Well, you may be saying, it is all very well to point to core formularies which state what a particular church believes. It is all very well to stress that authenticity is all to do with God in Trinity, the relationship between the Godhead and the baptismal community located around a bishop who has been incorporated into the Apostolic College, but what about discipline? Isn’t there a point when actions speak louder than words? If there is who gets to determine whether the actions of an ecclesial community annul its professions of faith and indeed its sacramental reality? Are particular churches self-authenticating?
These questions are the ones which exercise the Episcopal Church and the larger Anglican Communion at this moment. The questions are well put in the Windsor Report. I would also commend the reader to an excellent two part essay written by our Bishop in Europe,+Pierre Whalon which may be discovered, if one can so do easily, under “essays” in Anglicans Online. The links are unclear. http://anglicansonline.org/resources/essays/whalon/reformanda.html
The questions arise from two actions undertaken by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2003. The Episcopal Church requires all ordinands who are to be ordained to any office or administration to refrain from sexual relations with any person not their husband or wife. Thus speaks the Canons. The Episcopal Church also teaches that the only sacramental ceremonials and rites which may be used in an Episcopal parish in which a marriage is undertaken, are the “Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage”, page 423 in the Book of Common Prayer or a form for blessing a civil marriage to be found in another authorized text.
The Catechism speaks to both of these services when it asks the question: “What is Holy Matrimony? The answer is clear. “Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and the man enter into life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows. ” All this seems very clear and constitutes the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church as they relate in these areas.
In 2003 the Convention of the Diocese of New Hampshire, summoned to elect a bishop, elected a man who was and is living with another man in an openly sexual relationship. Apart from this impediment, the election was open and canonical. All the other requirements were fulfilled.
Because this election occurred within a certain number of days of the assembling of General Convention, the responsibility for confirming this election devolved upon the diocesan bishops seated in the House of Bishops, and in the House of Deputies. Usually such bishops act with their diocesan Standing Committees in taking action on whether to consent or withhold consent to elections. In the matter of the Bishop of New Hampshire it was asserted that as long as the Canons were obeyed, the act was legal. We shall see whether this test is applied to recent elections.
Bishops with jurisdiction and the members of the House of Deputies, in effect, decided to make an exception to the Canons on Matrimony and Holy Orders in this matter and voted to consent to the election. In itself, the implications surrounding setting aside a Canon or group of Canons would seem to be enormous. Unhappily the Episcopal Church lacks any mechanism to test the legality of anything very much at all. At the root of a growing number of diocesan scandals and mismanagement, and of a General Convention which proposes to ignore its own Canons is the lack of any effective system of ecclesiastical courts. This lack is a prescription for activist anarchy and the rule of unruly bishops of every party and stripe.
During the same General Convention the question of the blessing of same-sex unions and the provision of liturgical texts for such ceremonies was raised. Particularly on the East and West coast, parishes exist with fairly substantial gay and lesbian membership. Parish priests find themselves confronted with the pastoral care and nurture of these parishioners. Our church quite rightly welcomes them and affords them the same rights as any other members in good standing save that of marriage and ordination, and in that case, only if they live or intend to live in a sexually active relationship with another person of the same gender.
In the end General Convention said something to the effect that it was corporately aware that priests were blessing same-sex unions using locally produced liturgies and and that some bishops were permitting such ceremonies. General Convention then decided not to authorize an official liturgy for same-sex blessing, or in any real manner comment on the canonical status of those who blessed such unions or undertook them.
Now there is something essentially Anglican about this second method. Many of the insights we treasure in the contemporary church are those things old and those things new “discovered” at the local level, proposed, practiced, accepted, rejected or amended at grass roots. Hymn book emerged in this manner. The liturgical enrichment which emerged from the Oxford Movement emerged in this manner. Many were illegal. The various attempts to suppress “ritualism”in the 19th. Century by General Convention on the basis that such things as auricular confession, or Benediction of the Blessed Sacraments were illegal, in the end failed and eventually many “illegal” practices emerged in the official Prayer Book of 1979. Anglicans practice liberality and openness in such a manner. It is an essential part of our tradition.
The question then arises, were these illegal innovations connected to doctrine, to core doctrine or teachings clearly flowing from or related to core doctrine? Were they merely “matters indifferent”, or “adiaphora” which with Rites and Ceremonies are capable of amendment by particular churches by their established means of practice? Interestingly enough the theological commission of the Canadian Church has decided that the matter of same-sex unions is doctrine although not core doctrine.But neither is it a “matter indifferent.”
