By Matt Townsend
When the 2016 Primates’ Meeting concluded on January 15, the gathering’s official communiqué declared that while member churches of the Anglican Communion do not agree on changes in the doctrine of marriage, they continue to walk together. Official and unofficial responses to the meeting — and the primates’ decision to restrict the Episcopal Church’s voting in decisions of the Anglican Communion for the next three years — have poured out in the weeks hence, making clear that many within the Communion are walking and talking. In a recent editorial, THE LIVING CHURCH analyzed the communiqué, examining the gulf between short-term consensus and carefully considered common teaching. Primates, bishops, and theologians also continue to unpack the communiqué, to explore the current state of the Anglican Communion, and to respond to each other as discourse about the meeting grows.
The Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East
I appeal to everyone to spend this coming three years in a more constructive contemplation on how to restore our impaired Communion. How can we move ahead and advance the mission of our Lord? What kind of suitable structure can we have to guarantee that we will not be distracted away from the purpose God has put before us? Let us not think in terms of triumph and defeat, instead we have to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and the perfecter of our faith.
I am aware of those who challenge the authority of the Primates to make decisions. I would say that the decisions of the Primates’ Meeting as they appeared in the Communiqué, are not new, they are “consistent with previous statements” from the different Instruments of Communion.
The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
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. The Anglican Communion is a network of relationships that have been built on mission partnerships; relationships that are grounded in a common faith; relationships in companion diocese relationships; relationships with parish to parish across the world; relationships that are profoundly committed to serving and following the way of Jesus of Nazareth by helping the poorest of the poor, and helping this world to be a place where no child goes to bed hungry ever. That’s what the Anglican Communion is, and that Communion continues and moves forward.
The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada
We struggled with the fragility of our relations in response to the actions taken by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in changing its canon on marriage, making provision for the blessing of same sex marriages. We talked, prayed and wrestled with the consequences considered by the meeting. Some of us wept.
The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, Primate of Southern Africa
No written text and no individual can convey fully the meaning and feelings involved in the proceedings of our meeting or its culmination. We were deeply conscious of our need for sufficient grace from God as we decided on the recommendations. In our own Church, when I conclude a synod and promulgate its Acts, I am always torn by the prayer which implores that “no harm should befall God’s church because of our decisions.” In that spirit, and in the presence of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church—who shared with us his pain for the Church and his love for Catholic unity—we offered to God the consequences of how we chose to order our common life.
The Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
It’s no secret to say that before the meeting, the signs were not good. It really was possible that we would reach a decision to walk apart — in effect, to split the Anglican Communion. In the debates that have raged around these issues for several decades now, some have said unity is worthless if achieved at the expense of justice. Others have argued unity is a false prize if it undermines truth.
Both of these views misunderstand the nature of the church, which is not an organisation but a body of people committed to each other because they are followers of Jesus Christ. We are put together as family by God, because we are all God’s children.
From bishops of the Episcopal Church
The Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee
Let me repeat my own words following another Primates’ Meeting in early 2007. “We need ways in which the Communion can hold together in spite of difference, and pursue a common life. Those ways will come through consideration of the church, “that wonderful and sacred mystery” (BCP, 291). I’m sure that the church referred to in this prayer is a worldwide phenomenon with its roots firmly planted in the earliest times, growing and reaching out to the future. A Communion in which there is no way to reach a common mind about the extent of difference will not be able to grow together, or even hold together. Insisting that our present differences are not enough to divide us will not convince others who believe differently. Instruments are needed by which we can engage each other and hold each other accountable, and not simply be churches that are talking past each other.”
I reaffirm my commitment to the Diocese of Tennessee, the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion of which the Episcopal Church remains a part. I encourage myself and every member of our diocese to be humble and generous as we engage the work that lies before us.
The Rt. Rev. Gregory Brewer, Bishop of Central Florida
Clearly, there are far reaching consequences to the Primates’ decision that have yet to be played out. The message coming out of this communiqué was that each branch of the Communion cannot choose to exist on its own terms and disregard the impact it may have on the rest of the Communion. We are interrelated and global. Much of the conversation around our divisions reflected a growing sense of a new balance of power between various branches of the Communion. This is a good thing. There have been times when the new landscape of post-colonial Anglicanism has been treated with disdain by the West. Sometimes the public comments by Western bishops about bishops in the Global South has been condescending and, occasionally, racist. The Global South does not need to “catch up” with our Western cultural values. Instead, we need to find ways to learn from each other and together seek the mind of Christ who transcends and judges all of our cultures.
