Tag Archives: Anglican Communion

GAFCON Announces a “Split” on Peter and Paul’s Day

As I watched the news yesterday morning with the announcement of what is effectively an Anglican split – the GAFCON group is saying that they will stay within the Anglican Communion, but will operate independently of the instruments of the communion – I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony of the day on which they chose to make the announcement, the day of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

It may seem slightly odd that with many of the obscure saints across the Christian calendar who have a day to themselves, the church chooses to celebrate perhaps two of the most important saints together – but when you consider that these were the two people on whom the Church was built you can maybe start to understand why they are considered together. It is especially important when you start to look at the evidence within the New Testament and realise that whilst in later times the official recognition of Christianity in the Roman Empire needed some degree of orthodoxy to be imposed, back in these early days, Peter and Paul had significant differences in their opinions on a multitude of subjects in particular as the Church started to draw in Gentile converts alongside the original, Jewish membership.

Check out Mum’s sermon from yesterday that explores further the differences between Peter and Paul.

Crunch Point

In all the recent goings on in the Anglican Communion, the obvious crunch point has always been the Lambeth Conference in 2008. Every ten years all the Bishops of the Anglican Communion from all over the world get together, ironically not in Lambeth but at the University of Kent in Canterbury. However who attends is entirely down to who the Archbishop of Canterbury, so there has been much speculation and discussion as to who will be invited, particularly with reference to the Episcopal Church.

Yesterday, the months of speculation were ended by the announcement that the invitations had been issued. Reading the letter of invitation, those worried that the whole of the Episcopal Church will have been sidelined had their minds put at rest. Rowan Williams said the following:

An invitation to participate in the Conference has not in the past been a certificate of doctrinal orthodoxy. Coming to the Lambeth Conference does not commit you to accepting the position of others as necessarily a legitimate expression of Anglican doctrine and discipline, or to any action that would compromise your conscience or the integrity of your local church.

and also this:

I have said, and repeat here, that coming to the Conference does not commit you to accepting every position held by other bishops as equally legitimate or true. But I hope it does commit us all to striving together for a more effective and coherent worldwide body, working for God’s glory and Christ’s Kingdom. The Instruments of Communion have offered for this purpose a set of resources and processes, focused on the Windsor Report and the Covenant proposals. My hope is that as we gather we can trust that your acceptance of the invitation carries a willingness to work with these tools to shape our future. I urge you all most strongly to strive during the intervening period to strengthen confidence and understanding between our provinces and not to undermine it.

However, then comes the following:

At this point, and with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion. Indeed there are currently one or two cases on which I am seeking further advice. I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this. Such trust is a great deal harder to sustain if there are some involved who are generally seen as fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution.

Although they are not mentioned by name, neither the Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, nor Martyn Minns, recently consecrated by Peter Akinola against the wishes of Rowan Williams have been invited.

The reasons for the exclusions though are rather different. Minns isn’t invited, fundamentally because Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), although being regarded as part of the Anglican Church in Nigeria is not recognised as part of the wider Anglican Communion.

The exclusion of Gene Robinson is for no other reason than the fact his is gay and is being honest about it. All of the sixty or so Bishops who supported him and were involved in his consecration are invited, it is only Robinson who is being denied an invite. However, the communiqué issued by the February 2005 Primates meeting said the following:

The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us.

Not surprisingly this has provoked a good deal of outrage from across the communion, there is a good roundup on Episcopal Cafe. Interestingly both sides of the debate are not happy with the decision, for differing reasons, as detailed by Andrew Plus:

So far the blogs seem to go like this. The blogs on the right are disappointed because invitation to Lambeth was seen as test of orthodoxy. They assumed that only orthodox Anglicans would be invited, and Archbishop Akinola has said that if +Gene or the Episocpal Church was included he and the Global South would gather in Alexandria or someplace else and have their Lambeth conference.

