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Update: Episcopal groups react to Primates' communiqué

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
2/27/2007
[Episcopal News Service]  Editor's note: this is an updated version of a story posted to the ENS website February 21.

Organizations at various locations on the spectrum of Episcopal and Anglican opinion have issued statements about the communiqué that was issued late February 19 following the meeting of Anglican Primates near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The full text of the Primates' communiqué is available here.

Below are summaries of some of the statements issued by organizations (in alphabetical order) with links to the complete texts.

American Anglican Council

"The clock is now running on The Episcopal Church, and it is running fast," the Rev. Canon David C. Anderson said in a February 23 statement.

Anderson is the president and CEO of the American Anglican Council, a conservative advocacy organization that opposes many of the decisions of the last two General Conventions.

"This is the most important decision taken by the global Anglican Communion since the last Lambeth Resolutions were issued in 1998," Anderson said.

Anderson said that the communiqué put the Episcopal Church "firmly into the penalty box" from which it will not be released "without a true, 180-degree turn from the behavior and theology that has become the norm in many parts of the U.S. church over the past several decades."

Anderson said there are "some difficult areas" in the communiqué but that it is "strong overall."

The organization also announced the creation of a "Communiqué Compliance Office," saying it will "monitor [the Episcopal Church's] acts of compliance and non-compliance with respect to the primates' requirements throughout the period leading up to the Sept. 30 deadline" and will give the primates monthly updates.

The complete text of the statement is available here.

Anglican Mission in America

In a statement posted on the organization's website, the AMiA said "we are thankful that the Primates unequivocally rejected The Episcopal Church's request to end all interventions in North America until there is deep and genuine change in The Episcopal Church."

"This decision provides much needed protection for those who can no longer accept the spiritual authority of TEC," the statement said.

"We remain thankful that the AMiA enjoys a secure home in the Province of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda and the assurances of our Archbishop that this will not change without our request and/or consent," the statement concluded. "Given our canonical standing within the Province of Rwanda, the Anglican Mission is in no way expected to be placed under the oversight or authority of either the proposed Pastoral Council or a Primatial Vicar, but we will support and pray for our brothers and sisters in the Communion who may be entering into this interim arrangement."

The AMiA formed in 2000 from congregations which have broken away from the Episcopal Church over their perception that the church has strayed from traditional Anglican theology. The AMiA is overseen by Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda and the Rwandan House of Bishops.

The complete text of the statement is available here.

Changing Attitude England and Changing Attitude Nigeria

Changing Attitude England and Changing Attitude Nigeria, joined by Inclusive Church (see below) issued a statement on February 19 which called, in part, for honesty.

Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998, which the communiqué called "the standard of teaching" on sexuality, also calls for bishops to listen to the experiences of homosexual people. The three groups said that "the bishops who drafted the original version of the Resolution refused to meet us and hear our testimony."

"It is not possible for us to be bound by teaching drafted by a largely male, heterosexual body of bishops," the statement said. "The Anglican Communion can never come to an integrated teaching on human sexuality until it has listened with open mind and heart to our experience and Christian testimony."

The statement said the same-gender blessings are being performed in other Anglican provinces.

"The Episcopal Church is not alone in having many faithful lesbian and gay couples who seek God's blessing on their relationship. We know that in England, the USA and Canada as well as other Provinces, priests will continue to find ways to bless such relationships," the statement said. "If the church can condone the blessing of so many inanimate objects, it is surely right to bless the love of two people of the same gender. We pray for the day when the church can support the authorisation of same-sex blessings."

The complete statement is available here.

Convocation of Anglicans in North America

Bishop Martyn Minns, who was elected bishop by the Anglican Church of Nigeria's House of Bishops from his position of rector of Truro Church in Virginia, and his wife were "members of a staff support team for Archbishop Peter Akinola and the other Primates of the Global South" during the Primates' Meeting, according to a statement on CANA's website.

Akinola created what became the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) and it is the organization with which a majority of the membership of 11 Diocese of Virginia congregations voted to affiliate.

"The stakes were enormous and it was an intense spiritual battle," he said of his time at the resort where the meeting took place.

Minns wrote that the Primates resisted "any attempt to draw a moral equivalence between our so-called 'interventions' and the 'innovations' now embraced" by the Episcopal Church.

