The Rev'd Gavin Dunbar, Editor of the Anglican Free Press

(From the Summer 2005 Issue of the Anglican Free Press,
Volume 22, Number 2)

By the Rev'd Gavin Dunbar


The strain of defying the Communion is starting to show

The primates of Canada and the USA, Andrew Hutchison and Frank Griswold, have been in a snarky mood this spring. Things have not been going their way, and their tempers have started to fray.

First of all, when the Primates of the Communion met in Dromantine Conference Centre in Newry, Northern Ireland, in February, a large number of the other Primates made clear that they were not going to receive communion along with them - an unprecedented and sobering acknowledgement of division. Towards the end of the meeting, when Peter Akinola, the Primate of Nigeria, held an off-campus dinner party for a group of primates, to thank them for their hard work that week, Griswold and Hutchison reportedly turned on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, accusing him of ineffective leadership and of losing control of the meeting. That conflict was patched up by the next day, and at the closing press conference the emphasis was on the good will and good feelings at the meeting. Only Rowan Williams acknowledged the elephant in the living room - that division still threatens the communion.

The Communique released by the Primates' Meeting accepted the "general thrust" of the Windsor Report, and requested "all provinces to consider whether they are willing to be committed to the inter-dependent life of the Anglican Communion" as set out in the report. There was a strong rebuke of the Canadian and American churches (ACC and ECUSA): "Whilst there remains a very real question about whether the North American churches are willing to accept the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion, the underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity is obscure, and the effectiveness of our common mission severely hindered". At the same time, "time needs to be given [to them] for consideration" of the Windsor Report's recommendations "according to their constitutional processes".

In the meantime, however, they did: § "request" that the ACC and ECUSA "voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council" until the next Lambeth Conference in 2008, § "respond…to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion." § "recommend that the Archbishop of Canterbury appoint, as a matter of urgency, a panel of reference to supervise the adequacy of pastoral provisions made by any churches" for "groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their Provinces". § "encourage the Anglican Consultative Council to organize a hearing at its meeting …in June 2005 at which representatives [of the ACC and ECUSA]…may have an opportunity to set out the thinking behind the recent actions of their Provinces" § "[reaffirm] the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 as the present position of the Anglican Communion".

The concessions given in return were meager. As the Windsor Report recommended (on rather dubious grounds) the Primates committed themselves "neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions" - although this was tied to the establishment of the 'panel of reference' to supervise the care of dissenting conservatives. Also, they pledged themselves "afresh" to the Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 "in its entirety", and requested therefore the Anglican Consultative Council to "initiate the listening and study process" it called for.

"These strategies", they concluded "are intended to restore the full trust of our bonds of affection across the Communion.". Though hardly as draconian as some might have liked, and phrased rather too diplomatically for some by the liberal Archbishop Peter Carnley of Australia, they constitute a patient, deliberate, programme for the repentance of the rogue provinces of the Communion. For all the primates' willingness to exercise patient diplomacy, it is clear that their opposition to the agendas of the American and Canadian churches remains unyielding. The pressure, though building slowly, is definitely on - and the North American primates do not like it at all.

According to the Living Church, at the March meeting of the American House of Bishops in Texas, Frank Griswold told the US bishops that the primates were "out for blood", and that "the devil…, the father of lies…was certainly moving about Dromantine". In particular, he singled out six prominent American conservatives by name for their alleged plotting and scheming behind-the-scenes at Dromantine - including Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, the Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network; David Anderson, the President of the American Anglican Council; and Kendall Harmon, whose blogspot, Titusonenine, is a major clearing house for the current controversies.

At their March meeting, the House of Bishops did adopt a "Covenant Statement" which did go some of the distance towards compliance with the Windsor Report and the Primates' Communique. In it they:

§ reaffirmed their 'continuing commitment to remain in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury' and to take part in the other instruments of unity within the Communion.
§ expressed 'our own deep regret for the pain that others have experienced with respect to our actions at the General Convention of 2003' - although this is still not repentance for the actions themselves.
§ offered 'our sincerest apology and repentance for having breached the bonds of affection by any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners before taking those actions' - although it was failure to respect the Communion's teaching that was the most grievous offense, not just the failure to consult.
§ pledged to 'withhold consent to the consecration of any person elected to the episcopate' before the General Convention of 2006 - although, since what was required was a moratorium on consecration of active homosexuals, this amounts to going on strike in an act of solidarity with those who reject the Communion's teaching; and may inflict unjust suffering on dioceses which are in full compliance with the Communion's teaching
§ pledged 'not to authorize any public rites for the blessing of same sex unions, at least until General Convention 2006' - although this probably is not held by the House of Bishops to apply to the same-sex blessings authorized by individual dioceses.

Clearly, most of this is just window-dressing and doubletalk, since the terms in which they offer compliance subtly but profoundly distort the terms in which the recommendations were made - a point not lost on primatial observers like Peter Akinola. Moreover they continued to defer to the authority of General Convention as if its legislative processes were absolute, although the General Convention is in fact lawless, at odds with its own Constitution and prior decisions. Nonetheless, in a childishly petulant way, they marked the beginnings of unwilling motion towards compliance.