The bloggers on the left are disappointed because of the active and deliberate exclusion of Bishop Robinson, once again placing the burden of division on the back of one man–the open, affirming and partnered gay man. This once again smacks of condescension and avoidance–talking about people instead of to people–and so this solution seems to be a capitulation to conservative pressure. The words in his letter about the limits of inclusivity seem to reinforce this.

Andrew’s position is much the same as mine – everybody should have been invited, and then it should have been left to the individual Bishops as to whether they would attend. Mark Harris on PRELUDIUM says much the same. By excluding Minns and Robinson from the invite list it seems to please no-one, indeed Peter Akinola is already threatening to have the entire Anglican Church in Nigeria boycott the meeting over Minns not being invited. Minns himself doesn’t seem quite so bothered. Gene Robinson’s statement describes him being excluded as an affront to the whole Episcopal Church. Certainly it will be interesting to see how many of the Episcopal Church choose not to attend in protest.

However, there is a possibility that Robinson will still attend the conference. A number of reports including USA Today and Ruth Gledhill suggest that Robinson may well be invited as a guest – perhaps the irony of that is that as a guest he may well have more visibility than if he was within the conference.

Anyway, if all of this is totally depressing, thanks to Dave Walker for his spin on why the two Bishops weren’t invited…

lambeth-invitations.gif

Finally Some Division Interrupts the Sunbathing at the Primates Conference

Until last night, for members of the press, the Primates Meeting in Tanzania has been a somewhat boring affair. Firstly, the meeting itself has been kept carefully separate, so effectively the media have just had to sit around by the pool and gossip. Such is the flakiness of the internet connection, that in fact Ruth Gledhill who has stayed in London is able to produce just as complete reports as Stephen Bates. Largely it seems that those over there have been left with nothing much to do but sit by the pool sunbathing.

The reason the press has been so bored, is that up until now, events have not gone according to the script. First off, thanks it seems to a bit of strong leadership from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Jefferts Schori, and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu (invited by Rowan Williams to represent the Church of England allowing him to focus on chairing the meeting) were allowed to stay, and other primates didn’t leave. Yet again it seems that it is an example of how in this whole sorry affair, people are happy to try and boot another group out, but won’t leave themselves.

Following that, the report that was widely expected to back the conservative line that the Episcopal Church was ‘in breach’ of the Windsor report, actually came out and said that they were pretty much in line – more than that it criticised the anti-Windsor actions of people like Archbishop Akinola who have been setting up Churches in the US, as reported by Stephen Bates. Having said that this did produce some reaction – but again this was on the web, not from the conference centre.

There was a bit of excitement yesterday, when Archbishop Akinola, returning from a meeting outside the primates part of the conference centre got spotted and cornered by the press – although he was less than talkative…

However, the press got a little bit of division last night, when seven of the primates failed to attend the communion service – although it should be noted that this was half as many as failed to attend at the previous meeting two years ago. This does seem to be the first bit of real division that has occurred amongst the primates. Giles Fraser predicted the tactic:

Especially keep in mind the first principle of effective warfare: take their strength, and turn it into a weakness. Make them feel they are fighting for the truth of the gospel. Make them feel that everything hangs on it; that it’s all down to them. That way, they will be able to justify any behaviour — cruelty, bullying, division — and eventually the whole thing will collapse in bitterness and recrimination. Allow them to do our work for us. The fact that they won’t take communion together is a cracking start.

Alongside this, last Sunday Ruth Gledhill compared this sort of behaviour to what happens to her five year old son.

Putting it in to context, in the Guardian today, Giles Fraser also highlights quite how much this high level Church politics and globe trotting really matters:

For the communion allows bishops of crisis-stricken dioceses to get on a plane and reinvent themselves as players on the world stage. Many parishes see less and less of their bishops as they clock up the air miles.

In the traditional Church of England, the parish is the unit that matters to most worshippers. And at the level of the parish, the crisis in global Anglicanism is irrelevant. While bishops and archbishops squabble and plot, the local church gets on with saying its prayers and caring for the needy. These faithful are now being badly let down by their leadership.

