Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A virtually clean bill of health for The Episcopal Church!

An International Committee finds TEC is in compliance with requests made of it.

Dr Peter Toon

On October 2nd, the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council submitted its Report on The Episcopal Church to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who then sent it on to the Primates of the Global Communion. The Report is nineteen pages in length, is clearly written, and is unlikely to be misunderstood in terms of its findings by anyone who reads it carefully.

In order to appreciate its major findings or recommendations, we need to bear in mind the following context concerning the work of the Joint Committee:

1) It had a limited brief which concerned the relation of The Episcopal Church, more specifically its House of Bishops, to The Windsor Report and to the recent Communique from The Primates Meeting in Tanzania. Further, it met only with Bishops at the Bishops’ Meeting and apparently had no prolonged conversation there with the Bishops of the Anglican Communion Network, who are closely allied with the Provinces of the Global South.

2) It made no study of either (a) “the practical theology” of much of TEC, which theology is closely related to a radical reading of the much-vaunted “Baptismal Covenant,” or (b) what goes on in dioceses without the Bishops’ formal permission and as he or she turns “a blind eye.” Thus it only studied the words of Bishops when they were on their best behavior and engaged in crafting forms of words in order to be seen as genuine members of the Global Anglican Communion. Further, it relied on the lady Presiding Bishop for information and interpretation, where perhaps the use of other sources may have been better (e.g., on how many parishes have left TEC recently and their size).

3) It is composed of persons who, while being admirably committed to the unity of the Global Anglican Family, belong in the main to what we may call “the centrist” position and apparently are neither too perturbed by “the practical theology” of the TEC nor too supportive of the “enthusiasm and zeal” of some in the Global South.

Obviously these three factors profoundly affected the tone, if not the facts in this Report, in which are three major findings or recommendations.

First of all, the Joint Committee finds—after a long tour of the documentary evidence on sexuality in recent discussion— that the House of Bishops (and thus TEC) has met the requests and demands made by both The Windsor Report of 2004 and of The Communique of the Primates from Dar es Salaam. That is, the Committee accepts as trustworthy the words of the resolutions of the recent House of Bishops’ Meeting in New Orleans, wherein the House committed not to bless the unions of same-sex couples, not to ordain active homosexual persons and not to vote for any such for the office of bishop. The Report thus states:

“By their answers…, we believe that the Episcopal Church has clarified
all outstanding questions relating to their response to the questions directed explicitly to them in the Windsor Report, and on which clarifications were sought by 30th September 2007, and given the necessary assurances sought of them.”

We note that the Committee was able to come to this conclusion because—and it really had little option—it had to take the words of the Bishops’ resolutions in their literal, straightforward meeting. Had the Committee also toured say ten of the more “prophetic” dioceses, it would have found most probably that the blessing of same-sex persons has in no way ceased, even though there is no official Liturgy for the same and the official permission of the Bishop is not requested. (It may be noted here that is because the Primates of the Global South have reliable reports of what goes on unofficially and widely in not a few liberal dioceses that they do not take the statements of the House of Bishops as necessarily faithful and true.)

Secondly, the Joint Committee finds that the “interventions” by overseas Bishops to establish missions and congregations on U.S. territory, and to consecrate missionary Bishops for this purpose, are wholly against the spirit and the letter of what may be called a fundamental law of Anglican polity. In this it agrees with the statement of the House of Bishops of TEC from New Orleans defending the territorial episcopate as the Anglican way of being the church on the ground. Further, it advances in support of this position all kinds of evidence from Councils of the Early Church and resolutions from Lambeth Conferences. Further, it also seems to believe that there is some hope of resolving this problem and so makes suggestions—mostly concerning what the Archbishop of Canterbury could do—for ways to heal this growing schism and to bring back into TEC the recent seceders on terms that are reasonable and fair. One may comment that while what it stated and recommended by the Committee is balanced and reasonable, what is wholly missing—perhaps because the Committee does not really feel this—is the sense that the present TEC leadership has actually adopted a new form of religion. That is a new type of Christianity which, while using much traditional wording and symbols, is contrary to classic, biblically-based traditional Anglican worship, doctrine and discipline. In a word, its basic confession is not “Jesus is the only Lord and Savior” but something like “Jesus is a Savior and is our Savior.”

Finally, the Joint Committee finds that the position of the House of Bishops in terms of the understanding of “sexual orientation” and the making sure that people of all kinds of “orientation” are welcome in the Church as whole persons is wholly in accord with the position adopted by The Lambeth Conference of 1998 and widely accepted within the Anglican Family. Here is the final paragraph:

“The life of the Anglican Communion has been much damaged in recent years following the tensions raised by the consecration in The Episcopal Church of a bishop living in a committed same-sex relationship and the authorization in some dioceses of Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions. With the response of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in September 2007, the Communion should move towards closure on these matters, at least for the time being. The Communion seems to be converging around a position which says that while it is inappropriate to proceed to public Rites of Blessing of same-sex unions and to the consecration of bishops who are living in sexual relationships outside of Christian marriage, we need to take seriously our ministry to gay and lesbian people inside the Church and the ending of discrimination, persecution and violence against them. Here, The Episcopal Church and the Instruments of Communion speak with one voice. The process of mutual listening and conversation needs to be intensified. It is only by living in communion that we can live out our vocation to be Communion.”

One may regret that the Report ends in this way, which may be seen as placing too much emphasis (by stating it last of all) on the failure of the Church to minister fully to one small class of persons, “gay and lesbian people,” when Communion has many other more important dimensions to be emphasized and lived.

In conclusion

What will be the fall-out from this Report which is now in the possession of all the global Primates and their advisers? We can only guess and here we go.

The majority of, if not all, the Primates of the Global South will not regard it as binding because, relying on what they believe to be accurate information from the U.S.A., they will believe that the fine words of the House of Bishops (taken at face value by the Committee) do not match either the reality on the ground in many dioceses or the general teaching of the leadership of TEC on the radical meaning and prophetic actions and requirements of “the Baptismal Covenant.” Thus the missionary interventions will continue with the general intention of creating a new province in North America for they regard TEC as apostate and engaged in infidelity.

The majority of Bishops in the West/North will be inclined to accept the Report and support the Archbishop of Canterbury in his going ahead with the 2008 Lambeth Conference, even if many from the Global South do not attend. This Bishops will also pay lip service to the need to bring the American seceders back into TEC and away from their African “Pastors” but do little about it for they have other things to do!

The Global Anglican Communion will effectively be no more, except in name, and this may lead to the effort to create a two-tier membership, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury has hinted. But since TEC has been given a relatively clean bill of health by this Committee, it will apparently not be the lead candidate for any such second tier anymore! More likely then that we shall see something like a North/South divide with some in the South (e.g., S Africa) looking to the North and some in the North (e.g., Evangelicals in England, Australia and U.S.A.) looking to the South! If this occurs, Anglicanism will be opening a wholly new era for itself and will have few maps available to guide it.


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