News that the 2003 General Convention caused uproar in the Anglican Communion. Some approved, some would like to approve but fear that the Episcopal Church had once again defied the rest of the Communion and done as it pleased. Others believed that the Episcopal Church, by its actions, repudiated the received faith of the Church and should be disciplined or expelled.
This wasn’t the first time the Episcopal Church acted in such a manner. In 1974 a group of bishops illegally ordained women deacons to the priesthood. None of the bishops had jurisdiction over the women they ordained. The action of these bishops was censured, but the ordinations were recognized, regularized by vote and the General Convention the following year went on to recognize that women may be ordained priest and bishop. The Communion as a whole scurried to keep up with its independently minded sister church,and called on the Archbishop of Armagh, Robin Eames, to establish a commission to examine the whole question. On the whole, adequate time and debate had occurred over the previous decades to permit the Communion to go forward and today the ordained ministry of women is generally, if not always accepted.
The question of gay and lesbian sexual relations however was a different matter. In 1998 the bishops of the Anglican world, meeting at the Lambeth Conference, by a very large majority stated that the Anglican position, the very one on expressed in the American Canons,Catechism and Liturgy was the receive doctrine of the Communion. The Conference also urged all its Provinces to enter into a dialog with gay and lesbian people,
and into theological conversation with each other on the subject.
Many leaders of the Episcopal Church immediately turned into
local patriots. They objected that no one could tell their church what to do. No one and no body, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate’s Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council or the Lambeth Conference has the “legal right” to interfere in the affairs of the Episcopal Church. The words “legal right” are indicative of a mind frame.They are quintessentially American, born and bred of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But they have nothing at all to do with theology, Christology or ecclesiology. They ignore a higher right. That right is spiritual and moral. It is invested in the bishops of the church. Indeed that is exactly what our Prayer Book charges bishops to be and to do in the rite for the ordination of a bishop.
Certainly as primus inter pares, the Archbishop of Canterbury has the right and duty to listen to the voices in particular Provinces and their leadership, to receive advice and counsel and to give advice and counsel in exactly the same manner that any bishop is required to give “godly advice.
Certainly the Primates, collectively have a similar role as have the elected lay,clerical and episcopal members of the ACC. Certainly the Lambeth Conference has enormous responsibility as collectively the episcopate gives it godly judgments and recommendations to the church and the world.
The Windsor Report constitutes that advice and counsel to the Episcopal Church. BUT there were other responses, which to my mind were and are equally egregious. It was quite natural for those alienated and offended by the actions of General Convention 2003 to seek the comfort comfort, help and advice of Anglicans abroad. Yet as the process of reaction continued, Provinces of the Communion began to act as if they were themselves independent governments free to choose with whom they would have diplomatic relations and with whom they would not. In this they usurped the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
For historical reasons, the method by which the authentic communion of bishops with each other is established in the Anglican Communion is personal and not provincial or diocesan. The reason for this is simple. When Archbishop Longley summoned the first Conference, many of the bishops didn’t belong to Provinces, but were missionary bishops under his general jurisdiction. Thus at each Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury invites the bishops he recognizes, by category. It may be that a decision is made not to invite coadjutor, suffragan or assistant bishops, but their status lies in their relationship to their Ordinary or diocese in any case.
It is for the Archbishop of Canterbury to decide with whom his see is in communion, and such a decision determines with whom the rest of the bishops are in communion. I can think of few occasions in which recognition has been withdrawn. It is thus quite beyond the bounds of competence of a Province or group of Provinces to declare themselves in impaired or broken communion with other Anglican bishops who are recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury. One supposed that a theory could be advanced that impaired communion with a particular province does not extend to being in impaired communion with the bishops of such a Province?
The second breach of Communion contemplated largely by those Provinces which describe themselves as the Global South is the recognition of separated independent parishes within the territory of the Episcopal Church, ordaining clergy for such entities and creating the fiction that a church in Alabama is really in Uganda or Bolivia. If indeed the Global South leaders, without the consent of any competent Anglican authority, affords to dioceses in the Episcopal Church some form of extra Provincial status they will act beyond their competence and in defiance of the doctrine and discipline they seek to uphold.
The Archbishop of Canterbury continues to call us to patience. Now is the time for all these parties to back off, to wait, and pray and dig into their theology of the Church. The threatenings of the Presiding Bishop’s intemperate Chancellor, the posturing of “rebel” dioceses, the defiant xenophobia of those who advance uncanonical activities combine to sully the image and defeat the mission of Anglicanism at home and abroad.
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