Primates at Dar es Salaam: The Bishop’s Response—No. 2

March 2, 2007

Regarding the meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion which ended February 19, I commend to your reading, study and prayer the following three documents in their entirety which can be found as noted by the links below.  (Beware of brief media coverage, which in my experience hardly ever—if ever—portrays an accurate, balanced accounting.) 

1.    “The Communiqué Of the Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam 19th February 2007”.

2.    “The Key Recommendations of the Primates” (at the end of the Communiqué, linked above).

3.    “An Anglican Covenant:  Draft prepared by the Covenant Design Group, January 2007”.[1] 

You will see in these documents that the Primates considered many areas of Christian mission:  ways to improve theological education across the entire Communion; methods of achieving the Millennium Development Goals; and the decision to pursue an international study of approaches to scriptural interpretation.  However—to be sure—much attention was on The Episcopal Church (hereinafter sometimes referred to by the abbreviation “TEC”), within the context of the Windsor Report. 

The Primates affirmed and challenged The Episcopal Church, and expressed confidence in the future of the communion, as expressed in these excerpts: 

1.    “We believe several factors must be faced together.  First, The Episcopal Church has taken seriously the recommendations of the Windsor Report, and we express our gratitude for the consideration by the 75th General Convention”.[2] 

2.    “However, secondly, we believe that there remains a lack of clarity about the stance of The Episcopal Church, especially its position on the authorization of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions”.  Noting “an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision”, the Primates add, “We recognize that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorization of them.  However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings”, which, the Primates wrote, “causes concern among us”.[3] 

3.    “We believe that the establishment of a Covenant for the Churches of the Anglican Communion in the longer term may lead to the trust required to re-establish our interdependent life.  By making explicit what Anglicans mean by the ‘bonds of affection’ and securing the commitment of each Province to those bonds, the structures of our common life can be articulated and enhanced.”[4]

The work of the Primates produced in me mixed feelings—both a sense of relief and significant concerns.  The sigh of relief, because:  First, there was no “excommunication”.  The Primates “request” that our House of Bishops covenant that we “will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions”; also that the HOB “confirm that the passing of Resolution B033…means that a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent unless some new consensus on these matters across the Communion (emphasis in the original)”. [5] Otherwise, “the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion…remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion”[6]; “consequences” are not further defined. Second, the Primates acknowledged that “(t)he interventions (into TEC) by some of our number and by bishops of some Provinces, against the explicit recommendations of the Windsor Report, however well-intentioned, have exacerbated (recrimination, hostility and…disputes in the civil courts)”.[7]   They made the commitment to “end all interventions”[8]. Third, in relation to the Presiding Bishop, they:  1.    “…(R)ecognize that (she) has been duly elected in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, which must be respected”;[9] 2.    “…(A)cknowledge and welcome the initiative of the Presiding Bishop to consent to appoint a Primatial Vicar” (which she had done in December);[10] 

3. Elected her to represent the Anglican Churches in North, Central, and South America on the Primates’ Standing Committee.  (Each region elects its own representatives to the Standing Committee, which operates as the governing board of the Primates.)[11] 

Fourth, they took no action which could be interpreted as recognizing an “alternative” Anglican presence in the United States. 

My frustration is a result of the following matters: 

 1.    While the Anglican Communion and TEC are called to be a confessing Church, we have never been a confessional Church.  What’s the difference?  A confessing church is one that proclaims “with our lips and in our lives” that Jesus Christ is Lord, and struggles with the mystery of what that means in life and mission.  Consequently, as Professor Reginald Fuller expresses in his commentary on Romans 10, she sees that “the unity of the Church despite the pluralism of its members…; the unity of the New Testament, despite the variety of its expressions of the Christian message; the unity of the liturgy, despite the existence of different Eucharistic Prayers” lie in this common, basic confession:  God has raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord.”.  A confessional church has developed an extensive and detailed set of dogma which one must believe if one is to be saved.  My concern:  that our desire to strengthen the “bonds of affection” may result in a covenant which transforms Anglicanism from a confessing church into a confessional church. [12]

2.    The Primates of the Communion, for the first time ever, are making demands on one of the constituent Churches, an action inconsistent with previous practice:  i.e., that the Archbishop of Canterbury is the sole person/office through whom inclusion in the Anglican Communion is established and maintained.  The Primates are also acting independently, without regard to two of the other three “instruments of unity”:  the Lambeth Conference, which involves all bishops of the worldwide Communion; and the Anglican Consultative Council, which is the only instrument whose membership includes lay people as well as ordained persons.[13]  How does this impact our understanding of the Communion as composed of interdependent but autonomous Churches?  The Primates seem to continue to confuse the polity of TEC with theirs.  Our Presiding Bishop is just that—he/she presides over the House of Bishops but has no authority to dictate decisions by bishops or dioceses.  Some Primates have for all intents and purposes dictatorial power, choosing and dismissing bishops and priests at will, and establishing single-handedly what is—and what is not—“the faith once delivered to the apostles”. 