So what will be the outcome? I really don’t know, but I’m half expecting a compromise to be reached. Look at what’s happened. In terms of the conference, aside from the publicity stunt last night, there have been none of the predicted walk-outs, and as Giles Fraser has pointed out, how relevant will whatever happens be to the people on the ground anyway? Thankfully Dave Walker (sadly another person who couldn’t find a news organisation or Church expense account to fund a week in the sun) is on hand to put it all into context.

Archbishop Akinola avoids the press and The White Sands originally uploaded by scottgunn.

All Anglicans Together?

I’ve written many times over recent months over the increasing contortions that parts of the Anglican Communion are going through in order to remain Anglican, but exclude another group in the Church that they think aren’t Anglicans. The Global South grouping of Churches within the Anglican Communion has recently had a meeting, which produced a communiqué detailing the results of the meeting. Interestingly the document as a whole is carefully phrased and in a number newspaper reports has been incorrectly described as being backed by all twenty of the provinces represented. As with previous letters it has transpired that the communiqué has not received unanimous support at the meeting, indeed the South African primate has already released a statement distancing himself from the document.

Not surprisingly the document relates back to the same ongoing issue over the actions of the Episcopal Church in the US, specifically the fact that they didn’t boot out Gene Robinson at their recent convention (not that they could). Of course the other issue is that the Episcopal Church also elected Katharine Jefferts Schori as their primate, so another part of the communiqué requests that somebody else be sent to the next primates meeting from the Episcopal Church to represent those parts of the church that don’t agree with her election.

The document also proposes what is effectively a church within a church in the USA having a ‘traditional’ Anglican Church under the umbrella of the Global South provinces, but one that is still within the Anglican Communion. The key part of this proposal being that ‘traditional’ churches in the US will join the traditional church This again goes back to the fact that the traditionalists cannot break with Canterbury because to many to be an Anglican requires being in communion with the Archbishop, and will result in this ludicrous arrangement whereby the two parts of the Episcopal Church will both regard themselves as being in communion with Canterbury, but not with each other. The irony in all of the mud slinging over the Episcopal Church not having responded to the Windsor Report is that another part of the same report explicity speaks against just the sort of meddling in other provinces that the Global South are proposing.

As I’ve said before, the increasing contortions that various groups are going through not to leave are just getting more and more tedious, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the ripples from this are bound to rock the Church of England too – in this case because there will be Churches in the Church of England who will decide to join the ‘traditional’ Anglican Church.

Is Anyone Happy with B033?

So everything has panned out pretty much as expected. The Americans pulled together a last minute motion, B033, that reads as follows:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further

Resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on the communion.

However, nobody really seems happy about it. The Diocese of Washington has published a ‘Statement of Conscience‘, essentially distancing themselves from the resolution because firstly it was only briefly discussed, and secondly because it discriminates. Father Jake, as would be expected, has a much more direct and forthright response.

Looking on the other side of the rift, the Anglican Communion Network published this statment describing the measure as inadequate. Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria was quick with a response too.

There is even comment from a participant in the General Convention who believes that the motion was the centre ground speaking. However if you read further, even he isn’t happy with the result.

So could it have been any different? Could there have been a solution that would make everybody happy? I think not. Nothing short of the removal of the Bishop of New Hampshire, and a legal block on any similar appointments (something I don’t think was even possible under the canon law of the church in a single convention) and the most pitiful, grovelling statement – the verbal equivalent of crawling through the streets in sackcloth and ashes would have satisfied the conservative side. Equally, any move that can be seen as in any way discriminatory would be unacceptable to the liberal wing. Essentially, the only solution would be one that made one group or another happy, not both. What they finished up with was one which pleased nobody, too wishy-washy for the conservatives, and a perceived slap in the face to the liberals.

