Anglican Primates’ Meeting Abandons the Scottish Faithful

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The Anglican Primates’ 2017 meeting which has just closed in Canterbury has ended with the issuing of a communiqué which has effectively abandoned those orthodox parishes who are now disenfranchised by the Scottish Episcopal Church’s change in marriage canons.

The meeting, which began on Monday with the notable absence of a number of the GAFCON Primates, issued a Communiqué [pdf]. On the subject of the recent events in Scotland the following is said:

In our last meeting in January 2016 we made a clear decision to walk together while acknowledging the distance that exists in our relationships due to deep differences in understanding on same sex marriage. We endorsed this approach, which we will continue with renewed commitment.

We listened carefully to the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) and with sadness accepted that the consequences for our relationships agreed in January 2016 would also apply to SEC after its decision on same sex marriage. This means that for three years , members of SEC would no longer represent the Communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies ; should not be appointed or elected to internal standing committee s and that , while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they would not take part in decision making on any issues of doctrine or polity. The Archbishop of Canterbury will take steps within his authority to implement this agreement.

It’s a fascinating response. The reality is that the “consequences” agreed to at the 2016 Primates’ meeting have been all but ignored. The Anglican Consultative Council chose to effectively ignore the Primates’ request and the Archbishop of Canterbury, rather than insisting that they were implementing, simply accepted the outcome. Hence the language in this year’s communiqué that he “will take steps within his authority”. i.e., where he has no “authority” there is no chance of anything happening. The Primus of the SEC, Bishop Mark Strange, must have been quaking in his boots at that one.

Worse was to come:

We discussed difficulties arising from cross-border interventions, agreeing that the principles were clearly stated from the Council of Nicaea onwards and in the 1998 Lambeth Conference. We recognised that there were opportunities for joint initiatives and mission partnerships for the benefit of the Gospel where these are agreed between Provinces. However consent was critical to any inter-provincial collaboration and it was essential that courtesy and love should be extended to Provinces at all times.

Attempts to deal with breaches of consent and courtesy should be made in regional Primates’ Meetings and only referred to the Secretary General and the Archbishop of Canterbury as a last resort. We recognised that persistent and deliberate non-consensual cross-border activity breaks trust and weakens our communion.

We recognised that there is a need for a season of repentance and renewal including where interventions may have happened without prior permission having being sought.

These are three paragraphs that expose just how poor the outcome of this meeting was. First note the language used here which refers to the recent GAFCON consecration of Andy Lines. It is a “breach of consent and courtesy” which is “persistent and deliberate” and “non-consensual”. It “breaks trust and weakens our communion” and requires “repentance and renewal”.

Compare to the language used above of the SEC’s actions: “the distance that exists in our relationships due to deep differences in understanding on same sex marriage”. You would think that it was simply a misunderstanding by family members. The language is clearly not as strong. Further there is zero mention of the ongoing position of TEC and the Canadian Church (ACC). If there is persistent and deliberate action then surely it is the absolute refusal of TEC, Canada, Scotland (and perhaps, soon, New Zealand) to desist from their path of deliberately rejecting Jesus’ words on what marriage is. Yet it is not even mentioned, let alone in the tone of language reserved for GAFCON. The remedial action is roundly criticised yet the heresy (for that is what it is) that caused the crisis is treated like a spat between siblings.

Second, readers will note the repeated mistaken claims about the implications of the Council of Nicea. The Church Society’s June article, “Loose Canons? Andy Lines and the Canons of Nicaea” is an excellent rebuttal of those assertions.

So what have we ended up with? A pitifully weak communiqué on the key issue facing the Anglican Communion at the moment. The crisis of open false teaching embedded in the canons and liturgy of three Anglican Provinces has been set aside as nothing more than a relational inconvenience. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been effectively absolved of having to take responsibility for, well, anything. He could solve this crisis in a moment by acting with courage and integrity but continues to choose not to. At the time of Lines’ consecration we wrote:

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 [the previous Primus of the SEC] have pushed ahead. What is there to stop them?

But Welby must take full responsibility. Clear godly leadership could have solved this crisis immediately. He  could this very minute call a press conference and announce that he is unwilling to invite TEC, ACC and SEC bishops to the Lambeth Conference and could even have refused to invite their Primates to Canterbury. It would have been bold. It would have garnered much criticism. But it would have been faithful courageous leadership. Instead he will now be primus inter pares over a second-rate Communion which has this week decided that false teaching won’t be dealt with. Worse yet, he has led the Primates in abandoning the faithful orthodox in Scotland. By refusing to speak clearly and Biblically about the Scottish crisis while at the same time allowing criticism of the GAFCON consecration which came to their aid he has effectively left them to drift alone.

