The Primates of the Anglican Communion met in Dar es Salaam from 15th to 19th February 2007. There were 38 primates able to attend, and over a third (13 in total) were at their very first such meeting. Therefore, whilst much had been hoped for it would have been quite difficult to achieve more with so many new to the gatherings.
>> Text of the Communique
Church Society had called for and looked for clear action to separate the US Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion and to embrace in fellowship those Anglicans in the US who remain faithful to Biblical teaching. This did not happen, but the statements issued and course of action set out was remarkably strong and achieved despite considerable opposition.
There were threats in advance that a number of primates would not sit at table with the new primate of the US Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori. Whilst this was understandable given that she is a false teacher, the danger with such tactics is that it hands over committees to the heretics. Fortunately the Primates did not carry this threat through but rather did not sit at the Lord’s Table. There were seven Primates who did not attend the services and a further two who apparently attended but did not take communion. It appears that there were also three primates missing altogether.
Notably there were also no group photographs. At all previous meetings there had been a big family photo with everyone smiling happily (the Anglican Communion website now shows the picture from a previous gathering), but a number apparently refused to co-operate and so no such picture was taken. I understood that there had been a picture of the 13 new primates, but there is some doubt even about that and the website now appears to show only a handful of pictures.
In a subsequent statement Rowan Williams told how he had written to the Primates after the US General Convention in 2006 to ask if they believed that the resolutions passed matched what the Windsor report required. Williams said:
About eleven provinces were fairly satisfied; about eleven were totally dissatisfied. The rest displayed varying levels of optimism or pessimism, but were not eager to see this as a life and death issue for the Communion.
Early on in the Primates meeting one event shocked people, when Schori was elected to the Joint Standing Committee. Given that there had been a request that she should not be there at all, this was an extraordinary move and seemed to suggest the whole meeting might turn out to be a disaster. However, she was not elected by the Primates as a whole. The Standing Committee is appointed on a regional basis and she was elected by the Americas. Whilst this region includes Greg Venables of the Southern Cone it also includes Brazil, Canada, Central America and Mexico all of which are revisionist and with the exception of Canada heavily dependent upon the US Episcopal Church.
All these things demonstrate that we should not expect too much from the Primates. At present only a third of them seem to be thinking biblically, recognising error and prepared to respond to it in a biblical way. A further third appear to be fully in favour with what the US Episcopal Church is doing (I suspect this includes Wales, Scotland and Ireland). The remaining third want to preserve unity.
Given all this the result of the meeting was quite extraordinary and is a testimony to the determination and faithfulness of some of the conservative primates such as John Chew, Bernard Malango and Peter Akinola. It should be remembered that they were not helped by the process. Papers were largely not sent in advance so there was little time to digest them before the meeting. They were not allowed to consult advisors for fears of leaks to the press. And the secretariat, the Anglican Communion Office, has long been dominated by, and dependent on the funding of the US Episcopal Church.
The proposed way forward is analysed below but it remains to be seen whether the Primates as a whole will not have the will to carry it through. It is tempting to think that the revisionists saw it as the cost of the USEC staying in the communion. But the majority, whose overall concern is unity, seem to have seen it as the cost of keeping the conservatives in the communion. When it comes to the crunch their concern for unity is going to make it very difficult to exclude the US Episcopal Church.
Summary of the Communiqué
>> Text of the Communique
The final product of the Primates meeting was a Communiqué which took far longer to agree than had been anticipated and was not finalised until quite late on the last day. It was also rather confusing when it first appeared because the main meat of the proposals do not appear in the Communiqué itself but in the appendices, which were not released immediately.
Sections 1-7 deal with introductions and other matters. Section 4 mentions the ‘Holy Eucharist’ in Zanzibar but not that there were Primates absent (the Anglican Communion website calls it a ‘mass’).
Section 8 concerns proposals for a worldwide study of hermeneutics. Rowan Williams also drew attention to the interpretation of Scripture in his recent General Synod address. It is good that people recognise that the differences in the Communion stem from different understandings of the nature and authority of Scripture, in particular is it the Word of God? But too much that goes under the name hermeneutics seems to be about explaining why we don’t have to accept what the Bible says.
From section 9 onwards the communiqué concerns the divisions caused by the antics of revisionists. There are strong statements on the nature of the problem - the communion is beset with an ‘illness’, we no longer recognise one another as ‘faithful disciples of Christ’, and ‘the fabric of our common life together has been torn’.
They re-affirm Lambeth 1.10 a number of times, in particular that in upholding marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman and that ‘abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage’ (para 11). The Primates assert that it is the deviation from this position that has torn the communion. The actions of some Primates to intervene in the US (and elsewhere) to support those who have opposed error is mentioned and accepted as a necessary step until reconciliation is achieved.
But what will all this mean in practice? The Primates have not done what was asked of them, that is take action now to show that the US and Canadian provinces have stepped beyond the bounds of orthodoxy. The primary goal of the communiqué is to find reconciliation. This is a laudable goal but when a group is unwilling to turn from error discipline is necessary in the hope that it will lead to repentance and reconciliation. In this case discipline must be by breaking fellowship.
