PRIMATES ACCEPT THE WINDSOR REPORT "ECUSA TO THE PENALTY BOX!"
If you read your newspaper this past weekend, you read dribs and drabs of the Primates meeting last week in Northern Ireland. I have the closing Communiqué of the Primates meeting before me, and would like to share highlights of it with you, and its possible ramifications on the Episcopal Church in the USA. You probably are aware that I have a traditional, biblical view of human sexuality, and so my comments will no doubt reflect my position. Also, I am using terms that don't have to be checked in a theological dictionary, so "hardliners" may find fault with the terminology I use. Oh, well....
BACKGROUND: The Anglican Communion is a worldwide network of approximately 70-80 million (depending on who's counting) people. It is broken into thirty-eight autonomous "provinces," of which the Episcopal Church, USA is one. These provinces tend to be national churches scattered around the world, which see the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury as their anchors. Each province has an Archbishop as chief shepherd. In the Episcopal Church USA ("ECUSA"), we use the term Presiding Bishop rather than Archbishop. His name is Frank Griswold. We pray for him each week in our Communion Liturgy. These Primates gather once a year to discuss the state of the Anglican Communion. Also, once every ten years, all the bishops of the Anglican Communion (somewhere around a thousand) get together for the Lambeth Conference to do heavy-duty discussion. The last Lambeth Conference was in 1998, when a resolution was overwhelmingly passed that stated in part that genital sexual activity is a gift of God to be shared between a husband and wife in Holy Matrimony. Sexual activity outside those bounds is not OK. The majority of the American bishops at Lambeth in fact voted for this resolution.
REVIEW: It is a fact that for a number of years, bishops in certain dioceses in the USA have been allowing the blessing of same sex relationships in their dioceses, and have been ordaining active homosexuals to the priesthood. When the Lambeth resolution was passed in 1998, most of the bishops involved in this activity simply ignored it. The whole thing hit the fan, however, when an active homosexual was elected Bishop of New Hampshire, SOON AFTER THE PRIMATES HAD ASKED THE ECUSA TO STOP DOING ORDINATIONS OF ACTIVE HOMOSEXUALS. When Mr. Robinson was consecrated a bishop in November of 2003, the Primates met in extraordinary session to deal with the crisis. The Archbishop of Canterbury, as one of the Primates and acting on the advice of the Primates, commissioned a study to come up with a method to keep the provinces of the Anglican Communion from flying apart as a result of this horrible situation. That study took a year, and was issued just last October, entitled the Windsor Report. The Report showed great distaste for the direction of ECUSA regarding sexual practice, and among other recommendations requested that ECUSA express regret for tearing the fabric of the Communion by its non-biblical actions, and asked ECUSA to enact moratoriums on same sex blessings and ordinations of active homosexuals.
PRESENT SITUATION: Last week, the Primates met in Northern Ireland and received the Windsor Report. At the end of their four day, closed meeting, they issued a communiqué, which summarized what they ALL agreed upon regarding the present impasse. Of the 22 paragraphs of the communiqué (you can read the whole thing on a number of websites - I might suggest you type out "virtue online" in your search engine, and "read all about it"), I would like to highlight the ones I see as germane to our situation here in ECUSA.
Paragraph 6 states that many of the Primates are deeply disturbed that the 1998 Lambeth Resolution has been ignored. While calling for a compassionate response to the homosexual population in the world, they stand by their biblical position that sexual union is intended for a husband and wife.
Paragraph 8 states that Scripture is our primary authority FOR THE WHOLE COMMUNION. This is to counter some American arguments that scripture is simply a working document on which to reflect in light of local culture, much like the U. S. Constitution is viewed by many today. The Primates further state that all provinces need to agree on this principle of scriptural authority, or decide now if they wish to continue in the Communion. The provinces of the Communion must be inter-dependent, and so need the common ground of scriptural authority to remain in communion.
Paragraph 12 states the grave concern that as long as ECUSA refuses to "accept the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion," our unity and effectiveness in mission will be severely hindered.
Paragraph 14 asks (this is British diplomacy for "commands") ECUSA to withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council for three years, until Lambeth 2008. This is what is being called "Suspension" or "Penalty Box." The Primates are giving ECUSA three years to try to justify to the rest of the Communion its differing sexual morality, and meanwhile go to "time out" to think about its stance.
Paragraph 15 directs the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a "panel of reference" to supervise the adequacy of pastoral oversight. The ECUSA bishops passed a resolution a year ago called DEPO, Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight, to assist parishes in hostile dioceses to continue in the Episcopal Church when they judge that their bishop has departed from orthodox doctrine and action. DEPO has been less than successful, evidenced by the large number of parishes who have left ECUSA rather than submit to the difficulties involved in DEPO. This paragraph seems to say there will be "supervision" of this process from Primates other than ours.
Meanwhile, the Primates state that they will not "encourage nor initiate cross-boundary interventions."
Paragraph 16 calls upon representatives of ECUSA to appear before the Anglican Consultative Council this June to "set out the thinking behind recent actions of its province." Does the term, "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING WHEN YOU DID THAT" come to mind?
Paragraph 18 simply states "we ask our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters 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."
This is heavy stuff, my Brothers and Sisters! The Primates are telling ECUSA that it has three years to get its act together and return to the Anglican Communion fold, or it may be excommunicated.
In two weeks, I will attend the ECUSA House of Bishops meeting in Texas, where we will take up the results of the Primates meeting, and deal with the possibility of declaring a moratorium on the blessing of same sex unions, and on ordaining people who are engaged in sexual relationships outside marriage between a husband and a wife. Pray for us. So far, the mood has not been toward reconciliation with the Anglican Communion, but on staying the course of "honoring our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters." Pray that the silent majority of bishops, who just hope the problem will go away, will unite and vote to go into the moratoriums. I will report back after the meeting.
Will the Episcopal Church become a very small "niche" Protestant sect, or will it come back to the Anglican Communion fold and live by the biblical norms of the other 78 million Anglicans? Watch and pray.
The Rt. Rev. David Bena
Bishop Suffragan of Albany