The Anglican Communion – What Now?

The Episcopal Church in America last week decided to go ahead with their support and promotion of gay marriage. The majority want officially to bless gay marriages and to ordain people in gay marriages. Many also want to ‘embrace’ the whole LGBT community, including practising bisexuals who, by definition, cannot be monogamous. For TEC this is an issue of primary importance – more important than ’making every effort to ‘maintain the bonds of unity.’ This stance has been evident for some time in their half hearted, ambiguous, response to repeated requests from the rest of the Anglican Communion to stop moving ahead on gay marriage. Now all is clear. They have refused to heed the call of the Archbishop of Canterbury for restraint. They do not regret ‘tearing the fabric of the Communion’, they embrace the tearing, which they see as prophetic. They have chosen to walk apart. (See the Fulcrum Statement: http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=446 )

 What now?

The Instruments of Communion should indicate a willingness to recognise the Anglican Church in North America as a Province of the Communion in North America. This will not be a straightforward process, not least because ACNA covers Canada as well as the US and the Canadians, also with a pro gay marriage majority, have been more willing to hold back. But the reality in the US is clear. TEC has chosen to walk apart. The Communion needs to declare solidarity with those who have chosen not to walk apart. The Archbishop of Canterbury, especially, needs to work with TEC to make sure that both ‘pro gay marriage’ and ‘anti gay marriage’ integrities make space for each other. Expulsions and hugely costly legal disputes are not necessary. All that is needed is a willingness by TEC to make space, official ecclesiastical and physical space, for those who oppose gay marriage, or to accept that the wider Communion will make that space.

 It is not only in the US that Anglicans are divided over gay marriage. In Canada, New Zealand, Britain, especially, there are many who, like the majority in TEC want to ‘affirm’ gay marriage. We will have to make space for these people too. This is an issue on which we cannot ‘walk together.’ We are too divided. But we can, with our Anglican tradition of comprehensiveness, make space within our wider fellowship for people who are walking apart. The Church of England has done this with those pro and anti women priests. A similar arrangement is needed for those pro and anti gay marriage across the Communion. It is time to be creative with ecclesiastical structures.

 Rowan Williams cannot take the Communion forward now. His way forward was restraint by all sides, a new Covenant, people talking together until agreement is found. This way has failed. The Covenant cannot now include the Americans. Rowan Williams has not been heeded. TEC, and the opposing Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, have both rejected his way forward. If Rowan Williams stays, he will continue to be ignored and sidelined. The office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the unity of the whole Communion will be seriously damaged. It is time for someone else to plot a different way forward.

  

Theology

The theological foundation of such making space for people walking apart is the recognition that, despite what TEC, and their staunchest opponents, believe, gay marriage is not a fully primary issue. It falls into a category identified by Tom Wright: issues which in themselves are not primary, but which are strongly connected with a primary issue. I have written, over the last few years, about gay marriage as not a primary issue in the Fulcrum Forum. See: http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/forum/poster.cfm?poster=576

 A detailed book proposal of mine explores and explains why gay marriage is not a primary issue and points to the need therefore for the Church to make space for people of different ‘integrities.’ This proposal has been rejected by many publishers, including a leading evangelical publisher who describe themselves as publishing work on the cutting edge of evangelical theology. The editor there wrote to me that even my evangelical via media was considered by our Board too politically sensitive ‘ Fulcrum similarly have declined to publish or even comment on my material. Any interested publishers, please write to roger.harper@blueyonder.co.uk

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