The Anglican Debate Sharpens: Lessons for the Whole Church
- Friday, March 11, 2005
"Any lasting solution will require people somewhere along the line to say, 'Yes, we were wrong'." Those words were spoken by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams just after the Primates of the Anglican Communion (leaders of the national churches connected to the Anglican tradition) had asked the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada to withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council for at least three years.
In one sense, the Archbishop--titular head of the Anglican Communion and Primate of the Church of England--was just expressing the obvious. Yet, in the context of a likely schism in the Anglican Communion, his words landed like a bomb.
"There can be no cost-free outcome" to the current controversies, the Archbishop warned, adding that the Anglican Communion could not split "cleanly."
The world-wide Anglican Communion has been embroiled in a controversy over homosexuality that broke out with a fever pitch when the Episcopal Church USA [ECUSA] ordained an openly homosexual man--living in an open sexual relationship with his partner--as bishop of New Hampshire. In doing so, the American church acted in open defiance of the 1998 Lambeth Conference agreement, which was supposed to put the issue to rest--at least for a matter of years. The rebellious action of the American church--and the action of Canadian Anglicans in blessing same-sex unions--has set the stage for what most observers expect will be a bitter division over fundamental issues of biblical authority, church doctrine, and human sexuality.
The text of the statement released by the Primates was bureaucratic in tone, but revolutionary in effect: "We request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC)." A few Anglican leaders tried to put a happy face on the action, claiming that this move was intended to buy time to prevent the Anglican Communion from reaching a point of immediate division. "What we are doing is creating a space," said Australian Archbishop Peter Carnley. For his part, Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the ECUSA, said he interpreted the request as an act that "gives space for speaking and listening."
All this comes just months after Anglicans adopted the "Windsor Report," which called upon the American and Canadian churches to repent and bring themselves into alignment with the larger church.
That is simply not likely to happen. Speaking after the Primates' action, Bishop Griswold responded: "I think the regret we can offer wholeheartedly and as a unified body is regret for the consequences our actions have had in other contexts. But that does not mean that we necessarily regret the action itself. Certainly, I, having participated in the ordination of the bishop of New Hampshire, do not regret having done so, though I recognize the complexities that that action has had in other places and regret the pain that it's caused other people."
In other words, Bishop Griswold's position is simply, "no pain, no gain." Without using the words, he has expressed the sentiment clearly. He is willing to express "regret" for how the action of the American church has been received in other nations, but he steadfastly and arrogantly refuses to express any regret for the profoundly unbiblical nature of the action itself.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has been doing his best to mollify the diverging factions in his church and to limit the immediate damage of the controversy that followed the ECUSA action. For the most part, Archbishop Williams has temporized and compromised. At the time of his installation in office, it was well known that the new Archbishop favored the ordination of active homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions. Nevertheless, largely due to outrage among Anglican conservatives, Williams has appeared to reverse course, dissuading an openly-gay Anglican cleric from accepting a post as suffragan bishop and asking the American and Canadian churches to respect the concerns of the larger Anglican Communion.
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