The Rt. Rev. Bill Franklin, Bishop of Western New York
However, Bishop Brent, and I, and that line of bishops would say that the purpose of Christians seeking to work together and build stronger relationships is so that we can have a stronger voice to take a stand for human rights and to work for justice. The goal of any Christian Communion, including the Anglican Communion, must be to strive for justice and peace among all people. In the absence of that work, our talk about relationship and communion is a clanging cymbal. The statement from the Primates meeting singularly fails to address the issues of human rights and justice.
The Rt. Rev. Matthew Gunter, Bishop of Fond du Lac
We belong to one another. But, we have been reminded again this week that such belonging can be difficult. Perhaps the most significant and encouraging line in the communiqué is this one, “Over the past week the unanimous decision of the Primates was to walk together, however painful this is, and despite our differences, as a deep expression of our unity in the body of Christ.”
To be a member of the Church is to be bound to all other members by the enduring bond of baptism. Because we are bound to one another, we walk together. Because we sometime disagree with one another or act in ways that hurt one another, that can be a painful thing. It is the pain of love. To be in in real communion is difficult. It requires dying and rising. It requires patience, perseverance, and endurance. It requires the power of the Holy Spirit. And, as Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of the Province of Southern Africa said at the press conference at the close of the meeting, “The Holy Spirit is not done with us.”
The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, Bishop of Virginia
In the end, what concerns me the most is that our actions (which, again, I firmly believe to be faithful, just, and therefore Godly as a witness in our society and context) have caused such strong offense and a breach in relationship with fellow Anglicans. Many of these are people — for example, in the Church in Sudan — we’ve been very close to in shared ministry for decades.
Sadly, it is inevitable that this disagreement our Episcopal Church has with the great majority of the other Anglican Provinces is certainly, at present, a case of real and weighty brokenness in our Communion. What is so frustrating for me, though, is that while conservative Primates and diocesan bishops in various parts of the world (most notably in portions of Africa) absolutely insist that Western and Northern Anglicanism must respect their particular — and most certainly difficult — cultural contexts, arguing that we must not challenge some of their traditional norms, allowing them to stand even when they are at variance with the larger Church’s values and witness, those very same Primates and bishops refuse to give the Episcopal Church the same consideration for our particular social and cultural contexts. This is clearly a double standard, and I find it highly problematic (to say the l east).
The Rt. Rev. William H. Love, Bishop of Albany
Technically, the Primates’ “recommendations” as outlined in their recent Communiqué are simply that – recommendations. However, there is no doubt that in issuing their recommendations to the Anglican Consultative Council and the various governing bodies of the Anglican Communion, the majority of the Primates expect them to be honored and followed. If the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Consultative Council choose to ignore the Primates’ recommendations at the upcoming April Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Zambia (as some would like), I believe it will undo all the on-going efforts of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates to bring healing, trust and unity back into the Anglican Communion. It will lead to further distrust, hurt and division, threatening the very existence of the Anglican Communion, as least as we have known it.
The Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield
Many Episcopalian leaders are voicing a resolve to persist even more fervently in what they articulate as a gospel-driven struggle for justice. Many are expressing pride that the Episcopal Church is in a position to exercise prophetic leadership and bear costly witness to the rest of the Anglican world on behalf of gay and lesbian Christians not only in the U.S. but in those very countries represented by the GAFCON primates. My own wish for my own church at this time would be for the grace of humility. I do not expect my friends and colleagues to suddenly abandon their commitment to prophetic justice, even as I do not intend to abandon my commitment to the authority of scripture and the received teaching of the Church. But I do believe that we all might need to hold our views a little more loosely and charitably than we do. Humility is an elusive aspiration, in that precisely in the moment we believe ourselves to have attained it, we have failed to do so. Yet, it is not, in its difficulty, any less worthy of our efforts.”
