The two national churches that spoke most of being inclusive have been excluded for three years from their own communion.
Both the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. have been effectively suspended from their international body, the Anglican Communion, until 2008, at which time, if they do not change their ways, they might be expelled entirely from their global fellowship.
The leaders of the Anglican Communion, representing 77 million Anglicans, took decisive action to discipline the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) and the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. (ECUSA) by asking them to “voluntarily withdraw” from attending the Anglican Consultative Council for the next three years. The council is the communion’s senior consultative body, which governs the work of the communion between the decennial Lambeth Conferences.
Besides the suspension, both churches have been called on the carpet to explain their deviation from church teaching and practice.
A communiqué issued on Feb. 24 by 35 primates or senior bishops from a quiet retreat in Dromantine, Northern Ireland, surprised many who had expected no action or closure, but only more talk.
Trouble began in May 2003, when the Diocese of New Westminster in B.C. authorized a rite for blessing same sex-unions. In the following November, ECUSA consecrated a non-celibate homosexual, Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire. Finally, in June 2004, the General Synod of ACC voted to “affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships”.
The primates questioned “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 primates asked representatives of ECUSA and ACC to appear before a special “hearing” organized by the Anglican Consultative Council in June 2005 “to set out the thinking behind the recent actions of their provinces.”
The communiqué reaffirmed 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, which ruled that homosexual practice was “incompatible with Scripture” and that faithfulness in marriage and abstinence outside of marriage was “the present position of the Anglican Communion.” It requested “a moratorium on public rites of blessing for same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage.”
To ensure protection for those North American Anglicans who did respect the communion’s teaching on sexuality, the primates recommended that the archbishop of Canterbury “appoint, as a matter of urgency, a panel of reference to supervise the adequacy of pastoral provisions” for “groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their provinces.”
The communiqué also said, “During this period, we commit ourselves neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions.”
While recognizing that the 38 provinces have provincial autonomy, the communiqué requested all provinces “to consider whether they are willing to be committed to the inter-dependent life of the Anglican Communion.”
In the midst of the proceedings, the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said, “Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart.” He continued, “There will be no cost–free outcome from this. To put it as bluntly as I can, there are no clean breaks in the body of Christ.” When the final communiqué was issued, he said, “Any lasting solution, I think, will require people to say somewhere along the line, ‘Yes, we were wrong.’”
Andrew Hutchison, primate of Canada, told the CBC that the primates’ gathering “can only ask and recommend. It can’t command.” Moreover, it would be for the General Synod meeting in 2007 to make a formal response to the rest of the communion.
In a statement issued March 7, Hutchison said that voluntary withdrawal from the Anglican Consultative Council would be discussed at the next House of Bishops in April and would be decided in May at the Council of General Synod (CoGS). CoGS is the governing body that guides the church in the three-year periods between General Synods.
Hutchison was particularly annoyed by the visit of Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone, to Vancouver immediately after the consultation, to address a conference of 500 orthodox Anglicans. Venables, who is based in Argentina, described the communiqué as “an end to Western arrogance.”
Hutchison was further exasperated when the archbishop of Canterbury declined to attend a joint gathering of Canadian and American bishops in April, to which he had been invited more than a year ago. Williams cited a conflict with a meeting in England. “The message it sends to us is that he does not want to be associated with Canadians.”
While Hutchison and Frank Griswold, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church, initially tried to put a good face on it all by saying “more unites us than divides us,” Hutchison later told a Toronto gathering on March 16 that, “The communion is, in fact, broken.”
Michael Ingham, bishop of New Westminster, whose consent to bless same-sex unions precipitated the turmoil, said, “The Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council makes no provision for member churches to be ‘uninvited.’ Nor has the archbishop of Canterbury given any indication of an intention to provoke schism in the communion by uninviting bishops to the Lambeth Conference.” Ingham believes that the voluntary withdrawal is intended “to appease the angriest voices in the communion, but it should be firmly resisted by both churches.” Ingham found the request to appear before a special hearing of the Consultative Council to be “invidious and unsatisfactory”.
His office also indicated that it is up to the Diocesan Synod meeting in May to decide if there should be a moratorium on blessing same-sex unions. They would continue until then.
Ed Hird, priest at St. Simon’s in North Vancouver, whose parish, along with three others, broke away from the Anglican Church of Canada in 2004 over the blessing of same-sex unions, and now belongs to the Anglican Church of Rwanda, said the request for ACC and ECUSA to voluntarily withdraw was unprecedented. “It shows that the North American liberal Anglicans are out of sync with world-wide Anglican faith and practice. Westerners find it very hard to believe they can be held accountable by the global church.” Hird told the CBC that for the first time, the liberals “have been removed from the corridors of power and influence.”
Stephen Schuh, president of Integrity, Vancouver, a gay Anglican group, said, “In asking gay Anglicans to accept a voluntary moratorium on same-sex blessings, the primates are asking us to violate our conscience. But now that we’re out of the ecclesiastical closet, we won’t deny the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives again. It would be impossible to stop thanking God for blessing our relationships.”
The Zacchaeus Fellowship, which consists of Canadian Anglicans who have struggled with same-gender attractions, but are either celibate or have experienced sexual re-orientation, also commented. Dawn McDonald, the rector of Holy Cross Japanese Anglican Church, Vancouver, said Zacchaeus members were very encouraged by the communiqué.
“It was a confirmation for us that the Anglican church has not changed or abandoned the traditional scriptural teachings on human sexuality. It was also a confirmation that we are not as abandoned by the church as we (sometimes) feel.”
With eight million members, Uganda is the second largest Anglican church in Africa (after Nigeria with 17.5 million). In September 2003, the Ugandan House of Bishops broke fellowship with ECUSA and ACC. Despite their desperate poverty, they also refused any funding from these wealthier churches. Henry Luke Orombi, archbishop of the Church of Uganda, told a press conference:
“Contrary to reports coming out of North American that say, ‘We have more in common than we do what divides us,’ I am not convinced of that. We have a lot that divides us and we are praying that ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada will repent and rejoin biblical Anglicanism.
“We are committed to other members of the Episcopal church who are orthodox in their interpretation of the Scriptures and adore Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord. We continue to provide support for them, because they share with us in the same mission. We continue in a state of broken communion with the Episcopal Church of America and Canada, because they have not repented of their actions.
“We see homosexual practices as unbiblical and against the teaching of the church. Only Jesus, who makes a difference to people, can transform them, not debates.
“The church of Uganda is committed to offering the Gospel to those struggling with homosexuality. Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, ‘Go and sin no more,’ not ‘Go and sin some more’. For the North Americans, pastoral care means providing services for the blessing of same-sex unions. For us in Uganda, pastoral care means leading people into the fully transformed life that Jesus promises to those who call upon his name.”