3/27/2007

Things are heating up in the Anglican Communion

In February, the primates of the 38 worldwide Anglican provinces met in Tanzania and issued a unanimous communiqué to the Episcopal church, effectively:

  • Establishing a council composed of 5 bishops (2 of them Episcopal) which would operate as alternative representation for the conservative dioceses and parishes which cannot accept the leadership of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church, Katharine Jefferts-Schori. The primates mandated this, they did not ask the Episcopal church's permission to do it.
  • Requesting the house of bishops to unambiguously affirm its intention to refrain from authorizing more same-sex union ceremonies.
  • Requesting the house of bishops to unambiguously affirm its intention to refrain from consecrating more noncelibate homosexual bishops.

The house of bishops was requested to reply by Sept. 30. This comes at the end of more than 3 years of turmoil, following the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop in 2003, and is not the first such request (although it is the most strongly worded).

It has been described as an "ultimatum", but it really doesn't ask anything of the episcopal church but an unambiguous response to the Windsor report, which December's General Convention failed to give.

Well, the Episcopal bishops met in Camp Allen last week and explicitly rejected the primate's pastoral oversight scheme as being "damaging to their polity" or somesuch.

I suppose I didn't expect good news, but I was still surprised at the strength of the rejection. I have a hard time seeing how there will be any conservative parishes left in the episcopal church a year from now.

This actually makes me sad. To tell the truth, I would sincerely like to stay in the Episcopal church (if the Episcopal Church was a denomination I wouldn't feel like that. But it is part of a global, and largely conservative, Anglican communion). I feel like we are doing a fantastic job of bearing witness to the ancient faith in a dark place. In Blessed Sacrament we have something like 8 people pursuing ordination as priests or deacons. We are incredibly alive, and we have a lot of young children in the parish. And we are not alone - the largest Episcopal parishes are mostly conservative.

I also think that liberal Christianity is incapable of sustaining itself, and will eventually whither of its own accord. In two generations, perhaps, I wouldn't be surprised if there could be a conservative majority again.

Unfortunately, conservative Episcopalians could be extinguished long before we have a chance to win by default, and the leadership of the Episcopal church seems intent on doing exactly that. In fact the persecution seems to have actually increased of late[1]. They seem to be circling the wagons in response to conservative pressure from the worldwide communion.

A few weeks ago, the election of a conservative as bishop of the diocese of South Carolina was ruled null on a technicality. Also recently, the bishop of Colorado removed the conservative priest of the largest church in his diocese. The church has responded by seceding from the Episcopal church and re-aligning with another Anglican province. Why, exactly, would the bishop of Colorado want to alienate his largest church?

The messages sounds clear to me: despite their talk of inclusivity, the leaders of the Episcopal church will not tolerate deviation from the party line. They may tolerate us while they wait for the last conservative bishops (only 3!) and priests to retire, but they have shown no desire whatsoever to support the ordination of new ones.

Which leaves only one option that I can see for those who value the preservation of traditional Anglicanism in their parishes: re-align with overseas provinces in which they will not be persecuted. Several have done this by themselves already, but this crisis has yet to play itself out. We are no forgotten by the Primates, and I'm sure they will provide an officially sanctioned way for orthodox parishes to remain fully Anglican, even if (as seems likely) the Episcopal church is excommunicated.

 


[1] I need to make a caveat about the bishop of Los Angeles. Bishop Bruno, although squarely in line with the popular liberal thread of the Episcopal church, has shown nothing but unqualified support for Fr. David and Blessed Sacrament. The only reason we have 8 people pursuing ordination is because he has allowed us to. In the past no one from our parish was allowed as a candidate for ordination.

People vary in their estimation of his motives, but Fr. David calls him a true liberal (that is, he is consistent in actually valuing diversity) and that seems most likely to me.

If I could be ensured of this kind of support in the future and across the Episcopal church, I might feel differently. Unfortunately, Bishop Bruno seems to be an exception to the rule.

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