Archbishop of Canterbury Calls Critical Primates’ Meeting

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In a much-reported release yesterday, Lambeth Palace announced the calling of a Primates’ meeting, the first in many years, for next January.

The Archbishop of Canterbury today wrote to all 37 Primates inviting them to attend a special Primates’ gathering in Canterbury to reflect and pray together concerning the future of the Anglican Communion.

The meeting, to be held in January 2016, would be an opportunity for Primates to discuss key issues face to face, including a review of the structures of the Anglican Communion and to decide together their approach to the next Lambeth Conference.

The agenda will be set by common agreement with all Primates encouraged to send in contributions. It is likely to include the issues of religiously-motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment and human sexuality.

Archbishop Justin Welby said: “I have suggested to all Primates that we need to consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion and especially as Primates, paying proper attention to developments in the past.

“Our way forward must respect the decisions of Lambeth 1998, and of the various Anglican Consultative Council and Primates’ meetings since then. It must also be a way forward, guided by the absolute imperative for the church to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, to make disciples and to worship and live in holiness, and recognising that the way in which proclamation happens and the pressures on us vary greatly between Provinces. We each live in a different context.

The main obstacle facing the success of such a meeting is the failure of previous ABC, Rowan Williams, to do anything to uphold the joint decisions of previous meetings, most noticeably the clear discipline for TEC and the Anglican Church in Canada set out at the Dar Es Salaam meeting of 2007 where the Primates set out a comprehensive path forward (including TEC walking backwards from their revisionist position on human sexuality), culminating in this paragraph  [pdf]:

If the reassurances requested of the [TEC] House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.

Of course, TEC has not made those reassurances but, rather, pushed on even further. Nevertheless, Williams invited Presiding Bishop Schori back to the Primates’ table but found that other Primates, most notably (but not exclusively) those from GAFCON, refused to attend since their agreed-upon pathway forward had been rejected not only by TEC but also, it seemed, but Williams himself. What all of this means is that when Welby writes “we need to …look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion and especially as Primates” the response may very well be “it was working fine, until the man in your chair refused to follow through”.

Naturally, once the invitation was out the spin began. Most noticeably someone (possibly the Archbishop’s own director of communications, Ailsa Anderson), appears to be briefing the Guardian heavily in one direction:

A Lambeth Palace source said the archbishop felt he could not leave his eventual successor in the same position of “spending vast amounts of time trying to keep people in the boat and never actually rowing it anywhere”.

Welby believes that his proposal will allow him to maintain relations with the liberal churches of north America, which recognise and encourage gay marriage, and the African churches, led by Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria, who are agitating for the recriminalisation of all homosexual activity in their countries. Both will be able to call themselves “Anglican” but there will no longer be any pretence that this involves a common discipline or doctrine.

Asked whether this represented, if not a divorce, a legal separation, a Lambeth source said: “It’s more like sleeping in separate bedrooms.”

The Guardian’s own editorial calls it “catching up with reality”. Critical (without naming him) of Williams approach as one of “shameful grovelling in front of bullying homophobes” as well as having “inflated the self-importance of liberals”, it praises Welby as some sort of wise schoolmaster:

Justin Welby’s conversion to realism sets a rather better example. He has travelled around the world to talk to Anglican leaders and to listen to them too. He has understood that many of them have nothing constructive to say to each other and none of them have any intention of submitting to any discipline from outside their churches. Now he has summoned them to face up to this truth and its consequences.

The rest of the article is the Guardian reminding us all how enlightened they are, read it if you must. What appears to be coming through is that the “two-tier” system proposed a while ago could now be officially put on the table. The hope may be that TEC and ACC will be relegated to the second tier as part of the act of discipline and thus the GAFCON Primates find it acceptable to re-engage. The question will be whether this is actually enough. It still doesn’t meet the clear requirements of the orthodox Primates and it still leaves the question of the 2018 Lambeth meeting open. Will the TEC bishops be invited or not? If they are invited without wholesale repentance on their part then Welby will have achieved nothing. Lambeth Palace’s spin of “sleeping in seperate rooms” could simply be wishful thinking given that the GAFCON Primates give every indication that they don’t even want to turn up to the same hotel unless there is clear discipline, let alone be in seperate rooms.

The GAFCON Primates themselves have called for “truth on the table“:

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for a meeting of Primates in January 2016 shows that he has recognised the deep concerns of faithful church leaders around the world, including those belonging to the GAFCON movement who represent the majority of the global Communion’s membership.

GAFCON began with the first Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008 as an initiative to restore the integrity of Anglican faith and order as the Communion descended into deepening crisis.

We are now a global family standing together to restore the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion with a strength and unity that comes from our common confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely from historic institutional structures.

It is on this basis that the GAFCON Primates will prayerfully consider their response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter. They recognize that the crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching which continues without repentance or discipline.

Consistent with this position, they have previously advised the Archbishop of Canterbury that they would not attend any meeting at which The Episcopal Church of the United States or the Anglican Church of Canada were represented, nor would they attend any meeting from which the Anglican Church in North America was excluded.

It is therefore of some encouragement that the Archbishop of Canterbury has opened the door of this meeting to the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, Archbishop Foley Beach. He has already been recognized as a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion by Primates representing GAFCON and the Anglican Global South at his installation in Atlanta last October and he is a full member of the GAFCON Primates Council.

In the end, our confidence is not in any structural reorganisation, useful though it may be, but in the saving grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and in the abiding truth of the Bible. That is what empowers us and this is the assurance we bring to our broken world.

I’d draw your attention to that phrase “some encouragement”. It’s good that Foley Beach has been invited, but the bigger issue of discipline of TEC/ACC remains unresolved. There is a lot of nervousness within ACNA that the bejewelled carrot of recognition by Canterbury will distract Beach from the bigger question of what should be done with TEC. Archbishop Foley was good enough to tell me the following:

There will be no reconciliation in the Communion without discipline of TEC — which will be discussed. If they are not disciplined (along with ACoC) the Communion has no hope — even in the Orthodox kind of ecclesiology being discussed. Pray for us to speak the Truth in a way that is Holy Spirit anointed, heard, and responded to.

This, and the GAFCON Primates’ repetition of the basic conditions of their meeting with the Primates of TEC and ACC should indicate that there is unlikely to be any weakening in the resolve of the orthodox in the Communion over these critical matters. Key sources I’ve talked to this morning have also made it clear that they are still more than willing to walk away from Welby’s table if things are not properly dealt with.

Which means that we’re actually just where we were 8 years ago at Dar Es Salaam. The only difference is a change in the man who is Archbishop of Canterbury. What remains the same is that it really comes down to his resolve to carry out the disciplining of TEC and ACC that the Primates had already agreed. Williams sought to get everyone together, no matter what and with no matters actually being resolved. Will Welby do what is needed? The stark reality is that, in the face of TEC and the ACC’s probable refusal to change their course or willingly accept discipline, it still all comes down to what he will or will not do. It is perhaps his last opportunity to act clearly and decisively.

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