The Church of England and North America: 25 February

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The Church of England General Synod voted not to express a desire to be in communion with the Anglican Church of North America. The ACNA are Anglicans who cannot accept their fellow Anglicans blessing gay marriages and other liberal innovations. The Synod did note the desire of ACNA to remain Anglican, but, significantly, refused to say anything positive about wanting to remain in touch with them. This was despite Rowan Williams, in his Presidential Address, saying that he was sure that good things were happening in ACNA churches.

For us Evangelicals and for all who want to make every effort to maintain the bonds of Anglican unity, the General Synod vote is a problem. A divorce is taking place in our family across the Atlantic. Our representatives declined to say that we want to keep in touch in any way with one side, implying that we are happy only to maintain links with the other side. This is bad practice in any family.

Evangelicals, particularly the strict, ACNA-friendly Evangelicals, only have themselves to blame. For what they, in effect, asked the Synod to do was to side with the ACNA as the injured party in the divorce. ‘Look how badly these people have been treated. We have to support them,’ was the emotive message. The Synod felt pushed into throwing all their weight behind this one side. The Synod knew that, as in any divorce, there are rights and wrongs on both sides. They were not going to be shoved into a false belief in any ‘innocent party.’ Led by the Bishops, Synod dug their heels in and refused to say anything positive at all about wanting to keep in touch with ACNA. But this silence implies that they only want to keep in touch with the other party in the divorce.

Good members of an extended family do not take sides in a divorce. They express great sorrow that the parties are no longer able to live together. They refuse to be dragged into accusing any side, and offer to keep in touch with both sides. When my parents divorced, my father’s sister wrote to my mother: ‘He has divorced you, we haven’t.’ My mother was invited to my aunt’s birthday party.

If only General Synod had been invited to play the role of good relative in the divorce! If only the request to support ACNA had been made without blaming the other side and, probably, without using the technical term ‘in communion with.’ Rowan Williams, after his Presidential affirmation of unity, should have pointed in this direction but failed to follow up his general musing with such a specific outworking. May the friends of ACNA learn the lesson. May Synod eventually, somehow, be able to say ‘We still love you both and want to keep in touch with you both, somehow. We may have to be creative to work out how we do this, but we’ll find a way. We will make space in the wider family for parties who cannot live together over gay marriage. We will not see people cast out like Hagar. Our God is not like that.’

Roger Harper


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