The problem the primates now face is how to decide that the point for action has come. The obvious time was when Gene Robinson was appointed, it was such a clear and blatant act. But they failed to do this and instead set up a group which produced the Windsor Report.
The Windsor Report make some rather weak proposals which the Primates accepted and called on the US church to respond. This response should have come at the General Convention in 2006, but instead they took bits, played with words and ignored other points completely. Therefore another group was set up to decide whether the resolutions of the General Conventions complied with Windsor. This group concluded, by some tortuous misuse of logic and language, that in many respects it did comply, but not in all.
The Primates considered this report at their recent meeting, but again they have not acted. Instead they have set up another group, this time a Pastoral Council, part of whose job is to monitor the response to Windsor.
In principle the Primates have also been asked that the US Bishops respond by 30th September giving a commitment that they will not authorise Rites of same-sex blessing and that they will not allow the consecration of a Bishop living in a same-sex union. But there are already indications that this will fail. The Presiding Bishop, Mrs Schori, has indicated that a commitment not to authorise Rites will not stop parishes from performing same-sex blessings using unauthorised Rites.
In fact all this reveals a fundamental problem which the Primates and Windsor have consistently failed to address. They have focussed again and again on only two things - same sex blessings and actively homosexual bishops. But it is a scandal that there are actively homosexual people in any ordained ministry and that people are being allowed to teach the acceptability of homosexual practice and thereby leading people into error and destruction.
The fact is that despite the good intentions of many of the Primates they are not going to be able to get the majority to act. Every time it comes around there will be more obfuscation and delay. The orthodox primates have tried valiantly to achieve a good result but they appear to be outnumbered by those who are unwilling to act in a Biblical manner.
The Vicar, the Council and the Covenant.
Whilst inaction is taken the Primates have had to chart a way to help those in the US who are unable to remain in fellowship with the US Episcopal Church. The proposal is to ask the Presiding Bishop to delegate some of her role to a Primatial Vicar who will then be responsible to the new Pastoral Council. Together they will seek to chart a way forward which allows those who have broken fellowship to remain within the structures of the Communion but out of communion with the USEC until that body changes its ways. Until all this is achieved the Primates have effectively endorsed the intervention of individual primates in the US.
In principle all this could work, but its purpose is dubious. It appears to be a way of allowing those who want to be faithful to Scriptural teaching to stay within the same structures as those who do not whilst retaining a clear conscience. The better way would be to make it clear that the US Episcopal Church is no longer part of the communion.
One proposal to be put forward by the Windsor Report was the establishment of a Covenant which provinces would be asked to endorse as a condition of them being part of the Communion. A draft was included in the Windsor Report and a working group was set up to refine this. Though this was made public before the Primates meeting it appears that it did not receive much attention mainly because it is a long-term solution and therefore cannot hope to deal with the current problems.
If it is taken forward the covenant has potential for great good and great harm. It ought to reassert that the Anglican Communion is a federation of confessional churches. We have beliefs that we hold in common and it is unacceptable for people to step beyond those beliefs. However, if the covenant is too weak, or has too many loopholes, it will be taken to mean that it is legitimate to believe anything you want as an Anglican and will therefore undermine what we stand for. There is also the problem of policing, essentially the proposal is that it will be self-policed, provinces will be required to assent to it. But what will happen if a province assents to it, and then acts in a way that is totally oppose to what the covenant says? Will it be like the 39 Articles in the Church of England, something which the majority claim to acknowledge and then completely ignore?
The above summary of the Communiqué can be downloaded as a Cross†Way article.
>> Press statement from Church Society
The Primates - Why can Anglicans never decide? Cross†Way article (Spring 2007) by David Phillips commenting on the Primates Communiqué.
No longer just first amongst equals
The Archbishop of York attended the meeting despite the initial controversy over this. The responsibilities on the Archbishop of Canterbury are immense but we seem to be gradually drifting in a direction where he ceases to be primus inter pares (first among equals). In the Church of England we have already approved the Bishop of Dover becoming a full member of the House of Bishops for Canterbury Diocese so that the Archbishop can exercise a wider ministry. Likewise it appears that at the international level the pressure is for York to act as the Primate of England (which is one of his formal titles) whilst Canterbury exercises the wider role. All this moves us in a papal direction and needs to be seen in conjunction with the recently released Anglican Roman Catholic report (see separate article).
Men of principle
The primates who did not attend the communion were Peter Akinola (Nigeria), John Chew (South East Asia), Benjamin Nzimbi (Kenya), Justice Akrofi (West Africa), Greg Venables (Southern Cone), Emmanuel Kolini (Rwanda) and Henry Orombi (Uganda). Donald Mtetemela (Tanzania) and Bernard Malango (Central Africa) also did not take communion. These provinces account for around 2/3rds of the active membership of the Anglican Communion.