The Rev'd Gavin Dunbar, Editor of the Anglican Free Press

(From the Fall 2003 Issue of the Anglican Free Press,
Volume 20, Number 3)

By the Rev'd Gavin Dunbar

The Primates' Lambeth Palace Statement
View the Primates' Statement here

Hard on the heels of Dallas came the Primates' unprecedented emergency meeting in Lambeth Palace (the Archbishop of Canterbury's London seat). The two-page Statement agreed upon by the Primates and issued October 16th is, in some respects, a somewhat opaque document, and many conservative readers seem to have been disappointed by it (although the leadership of the AAC and of Anglican Mainstream, an international body to which it belongs, both welcomed it without qualification). This disappointment is probably unjustified. The language is undoubtedly the veiled and tactful language of diplomacy, complicated by hasty drafting-this is a document, after all, that is produced by the consensus of the Primates and agreed upon by each of them, a document that is the fruit of considerable negotiation, and carefully balanced to acknowledge and include every point of view-but it is not waffle or fudge. It makes declarations that are substantial and highly encouraging affirmations of the AAC "Call to Action".

        First of all, the primates not only "reaffirmed the resolutions made by…the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human sexuality" but insisted that these have "moral force commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues".

        Following from this reaffirmation, it then issued a rebuke to the liberals: "therefore, as a body we deeply regret the actions of the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church (USA) which appear to a number of provinces to have short-circuited that process [Lambeth?], and could be perceived to alter unilaterally the teaching of the Anglican Communion on this issue. They do not. Whilst we recognise the juridical autonomy of each province in our Communion, the mutual interdependence of the provinces means that none has authority unilaterally to substitute an alternative teaching as if it were the teaching of the entire Anglican Communion."

        They issued a sharp warning about the consequences of persisting in false teaching: "we must make clear that recent actions in New Westminster and in the Episcopal Church (USA) do not express the mind of our Communion as a whole, and these actions jeopardise our sacramental fellowship with each other". Conceding that "it is not for us to pass judgment on the constitutional processes of another province", such as those for the election and confirmation of a new bishop, they noted rather sharply that "in most of our provinces the election of Canon Gene Robinson would not have been possible since his chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop". (This is a sharp allusion to the fact that Robinson had been declared to be a priest "in good standing" despite having openly defied the moral discipline of ECUSA for many years.)

        Still more strongly, the primates warned that "if his consecration proceeds, we…have to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy…the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves out of communion with the Episcopal Church. 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".

        The warnings extend north of the 49th parallel, as the Primates briefly noted: "Similar considerations apply to the situation pertaining in the Diocese of New Westminster". The implication, of course, is that consenting dioceses in the Canadian church will share the excommunication of New Westminster.

        Faithful Anglicans trapped within the organizational structures of the liberal churches were not forgotten. "We call on the [liberal] provinces to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral concern" and to do so "in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates". That means it is not up to Archbishops Peers or Griswold to decide what is adequate-and opens the door to confirming Bishop Buckle's oversight of the ACINW parishes. It also gives the AAC bishops in the USA and the Essentials bishops in Canada a basis for separating from liberal church structures that are excommunicate so that they may continue within the Anglican Communion as the legitimate heirs of the North American churches.

        The final paragraphs of the Statement call for the setting up by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Commission requested by the Lambeth Conference of 1998, "to consider his own role in maintaining communion within and between provinces when grave difficulties arise". They ask him to extend its remit "to include urgent and deep theological and legal reflection on the way in which the dangers we have identified at this meeting will have to be addressed" and to "complete its work, at least in relation to the issues raised at this meeting, within twelve months". This is not, as many conservatives appear to think, a reference to further study of human sexuality-a standard liberal device for relativizing established moral teaching and staving off action that would impede their agenda, 'dialogue' as a tool for power politics.

        As David Anderson said in the AAC press release, "this Commission represents the beginning of the development of a mechanism for discipline within the Anglican Communion. This is an unprecedented but essential step that will help insure that the provinces will no longer be able to shatter the Communion with reckless unilateral and unbiblical actions". This interpretation is confirmed by Rowan Williams himself, who in post-Lambeth interview with the BBC's Radio 4 said that the issue has left the Church "with a huge challenge about coordinating its discipline and its legal systems across the world, which we have never had to do before".

        That this strong statement was agreed upon by the Primates does not, of course, mean that the liberal Primates are likely to change their views or decisions. Bishops like Peers and Griswold have made a habit of explaining away (by the most sophistical arguments) any international Anglican statement they did not like-even if they signed it. Just last May, for instance, Peers took part in the Brazil Primates Meeting which announced it could not authorize same sex blessings-and the next day, when all the Primates had left, the first same-sex blessing was carried out in Vancouver, with the knowledge and permission of Bishop Ingham, Peer's former secretary and ideological stablemate, without any rebuke from Peers.

        Certainly Griswold's post-Lambeth press release gave no sign that he was rethinking in any way the decisions made in Minneapolis this summer past. It is an unrepentant and sanctimonious reaffirmation of the same moral and doctrinal relativism that he has stood for all along. First of all, he absolutizes cultural context in such a way that he relativizes moral judgements:
I think one thing that became very clear early on is that we seek to embody and proclaim the Gospel in very different contexts and what may, in fact, be good news to a majority in one province may, in fact, be bad new somewhere else in the world. And here I think particularly of my own province, the United States in which a majority, though not the whole province, has wrestled with the whole question of homo-sexuality for at least the last 30 years and come to a sense that men and women whose affections are ordered to members of the same sex are faithful members of the church; are people with whom we share ministry; are people we in many instances ordain, which of course has led to the confirmation of the election of the Bishop Elect of New Hampshire, which has caused such a division and certainly been one of the major focuses of our meeting here.
He then claims that
what binds us together is deeper than some of the things that divide us, and certainly the whole question of human sexuality, more particularly homosexuality, is far from settled and as we continue to struggle together I think it's also important, as the Archbishop said, that we keep our focus on the mission we share because there is so much in the world that cries out for our attention beyond issues of human sexuality.
This implicitly relativizes the teaching of the Lambeth Conference of 1998 as just one opinion among many, and clearly not definitive in any way. Moreover, it denies that the authority of Scripture and Catholic tradition, as articulated by the authoritative teaching of the Communion, is a communion-dividing issue: "what binds us together is deeper than some of the things that divide us".

         He concluded with his standard line about 'communion' which is defined implicitly as something to which common doctrine and discipline are irrelevant, as if there were any unity at all apart from the truth:
So it's been a difficult but fruitful two days and I think it's important for us to be aware that communion is not something static, communion is always developing and evolving and the tensions that one has to face in living the mystery of communion often deepens that sense of relationship, even though more immediately there may be obstacles and problems that one has to confront.
Griswold's opinions, however, are unlikely to stem the storm that will follow Robinson's consecration on November 2nd (both Robinson and the present bishop of New Hampshire declared that the consecration would take place as scheduled, despite the Primates' warnings). Moreover, the AAC leadership is taking the Primates' statement as grounds to pursue the realignment of Anglicanism in North America, in establishing a network of confessing dioceses and parishes. According to a report in the London Guardian, Bishop Duncan said, "We could not have asked for a better description of what we wanted. We're beginning to form a network so that we can operate together. There are parishes in every state in the union that would want to be allied with and provided for by a bishop that they believe is teaching the faith. They would not want to be part of a diocese where same-sex blessings take place." In fact, Friday morning they made plans to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss that agenda, and will meet with the Canadian Essentials bishops in November to discuss the same matter. . .

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