We learned today that a majority of Primates in the Anglican Communion at a meeting in Canterbury voted in favor of sanctions against The Episcopal Church. The Primates (an unfortunate word choice, I know) are the leaders of the various churches that make up the Anglican Communion. They meet together for fellowship and mutual support every two or three years but in recent years have used their meetings to try to work on issues of unity. They have not historically had authority to tell each other what to do, but they seem to have claimed that authority at this gathering.
The sanctions were imposed as a result of the decision last summer by General Convention to recognize same sex marriage. A statement from the Primates meeting said, “Given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.” The full text of the statement is available here.
We do not seem to know which Primates voted in favor. If a list has been released, I have not found it. Anglican.ink reports that two-thirds voted in favor, but did not cite a source (a common practice on that site). It is important to remember that a majority does not mean unanimous. I suspect many Primates voted against this action.
More than that, we do not know what, if any, effect this action will have. It is not clear whether the Primates have the authority to do what they did. It is not even clear what they want – whether any action on our part would appease those who voted with the majority. In some ways, today’s action is more symbolic than substantive.
So on one level, today’s action is not a very big deal. Nothing will change in The Episcopal Church. Some relationships within the Anglican Communion may change, but that will not affect much of what happens at home. And, frankly, the sanctions could have been worse. Even Foley Beach said the sanctions were strong, but not strong enough. (Beach is the head of ACNA, the Anglican Church of North America, which broke away from The Episcopal Church. He attended the Primates’ meeting without vote. ACNA is not yet formally recognized by the Anglican Communion, though many Primates want it to be.)
But on another level, today’s action is a very big deal. Anglican Communion leaders may try to rush through decisions while TEC is not allowed to vote, which could change the nature of the Communion. Today’s action could affect some of our global mission partnerships. Will bishops from provinces led by primates who voted in favor of sanctions want to remain in mission relationship with TEC dioceses and congregations? We’ll see. And Presiding Bishop Curry noted rightly that today’s decision will cause a lot of folks personal pain (from Episcopal News Service):
“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain. For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”
He’s right. This is painful news for most of our churches – not only because of the action but because the action once again singled out our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. But we know as Easter people that pain is part of new birth. If this does eventually lead to the death of the Anglican Communion as we knew it, or to a change in relationships within it, or to two Anglican Communions, God will use this pain to bring something new. All will be well.
So I hope and trust that in the wake of this decision TEC will remain committed to the full inclusion of all people, including the sacred right of marriage, even though that commitment led to today’s action. We promise in our baptisms to respect the dignity of every human being. Sometimes doing the right thing comes at a cost. Getting our hands slapped by the Anglican Communion is a cost we need to be willing to pay.
I hope and trust TEC will remain committed to global mission partnerships with anyone who is willing to be in partnership with us. Partnerships are not just about money, and money should not be used as a weapon, but where our gifts of relationship and resources are welcome we are all blessed when we share them. This is not a time to turn our backs on the world. Rather, it is a time to seek out partnerships and invest joyfully in them. Healthy global mission relationships are more important now than ever.
I hope and trust Episcopalians everywhere will do what Jesus told us to do – pray for our enemies, for those who despitefully use us. Pray for the Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, Archbishop of Uganda, who left the Primates’ meeting early, a vocal critic of TEC and of LGBT people. Pray for the Primates who voted to sanction us. Pray for those who persecute others in the name of Christ, that they may receive the light of the gospel.
Presiding Bishop Curry said it well. “The pain for many will be real. But God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way. And like you, as we have said in this meeting, I am committed to ‘walking together’ with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family.”
Our Anglican family is hurting. We have been for a long time. But God is greater than anything. And while we long for God to heal our church, we long even more for God to heal our world. So let’s keep the focus there and work together with anyone who will work with us to heal division, relieve suffering, and proclaim the good news of God in Christ.