As we reported a few days ago, GAFCON are about to announce a new missionary bishop for the UK, precipitated by the imminent decision of the Scottish Episcopal Church to change their doctrine of marriage to include same-sex relationships.
What might not be so clear to readers is the part Justin Welby and other senior leaders in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion have had in bringing this crisis about. Or, more accurately, why failure to act on their part has necessitated such a drastic intervention.
The first piece in the jigsaw is related by the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Rev David Chillingworth, in his address to their General Synod in 2016 where he reflected upon the 2016 Primates meeting in Canterbury.
You will have seen the Communique and the ‘consequences’ which that meeting decided to impose on The Episcopal Church of the United States. The primary question in your minds will be this, ‘And will the same consequences or sanctions apply to us if we approve the proposals for canonical change in respect of marriage in 2016 and 2017?’
Two weeks ago, I went to London and met with Archbishop Justin specifically to ask the question, ‘Will this [“consequence” for TEC] also apply to us if we complete the process of Canonical change in 2017?’ The answer is that it will. Most directly, I will be removed from the role of Anglican Co-Chair of the International Anglican-Reformed Dialogue. But other effects are limited. Our bishops will be present and fully involved in the Lambeth Conference planned for 2020. We shall continue to be actively involved in our network of Diocesan Companionships and in the Anglican Networks.
And there you have it; confirmation from Justin Welby himself. If the SEC push ahead with a revision of the doctrine of marriage there will be little if no real discipline. Welby, of course, has the power of invitation (and therefore an option to withhold invitation) to the Lambeth Conference. If he really wanted to sort this situation out he could have made quite clear that an invitation would be withheld. But he’s chosen not to. No wonder the SEC under the leadership of Chillingworth have pushed ahead. What is there to stop them?
So what will happen to orthodox parishes in the SEC? Sadly the story is much the same as with the question over discipline. Welby is simply unwilling to do anything.
Sources in Scotland close to the GAFCON consecration decision have told me that there have been multiple attempts to seek support and assistance. In 2016 Welby, Sentamu (Archbishop of York) and Iduwo-Fearon (Secretary General of the Anglican Communion) were all asked to help. That first contact with all three received no response. Since then a more recent appeal to Welby and Sentamu has been rebuffed with the answer that it’s “not our jurisdiction”. The orthodox in Scotland are not aware of any Church of England bishop prepared to provide cross-border support (even from those who would present themselves as champions of orthodoxy, albeit not supporters of GAFCON). Instead the situation in Scotland was described to me as “the dry run for the ‘good disagreement’ which Welby will seek to enact in England” and that conservative bishops are “loathe to incur Welby’s wrath”.
So this is the situation that the orthodox in the SEC now find themselves in. There will be no disciplinary action by the Archbishop of Canterbury at all, despite the fact that he is more than capable of carrying it out. Nor will they receive any episcopal support for them, again at Welby’s behest. So no wonder they appealed to (and received a ready response from) GAFCON.
Welby fiddling while the SEC begins to burn, even when the fire extinguisher is readily available. We’ll bring you more news and analysis as the week progresses.