Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Primates Communiqué – further thoughts

A discussion starter only intended for serious minded people and not everywhere setting forth my personal opinions.

The Primate of the Southern Cone has described (to Canadians on the 27th Feb) the parts of the Communiqué dealing with North America as “Anglo-Saxon understatement”. He seems to have intended people to believe that the real message from Primates concerning the North American innovations is much stronger than that provided in paragraphs 12 to 19. Maybe he should have said “Australian Caucasian understatement” for the primary author of the text is Dr Carnley of Perth, Australia, who is of English descent and a noted liberal, and who places great store on the unity of the Anglican Churches.

I have shown elsewhere in a short essay that this Statement nowhere states in clear terms that active homosexual relations and the blessing of them by the church are wrong. It merely accepts that they are different from the norm and are innovatory. Certainly, in terms of what African Primates have declared over the last few months, the Communiqué does present an understatement. For they have stated that active homosexuality is sin and that the Churches of North America, encouraging this, should repent!

However, what if these paragraphs are not an understatement at all! What if, to use an expression, the bark of the Primates is worse than their bite? After all they did all approve it! There were no dissenting voices. What if it is the case that they have one message for their local synods and membership and that at the international level they have another, one that keeps in motion the flow of money and assistance from the West? What if they are trying to hang on to what help they get from the UK, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand by agreeing to a very mild statement in their Communiqué? What if their bark is much worse than their bite?

If this is so, then the plight of those in the USA and Canada who look to them as saviors is the more intense and pitiable! Further, those in the UK who want also to look to African Primates for relief and for the adoption of their parishes by them is also pitiable.

I cannot understand (as I reflect upon these things) why the majority of Primates did not insist that the Communiqué actually somewhere in clear terms expressed what they have been saying inside and outside their own synods over the last few months! One possibility is that they agreed to tone it down to get general agreement by all and, further, to ensure the continued flow of practical help from the West. Another is that they do not really want to get into the North American situation too deeply for they see there much division amongst the so-called orthodox and they recognize the centrifugal forces which force them further apart into new jurisdictions and groups with ever more bishops being ordained. In other words the Primates may not really want to get themselves caught up too deeply within the division of the small but strongly opinionated Anglican supermarket of groups and jurisdictions, with their differing polities and liturgies and statements of faith.

There is yet another dimension to consider. It is the usual case in North America history that denominations which go the route of liberalism and apostasy do not actually do a U-turn to return to their orthodox roots. Thus there is – on the face of it – little hope of the ECUSA doing a U-turn; further, those parts of it which claim to be orthodox and looking to the Primates for relief are themselves, at least in part, sharing in the liberalism and apostasy of the whole denomination (e.g., in their defense and use of its liberal Prayer Book of 1979 and related forms of liturgy and doctrine). The way of religion in the USA is to separate from the diseased parent and create a new denomination, but already there are a dozen or more of these bearing the Anglican name. Does the Network have a viable future within the ECUSA even if it is given special pastoral oversight privileges for its parishes?

So all in all the situation is bleak in the USA for the Anglican Way to be a united front and the possibility weak for there to be in existence in the near future a relatively united Province bearing the Anglican name and being orthodox in doctrine, discipline and worship, committed to the basic Anglican Formularies.

Maybe we shall have more light when we slow down, restrain our activism and noise, and wait patiently upon the Lord, and then come together to see whether the solution under God is actually in the USA rather than in the hands of foreign Primates!

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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