14 Jan 2016
Today the Primates agreed how they would walk together in the grace and love of Christ. This agreement acknowledges the significant distance that remains but confirms their unanimous commitment to walk together.
The Primates regret that it appears that the text of this agreement has been leaked in advance of their communiqué tomorrow. In order to avoid speculation the document is being released in full. This agreement demonstrates the commitment of all the Primates to continue the life of the Communion with neither victor nor vanquished.
The Communique from the Primates will be released tomorrow.
Questions and further comments will be responded to at a press conference tomorrow at 1500. Full details are available here.
The full text of this particular agreement follows:
1. We gathered as Anglican Primates to pray and consider how we may preserve our unity in Christ given the ongoing deep differences that exist among us concerning our understanding of marriage.
Unity in the face of division – the focus, hope and prayer of all Christians – reality and honesty apparent from the very first word.
2. Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.
Placing the twin issues of defining what marriage is and the blessing of same-sex relationships as marriage as a departure from that which is held by tradition, doctrine and practice by the Episcopal Church (TEC) into the spotlight. This, in my book makes the gathering a Nicea-like event. It's about orthodoxy and heresy, a bold and challenging outlining of the terms of reference. One has stepped outside the ‘orthodox’ and there are others who might join with them: This is the stuff of schism and division, a challenge to the desire for unity at the second clause. Yet within it we have established that TEC are outside the majority view of the ‘Anglican Communion’.
3. All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.
Surprised? No, thought not! Pain is universally experienced by all sides of this ‘debate’.
4. The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.
Some are surprised by this affirmation of the traditional doctrine of marriage, but if this wasn’t the stated, and widely-held, position of the Communion there would be no issue to seek unity over. What we have here is surely a drawing of a line which divides; heresy and orthodoxy – right and wrong thinking and practice. Some will cry foul and point to things being fixed (as in 'set up'), but this clause is essential if there is to be any openness and honesty in the dealings. This will also cheer many orthodox believers from outside the Anglican family as it denies the ‘apostate’ label some have attached.
5. In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.
How does a family respond to one of its members deviating from the universally held family standards and practices?
Some show them the door, others shrug and accept it whilst others … A challenge for every group regardless of membership (biological, theological, political, social and beyond). Can one disagree with who and what the family is and remain (or be permitted to remain)?
6. Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships.
A house divided against itself cannot stand – the desire to remain a communion (family) is clear insofar as some are concerned but if this were a nuclear, physical, family it would challenge the most pastorally able of us to bring about true reconciliation, repentance and peace. Thank goodness for the Grace of God and the power of the Spirit!
There has been a great deal of misrepresentation and (dare I say it?) lies. Double-speak has been evident and this rather naturally leads to mistrust and the feeling that losing the ‘naughty’ member of the family would be the easiest path; but (praise the Lord) there is a desire to narrow the gap that exists and find reconciliation and some degree of unity. One body, many distinct wills (and not all of them holy)!
7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However 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.
Three years is wise, this give TEC time to move towards their next General Convention and to decide what it’s going to do. This is wisdom for it provides and opportunity to embrace that which is orthodox and Bible-based (as the Communion using tradition and orthodoxy would define it) and to act accordingly. Rather than expel, the opportunity to come back within the fold is offered, and if not – well, perhaps this will lead to the expulsion of the (immoral) brother from the congregation. Let's hope not!
8. We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.
It’s good to talk, innit? This is first and foremost (some might say superficially) about unity and relationship; about restoring trust and building the same going forward, but of course the subtext is marriage and sexuality and this will be the defining issue in the path to reconciliation or eventual division. What this does do is give three years to draw breath and to consider (and discuss) the issues and doctrinal positions that have brought the Communion to the place.
This is a masterful piece of leadership on Justin’s part – many are ‘speechless’ (would that they were!) and silly posturing and inflammatory comments (from all sides) are appearing. To me this is a practical example of the entreaty found in Galatians 6:
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
Those who seek to revise the Bible and support same-sex (as equal) marriage will be railing at this grievous offence.
Those who oppose same-sex (as unequal) marriage and hoped for the expulsion of TEC and will also be railing at the statement.
This is a positive first move for it sets the conditions for dialogue if unity is truly the goal and an end to the division of self and selfish desires are the driving force and desire. The meeting could just have drawn a line and recognised the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and had done with it, but this is an olive branch and one last chance of reconciliation, mutual respect, integrity and the unity that should define, and demonstrate Church. TEC have not be thrown out' but have been treated like any family member who is a bit disruptive and divergent - they are still part of the family but don't have a vote in the family decisions. How many of us have been given (or given) a 'time our' - that's just what his is, not an expulsion. "Go and have a think about what is commonly held as right and how, and why, and where, you differ," and we'll talk about it.
Will TEC reconsider the doctrine it has adopted regarding sexuality? I don’t think so (but I pray so)!
Will the sniping and rancour cease? Nah, of course it won’t, in fact some will use this to destroy further the opportunity for the Gospel to reach out and touch people and in doing so will damage the Church they claim to be part of. Already people are using this document to sow criticism and damage the Church - not the work of true Christians as I understand it!
Well done Justin – this is the work of a brave and able leader.
Now we need to be praying and seeking the way of peace wherever we can so unity is seen in as many places as possible. So those who are speechless, why not remain so with out having to voice your contempt and break the much valued silence. Those who want to vilify people: STOP IT!
Blessed are the peacemakers. Let us hope for an inclusive Church rather than a permissive Church!
Let us pray for unity - pax