The Primates, he wrote, are "determined to do all that they can for the unity of the Church but who will not give up biblical truth for the sake of a false unity."

"We have been distracted for too long by the endless struggles of TEC," he wrote. "We are no longer a part of TEC and our call is to show the world a new way of living and a new way of loving."

The complete statement is available here.

Episcopal Majority

The Rev. David Fly, president of Episcopal Majority, issued a letter February 23 urging people to express their opinions to their bishops before the March 16 beginning of the House of Bishops meeting.

"The Communiqué represents a misreading of the polity of the Episcopal Church," Fly wrote. "There are a number of reasons to encourage our bishops to refuse to accept the September 30 deadline and to ultimately say 'no' to demands of the Communiqué itself."

Fly suggested that the bishops should refuse to impose moratoriums on "legal consecrations or clerical blessings."

He wrote that the communiqué "does not take into account our Constitution and Canons" and said that the bishops "should refuse to deal with the demands of the Communiqué until a Covenant is in place defining the limits of foreign intervention -- especially the kind of intervention proposed by creation of the Pastoral Council."

He also said that the bishops ought to "make clear" to the Primates that accepting their demands "would usurp the process of the Covenant Design Group."

Episcopal Majority says it represents the "broad middle majority" of Episcopalians who agree with the church and the direction it has taken regarding issues of human sexuality as well as Jefferts Schori's election as Presiding Bishop.

The complete text of the statement is available here.

Forward in Faith

The Anglican group, Forward in Faith, which opposes women's ordination, said in a statement on its website that it prayed for Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori "that she may be more faithful" than her predecessor in carrying out the provisions of previous Primates' communiqués.

"We regret that the decision to declare a moratorium on interventions in North America by Primates from elsewhere in the Communion may lead some to conclude that such 'crossing of boundaries' is as serious a matter as the doctrinal and ethical deviations which have made it necessary," the statement said.

The complete statement is available here.

Inclusive Church

The Rev. Giles Goddard, chair of the executive committee of Inclusive Church, a United Kingdom organization, posted a statement in which he acknowledged the complexity of the issues that faced the Primates and the compromises made on all sides. He wrote that the cost of discipleship is sometimes high.

"The cost demanded of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is immense, and has been for generations," Goddard wrote. "The continuing failure of the Communion to address the pastoral needs and receive the ministerial gifts and insights of the whole community is part of that cost."

He said that a cost is also incurred because "the continuing arguments are damaging the Church's mission and undermining the Gospel" and he asked why parts of the church are "so obsessed by the single issue of homosexuality."

Goddard wrote that the Episcopal Church is being used as a scapegoat in the Communion's life. The demand for the Episcopal Church not to authorize same-gender blessings, he wrote, "ignores the reality that across the Church of England such blessings are happening right across the country as parish priests respond to the pastoral needs of their community."

He said that his organization does not want to see anyone "driven from the church" and would therefore commit "to continue the process of dialogue and relationship to which the Primates have called us."

Institute on Religion and Democracy

While not a specifically Episcopal or Anglican organization, the IRD has been active in attempts to influence policy decisions of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

The group, which also attempts to influence the United Methodist and Presbyterian churches of the USA, issued a statement commending the communiqué.

"We commend the primates for their pastoral concern for all Anglicans -- including those in the United States who have either left the Episcopal Church for other Anglican jurisdictions or who remain within the denomination but find themselves at odds with either their bishop or the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop," the statement said in part.

The complete statement is available here.

Integrity

Integrity, an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] Episcopalians and their allies, said February 20 that the Primates "chose bigotry over baptism."

"The primates of the Anglican Communion have utterly failed to recognize the faith, relationships, and vocations of the gay and lesbian baptized," said Integrity President Susan Russell.

Noting that most of the Primates had attended a February 18 Eucharist at Zanzibar's Anglican cathedral, built over a former slave-trading market, during which they expressed regret for the slave trade, Russell said, "Let us pray it doesn't take another hundred years for yet-unborn primates to gather for a service of repentance for what the church has done to its gay and lesbian members today, as they repented in Zanzibar yesterday for what it did to those the church failed to embrace as full members of the Body of Christ."