3.    The Primates request a response from the House of Bishops and set a deadline.  This raises important, legitimate—and perhaps mutually exclusive—questions about our polity which we Episcopalians must resolve in providing that response:  (1)  Is the General Convention the only body which can respond on behalf of The Episcopal Church; or, (2)  does the assignment to the episcopacy—and not to lay people, deacons and priests—of responsibility for the “faith, unity and discipline of the whole Church”, vest in the Bishops the authority to respond to requests such as these without—or at least pending—a decision by General Convention.[14]  (Or, for example, can the Executive Council of TEC speak for the Convention?)  At issue in this as with other provisions of these documents:  what does it mean for us to be part of something larger—to believe in “one holy catholic and apostolic Church”?  Anglicanism has never meant conformity in all things—rather it anticipates equal partners united in One Lord with one mission—in the words of Archbishop Williams, “as an organically international and intercultural unity whose aim is to glorify Jesus Christ and to work for his Kingdom….”[15] 

4.    In my view we have failed the homosexual community.  I can find no better words to describe what I mean that those uttered by Archbishop Williams:  “…(M)indful of the full text of Lambeth I.10, we should have done more about offering safe space to homosexual people…to talk about what it is like to be endlessly discussed and dissected in their absence, patronized or demonized.  Again and again we have used the language of respect for their human dignity; again and again we have failed to show it effectively, convertingly and convertedly. …(E)very attempt to ‘listen to the experience of homosexual people’ is easily seen as…an exercise in winning battles rather than winning understanding.”[16] 

 What next?  The House of Bishops meets at Camp Allen in Texas March 16-20.  I approach our prayerful deliberations, maintaining my commitment to be a Windsor Bishop of a Windsor Diocese, committed to faithfulness within TEC and the Communion.  I do so, concurring with a majority of the Primates who “were not eager to see this as a life and death issue for the Communion”; and I do so in agreement with the Archbishop of Canterbury that “it is folly to think that a decision to ‘go our separate ways’…would leave us with a neat and morally satisfying break between two groups of provinces, orthodox and heretics or humane liberals and bigots (depending on where you stand).”[17]  I bid your prayers for me and for my fellow bishops, for The Episcopal Church and for the Anglican Communion:  for the unity of the Church—for the mission of the Church—and for the faithfulness of the Church. 

With prayers for a holy Lent and God’s blessings upon all, 


Upper South Carolina VII 

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”   

St. Paul, to the Christians in Ephesus (Eph. 4:1-3). 


Notes 

1. Note bene:  This is a preliminary draft and could be changed—and probably will be—as the process of development and adoption unfolds.

2. Paragraph 21, “The Communiqué”.

3. Id., paragraph 22.

4 Id., paragraph 29

5. “The Key Recommendations of the Primates”, under the heading, “On Clarifying the Response to Windsor”.  The HOB is asked to provide this clarification “by 30 September 2007”.

6. Ibid.

7. “The Communiqué”, op. cit., paragraphs 26 and 25.

8. “The Key Recommendations…”, op. cit., under the heading, “A Pastoral Scheme”.

9. “The Communiqué”, op., cit., paragraph 27.

10. “The Key Recommendations…”, op. cit., under the heading, “A Pastoral Scheme”.   

11. For the complete story, see www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_82568-eng_HTM.htm. 

12. Fuller, Reginald, Preaching the Lectionary, pp. 405-406.  Professor Dr. Fuller is one of the foremost experts on the New Testament within the Anglican Communion. 

13. “The Windsor Report”, sections 97-104; also recommendations regarding the instruments of unity, sections 105 ff. 

14.See the “The Ministry” portion of “The Catechism”, BCP, p. 855-856; the Ordinal for bishops, p. 517 and 518; cf.  Ordinal for priests and deacons, pp. 526 ff., and 538 ff., respectively.

15. From the Archbishop’s Presidential Address at the General Synod of the Church of England on 26 February, occurring after the Primates’ meeting earlier in the month.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.  

