Editorial: Response to the #Primates2016 Statement

by

by Jon White

 

Yesterday, the Primates released a statement from their gathering in Canterbury where the prophetic witness of the Episcopal Church regarding full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church came under sanction. The majority of the Primates gathered saw our decisions in favor of marriage equality at last summer’s General Convention to be a step that works against the spirit of communion.

 

Much of the immediate reaction amongst Episcopalians have been expressions of anger and hurt. It absolutely is hurtful to be rebuked for seeking justice. Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop, spoke eloquently of this hurt when he said to his peers; “I stand before you as your brother. I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.”

 

But really, shouldn’t this be expected? Our work for equality and full inclusion, on a communion-wide scale, is a kind of civil disobedience, and civil disobedience is often met with oppression and further injustice. But that doesn’t mean that we should disengage with the Anglican Communion because a couple of dozen men have sought to censure us. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

In those GAFCON churches are brothers and sisters in Christ who look to our example as a sign of hope and who need our continued support and advocacy and vision of an inclusive Anglicanism.

 

At the same time, however hurtful the language and however oppressive the aim, these “sanctions” are pretty weak tea. We’ve been in this neighborhood before, back in 2010 when TEC representatives to various ecumenical dialogues were removed from those bodies. Behind the hurtful sting though, there is good news; the Communion has not formally split nor has GAFCON achieved their goal of kicking the Episcopal Church out.

 

This statement clearly says that most of the Primates aren’t willing to walk away from us just yet, nor are they willing to support those loud voices demanding our exit from the Communion, and the bonds of affection and mutuality, though frayed, remain unbroken. The basic structure of the Communion has also held, without breaking up into a series of lesser relationships, or a body with tiered memberships. True, our full ability to participate is impaired, but not forever. Further, the Anglican Church in North America, cobbled together from a variety of factions united only in its opposition to the Episcopal Church’s drive towards equality and inclusion, remains outside of the Communion for now.

 

To me, the most troubling reaction has been the call from many voices, suggesting that the Episcopal Church itself walk away from the Communion. How long should we put up with their hatefulness, their hypocrisy many ask.

 

When Peter asked Jesus the same question, his answer was the equivalent of ‘always once more.’

Then Peter came and said to him, “ʺLord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”ʺ Jesus said to him, “ʺNot seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-­‐‑seven times.

The Anglican Communion is a great deal more than this meeting of Primates; it is shared history and traditions, and a shared way of being Christian in the world and a whole structure of formal and informal relationships, as well as a network of mutual ministries, so supporting the work of keeping us talking together – in communion -still seems worthwhile.

 

The suggestion that we should no longer financially support the Communion is a further manifestation of this dismissiveness; it also suggests a weak theology of giving that reduces our relationship with God and the church to the purely transactional – we give because we expect to get.

 

Many have decried such brazen attempts at manipulation on the parish, diocesan, and church-wide levels, so why should it now be ok in our ecumenical relations? It suggests a model of relationship that, had we seen it expressed between two people, we would immediately identify it as unhealthy and unworthy of our Christian name. Matthew’s Gospel reports Jesus saying;

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

 

To walk away, to turn our backs on LGBT brothers and sisters outside in Communion churches where they are oppressed and vilified, to hubristically expect that our money should buy a desired result, or to think we can go it alone, are not only poor policy choices but also inconsistent with our claim to be followers of Jesus.

 

Witnessing to our faith has costs, and frankly, these aren’t too high. We should expect that justice work will require time and our whole selves -­‐‑ all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. The Kingdom of God is near but it isn’t fully realized yet. There is no imminent utopia on the horizon, no Kumbaya moment when we can put our burdens down this side of Christ’s return, just a long slog in a broken world, led by the light of Christ.

 

 

Jon White is the Editor of Episcopal Cafe and a priest in the Dioceses of West Virginia

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C Eric Funston
Guest

With all due respect to Fr. White, I have not heard anyone talk about "walking away" from any on-the-ground commitments to our brothers and sisters anywhere in the communion ... I've heard people suggest that we withhold funding from the juridical and hierarchical non-entity which is the Anglican Communion, not that we defund the ministries happening in parishes, hospitals, schools, orphanages, etc throughout the world. I agree with him, however, that we should not dismissively remove ourselves from the Communion's conversations simply because a few old men have their knickers in a twist. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," as Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us. It is bending away from the Primates, frankly, and we just need to exercise patience and forbearance.

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Ellen Campbell
Guest
Ellen Campbell

Yes, let's be grateful to take the crumbs from under the table. That is how this piece reads to me.

We have charted our own course and should continue to go down the path that we believe God wants us to. That does not prevent us from participating in or initiated humanitarian mission throughout the world.

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Michael Russell
Guest
Michael Russell

What has been disappointing in the coverage of their statement is little to no acknowledgement that the Primates have no authority or power to enact such sanctions. They also have neither the authority or power to recognize ACNA.