So what should have happened? Reading the discussion, I was reminded of John Shelby Spong’s call for a new reformation. In a similar way to Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517, Spong published 12 theses online, and in his book “New Christianity for a New Worldâ€?, the twelfth of which is:

All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

Maybe, rather that being, well Anglican about it all, the Episcopal General Convention, realising that no compromise that they would produce would satisfy the conservatives, gone with what they believed, and have backed at previous conventions, and effectively kicked off the new reformation proposed by Spong. Instead, the resolution has alienated and offended parts of the church, without doing anything more than postponing the inevitable break-up of the Anglican Communion. To be frank, the beliefs expressed by both groups are so deep seated that neither is ever going to be happy unless the other moves their position, and since the conservative group isn’t happy for the liberal to be in the same Church (although in general the liberal group seem to be happy to include the conservatives), it seems better that they separate. (This of course will get on to another whole load of terribly earnest but totally tedious and irrelevant arguments over who is the ‘true’ Anglican church. To be honest, who cares?) At least then the two groups can actually get back to doing what the church is called to do, rather than arguing amongst themselves.

First Female Primate

In a move that will probably go down like the proverbial lead balloon in certain quarters, and in what is certainly an interesting counterpoint to the slow moves to even get a woman Bishop in this country, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the USA has narrowly elected Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first ever female primate of an Anglican Church. For those of you who don’t know much about the Church hierarchy, this roughly equivalent to us having a woman as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Putting aside that many parts of the worldwide Church don’t even have women priests, let a lone female bishops, she also voted for the election of Gene Robinson three years ago, and is supportive of blessing same-sex unions. A split in the Church is probably now a foregone conclusion.

No Win Situation

I haven’t commented for a while on the whole Anglican issue, precisely because I’m finding the whole thing increasingly tedious. However, it was with some interest that I heard the news on Thursday that the Global South Anglican primates had written a letter criticising the Archbishop of Cantebury. The full text of the letter is available on the Global South web site, however it is worth reading this letter too from the Archbishop of Nigeria in response to certain of the signatories trying to disassociate themselves from the document.

The reason I found it interesting, is that just the day before, I’d been reading Father Jake commenting on the question and answer session held at the self same Global South conference that produced the letter.

To be honest, I get the impression after reading the two sides, it seems that Rowan Williams attempt to steer some sort of middle way is not really working. On the one hand you have the Global South picking up on anything that sounds too liberal as an example of how he hasn’t really changed, and yet people on the liberal side of the argument picking up on other points that they consider are leaning too much towards the Global South opinion.

To my mind there is an assumption that it is almost inevitable that the Anglican Communion will split, and we’ll have more of the Global South sending missionaries to the Western Churches, and providing episcopal oversight, for example the bizarre situation with Sandy Millar of Alpha fame being made a Bishop of the Diocese of Uganda, but remaining living in London, or the mission of the Nigerian Anglican Church in the USA. However as I commented more than a year ago I’d be surprised if a full scale split is imminent, as each side is working on the assumption that the other will either be booted out, or leave of their own accord, not on the basis that they will have to leave themselves. Although there are the loud voices in the debate, the majority of the people in the debate still regard themselves as Anglican – and those on the other side of the argument as being the heretics.

Of course I could be totally wrong, and even now a press release is being written. However, in the short to medium term, I think we’re probably heading for some sort of fudge that will please nobody, maybe with bits of the Anglican Communion being in communion with some parts, but not with others. The next big crunch will come when the invitations go out for Lambeth 2008, but even then I half expect that some sort of fiddle to avoid the issue of whether to invite the Bishop of New Hampshire will be found.

However, I do think that without a split, we’re really doomed to more and more of this endless Church politics being played out in the international media, but is ultimately of little interest to the majority of people, especially in the UK.

Update: Looks like Ruth Gledhill of the Times also thinks that this is just another step in the increase in tension, and that the next big crunch will be 2008 too. She also links off to a somewhat more lighthearted take from the Cartoon Church.