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Editorial: Response to the #Primates2016 Statement

Editorial: Response to the #Primates2016 Statement

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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Cynthia Katsarelis

John, you are either ignorant or you are willfully ignoring the fact that we are inclusive BECAUSE of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And not because of culture. Gays are about 3-5 percent of the population, so we couldn’t “pressure” TEC. What happened is that we applied the pillars of the Faith, Scripture (much of it is liberating), Tradition (of including Gentiles), and Reason (continuing revelation, science, anecdotal).

We remember that Tradition also includes various abuses. The church misused Scripture to support slavery – Leviticus 25:44 and other passages explicitly support slavery. Do you support slavery?

Tradition includes burning of heretics and witches, even though the Ten Commandments say “thou shalt not kill.”

Tradition includes antisemitism. The Holocaust was a great evil.

Tradition includes persecuting gays for the story of Sodom, when Ezekiel 16:49 says this: This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. And any sex was rape, hardly consensual.

We humans are very fallible. We are going to fail at absolutes, such as you present. Traditional marriage is not as traditional as you think. There are a lot of knowledgeable people on this blog that can tell you about it.

Marriage has never, ever been included in the doctrine and creeds of the church. You are making it up.

The Jesus thing to do is get along, with our difference.

June Butler

You know the numbers for TEC, and I, for one, would appreciate knowing the numbers for ACNA, if you can find them and let us know.

June Butler

John Craig, are there reliable ASA numbers that show how rapidly ACNA is growing?

John Craig

Hi June,
I’m not sure. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church and have only been in the ACNA for about three years. But anecdotally, my Church is six years old and has already planted a Church that is growing. And, we have more than replaced the people who left for the plant. We are diverse, with all ages represented, including twenty something and some racial diversity, although I wish there were more.

John Craig

There are many misconceptions in this post. As an Anglican, connected with the African Church, I can offer some insight.

First, the issue is not “marriage equality” but a rejection of Biblical marriage. The Bible defines marriage between a man and a woman. And the offense is not “breaking communion”, but denying the Bible.

You mention Michael Curry’s pain about the sins of the generations. Those are real. But, he is privileged and really know nothing of the lives of African Anglicans who struggle literally for their daily bread.

What TEC is exhibiting is not civil disobedience, but Biblical disobedience and failure to repent of it. Their disobedience is not informed by God’s Word, in fact it is in opposition to it.

In your mind “the sanctions are weak tea”. That is an odd remark. These are essentially excommunication of TEC from the Communion. The goal of excommunication is always in hope of repentance that will lead to restoration. The response from TEC, sadly, has been defiance.

This is the reason the Primates are not yet willing to walk away, despite long suffering for decades with the Episcopal Church. Despite error, they are offering TEC grace, with strong hope for repentance.

You say the Anglican Communion is more than the Primates. Of course it is, since there are 80 million Anglicans. But, this body represents that group and the future of the church. While they value TEC, it is only 2% of the Communion and declining every year. And, the future of the Communion is really with the Global South Churches that still uphold the inerrancy of the Bible. TEC is out of step with this. By 2050, 40% of the Christians in the world will be in Sub-Saharan Africa. So, like it or not, Orthodox Biblical Christianity will be the driver of the Communion.

Finally, I belong to the ACNA, which is connected to the African Church. You call it “cobbled together from factions”. Not so. They are united by their love for the Anglican tradition AND a commitment to Biblical Christianity. They are both welcoming to anyone, including those who are struggling with same sex attraction but, at the same time, they are faithful to God’s Word. And, they are growing, while TEC is declining.

Nor, with all your talk of “justice”, do you mention that the Episcopal Church has seized the property of many of these ACNA churches and stripped their priests of their pensions. Such vindictive actions seem a way different picture that the one you paint of “victims fighting for justice and persecuted because of their civil disobedience”.

I do agree with one thing you said. “Witnessing to our faith has costs”. You do not realize it, but that is what the Primates are doing in their exclusion of TEC. It is standing for faithful Biblical Christianity. You misunderstand fidelity to be hatred and persecution.

I pray that the Holy Spirit will convict the Episcopal Church and that they will repent of their denial of the Scriptures and be returned to the fellowship. But the defiance of the leadership, with Bishops saying that they will defy and ignore the sanctions, does not speak anything of repentance. Sadly, if such an attitude persists, it will likely insure that, after three years to come to repentance, the Primates will have no choice but to, with sadness, expel them.

Cynthia Katsarelis

John, by all means, let’s have a real discussion about Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Please point out the exact places in the Bible that condemns gay people and addresses our marriages. I guarantee you that for every reference you may find, there is an enormous problem for using it to condemn people, and our marriages.

Then you will see that we have theological reasons for our inclusion, even if you disagree with them.

Then we need to try to figure out why the Anglican primates believe that they are a central authority. There has never been a central authority. The Anglican Covenant was about creating a central authority, it was put to a vote and it FAILED.

The problems here are:
1. Primates that have no power to make doctrine, let alone suspend a province; they have over stepped their power.
2. It is easily possible to live together with difference. TEC isn’t exporting gay marriage to African provinces. And TEC isn’t ever going to adopt a fundamentalist view, we’ve just done too much scholarship and lived too long with the revelation of liberation from slavery to Civil Rights.
3. As long as some of these GAFCON leaders are actually human rights abusers, they aren’t going to get a lot of respect.

The Bible is indeed clear. It never addresses gay marriage. Believe what you wish, but the historic Communion never had a central authority making doctrine and punishing those who fall out of line. We left Rome for a reason.

Bonnie Crawford

All is well. All shall be well. There is a new world coming and She is on her way.
I see it. I see it in homosexual marriages. I see it in full exclusion. I see it when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the prisoners. I see it in the writings of the original post by Father Jon White. It’s much harder to see it in the Episcopal church of my youth , where I wasn’t, even as a heterosexual, allowed to fully participate. In those days, my sin was being a women. Come, Holy Spirit come.

Scott Fisher

Thank you Mr Craig for addressing and explaining this issue in the most cogent way so far. Sadly I suspect that your words will go unheeded,but the fact remains that TEC is in decline while the ACNA is growing as you point out. I share your hope as well that TEC will repent and return the Lord and repeal this apostasy of same sex marriage.

Christian Paolino

I’m not saying it’s going to save us, but I strongly suspect the alternative would be worse.

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