After the tension of the meeting, and the ultimately fudged ‘unanimous’ communiquÃ©, the recent meeting of the Anglican Communion Primates left the US church with an interesting problem. They alone were singled out for special treatment, with a plan for independent oversight of disputed Churches, for which apparently recruitment is already occurring, and the House of Bishops called upon to not approve any same-sex blessings (although ironically the Church in Sweeden who are in communion with parts of the Anglican Communion have just approved a rite) The Anglican Church of Canada also got briefly mentioned over approval of same-sex blessings.
To be honest, it was obvious that it was merely postponing the inevitable as it was announced as the final communiquÃ© addressed only some of the issues of disagreement. The church in the USA and Canada were asked to step back, whilst at the same time, in order to get him to to sign, Bishops who were meddling in other provinces such as Peter Akinola were allowed to continue. The mission from the Nigerian Church into the USA, was effectively given some measure of legitimacy.
Within weeks, the Anglican Church in Canada made their position clear, and now the American Bishops have done the same. They have refused the plan for independent oversight on both spiritual and legal grounds, and highlighted that thanks to the democratic structures of the Church much of what was suggested cannot be approved by the Bishops alone. The fact that Peter Akinola also hasn’t been censured for his backing of the new Nigerian anti-Gay law – a move seen by many as contrary to the Anglican listening process that is supposed to be taking place has caused positions to harden even more, resulting in statements that are for once clear, and strong in their position. At one point they even accuse the primates of trying to drag the Anglican Communion back to a ‘time of colonialism’ with a central Church over which the others have no control dictating policy worldwide. They have called for a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss their position before the official response is made in September.
The general response from many is that it is good to see the Bishops holding to their beliefs and principals. Quite what will happen to the Anglican Communion though is open for debate as the Episcopal Church still bankrolls much of the Anglican Church, hence the attempts to keep the whole thing together. Ultimately what makes the whole thing more frustrating from a UK point of view is the fact that it is widely known that the Archbishop of Canterbury is theologically closer to the US and Canadian position, but is not expressing his opinion because of his international role. Ironic considering that in his own Church, after public calls for the 26 Bishops in the House of Lords to vote down the Sexual Orientation Regulations, only three of them voted to oppose them – which coupled with events at General Synod, certainly gives an indication of the direction in which the Church of England is heading. The fact is that many of it’s leaders do not believe that the Church should be stopping a law that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, nor are they going to censure their own clergy if they are apparently breaking the current rules as a result of the ongoing listening process, however much some of the conservatives may kick up a fuss.
In terms of our local Church, the topic came up as part of our Lent Course last week, and despite my concerns that it would be a divisive topic, seemed to go rather well, and certainly there was a good deal of respect for the differing opinions. Age wise the younger members of the groups seemed to either be inclusive, or to admit that they had never really thought about it in a Church context as they didn’t have an issue in day-to-day life, and in general even the people who had issues over the topic were not nearly as violently opposed as was suggested people would be a few years ago, and were willing to discuss it. Certainly it seemed to give Rev Richard confidence that we could move forward with properly exploring the issue in the future, something that has been avoided thus far.
I’ve bookmarked a lot of the online comment on the announcements over on my link blog, but worth a read are Ruth Gledhill’s comments, Stephen Bates posting under the heading ‘Bishops to Primate: Drop Dead’, The Episcopal Majority roundup, and of course check out Dave Walkers unique contribution.