The official GAFCON response has been clear, describing the Communiqué as “disappointing, but not surprising”. They are correct to claim that “Again we have seen the “inability of existing Communion instruments to discern truth and error and take binding ecclesiastical action. The instruments have again been found wanting in their ability to discipline those leaders who have abandoned the biblical and historic faith.”[5]GAFCON UK have also noted that the Communiqué “appears to continue promoting the narrative of Anglicans ‘walking together’ despite the absence of four Provinces representing millions of Anglicans, and despite profound disagreement expressed within the meeting on understandings of what it means to be Christian, and how we know what is right and wrong”.

So perhaps the biggest disappointment is the continued presence of some of the GAFCON and Global South Primates at the meeting and the final press conference. Yes, a number of them were new but surely they are not so naïve as to not be aware of what was going on around them? They now have their names associated with this Communiqué and expects that in the days and weeks ahead there will be considerable pressure for them to disavow words which, essentially, undermine the rationale for the consecration in June.

But whatever they choose to do, the Anglican Communion is toast. Stick a fork in it, it’s well done. The papering-over of the sexuality crisis which was begun in 2016 now has a nice skirting board and coving to frame it all in place. The deal is done, the fix is in and everyone is expected to move along. There will be no real consequence for those who have abandoned Scripture and no remedy for those disenfranchised by the same actions.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Bruce Lyon

    Disappointing outcome. Excellent analysis and editorial opinion, David.

  2. David McCarthy

    Thanks, David.

  3. Kevin Allard

    So what keeps you in the Anglican Church (assuming that you are)? Why not leave what is effectively a para-church organisation that that seeks to impose an organisational/political unity over churches that have no spiritual unity. True churches that remain within the Church of England are proclaiming by continued membership that they are united to and in spiritual communion with false churches.

    1. David Ould

      hi Kevin. Excellent question. I would say the answer is “because we hold the title deeds”! When I look at the prayer book, the formularies, the ordinal etc I see a church that I belong in. We don’t give up the house just because there are squatters. But we do refuse to treat the squatters as legitimate tenants.
      Part of that process is formal declarations of being out of communion or in impaired relationship, just as the Diocese of Sydney and the Anglican Church of Australia have done.

  4. Lance Lawton

    Agree with your diagnosis of the Communion. That being so, it’s neither logical nor fair IMO to blame Justin Welby for anything. The ship struck the iceberg at least 15 years ago and has been taking in water ever since. No amount of leadership, courage or anything else from the captain will achieve anything. All the captain can do is smile at everyone before going down with the ship.

    1. David Ould

      Hi Lance. I think a captain can do much more. He can make sure the lifeboats are secure and safe and speak out against those who piloted the boat into the iceberg.
      And even now he could speak clearly and boldly and make a profound difference by making it clear that he will not invite to Lambeth or Canterbury any bishop who has acquiesced to a denial of doctrine.

  5. Lizzie Moore

    I need to study this up in more detail; many thanks for this detailed report, Fr. David. Seems that the English Anglicans have decided that the pragmatic thing to do, is just ‘try to keep the whole shebang together’, even if that comes at great cost to the Anglican communion overall. Am somewhat surprised that the Scots’ Anglicans embraced homosexual marriage so cheerfully – out here in Australia, both Anglican and Pressie Scots have the rep of being tenacious, stubborn and resistant – look at all the trouble their ancestors gave the English, over a lengthy history of conflict, in earlier times! Many people of faith in Australia, I feel are very torn about gay marriage; we are told it is the Only Way gay persons can be protected fully. The homosexual lobby is vigourous and highly assertive; sometimes even violent. I believe there are many reasonable, reasoning and far from bigoted people, who fear that gay marriage is very chic, edgy and directional now but that there may be later generations, who shall not be as enthused about our changes to the Australian Marriage Act. ~~ Does this surprising Scots’ Anglican development, mean that Scots’ Episcopalian ministers shall be wanting to celebrate homosexual unions in their churches “and to heck with what the fuddie duddie English Anglicans think and want”?

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