The Rt. Rev. Dorsey McConnell, Bishop of Pittsburgh
Let us hear in this statement of the primates, not a repudiation of our part in the Church, but rather Christ’s own call to a deeper love and deliberate action to nurture our sisters and brothers around the globe. The churches represented by the majority of the primates are beset by challenges we can scarcely imagine. They include “the poorest of the poor” who endured years of colonial oppression, and post-colonial condescension, from the various powers of the North. Many face daily violence, aggressive incursions from radical forms of Islam, and the suffering endemic to war and poverty. Since 2007, Betsy and I have been deeply involved in ministries of development and evangelism in East Africa, under the auspices of Pilgrim Africa. I know many in this diocese have similar commitments in the global south. I urge us all to redouble our efforts in strengthening our global partnerships in whatever way we can, and to hold in prayer all bishops and their people, that we may live together in the unity of the Cross.
The Rt. Rev. George Sumner, Bishop of Dallas
Someone called me today and asked “Are we still part of the Anglican Communion?” Constitutionally, we define this in Dallas as communion with the see of Canterbury, and by this measure the answer is an unequivocal “Yes.” However the decision of this past week is, while not surprising, saddening and disquieting. The wound in our communion is real. At ground level, closer to home, I believe we are still welcome as brothers and sisters to most of our fellow Anglican Churches, especially since we are a diocese which shares the teaching of the tradition and of the Communion (we see this e.g. in the recent statement of the Church of the Sudan).
We have not come to the last chapter of this story! It is undoubtedly clear that God has an important role for dioceses like ours. I will keep you updated — you for your part need to be praying for our global fellowship.
From other Communion leaders
The Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Ph.D., Secretary General of the Anglican Communion
In Nigeria, other parts of Africa, and in many other places in the Communion — including North America, let us be honest — Anglicans must go much further to enact both the spirit and letter of this part of Lambeth 1.10 and the 2005 Primates’ Meeting. TEC has stood up for the rights of gay and lesbian people here and around the world, and I am inspired. But changing the doctrine of marriage to include those same people has not inspired most of the Anglican family. Because they are in communion with you, and choose to walk with you even though they cannot agree with or receive the decision of the General Convention, they are perceived as being pro-gay churches. Being in communion with you threatens their witness to the same Lord Jesus, especially but not only in Muslim contexts, where the cultural sensibilities about human sexuality are so very different. In short, your decision puts many of us at risk.
The Rev. Peter Carrell, Director of Education, Diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand
Only a little bit of dust has settled after yesterday’s storm through Anglicanland, following what turns out to be a partial release, “Addendum A,” of the ultimate communiqué of the Primates 2016 meeting/gathering. Part of that dust settling is a comment I read — somewhere — that, in the end, a sober reflection concludes, TEC has been sanctioned for being out of step in doctrinal innovation, not for pioneering new gospel obligations or implementing justice for the hitherto marginalized LGBT community and so forth.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church
The people most likely to suffer from this news are faithful LGBTI Anglicans and their allies, especially in Africa. I count many of them as my friends and colleagues, and today I am especially praying that this new message of exclusion does not fuel more hatred and homophobia and make them even more vulnerable to violence and discrimination than they already are. In their communiqué, the primates: “condemned homophobic prejudice and violence” and “reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.” I was heartened to read these words, but mindful that I have read a similar statement from a previous primates meeting. I hope that this time, the primates mean what they have said.
Please join me in renewing our commitment to General Convention Resolution A051 which calls us to use resources developed by African Anglicans working to curb anti-gay and anti-transgender violence and discrimination; to build relationships with and learn from African Anglican scholars whose biblical interpretations affirm the dignity and humanity of LGBTI people; and “to pray for the safety of our LGBTI sisters and brothers, their families and communities, and for the scholars and activists who tirelessly work on their behalf.”
The Rt. Rev. Graham Kings, Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion
Reaction to the communiqué has been varied across the Communion. Most people are surprised, relieved and delighted that there was unanimous agreement to ‘walk together’. It was received with pain by members of LGBTI communities and their supporters in various provinces. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry, was magnanimous and dignified in his video statement, while remaining clear in his support for LGBTI communites. A passionate evangelist at heart, he also is reported to have given a lead in the discussions about evangelism.