So if sanctions happen they happen because some other agency of the Anglican Communion acts. But who will that be? If the ++ABC does it we might have one response. If the Anglican Consultative Council acts on this statement there might be a different response.

However, clear requests were made by a number of leaders that the Primates address and even apologize for their vilification of the LGBT communities in their own Provinces. Indeed our own General Convention has been on record for almost a decade now in opposition to the criminalization of homosexualtiy. Given that such vilification has increased among the Primates, it seems reasonable to me that we, and others who agree with us, should exact consequences upon those parts of the Communion that continue to suport or even allow such hateful violent behavior against their LGBT communities.

Perhaps Archbishops Welby himself needs to feel the seriousness of our intent to not only "be inclusive" but to structurally press for a uniform change in tone and behavior with respect to the LGBT community. So my response to this statement is to suggest that we press more assertively with the theological and human rights dimension of inclusion. GAFCON Primates need to feel the displeasure of those in the Communion who support full inclusion and an end to hate, violence and criminalization of the LGBT communities in their Provinces.

To stoically suffer their reproach does nothing for those being actually hurt; violence, imprisonment, and death being of a different order than hurt feelings.

Refusing to fund aspects of the Anglican Communion that administratively underwrite the Primates seems a reasonable reply. Likewise defunding other administrative aspects, where possible, sends a strong message that we are not prepared to allow the violence and recriminations against the LGBT community to continue without consequence.

I know this won't happen, but I would implore our leadership to do more than express hurt. If we are to be the principal voice defending this community worldwide, at least among Anglicans, then let's kick it up a notch and not let anyone forget that we are opposing the deliberate verbal, emotional, spiritual, and physical violence being done to the LGBT community in GAFCON provinces.

We have moved mightily to be inclusive at home, time to extend our range.

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Harry M. Merryman
Guest
Harry M. Merryman

Beautifully and powerfully put. This is not about hubris, dismissiveness, or some imagined base transactional motivation; it is about "becoming obedient" to what we have discerned is God's call to us. Philippians 2:8 comes to mind . . .

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Kurt Hill
Guest
Kurt Hill

Michael Russell is spot on and reflects exactly my thinking on the funding question. We as the Episcopal Church can fund any worthy program that we want to, anywhere in the world. But we should immediately cut off any funding to Anglican Communion agencies.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

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Elizabeth Kaeton
Guest

Re: The authority of Primates. Appointments to various ecumenical and interfaith dialogues is the remit (as the British like to say) of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and he is free to adhere to the requirements set out by the Primates Meeting despite their lack of canonical legitimacy should he feel it prudent to do so. However, the election of members of the standing committees is another matter entirely. Presumably the Primates can elect or exclude whomever they choose for the Primates Standing Committee. However, they have only a limited say over the composition of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. This Standing Committee is composed of:
• The Archbishop of Canterbury;
• The Chair and Vice-Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council;
• Seven members elected by the Anglican Consultative Council; and
• Five members of the Primates Standing Committee
Of the 15 members, the Primates Committee has a say over precisely five. When the Anglican Consultative Council meets in Lusaka in April, they will elect whom they will.

I'm still waiting for a statement from the PHOD and the Executive Council.

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David Allen
Guest
David Allen

PHoD is out;
http://houseofdeputies.org/on-the-primates-meeting-a-letter-from-president-jennings.html

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Stephen Mills
Guest
Stephen Mills

Well said, Michael Russell. Throw their tea in the harbor!

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June Butler
Guest

Indeed, Michael. Thank you for your eloquent expression of what I wished to say, which you say so much better.

My thought, not Michael's: What example do we give to oppressed people around the world when we continue to enable our abusers?

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Christopher Johnson
Guest

Mike? Foley Beach was there, with voice and vote, the entire time. And Welby's smart enough to understand that if he EVER want to have another Primates Meeting (or Lambeth Conference, for that matter) again, he'd better invite ACNA's Archbishop.

North America now has three Anglican primates. Deal with it.

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David Allen
Guest
David Allen

Foley Beach was there, with voice and vote, the entire time.

That may be an over reaching assumption. He said that he was handed a voter sheet for the TEC vote, he hasn't, to my knowledge, made the claim he had voice and vote for everything. He also declined the voter sheet because he knew he didn't have any right to vote.

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John Craig
Guest
John Craig

Yes, Foley Beach was there, as he should have been. Although he is not an official primate (yet), he represents a growing group of Anglicans, of which I am a part. Hopefully he will soon have full stature as a Primate. Since the African Church is a majority, and, until recently, he was part of the African Church, it is likely they will do that soon. He is like minded, a man of great wisdom and integrity, and he believes the Bible.

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John Chilton
Editor
John Chilton

Michael's comment was written before the full communique was issued, including a paragraph concerning ACNA's possible admission to membership in the communion. I quote that paragraph below:

https://www.episcopalcafe.com/primates2016-communique-in-full/

"The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church of North America was recognised as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognise that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction."

