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Primates acknowledge reality
by Simon Sarmiento
Anglicans Online Europe correspondent
17 October 2003

What are we to make of the Final Statement issued by the Primates Meeting that was held at Lambeth Palace on 15-16 October 2003?

The wording of this statement is indubitably a piece of the highest quality Anglican Fudge. As Alex Kirby of the BBC wrote:

The Church of England and the other Anglican churches around the globe are sometimes unfairly caricatured as vague and unworldly.
This time, though, critics may well argue they are out of touch with some hard realities of life.
Whichever side of the debate about homosexuality and the church you find yourself on, this meeting has actually solved nothing.
The threat of a split remains as potent as it ever was, and the crisis will come very soon.

I find it impossible to disagree with this analysis. And yet the statement has been hailed by all kinds of church groups as wonderful. The right-wing hardline conservative group which calls itself “Anglican Mainstream” (unquestionably the name hijack of the century as far as the Church of England is concerned) has said:

We welcome the clear declaration from the Primates' Meeting re-affirming the resolutions of the 1988 Lambeth conference on issues of human sexuality, the centrality of Holy Scripture and expressing "deep regret" at the actions of the Diocese of New Westminster and ECUSA.
We applaud the considerable generosity shown to those North American churches in giving them time and space to come back within the boundaries of the fellowship of the Anglican Communion.
We note the serious warning given to ECUSA of the consequences of going ahead with the proposed consecration of Gene Robinson; the consecration would 'put the future of the Communion in jeopardy'; and the ministry of this bishop would not be recognised by most of the Anglican world.
We applaud the commitment of the Primates that the provinces concerned need to make provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on their behalf. We view this as a matter of considerable urgency.

This statement has been endorsed by the even more rightwing, ultra-conservative, and dubiously financed American Anglican Council, which last week was calling for the Primates to:

a. Discipline those bishops in the Episcopal Church who, by their actions, have departed from biblical faith and order;

b. Guide the realignment of Anglicanism in North America;

c. Encourage orthodox bishops as they extend episcopal oversight, pastoral care, and apostolic mission across current diocesan boundaries; and

d. Support isolated and beleaguered congregations and individuals in their life and witness as faithful Anglican Christians.

And three Global South primates issued this:

It is with great gratitude to God and appreciation to the people of the Anglican Communion and other churches that we greet you in the name of Jesus Christ.

As we met this week at Lambeth we experienced the power of the Holy Spirit moving among us. We are so grateful to God for hearing the prayers and cries of his praying people to preserve both the truth and the unity of the Anglican Communion. we urge continued prayer that the whole Anglican Communion may continue by God's power to witness to the transforming love of Jesus for all people.

Most Rev Peter Akinola - Archbishop of Nigeria
Most Rev Yong Ping Chung - Archbishop of Southeast Asia
Most Rev Emmanuel Kolini - Archbishop of Rwanda

So clearly, the conservatives are happy, even though all that the primates meeting has actually done, according to Gregory Cameron, now Director of Ecumenical Affairs and Studies at Lambeth Palace, is:

…four main things - (a) they committed themselves to working together in the Communion as far as possible, (b) they reaffirmed the teaching of the Anglican Communion on sexual ethics, (c) they acknowledged that recent developments will damage the Communion, and (d) they established a commission to take matters further.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of New Hampshire has made it clear that it intends to proceed as previously planned, regardless of what the primates say, while welcoming the primates statement that:

We acknowledge and affirm the wisdom of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in their statement. We echo their affirmation that "what we hold in common is much greater than that which divides us in proclaiming Good News to the world."

We commend their resolve to follow the 1998 Lambeth resolution calling for the Church to "listen to the experience of homosexual persons, and ... to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ."

and the Diocese of New Westminster has also welcomed the statement:

The Primates’ statement from Lambeth today should be welcomed by members of the Diocese of New Westminster.

Pressures from certain parts of the Communion to have dioceses such as ours and provinces like the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) expelled from the Communion have been firmly rejected by the Primates.

Efforts to seek legitimation for schismatic attacks on the fundamental structures of the church - by such bishops as Terrence Buckle of the Yukon - have received no support whatsoever.

Instead, the Primates have reaffirmed “the teaching of successive Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own.

So people on all sides have expressed happiness. To that extent then the statement must be accounted a triumph. But as Rowan Williams made clear in his introductory remarks at last night’s press conference:

Now it's quite clear from our discussions that issues around human sexuality will continue to be difficult and divisive for the Anglican Communion, as they are for many Christians. These issues will continue to cause pain and anger, misunderstanding and resentment all around. But I must make it clear that the Primates' Meeting has no legal jurisdiction, it's not a supreme court of the Communion and it would have been rather surprising had we been able, at this gathering, to make all the problems go away at once. We haven't. The challenge we have worked hard to meet has been to find some way of coping with divisive issues as a Communion. So these two days have not been primarily a seminar on sexuality or an attempt to revisit discussions and decisions already taken, but rather an attempt to see what it means to be in Communion and that remains our shared commitment.

This states, retrospectively, a very limited objective for the meeting, and one quite different from that sought earlier by dissident American conservatives . Was it also different from that sought by conservatives from the Global South? Just as everyone at the primates meeting knew perfectly well that the Americans and Canadians have no intention of changing their ways, so also they knew that the Global South primates (and the diocese of Sydney) have no intention of changing their plans (in some cases actions already taken) to distance themselves from North American provinces or dioceses by declaring themselves ‘out of communion’. They likewise do not seek, nor do most of them appear to feel a need for, the primates to endorse such actions. At the press conference Drexel Gomez was asked whether conservatives were going to observe the primates’ call for restraint while the commission to be established works on the issues, and he replied that he personally was, but he could not speak for all the others. This was confirmed by Gregory Venables speaking on the BBC TV’s Newsnight programme. Equally, both Frank Griswold (at the press conference) and Michael Peers (in TV interviews afterwards) made clear that it was only the inclusion of the words “as a body” in the sentence

Therefore, as a body we deeply regret the actions of the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church (USA)…

that made it possible for them to sign the statement at all.

So the primates acknowledge that:

If his [Robinson’s] consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).

Similar considerations apply to the situation pertaining in the Diocese of New Westminster.

They accept that the Anglican Communion will fragment as a consequence of global disagreements among Christians (it is not only Anglicans who disagree) about homosexuality. They have, however, organized a commission to deal with the administrative consequences of that fact. A few of them will wait for that to report before acting.

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