 

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5 Responses to “Primates at Dar es Salaam: The Bishop’s Response—No. 2”

  1. George Gray Says:

    Dear Bishop Henderson,

    We spoke about our many frustrations with TEC and the AC this week.

    The frustration that so many members of my parish have is whether our PB is a Christian? You acknowledged that her public responses (including those this week) beg this question. I am glad to know that privately she acknowledges to you that she is a Christian, but our PB’s private assurances need to be acknowledged publicly!

    We also agreed that a major problem within TEC is clarity and consistency. I believe, there is a lack of clarity and consistency because of the hermeneutical principle of truth. As far as TEC is concerned, truth is “pluriform” and thus, it becomes impossible for us to be clear and consistent because “your truth may not be my truth.” I am of the opinion that when the TEC is unable to acknowledge John 14:6 we have nothing but, “pluriform truth” which pales in the face of all other frustrations.

    For example, you mentioned frustration “that our desire to strengthen the “bonds of affection” may result in a covenant which transforms Anglicanism from a confessing church into a confessional church.” I agree, but there are bishops in TEC that have not acknowledge the “basic confession: God has raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord.” In my view, our bishops have no one to blame, but themselves because TEC’s unity is based on “your truth may not be my truth” and that has slowly become acceptable.

    You also state that: “The Primates of the Communion, for the first time ever, are making demands on one of the constituent Churches” and “set a deadline.” Is that really a surprise? Has not all four instruments of unity made clear that “the faith once delivered to the apostles” is not being carried out by TEC and that the polity of TEC has failed to honor what has been established and maintained as Christian and Anglican teachings? The AC is in a crisis because of the actions of TEC. In a crisis, leadership has a responsibility to act and this is why the leadership of the AC is taking these unprecedented steps.

    I agree that “we have failed the homosexual community.” Where TEC has failed the most is in acknowledging and listening to those homosexual people who have left the “homosexual lifestyle.” Further, TEC has been mute during this period towards bisexual and transgender persons. What about their pain?

    Unfortunately, we have both fallen into speaking about sex rather than the mission of the Church. I hope and pray to stay focused on mission and believing exactly what John writes in chapter 14 verse 6:

    “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (KJV)

  2. KENT Says:

    So refreshing to read a response from a bishop that addresses the fullness of what the Primates actually said in their communique. In the spirit of that fullness, I wish +Dorsey had emphasized (as the primates did) the INTERIM nature of the requests being made of TEC: so that they/we can buy time/space so TEC could actually be invited to Lambeth ’08 to participate in the discussion of our ultimate fate !

  3. TC Says:

    Deliver us all from whatever it is that Bishop Henderson is saying. How will you vote,, Bishop Henderson? With TEC as the company man? Hopefully, it will be to stand for the Gospel!

  4. Glenn Gould Says:

    It matters what the Bishops say. Hopefully they will avoid that nuanced, wishy-washy, vague way of writing known in the blogosphere as “bishopspeak.” Hopefully they will speak and write plainly.

    GLBT people need to be “championed.” By standing up for GLBT people in TEC, we stand for GLBT people everywhere. Since we in TEC have finally realized that God wants all of us to be equal partners with Him, it follows that GLBT people should have equal access to HOLY ORDERS and equal access to blessings of their unions … and, of course, we should be working to secure the full and equal civil rights for GLBT people.

    Nigerian GLBT people (and the world’s people) need to know that our bishops most strongly oppose the current Nigerian legislation that would further criminalize GLBT people, their friends and supporters. Why is Archbishop Akinola being given a “free pass” on this? Our turning away from this issue is sinful and cowardly. Our bishops need to stand up and be counted. Lives are at stake. As the NYT pointed out today, the Nigerian government has bowed to international pressure before when considering further oppressing GLBT people.

    We need to say that we want to be part of the Anglican Communion the way it has always been – polite, loose, diverse, tolerant, loving, forgiving, and patient. However, we want no part of a confessional communion where we seek to measure and judge one another. Christianity does not need any more “second class Christians” or any structures that could lead to such an arrangement. Bad idea. Again, our bishops need to say so.

    We want the communion to know that our stance on GLBT people is in obedience to our understanding of scripture. We respect the authority of scripture; we disagree with Lambeth 1.10 and would characterize it as a time and culture bound uninspired response to the Good News of God in Christ. We can do better; TEC has done better.

    We need to understand that Bishops and Primates on the far right are going to proceed with their agenda of realignment regardless of what our bishops say because they want themselves “in” and TEC out. They have made their intentions clear.


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