News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

In less than a week, some 130 leaders of the Anglican Communion, including a small press corps, will gather at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore to consider the future of the communion and weigh prospects for its long-term survival.

By all accounts, it will be a tense time made more so by four events that have occurred recently in the US, Uganda, Bermuda and the Indian Ocean.

The first of these is the election and forthcoming consecration of the Rev. Mary Glasspool, an activist lesbian, as the next Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles. She has obtained all the consents necessary from the House of Bishops. Her chief consecrator will be the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori. Her upcoming consecration may well be the lightning rod for schism.

The second recent event is a statement issued by the Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, who blasted both the American Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada for its unrighteous behavior. Specifically, he asked the Archbishop of Canterbury not to invite the Primates of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to the next meeting of the Primates. He claims they are proceeding with unbiblical practices that contradict the faith of Anglicanism “We cannot carry on with business as usual until order is brought out of this chaos,” he told Dr. Williams.

“How can we expect the gross violators of biblical truth to sanction their own discipline when they believe they have done nothing wrong and further insist that their revisionist theology is actually the substance of Anglicanism?” Orombi wrote. Indeed.

The Ugandan Primate also saw what he calls “the shift in the balance of powers among the Instruments of Communion,” a shift that, VOL believes, will also be addressed in Singapore.

The third event is a meeting of the Primates’ Council of GAFCON/FCA in Bermuda, recently, where criticism of the Glasspool election revealed an end to “gracious restraint” in the Anglican Communion. The archbishops said the American Episcopal Church leadership has formally committed itself to a pattern of life, contrary to Scripture.

“Now is the time for all orthodox biblical Anglicans, both in the USA and around the world, to demonstrate a clear and unambiguous stand for the historic faith and their refusal to participate in the direction and unbiblical practice and agenda of TEC,” they said.

They went on to say that the current structures of the Anglican Communion have lost integrity and relevance. “We believe that it is only by a theologically grounded, biblically shaped reformation such as the one called for by the Jerusalem Declaration that God’s Kingdom will advance. The Anglican Communion will only be able to fulfill its gospel mandate if it understands itself to be a community gathered around a confession of faith rather than an organisation that has its primary focus on institutional loyalty.”

Archbishop Ian Ernest of the Province of the Indian Ocean expressed his disquiet about recent developments in the Episcopal Church concerning issues of human sexuality with his own blast at The Episcopal Church.

In his April 12 letter, Ernest said that the Episcopal Church’s “intention to proceed” with the consecration of the Rev. Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, as a bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles is “to disregard the mind of the rest of the [Anglican] Communion.”

Ernest, chair of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, said he felt “constrained by my conscience … to forthwith suspend all communication both verbal and sacramental” with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada “until such time as they reverse their theological innovations.” The suspension, he added, “would not include those bishops and clergy who have distanced themselves from the direction of the [Episcopal Church].”

Ernest went so far as to say that the failure to take prompt and decisive action at this time would only see the Communion falling into deeper chaos and disintegration.

In late January, Middle East President Bishop Mouneer Anis tendered his resignation from the Standing Committee, saying that his presence has “no value whatsoever” and that his voice is “like a useless cry in the wilderness.”

TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori put her best foot forward in a letter to the Primates saying that she realized that this development would cause hurt and pain to some.

“I am deeply aware of the range of opinion and position about this. I would note that our Communion also has a very broad range of opinion and position about the suitable characteristics of bishops in general – some provinces do not believe women can or should be consecrated as bishops; some do not believe divorced and remarried persons can or should be consecrated; some provinces do not believe persons without advanced theological degrees should be consecrated. I know that many of you do not see these as equivalent issues, yet our diversity remains.”

The centerpiece of the Encounter will be the Covenant, now in its fourth draft. It contains the dreaded fourth section regarding how discipline should be meted out in the eventuality that a province willfully disobeys the Covenant’s demands:

(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument ….

To date, TEC has not signed off on the Covenant and will not consider even doing so till the next General Convention in 2012. But the actions of TEC to consecrate a second non-celibate pansexual bishop would certainly disqualify TEC, as of now. If TEC goes ahead and elects another homosexual, say in the Diocese of Utah, such discipline would be appropriate. It might of course be too late.

Is suspension enough? And will Global South leaders, who are increasingly flexing their ecclesiastical muscle in a postcolonial world, allow the situation to endlessly continue?

Thus far, The Archbishop of Canterbury has not seen fit to take any ecclesial action against the innovations of The Episcopal Church or its leaders which he could have done, based on the recommendations of the Windsor Report and the Dromantine and Tanzania Communiques. He himself has said that he does not think any actions against an erring province should be punitive or hurtful (read painful). In time, all can be forgiven.

At the Church of England’s recent Synod in London Williams offered up a “three dimensional” vision of things in which the problems of the CofE and the Anglican Communion would be resolved in God’s good time. But that Avatar notion will not sit well with the Primates coming to Singapore next week.

With the latest blasts from the archbishops from Uganda, Bermuda and the Indian Ocean, the stage is being set for far more radical action. The days of fudging and prevarication are over.

Many of us now believe that patience with TEC and ACofC has run its course with the wider Anglican Communion. Efforts to support the Windsor and covenant processes have failed.

The liberal London-based Anglican Communion Office has been manipulating the Primates Council with large amounts of money from TEC and they will not bite the hand that feeds it.

The Anglican Communion Office has taken on powers it had no right to assume. That has now been made abundantly clear in disclosures by Archbishop Orombi. He rightly points up how power has drifted from the Primates to the Anglican Consultative Council and, more particularly, to the Joint Standing Committee. Then he blasts the ACO, “There is no ‘Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion’. The Standing Committee has never been approved in its present form by the Primates Meeting or the Lambeth Conference. Rather, it was adopted by itself, with your (ABC) approval and the approval of the ACC. The fact that five Primates are included in no way represents our Anglican understanding of the role of Primates as metropolitan bishops of their provinces.”

The truth, as a former ACC officer told VOL, is that the ACO is supposed to serve as “servants of the servants” and nothing more than that. They have always been a consulting arm of the church, hence the title Anglican Consultative Council. The Secretary General was never given any power. He has assumed that power. The Archbishop of Canterbury has nothing to do with the Anglican Communion Office. He cannot rein them in, he told VOL. The bigger question is: does he want to?

When the Global South leaders meet next week in Singapore, they need to make clear that unless the Archbishop of Canterbury gives a clear lead, then all that he and others have worked for since the Windsor Report and all that is promised by the covenant is not only at risk, but has become a useless game of words. The continuing actions of TEC and Glasspool’s election have made the situation irreversible. A united Anglican Communion is all but lost. GAFCON lurks like the ghost of Banquo in the background.

It is clear that the Anglican Communion is crumbling and, like an earthquake, the aftermath will only see further disintegration and escalation. In the words of Archbishop Ernest, we are reaching the point of “disintegration”. It would appear now that it is only a matter of time.

Perhaps the kairos moment will occur in Singapore. We shall see.

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