Depending on who is talking, the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church USA have either been rebuked by the Primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion or given more time to explain their liberal practices regarding same-sex relationships and priests or bishops in them.
Either way, the outcome of a regularly scheduled meeting of the Primates, or leading archbishops, in February in Ireland, was to buy time in efforts to avoid an all-out split of the Anglican Communion.
After the meeting, the Primates issued a “communiqué” calling for both North American churches to “voluntarily” withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council for the next three years until the next meeting of the Lambeth Conference of bishops. The conference meets every 10 years.
One African archbishop’s assessment of the communiqué was that the North Americans were suspended and must repent of blessing same-sex relationships and ordaining persons in such relationships to remain in the communion.
The Primates communiqué also asked the two North American churches to send representatives to this June’s meeting of the Consultative Council to explain the thinking behind approving their liberal stands on homosexual behavior. The North American Primates have reacted to the communiqué as a very positive outcome that gives them opportunities to sway their opponents’ outlook.
The Most Rev. Gregory Venables wrote in the Church Times—an Anglican weekly in the United Kingdom—that a “respectful forthright discussion” led to a realization by all that the Anglican Communion had reached a point of “irreconcilable differences.” Venables, presiding bishop of Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America, also said that those pressing the same-sex agenda spoke with a clarity not before present in previous deliberations.
But he added, “North American confidence came across to many primates as presumptuous, and even arrogant. That dynamic was so powerful that it overcame the cultural reticence of the Two-thirds Worlds Primates to speak clearly.”
Some Primates at the meeting refused to attend daily Eucharist celebrations with the North Americans, according to various reports. Venables wrote in the Church Times that because of their staying away from the Eucharist, the North Americans came to realize the gravity of the situation—after “having ignored every previous voice of disagreement.”
The issue of how the church will deal with homosexual behavior became a hot one after the U.S. church approved of and ordained as a bishop in 2003, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, a priest in a homosexual relationship.
Ever since his ordination as bishop, the leaders of most of the Anglican provinces in Asia, Africa and Latin America have pushed for the U.S. and Canadian churches to repent or be expelled from the worldwide communion. These leaders of the “Global South” maintain that blessing same-sex relationships and ordaining non-celibate homosexuals are unscriptural and go against the accepted teachings of the Anglican Communion.
Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda issued a statement on the primates’ communiqué in which he said the primates “suspended” the ECUSA and Canadian Church until they repent. The archbishop said Uganda continues in a state of “broken communion” with the two North American provinces.
Archbishop Andrew S. Hutchison of Canada, in an on-line video, said that the outcome of the primates meeting was more positive than one might have hoped for. He said that fundamentally what was at issue was the Anglicans’ understanding of Scripture. In a March 7 written statement, he asserted that even with the difficulties within the Anglican Communion there was still more that unites the members than separates them.
Orombi said in his statement that he was not convinced of that.
Both Hutchison and ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, also a primate, have expressed satisfaction in statements to their churches or to the media at the chance being given their provinces to explain their theological reasoning on the controversial issues to the consultative council. Griswold and Hutchison mentioned the different contexts within which their churches minister when compared to the other world primates.
Hutchison said the outcome of the primates meeting was to “create the space for further discussion and dialogue.” Griswold called it a “space for listening,” a chance to “slow down a bit, reason together, explore more deeply.”
Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, has conceded publicly that the Communion still may break up.
Within the U.S. a number of Episcopal parishes have left or are attempting to leave the ECUSA over questions of orthodoxy. Most recently, March 7, the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas and the rector and vestry of Christ Episcopal Church of Overland Park, Kan., jointly announced a proposed agreement for the separation of the parish from the diocese and national church.
The Anglican Communion Network, a new group in the U.S., and other groups that have already left the ECUSA are attempting to build a new, orthodox Anglican group in hopes of gaining recognition from the Worldwide Anglican Communion, perhaps replacing ECUSA in it.
What does this all mean for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?
Issues surrounding blessing same-sex relationships and accepting ministers in such relationships may split churches once they finally are decided. Actions in the U.S. favoring the gay agenda may draw strong reactions from international Lutheran partners, particularly those in the Global South, where views of homosexuality are more traditional.
ELCA members who hold Scriptural views on sexual morals, like their Episcopal counterparts, are talking about forming an association of churches, first within the ELCA, to support them in their Scriptural outlook. Some people have already left the ELCA over questions relating to traditional, Scriptural and Confessional stances.
Those in the ELCA and ECUSA pushing the homosexual agenda seem satisfied, at times when their support is waning or the opposition holds a majority, to be happy to keep talking about or studying the issues. It appears in the Anglican Communion that the majority, who oppose blessing same-sex unions or ordaining people in such unions, will accept nothing short of repentance on the part of the North American churches.
Opinions on both sides of the questions are deeply held, unlikely to change and the majorities in the ELCA and Anglican Communion oppose changing from Scriptural standards prohibiting homosexual behavior.