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John Craig
Guest
John Craig

Michael,

It is not pressure that will yield fair treatment. It is hearts that have been changed by the Holy Spirit. But I think you make a mistake in assuming that the Primates, because they uphold Biblical marriage, are persecutors of those that struggle with same sex attraction. I do not believe that is a fair conclusion to make.

As an Anglican, connected to the African Church, I can assure you that there is love and empathy, and not hate for same sex strugglers. But, the logical extension of that compassion cannot be the redefinition of Biblical marriage.

I can speak for my Church that we are we both welcoming and faithful. We welcome anyone to worship with us. But, at the same time, we are faithful to the Bible and will not overlook sin, but lovingly challenge it, while still offering love. And the role of love is always to lead strugglers to repentance.

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David Allen
Guest
David Allen

There is no African Church! You cannot speak for such an entity as it doesn't exist. You may speak for the church of which you are a part, where you live. There are national and regional Anglican churches in Africa. A number of the primates in the GAFCON associated churches have supported the draconian anti-gay laws in their countries and show no love or welcome to GLBT folks. They have said horrible things about the GLBT folks in their countries.

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John Craig
Guest
John Craig

David, call it what you want. There is a group of Primates in Africa that represent a critical mass of Anglicans. Their numbers are growing. You make accusations about Primates that have committed hateful acts against same sex strugglers. Can you give some examples of whom you are talking about and the specific actions?

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Christopher Smith (The Rev.)
Guest
Christopher Smith (The Rev.)

Your comment is exactly on the mark. It is more than time to push back against Gafcon hatred and bigotry, especially with regard to the criminalization of LBGT folk in their home provinces. Some pushback against the Gafcon/Communion Partners/ACNA/ACC , ad infinitum and various fifth-column elements in TEC would also be welcome.

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The Rev. Canon John E. Lawrence
Guest
The Rev. Canon John E. Lawrence

Michael's reply should have been the lead editorial. He knows whereof he speaks and understands precisely the polity of the Anglican Communion and of The Episcopal Church. Bishops, in my experience (and I've known and worked directly for a bunch of them), whatever their better qualities, tend to be sloppy about polity, guidelines, boundaries, and regularities. It probably has to do with the "clubby" nature of houses of bishops and episcopal collegiality. (Case in point, Foley Beach, who was invited as essentially an observer to the Primates' Gathering was handed ballots along with everyone else when they were being perfunctorily handed out. That led him and his advocates and "prayer warriors" in ACNA to claim he had been given "full voice and vote" in the meeting, even though that was never intended. He then, knowing full well his vote wasn't needed, said he declined to vote on the issues of TEC out of "conscience," whereas he had no sense of conscience when he grabbed ballots to which he knew full well he was not entitled. So please, dear friends, let us walk in love and charity, in openness and compassion for all. And let us affirm who we are and who we intend to be without falling into a sentimentality that refuses to ask the questions and assert the truths that need to be made.

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John Craig
Guest
John Craig

I think your criticism of Foley Beach is unfounded. You perceive his motives to be wrong. I know otherwise. I am part of the ACNA and know him to be a man of the utmost integrity. Do you know him? Were you at the Primates meeting? If not, to assassinate his character is unfounded. I expect he will soon be a Primate because he is theologically and Biblically in agreement with the majority of the Communion. Likewise, TEC inout of step and will likely be excommunicated, once they have been offered time to repent and refuse to do so.

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VIK Slen
Guest
VIK Slen

I agree with your thoughts and the values you express. But this Church and our churches have not maintained consistent levels of funding for anything over the last few years. It seems absurd to me that support for the administrative structures of the Communion alone, where we are in fact unwelcome, should forever be taken for granted as a constant. I think think that the very important cause of ecumenism is where our participation will be missed the most, but I can't understand why the Communion should not feel any other consequences from the decisions they have made.

Question: How long has the Episcopal Church been suspended from participating in representing the Communion in ecumenical dialogues and in the administrative organs of the Communion? Is it over a decade now? Three years by itself is hardly anything, but in actual fact the suspension seems to be indefinite.

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David Allen
Guest
David Allen

There was a previous suspension, but it hasn't been indefinite or ongoing.

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Jeremy Bates
Guest
Jeremy Bates

To me this is mixing apples and oranges.

Of course we should support our Anglican brothers and sisters throughout the world--especially our weakest brothers and sisters, who are discriminated against in their home churches.

But we can do that directly. We can do that without giving financial support to organizations and structures that discriminate. We can do that without "laundering" our money through the ACC, Compass Rose, or any other intermediary that has the effect of permitting people to take TEC money without knowing that it is TEC money.

The Anglican Communion is a family--and a dysfunctional and abusive one. It's time for TEC to stop being complicit in the abuse.

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