What price unity?

by Jonathan Clatworthy

from Signs of the Times, No. 25 - Apr 2007

The Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam published a communiqué on 19th February. It noted that the Windsor Report had identified two threats to Anglican unity. The first was 'certain developments' in Canada and the USA - that is, the same sex blessing services and the consecration of a gay bishop. The second was 'interventions [by opponents of the gay bishop] in the life of those Provinces which arose as reactions to the urgent pastoral needs that certain primates perceived.'

It treats these two threats differently. The main fault lies with the American churches. The interventions, it says,

however well-intentioned, have exacerbated this situation. Furthermore, those Primates who have undertaken interventions do not feel that it is right to end those interventions until it becomes clear that sufficient provision has been made for the life of those persons.

'Those Primates who have undertaken interventions' are then permitted to set the agenda. The Primates propose to

establish a Pastoral Council to act on behalf of the Primates in consultation with The Episcopal Church. This Council shall consist of up to five members: two nominated by the Primates, two by the Presiding Bishop, and a Primate of a Province of the Anglican Communion nominated by the Archbishop of Canterbury to chair the Council.

Its key tasks will be to 'negotiate the necessary structures for pastoral care' of opponents of the gay bishop. Only when the scheme 'is recognised to be fully operational' will the Primates undertake to end all interventions. Deadline: 30th September 2007. If not,

the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of the USA (TEC) responded on 20th March. They wished to remain part of the Anglican Communion, but believed the Pastoral Scheme 'would be injurious to The Episcopal Church'. Their statement lists the many things they have already done to meet the demands put upon them,

at great cost to many, not the least of whom are our gay and lesbian members.

On the other hand,

We have been repeatedly assured that boundary violations are inappropriate under the most ancient authorities and should cease. The Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998 did so. The Windsor Report did so. The Dromantine Communiqué did so. None of these assurances has been heeded. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué affirms the principle that boundary violations are impermissible, but then sets conditions for ending those violations, conditions that are simply impossible for us to meet without calling a special meeting of our General Convention.

The proposal, they say, changes the character of the Windsor process. It violates their founding principles of liberation from colonialism. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking bishops. It replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates. And, worst of all,

it is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them.

Their alternative?

We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.

We wait to see what will happen next.

Jonathan Clatworthy lives in Liverpool and is MCU General Secretary. He has worked as a parish priest, university chaplain and lecturer in Ethics.