Current Affairs

Analysis: What now for the Anglicans?

Tony Grew February 20, 2007
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The final communique from the leaders of the Anglican church seems on the surface to provide a simple way forward.

The primates demand that the American church stop ordaining gay bishops and give a commitment not to bless same sex partnerships.

The Americans have been given until 30th September to make a statement pledging they will comply with these instructions.

However, there are still clear divisions, and the creation of a separate organisation in the Episcopal (American) church for conservative Anglicans could have consequences for the Church in England .

The final statement from the primates does not appear to come from a position of unity. Even the introduction to the statement says “some of us believe.”

The primates said they wanted an: “unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any rite of blessing for same-sex unions.”

The issue of blessing gay weddings or partnerships is actually relatively straightforward.

The American and Canadian churches had formally been performing these blessings. To an Anglican, the liturgy (ie: the various services of worship) form the basis of the religion.

Fr Martin Reynolds of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement explains:

“Anglicanism has a philosophy: “as we pray so we believe.” So any formal liturgy defines our belief.

For us our liturgy is our theology, it is what makes us what we are.”

Put simply, if you write it down and start performing it as a service, then it becomes an article of faith. The North American churches were basically saying that gay weddings were sanctioned by the Anglican communion.

According to the policy of the Church of England there are no authorised blessings. The question in the minds of the primates was that they seemed to have been authorised in some dioceses.

Everyone knows that blessings take place in an ad hoc way or as a pastoral matter for an individual vicar, but having them as a formal ceremony was bound to cause problems. As was ordaining a sexually active gay man as a bishop.

The document calls on the Episcopalians not to put forward any candidates as bishop who are involved in a same-sex relationship.

“A candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent – unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion,” reads the statement.

So only sexually active gay men or women, or “married” ones, will be barred, and only from being elevated to the position of bishop.

This dodges the issue of gay priests, and also does not seem to answer why it was that Canon Jeffrey John was removed from his appointment as a bishop in England, despite publicly stating he was celibate.

Was it because he had a male partner, so the issue is one of being in love with someone of the same sex, rather than the sexual act? The conference has brought little clarity to the position of lesbian and gay clergy, or whether sexual practices or a loving relationship are to be a bar to becoming a bishop.

The idea of primates from around the world meeting and taking on the leadership of the church is a relatively new one, and judging by their inability to actually bring any clarity of thought to the issues at hand, is has not been a success.

“The primates have actually failed to bring any unity to the church and the suggestion that they should be given more power is ridiculous,” comments Fr Reynolds.

“The whole communion needs to look again at its management structure.”

Indeed it is the structure of the church that a noticeable change in direction has occurred.

Archbishop Rowan Williams has avoided schism, but has also allowed a parallel “organisation” for conservative Anglicans to be set up in the American church.

The primates statement says that this divisive structure can be applied elsewhere, and evangelicals in the Church of England have already applied to set up their own group.

These parallel structures, which have now been approved by the leaders of the church, formulate an entirely alternative group in the American church under the guidance of the existing primate.

This pleases no-one. For LGBT people, it seems to be saying that fellow Anglicans can split off and form their own group hostile to gay people’s rights while remaining within the church.

For the conservatives, they will not be happy that their group is under the authority of a pro-gay presiding bishop. They wanted to be free of her authority, but the primates have decided on a middle path.

As Fr Reynolds puts it: “What is being asked here is a change of policy and not a change of heart.”

The anti-gay Anglicans will still be allowed to be anti-gay. The pro-gay Anglicans will still not be allowed to formally bless same-sex couples or elect gay bishops.

We are seeing the development of two churches into an organised division, not a schism but not unity either.

It is a bitter pill for both sides of the argument to swallow. It also appears that rather than unify the church, the Anglican primates have just left the door open for bigger and more bitter rows in the future.

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