North American conservatives and global South Anglicans seek discipline of ECUSA

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January 13, 2004

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, primate of the Province of the West Indies, was among the speakers who stirred the "Future of the Anglican Communion" conference meeting January 8-9 in Charleston, South Carolina, with calls for disciplinary action against the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) for its stance on homosexuality and the interpretation of scripture and tradition.

"In Anglicanism today there does not exist a mechanism for dealing with our problems," said Gomez. "The time has come to introduce such a mechanism into our common life."

The Rev. Peter Walker of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, described a growing "archway" of interest between Anglicans of the global South and North American conservatives, which he said becomes daily stronger regardless of any future involvement by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

"This is the picture I have in mind," said Walker. "The question is whether Canterbury will be the keystone of the arch, or will it be left out."

The Rev. Christopher Green, vice-principal of Oak Hill Theological College in London, declared, "There are very senior figures among evangelical circles in Great Britain who would like to say to you [traditionalist Episcopalians], 'Elect your own Presiding Bishop and force Rowan Williams to choose.'"

"By the end of 2004 there may be a situation on the ground" of provinces terminating communion with ECUSA that is so extensive that Williams will have no choice but to deal with it, said the Rev. Ephraim Radner, one of the speakers.

Radner, a former missionary to Burundi who is now rector of Church of the Ascension in Pueblo, Colorado, and a senior fellow with the Anglican Communion Institute, said, "The more important thing is not the case against the Episcopal Church but who we are as an Anglican Communion. The reality of discipline is not some legal issue, it is an aspect of life in communion."

Up to date

The conference, held at historic downtown St. Philip's Church, was sponsored by the Anglican Communion Institute, recently formed from the merger of the Colorado-based Anglican Institute and SEAD (Scholarly Engagement with Anglican Doctrine), headquartered in Charleston.

It was attended by a mixture of scholars, conservative activists, and ordinary clergy and laity hoping to get some idea of what lies ahead for the church.

The agenda and conference title, which had originally been "Claiming Our Anglican Identity," were changed in light of recent developments, to make it as up to date as possible, said the Rev. Christopher Seitz, president of the Anglican Communion Institute. Seitz, professor of Old Testament at St. Mary's College at St. Andrew's University, Scotland, was formerly professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School.

Disregard of theology

A panel of Anglican scholars from the U.S. and Great Britain presented lectures to add to what they said is a growing body of theological literature purporting to demonstrate why it is wrong to ordain homosexuals or to condone blessings of same-sex couples.

"One of our challenges is to disseminate these well-thought-out published arguments" bolstering the traditionalist case, said Radner. "Many people have not heard of this scholarship."

"The authorities in ECUSA are not interested in sound theology," Gomez insisted. Leaders of the American Episcopal Church are driven by purely secular agendas, he said, adding, "We must force the authorities of ECUSA to face up to" what he termed are the actual theological issues.

"The battle is on, and we must not allow ignorance to prevail," Gomez declared. He cited as an example of ECUSA's disregard of theology the comment of an unidentified female priest, "God doesn't care what you do, only who you are."

Objective truth

The Rev. Thomas A. Smail, senior visiting research fellow at King's College, London, delivered a lecture titled "Cappadocia Comes to Canterbury," in which he said the ascended Christ challenges the spirit of the age.

Contemporary culture, he argued, "stops looking for objective truth, but for affirming lifestyle-looking not for the truth but for my truth." But God's judgment continues to be pronounced on what we do, he said. "There is a truth out there not of our making or choosing, to which we are accountable."

Smail insisted, "The radical agenda seizes on talking about the Holy Spirit without talking about Christ; hence no salvation, no redemption."

The Rev. David McCarthy, rector of a fast-growing parish in Glasgow, Scotland, described a complex local polity in which some churches own their own property. He said orthodox Anglicans are a persecuted minority in the Scottish Episcopal Church. "We need to stand together internationally. There is a battle within the church. But let's not want the power. Let's be like Jesus. Let's not be like the people leading our church," McCarthy said.

Anglican Church of Canada bishop Anthony Burton of Saskatchewan said Canada is undergoing a much more rapid secularization than is the United States. "It is very difficult for Canadian orthodox Anglicans to discern what practical steps to take," he said.

Looking for ways to proceed

Several participants in the conference said they were there to seek answers as to the church's future direction.

The Rev. Richard Brigham, rector of St. Andrew's-in-the-Pines, Peachtree City, Georgia, said, "I'm looking for ways in which I and my parish can proceed." He said that he and his congregation are in a minority in the Diocese of Atlanta, where the bishop voted at General Convention to approve the election of Gene Robinson, a priest living openly in a relationship with another man, as bishop coadjutor of New Hampshire.

"We want to establish a relationship with the authentic expression of the Episcopal Church," said Brigham. "Issues of property ownership are crucial right now as well. I think the legal phase is just beginning. My opinion is that title should rest with the local church, but the U.S. courts look upon dioceses as corporations. It's the laity who have been so devastated by this. The bishops who voted aye on Robinson were out of touch with their laity."

The Rev. Robert Marsh, chaplain at Episcopal High School, Jacksonville, Florida, said, "It was good to be able to put faces to the names I've read on documents such as Claiming our Anglican Identity, True Union in the Body, and Mending the Net. I liked hearing them articulate their arguments. That was worth the trip. I don't know that I learned anything new about strategy of the Southern Cone folks. I liked it that they changed the agenda to fit where the church is these days."

