I write this on my return from Northern Ireland where, along with others from the Media and interested societies & organizations, I was an observer of the Primates' Meeting, February 21-25. Thirty-five of the thirty-eight Archbishops, Presiding Bishops and Moderators of the Anglican family of Churches were able to be present to enjoy Irish hospitality and to engage in frank and open debate. This Meeting was probably the most important ever held by the Primates, as they faced the crisis caused by the sexual innovations of the North American Churches.
Over the last decade, I have been present as an observer at four Primates' Meetings to cover what they said and did, in terms of reporting and interpreting not only their words but also their actions.
For example, in terms of actions; for me the most significant sign I witnessed at the Meeting in Porto in Portugal several years ago was Presiding Bishop Griswold arm in arm with Mrs. Carey, and Archbishop Carey arm in arm with Mrs. Griswold, on the main street, walking along, for all to see - including the African Archbishops who were amazed! This event suggested to me a rather close friendship between the two couples, even though it was reported that the two Bishops differed greatly on theological and moral matters! I think that this close association was important in understanding and interpreting Carey's apparent reluctance to act more decisively against the growing apostasy of the Episcopal Church, led by Griswold.
And at the Northern Ireland Meeting the most significant sign for me was the fact that there was no Common Eucharist -- due to the fact of broken communion between African Primates and those of North America.
At the end of each Meeting, there is issued a Communiqué, which, though drafted by the few, is supposed to be accepted by all. Invariably the drafting committee is headed by a western Primate whose first language is English and who is skilled in writing diplomatic documents, which can be read in various ways and which usually aim to soften differences and emphasize agreements. In this the Primates imitate the method and style used in Communiqués issued after the meeting of political leaders.
Alongside what is stated in the official Communiqué, is the information gleaned from what individual Primates are willing to share with reporters and friends who charm, pester, wine and dine them. Often, it is difficult to harmonise the two forms of information. In fact, I have gained the impression over the years that, on basic moral and theological matters, the African Archbishops, for example, agree to a softened expression of their point of view in the official Communiqué, and that they do so for the sake of peace and future cooperation.
In fact, were it the case that African Primates wrote a Communiqué, it is highly probable that it would be in language saturated with biblical phrases, citations and allusions and that the style would be more like an apostolic letter than a diplomatic statement. Maybe in the future we shall see a drafting committee that is primarily from African Provinces and which writes in a prophetic manner.
So we come to the Communiqué produced at the end of the recent meeting in Northern Ireland.
This is indeed a diplomatic statement which, though quite long, mentions Jesus only twice and cites Scripture only in its very last paragraph. Though the vast majority of the Primates regard active homosexuality as sinful and they believe that a church, which ordains active homosexual persons and blesses the partnerships of such is a in error and apostasy, these deep convictions are not stated anywhere in the Communiqué. Certainly the fact of differences over sexuality is recognized, and we are told that the North Americans are asked both to cease for the time being their innovatory practices, and also to stay away from official gatherings of the Anglican Communion for the time being. However, at the same time the most positive things are said about ministry to active homosexual persons.
Yet, even with the reality of a diplomatic summary of the Meeting, what is certain is that pressure has been placed upon the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. and the Anglican Church of Canada, to look again at their recent innovations in the doctrine and expressions of sexuality. If they want to be assured of a future place in the Anglican family of Churches, then they need to amend their ways and rescind their approval for the blessing of people engaged in homosexual partnerships. Whether they also need to recognize such unions as sinful and condemned by God the Holy One, is not wholly clear. The Communiqué does not speak of the need for repentance but points via The Windsor Report to the need for expressing regret.
For the Episcopal Church, the next General Convention in 2006 will be the occasion for final decisions as to whether this Church intends to go it alone or to be accepted as a full member of the Anglican Communion of Churches.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)