The Rev. Michael Hopkins, immediate past president of Integrity, said in the statement that "if the House of Bishops (or any other body with actual authority in this church) capitulates to these demands and sacrifices gay and lesbian people to the idol of the Instruments of [Communion], it will have become the purveyor of an 'anti-Gospel' that will (and should) repel many."

Integrity encouraged people to contact their bishops to urge them to "reject the demands of the primates" and added that Integrity's leadership would seek an immediate meeting with Jefferts Schori "to express our deep concerns and encourage the Executive Council to insist on the inclusion of all orders of ministry in the ongoing process of discernment on Anglican Communion issues."

The full text of the statement is available here.

Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes

The Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, which includes all of the dioceses that have asked for a relationship with a primate other than Jefferts Schori, posted on its website a pastoral letter from Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan. He also acts as the network's moderator.

His letter outlines the report he made to the Primates during a session that includes a statement by Jefferts Schori, Western Louisiana Bishop Bruce MacPherson and Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church's ecumenical and interfaith officer.

"Clearly we were heard," Duncan wrote, citing the resulting communiqué as evidence.

"We can work with this. We will work with this. It is not perfect and there are a number of potential obstacles. We will enter in good faith," he wrote. "The Primates spent so much of their meeting on our concerns that we can do no less in response to their best assessment of a path forward. What we have is an interim proposal for an interim period with interim structures, while the Episcopal Church majority has one last opportunity to turn back from its 'walking apart.'"

Duncan's letter is available here.

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh

Joan Gundersen, president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP), said in a February 20 statement that the communiqué demonstrates "that a majority of Anglican Communion leaders are unwilling to be complicit in the dismemberment of the Anglican Communion or The Episcopal Church."

"Their statement and recommendations for backing away from the abyss of schism leave Episcopalians with many unanswered questions and concerns, however," Gundersen said.

"While directing clearly that there be no further action to remove property from The Episcopal Church, the primates cannot reasonably expect that the legal questions raised by divisions that have already occurred will go away," noted Gundersen.

She continued: "Who will begin the healing of the wounds caused by those who have encouraged withdrawal from institutions of The Episcopal Church? In every diocese that is a likely candidate for oversight by a Primatial Vicar, there are many faithful Episcopalians (such as PEP members) who want to be in direct relationship with the institutions and Presiding Bishop of our church. Who is caring for their needs?"

PEP is a Via Media USA affiliate (see below) that opposes Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan's efforts to sever certain ties with the governance of the Episcopal Church and have a relationship with an Anglican primate other that Jefferts Schori.

"The single-minded focus on The Episcopal Church is strange, given that other autonomous churches of the Anglican Communion are dealing with passage of civil laws recognizing single-sex civil unions," she said.

The complete text of the statement, which was issued by Gundersen and PEP vice president and Via Media USA facilitator Christopher Wilkins, is available here.

Via Media USA

Christopher Wilkins, the facilitator of Via Media USA, issued a statement early on February 20. Via Media USA is an alliance of Episcopal laity and clergy formed in 2004 to offer a counterpoint to efforts to "realign" the Episcopal Church along more conservative lines.

Wilkins wrote that he read the communiqué knowing that all who minister in the Church "do so best when doing so together, mindful of our differences and in the light of the Christ we share."

"It is no easy task to care spiritually for millions of people in a wide range of cultures and societies as they seek to follow the paths on which God has set them," he wrote. "Success with this task helps our communities of faith abide in the fullness of God's abundant love. Failure with it leaves our communities showing signs of wear, fracture, and decay, making that love seem elusive."

Wilkins wrote that the communiqué and its schedule of recommendations ought to be judged on that score and that this reflection in the Episcopal Church will take time.

"Some of us will find these documents to be a balm. Some of us will find in them the taste of wormwood," he wrote.

But, he added, Anglicans share a global tradition that many value and so they must ask how the recommendations and plans set forth by the Primates could make for "healthier, more stable and more loving communities of faith" and how they might make the ministries of those communities more difficult.

Wilkins' statement reminded readers that everyone in the Episcopal Church must minister both to those "who feel most at odds" with the Church because of its decisions in 2003 and 2006, and "those whom they themselves have made to suffer."

The full text of the statement is available here.