Originally posted at Noon on Thursday, 6/21/07
Updated 6/21/07, 4:30 p.m.
The Anglican Church in Canada is having their General Synod meeting this week. On their agenda, among many other things, is the election of a new Primate and also decide if blessings of same sex unions is consistent with the "core doctrine of the ACC" and if bishops will have the authority to authorize rites to bless same-sex unions in their dioceses. If passed, this would allow Anglican Churches in Canada to resume their full role in blessing marriages and unions that the state recognizes.
(The ACC also is considering other things that will have an impact on the rest of the Communion: a motion that would reject the proposed changes to the membership to the Anglican Consultative Council. e.g. making all the Primates automatic members; ratifying the report of their Windsor Report Response Group, which among other things tells all the Primates in the Communion to mind the whole report, not just the parts they like; and whether to accept the St. Michael Report, which says that same-sex blessing is a matter of doctrine, but not "core doctrine" in "the sense of being credal.")
What Canada does is very important for the rest of the Anglican Communion.
Yesterday, the Archbishop of York spoke to the assembly. Sentamu is evangelical and he is African, and he preached a moderate path based both on theology and Christian charity. What Sentamu said is very important and the Stand Firm crowd is hopping mad because of it.
In his speech, Sentamu said pretty much what he said to us last summer in Columbus. Both Williams and Sentamu have been saying over and over again that one cannot properly (in the sense of "the correct sequence of events") consecrate a partnered gay or lesbian bishop until the church in council has decided first if such relationships are an appropriate Christian witness and how the church may appropriately minister in such situations. In other words, for them, the episcopacy reflects Christian teaching and pastoral practice rather than driving it.
Their main critique of how the Episcopal Church acted in 2003 is that by acting "out of sequence" we "complicated things."
A year or so ago Sentamu said to me that both Anglicans in Canada and the US have done their work but they need to continue to make their case. I think what he meant by that was that he wished for us in the Episcopal Church to be clearer via Convention about exactly what our teaching on human sexuality is, in particular for blessings and the pastoral provision for the same. In other words, he wished that Claim the Blessing could have done more to help us come to some consensus before we ordained a Bishop.
He was also at the time, I think, looking ahead to Lambeth hoping for a "no theological barrier" type vote or a "members of the communion will stay together regardless of differing practice" type vote.
Remember also, that Sentamu specifically rejected the calls by the African primates back then that the US renounce Robinson, discipline the consecrating Bishops, as well as ban all future ordinations of gays etc etc. etc. He said, first "make the case." Which was a shorthand for "get your teachings and practice through Convention" and "be clear about your teaching, theology and experience at Lambeth."
In the Time interview, Williams reiterated the point a bit more bluntly.
Well, now Canada is on the verge of doing things in the "correct" order. Will it make a difference? Well, yes and no.
If they pass provisions for blessings, allow for churches to do as the law of the land in Canada mandates, establishes a theological rationale and sets a standard for clergy to both act pastorally and for gay clergy to function (and allows for clergy/congregations that cannot participate to stay in the family), then they would, to follow the logic of both Canterbury and York, be in a position to then ordain a gay bishop certainly, and routinely and publically bless gay unions. In that sense, it will make a difference in paving the way forward for a grand compromise.
It will not make a difference to the conservative-reasserters and more extreme neo-puritans because they will have none of it. They do not and will not differentiate, not even the name of Christian charity, as Sentamu suggests. Welcome, acceptance, blessings and ordinations are all the same to these groups. If you let an openly gay person receive communion then you might as well ordain him or her and you may as well bless their unions. It is all the same to them. They are not incrementalists. There will be just as much rebellion, resistance and rejection in this direction as there has been in this country with our approach.
I believe that the Stand Firm crowd and the more moderate members of that movement, and even the three to five committed Global South Primates know the game could be up very soon. Barring last minute parliamentary stuff, they can easily imagine a situation where an English-style synod in a Commonwealth nation has allowed for both blessings and ordinations, done both the canonical and theological groundwork, and find that both York and Canterbury says "we can live with this."
Instead of a rebellious, independent American response, they will have a situation that can be modeled in England. And what happens in Winnipeg could well provide a basis for a meeting of minds when Canterbury and the Primates Council meets our House of Bishops in the fall.
Even worse for the Anglican religious right, Canterbury (and I think we can also say York) has categorically rejected the "rescue me" approach of Anglican parishes being plucked from their home province by the primate of another. Remember, if you go back in time far enough, the solution that Williams prefers is still the idea that like-minded churches "network" with one another but live under the discipline of their geographic bishops, primates, and synods.
We must remember when we read those Anglican tea leaves, that both Williams and Sentamu have to look in both directions: they must preserve the Communion and hold things together at home. They have as much or more responsibility to seeing that the Church of England stay together than to seeing that we stay together. But if they simply walk away and let Primates invade each others territories and watch the Communion disintegrate, they cannot hold the Church of England together. They will not endorse approaches that, if applied at home, will threaten the institutional unity (and establishment) of the CofE.
The decision ahead for the GS Primates will then be whether they want to be in a Canterbury-centric Communion with the kind of Canadian approach that will pave the way for an official stand that allows members of the AC to live with each others different practices once again. They are making noises that they can and will live without Canterbury and that they will form their own Communion, one where the Primates have more power, the Bishops have more authority, and where doctrine will trump common life. Whether they will actually follow through is another question, and even if they follow through how much of a following they will have.
So we watch and pray for our sisters and brothers in Canada as they listen for the Spirit, interpret God's call and follow our Lord Jesus Christ.