Back in Canada, something of the same childishness was on exhibit in the Primate's cross-country tour. At a public forum at St. James' Cathedral on March 16th, Hutchison did his best to throw all the blame for what he acknowledged was the "broken" state of the Communion on the conservative primates, while defiantly affirming an unqualified Canadian autonomy - views rapturously received by many at the forum, although bringing rebukes others (one of which, by David Curry, is printed elsewhere in this issue).

Leading Evangelical theologian J. I. Packer's criticism of Hutchison's stand was trenchant. In a statement posted on the Anglican Essentials Canada website ( Packer said Hutchison "declined to treat the issue as one of theology, involving biblical authority….He ignored the massive constituency of mainstream Anglicans who see the issue in those terms…as if they didn't exist". Instead, he affirmed "the autonomy of the ACC as if this excused unwillingness to be bound by the Solemn Declaration of 1893, the ACC's foundational document, and the refusal to take seriously the remonstrances of many Anglican leaders. He showed readiness to let what, for him, is now the established policy of blessing same-sex unions disrupt full communion with the Anglican fellowship, and did not seem to see this as an unhappy outcome. He criticized the Archbishop of Canterbury…for lack of leadership, apparently because he did not come out in support of the ECUSA-ACC policy drive".

The response from the Canadian House of Bishops and the Executive Council of the General Synod was likewise less than whole-hearted.

In late April, the Canadian House of Bishops meeting in Windsor, Ontario, issued its own "Statement of Commitment" In it they
§ affirmed "our continuing membership in the worldwide Anglican Communion" - although this was construed not in theological, sacramental, or spiritual terms, but in the secondary terms of taking part in practical and bureaucratic enterprises
§ recognized "that synodical decisions in some parts of the Canadian Church…have caused distress in some parts of the Communion", and said they were "sorry for the pain this has caused, and we regret that together we have not achieved a level of consultation deemed sufficient to the magnitude of the issues under consideration" - although, there was no regret for the actions themselves, or the failure to heed the Communion's common mind
§ committed themselves "to respond as fully as possible to those of their recommendations [of the Primates' Communique] as lie within our respective contexts and jurisdictions" - which is an important qualification
§ did not commit themselves to the requested "moratorium on the authorization of public rites forthe blessing of same sex unions" but did "neither to encourage nor to initiate the use of such rites until General Synod has made a decision on the matter" - which treats as absolute the power of General Synod, in disregard of the Canadian Church's constitution, and does nothing to halt the practice of the diocese of New Westminster -as Bishop Michael Ingham explicitly stated
§ Supported "our Primate's statement that he will do all in his power to persuade the Council [of General Synod] to honour " the request to withdraw the Canadian representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council
§ "wholeheartedly affirmed" their adherence to the Lambeth Quadrilateral

Despite advice from two committees of the national church's (Faith, Worship, and Ministry; and Ecojustice) to refuse (as "inappropriate" chiefly on procedural grounds) the primates' call to withdraw its representatives to the June meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Council of General Synod (with whom the decision lies) decided that the ACC's representatives on the Anglican Consultative Council should "attend but not participate" in the council's deliberations. The Primate was also authorized to formulate the presentation to be made at that meeting, as requested by the Windsor Report and the Primates, to explain the rationale behind recent decisions on the matter of same-sex blessings in the Canadian Church, and to name participants in that presentation. In an accompanying statement, the Council affirmed its participation in the Communion, framing its response to the Windsor Report and Primates' Communiqué, largely in terms of process: "We do recognize the importance of broad consultation and look forward to and opportunity to share and to engage in further conversations with members of the Communion". In addition, they affirmed their "rightful place within the Anglican Communion" but said nothing about adherence to the Communion's teaching.

Meanwhile, it is widely expected that the Primates' Theological Commission's soon-to-be-released report will clarify the question of whether same-sex blessings are a matter of doctrine. The Synod of New Westminster claimed that it was not a matter of doctrine, as grounds for authorizing them in that diocese, but the Theological Commission is unlikely to accept the Synod's line of reasoning. That would place the Diocese of New Westminster in contravention of canon law, and require the measure to be referred to two consecutive meetings of General Synod before it could be authorized.

In short? A foot-dragging, pettifogging, sometimes petulant response to the Windsor Report and the Primates' Communiqué - but the beginnings of compliance nonetheless.

Note: After this editorial was written, the report of the Primates’ Theological Commission – The St. Michael Report – was released on May 6, 2005. The report concluded that the question of same-sex blessings is a matter of doctrine, but the Commission “does not believe that this should be a communion-breaking issue.”

For more editorials by The Rev'd Gavin Dunbar, click below:
The Primates' Lambeth Palace Statement
Meanwhile back in Canada....

We recommend to our readers A Place to Stand: A Call to Action
Text may be found at American Anglican Council
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