The Rev. M. Filmore Strunk, rector of St. Margaret's Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, which he characterized as "evangelical Catholic," said, "The thing that most crystallized the conference for me was Seitz saying he realized how Americans are different from the British when he began to try to understand the game of cricket as compared to American basketball, where fouling may be part of the strategy.

"For Anglicanism to work there has to be a deep mutual humility. We're not a curial church but a conciliar church," Strunk went on. "For us to be ourselves, our theology must be done in community, and that's what we broke. We've decided to go our own way in arrogance, thinking we know better than anyone else."

Tom E. Myers Jr. and Lynn Pagliaro of Charleston, lay members of the steering committee of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, a "via media" group hoping to keep the Episcopal Church together, were two men very much in the minority at this gathering. "I don't hear any talk of love here," said Myers. "All that I hear is warlike metaphors and desire for power."

No Communion without discipline

One speaker, retired Berkeley Divinity School at Yale dean Philip Turner, said, "If the primates and Rowan Williams are prepared to exercise some discipline on the American Episcopal Church and the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada, then we will continue to have an Anglican Communion."

He said that a second possibility is development of a federation, "in which no one leaves, but we all do as we please, which is what [U.S. Presiding Bishop] Frank Griswold wants."

A third possible development, he warned, is a north-south split along racial lines, "which would be horrendous."

Peter Walker pointed out that the climate is different now than in 1988, when an earlier Eames Commission studied the implications of the ordination of women to the episcopate and predicted a period of reception of the idea. "The Communion has to understand that we are now in a period of non-reception. We must take the high ground and not give in. We must not get off the ship. This is a very difficult time," Walker observed.

Ephraim Radner suggested that discipline might take the form of a "reduction in status" for ECUSA to the level of observer in the Communion.

"I don't think that the Nairobi proposal is lost," he noted. Recognition of "orthodox" bishops as the sole religious authorities in the church was something envisioned by the Nairobi report, Steps of Discipline, prepared by conservative theologians for the mid-October 2003 special meeting of the primates in London. "It is nonsense that we can do nothing because there are no present structures for action," he declared.

Gomez said, "My own opinion is that discipline should be applied to all bishops who voted aye on Gene Robinson and all who co-consecrated him."

The present crisis "poses a threat to our Catholic tradition," Gomez charged. He said the negative reaction of other Christian groups, in withdrawing from ecumenical talks with Anglicans and Episcopalians, "makes it clear that actions of ECUSA contradict our catholicity."

Awaiting Canterbury Commission report

Most speakers stressed the need to wait for the report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission, appointed by Rowan Williams in late October 2003. Its main task would be to provide advice on dealing with the situation that now threatens to divide the Anglican Communion. It is to begin its work on February 9 and conclude by September 20.

Gomez is a member of the Commission, which is chaired by Archbishop Robin Eames, Primate of All Ireland, and has a membership of 17 persons.

Gomez told the Charleston conference that the global South does not want to attend any more meetings to discuss sex. "The Anglican Communion stated its position on sex at the Lambeth Conference," he said. "This new commission will talk about structure. We are aware that so much rides on our recommendations."

Asked whether non-Western parties will be willing to wait that long, Gomez replied, "I think that our Communion has made a wonderful contribution to the practice of Christianity, and it would be a shame to break it. I don't believe that our brethren in the global South will just break camp and leave, but they are not prepared to compromise. After September, figures such as Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria will want some definite action."

Anglican Consultative Council called racist

"Many of our brothers in the global South resent that the minority North still controls the Anglican Communion and sets the agenda for meetings," said Gomez. "We must break the stranglehold of this monster called the Anglican Consultative Council. Many of us feel that cultural sensitivity is lacking at the Anglican Consultative Council in London, that there is a lack of respect of persons. It is impossible to avoid this implication.

"There is the feeling that although we people of color are present, we are not fully accepted. That is painful because we believe we are fully brothers and sisters and want to walk together," he declared.

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), established in 1968, is a 69-member representative assembly composed of bishops, priests, deacons, lay adults and youth from all churches of the Anglican Communion. Representation in the ACC is based on church membership: churches with over one million members are entitled to three representatives, those with over 250,000 are allowed two representatives, and those under 250,000 are allowed one representative.

Tensions have surfaced between the ACC, the only one of the four "instruments of unity" in the Communion that includes the laity, and the Primates' Meeting, which the ACC predates by ten years. At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the bishops asked that the ACC be made up of every primate as well as one presbyter and person from each province, but at its next meeting the ACC declined to make the change, citing budgetary limitations. The decision was said implicitly to repudiate efforts to increase primatial presence on the Council.

Dallas Bishop James Stanton, in a panel discussion, spoke briefly about the newly formed Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, whose memorandum of agreement has been signed by 13 American bishops and which is scheduled to hold a "charter meeting" January 19-20 in Dallas. "It does not yet exist in any identifiable form," he said. "Its membership might exist of bishops, dioceses, parishes, or individuals."

One provision of the memorandum is that the network's moderator, Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, is directed to "take necessary steps to obtain recognition of the Network from Anglican primates and provinces."

In response to a question about similarities between the American Anglican Council (AAC) and the Network, Seitz replied that the AAC is a group whose work is limited strictly to the United States.