From theologians or other leaders
The Rev. Canon Mark Harris, Priest in the Diocese of Delaware
I believe the will of the ABC, and even of those Primates who strongly oppose what the Episcopal Church has done, is guided by the same forces that guide us all. We are all children of God and subject to the push that God gives to our callings. But good will is not enough here.
The first element of transparency is missing here: These are sanctions, not consequences, not unless people of will, good or otherwise, have already adopted the Anglican Covenant and its logic. So either the Primates are exercising power to sanction, or they are operating with the Anglican Covenant rules of engagement, or … both.
The Very Rev. Andrew McGowan, Dean of Berkeley Divinity School and Professor of Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School
First, it has to be said that the gathering of Primates has stretched the limits of any authority they have, in “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.” The Primates do not actually have control over the membership of such bodies, which typically relate to the more broadly constituted Anglican Consultative Council.
While global Anglican leaders who are not part of the Primates meeting will not be pleased by the presumption involved in this statement, and there will almost certainly be some fallout about it behind closed doors, nevertheless the Primates’ views will be taken seriously, and interpreted as though they had spoken with proper authority (urging, calling on, etc.) rather than with an apparent prelatical lack of self-awareness. In other words, the ACC and national groups who actually make appointments to the committees referred to will almost certainly adhere to the principle that has been outlined.
The Rev. Ephraim Radner, Professor of Theological History, Wycliffe College
The Primates in the summarizing statement of their meeting said other things too. The relatively extended and strong repudiation of civil discrimination against and abuse of homosexuals was notable, for instance, for it included the rejection of criminalizing homosexual persons which, obviously, had in its sights a number of African and Asian nations where such criminalization is part of civil law and has in fact been supported by some church leaders.
But everyone realizes, for good or ill, that these other items, however important, were not the main point. Even the disputed matter of sexuality itself was not the main point, at least in terms of any teaching the Primates might provide. The general tradition upholding marriage between male and female was simply affirmed as both fundamental to the faith and to the teaching embraced by the Communion’s vast majority. This was presented as an ecclesiological fact. As a fact, it therefore called for a community of witness.
This was the point: what we know together, we are now allowed to say openly and act upon together.
The Rev. Dr. Lauren R. Stanley, Rosebud Episcopal Mission (West), Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota
This whole debate comes down to the fact that we – meaning, all the members of the Anglican Communion – interpret the Gospels differently. In the Episcopal Church, we formally have made the decision to declare, by word and deed, that “all means all,” that God’s love is not restricted by color, by gender, by sexual orientation or identity, by language, by ethnicity, or by any other thing that humans use to distinguish themselves.
Because in the Episcopal Church, we are firm in our belief that all of us are beloved children of God, and all will be treated with the same love.
That’s it. That’s our baseline.
Dr. Christopher Wells, Executive Director and Editor of the Living Church Foundation
Many have bridled at the primates’ challenge to the maverick Episcopal Church to be a team player, that is, not to act unilaterally in areas of common concern. The primates’ attempt at discipline, it is objected, was both clumsy and authoritarian, pushing in the opposite direction of possibly prophetic witness. But surely, as Idowu-Fearon said, one may admire the way that Episcopalians have “stood up for the rights of gay and lesbian people here and around the world” and still struggle with American self-regard and its powerful, often overwhelming expression.
The meeting of primates coincided with President Obama’s final State of the Union address, in which he noted: “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. Period. It’s not even close. … We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.” How do leaders around the world hear this, including Anglican archbishops, the majority of whom hail from non-Western, often very poor nations?
The Rev. Jesse Zink, Director of the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide
In the wake of the Primates’ meeting, many people have said that the true strength of the Anglican Communion is its network of global relationships at the grass-roots level of the Church around the world.
I have found this to be true. In places as diverse as Ecuador, Nigeria, or South Africa, I have found Anglicans eager for relationship, and keen to learn more about how our different backgrounds influence how we worship the same God.
If this is the strength of the Anglican Communion, we should highlight that strength. Instead of focusing on a handful of older male archbishops, we should intentionally place our focus on the diversity of lay people, clergy, and bishops who call themselves Anglican.
Matt Townsend is an associate editor with The Living Church. The featured image was taken by Andrew Petiprin.