A headline in today's Fargo Forum states: "Anglicans ask U.S., Canada to leave." After reviewing the Primates' Meeting Communique, I think a more accurate headline might have been: "Anglicans ask U.S., Canada to take a time-out." It appears the Episcopal Church is being asked to withdraw from the councils of Anglicanism for a time, to decide if we want to remain a member of the Anglican Communion or not.
The situation leading up to the current crisis is summarized in paragraph 6: "Many primates have been deeply alarmed that the standard of Christian teaching on matters of human sexuality expressed in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which should command respect as the position overwhelmingly adopted by the bishops of the Anglican Communion, has been seriously undermined by the recent developments in North America." You will recall the Lambeth Conference, a gathering of the world's Anglican bishops, in 1998 declared that "in view of the teaching of Scripture, [this Conference] upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage." It also declared homosexual practice to be "incompatible with Scripture."
In what has been interpreted by many as defiance of this teaching, the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church consented to the election of a man involved in a sexual relationship outside of marriage to be bishop of New Hampshire, and the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster approved rites for the blessing of same sex unions. Since these actions threatened to tear apart the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other primates commissioned the so called "Windsor Report" to seek ways for the churches of the Anglican Communion to remain together, despite theological disagreements over issues of human sexuality.
One of the recommendations of the Windsor Report, now endorsed by the primates, is for the Episcopal Church "to exercise 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" (para. 18). It would seem we have until General Convention of 2006 to enact such a moratorium. Failure to do so will most likely be interpreted as a decision to excommunicate ourselves from the councils of the AnglicanCommunion.
The next General Convention is only 15 months away. Therefore, I call upon members of the Diocese of North Dakota, and especially vestries, the Standing Committee, Diocesan Convention delegates and General Convention deputies to engage in prayerful discussions about whether God is calling us to remain in the Anglican Communion
I also ask you to be mindful of the primates' words pertaining to our attitude towards homosexual persons: "We continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual persons. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship" (para. 6).
Finally, I ask for your continued prayers for reconciliation, healing and forgiveness within our church and between the churches of the Anglican Communion. A practical way to do this is by praying the simplified form of Evening Prayer, available through my office, containing prayers for the Anglican Communion.
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith,
Bishop of North Dakota