 are acceptable to most [provinces]. We will now look at section 4, because that is where the problem is.”