Episcopalians urged to take ‘gospel high ground’ after primates’ action

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Feb 26, 2016
The primates of the Anglican Communion pose Jan. 14 in Canterbury Cathedral in England. Photo: Anglican Communion News Service

The primates of the Anglican Communion pose Jan. 14 in Canterbury Cathedral in England.

[Episcopal News Service – Fort Worth, Texas] The Episcopal Church is still part of the Anglican Communion, despite actions taken by the primates in January, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry said Feb. 26, adding he hopes the church “will be able to bear witness” to the entire communion.

Curry’s comments came during his opening remarks to the Executive Council at the beginning of its Feb. 26-28 meeting at the American Airlines Training and Conference Center here.

“At this point in time, we’re part of the Anglican Communion and my prayer is that we will always be a house of prayer for all people and that we will be able to bear witness to what Jesus taught us about that in the Anglican Communion,” the presiding bishop said. “And that we’ll do so with love and charity, and we will show the same love and charity and honor that we do for all of our people – gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender – that same love and honor and respect to our brothers and sisters who are part of the communion.”

If the church can take “that gospel high ground,” the Episcopal Church in time may be an example for the rest of the communion, he said.

A majority of Anglican primates on Jan. 14 asked that the Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, no longer serve 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.”

Curry said the primates took that stance because a majority of them see the Episcopal Church as “having deviated from the doctrinal tradition of Anglicanism” when General Convention last July changed canonical language that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman (Resolution A036) and authorized two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples (Resolution A054).

The convention did not see those actions as a change in the doctrine of marriage but “an expansion of who can be eligible for marriage,” Curry said. However, the presiding bishop reminded the council that before the primates’ gathering began, and even in the early days of the Jan. 11-15 gathering, some Anglicans felt that the Episcopal Church needed to be disciplined for convention’s actions. And some felt that the church ought to be expelled from the communion.

“The overwhelming majority of primates felt that if marriage is doctrine or core doctrine then it is part of our catholic tradition that there can be no changes in doctrine that are not the result of a consensus of the faithful,” he said, “[and] that no individual entity of the church catholic can change doctrine.”

Curry said he does not see marriage as core doctrine, such as the doctrine of the Trinity or the doctrine that Jesus is both fully God and fully human.

As the primates gathering opened, Curry said that he, Anglican Church of Canada Archbishop Fred Hiltz (whose province is considering similar changes in its marriage canons), and Archbishop Foley Beach, the leader of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), each addressed the primates. Beach was invited by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in an effort to avert a boycott from conservative African archbishops. (ACNA is composed largely of former Episcopalians who chose to break away from the Episcopal Church. Some African primates have declared their affiliation to ACNA.)

Curry said he told the primates’ gathering that his election in July 2015 as presiding bishop “said something about what the Episcopal Church sees as its mission in this particular mission moment” and that mission has to do with evangelism, racial reconciliation and the Jesus Movement. He said his remarks “set the tone” and there were some “frank, tough – always respectful, polite but tough – conversations that were formal,” as well as informal conversations in hallways and in the line at meals.

In many of those informal discussions, Curry said, the Episcopal Church’s relationships with provinces, dioceses and congregations across the communion were mentioned positively.

Eventually the gathering came to “a critical moment” when the primates were asked “whether we were committed as primates present to walking together” before any other decisions were made.

“And that body said yes,” Curry said, calling that agreement “not an insignificant statement.”

The perspective that the Episcopal Church ought to be punished for its actions “didn’t dominate the meeting,” he said, but the resolution that was eventually passed “reflected grave disagreement – profound disagreement – with our action and yet it did not sever relationship.”

The majority of the primates argued that the Episcopal Church “had changed doctrine and therefore something had to be done,” Curry said.

“So, given that, action had to be taken, but the primates did not take action that severed our relationship,” he said. “Their action was surgical, specific; and, one might argue that given where people were when they came [to the meeting], mediating.”

Curry suggested that the primates’ decision might represent maturity in the sense of family systems theorist Rabbi Edwin Friedman and others who “taught us that when you’re in deep conflict, don’t try to find deep fixes because they don’t work. They’re Band-Aids and are temporary … that what you must do is find the points of clarity.” Finding such points of clarity in the disagreement and staying in connection and relationship with each other can bode well for eventually finding a way forward, Curry said.

“It may be that we actually did find a mutual place (in which) to disagree,” he said.

As to the future, Curry said, he was clear that “the Episcopal Church is not going to change in three years.”

“Nobody knows what happens after the three years; we didn’t discuss it,” he said.

Curry added what he called a “caveat”: “What the primates said applies to the primates. It doesn’t govern the Anglican Consultative Council,” and that the primates’ action applies to appointments that the archbishop of Canterbury has the authority to make.

The ACC, the communion’s main policy-making body which next meets April 8-19 in Lusaka, Zambia, will have to deliberate for itself, Curry said.

The Episcopal Church’s three representatives on the ACC – Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Jennings, and Rosalie Ballentine (a former Council member) – have all said they plan to participate fully in the Lusaka meeting.

Retired Malawi Bishop James Tengatenga, who chairs the ACC, said recently that the Episcopal Church delegation has the “right and responsibility” to attend the meeting and to vote.

During her opening remarks to council, Jennings said thanked Curry for what she called “the wisdom and steadiness with which you guided us all through the recent primates meeting and its aftermath.”

“While confusion reigned and rumors swirled, you helped us understand that we are still full members of the Anglican Communion, that our mission relationships with Anglicans across the world are strong, and that what binds us together is far stronger than what threatens to separate us.”

She said she would take Curry’s spirit with her to Lusaka “where you can be assured that I will participate fully with a glad heart, a strong spirit and pride that the Episcopal Church fully affirms the dignity of all of God’s children, including our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers.”

The council gave both Curry and Jennings standing ovations after their opening remarks, an uncommon reaction.

Meanwhile, Uganda Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, who had left the primates meeting when it became clear that the Episcopal Church would not be severely punished, said recently that his church would not be represented at the April ACC meeting because “godly order” had not yet been restored to the communion.

In a Lenten message he said the fabric of the Anglican Communion has been torn “at its deepest level” since the 2003 election of Gene Robinson, whom he called “a divorced father of two living in a same-sex relationship” as bishop of New Hampshire.

He said that the primates’ action in January was a “symbolic vote; it was not a substantive vote” and argued that Anglicans “continue to be betrayed by our leaders.”

Full ENS coverage of the primates’ gathering is here.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (12)

  1. James Teets BSG says:

    Shameful, just shameful! What do these reactionary primates think they will accomplish by trying to exclude The Episcopal Church from the councils of the Anglican Communion…though the matter of ‘exclusion’ is surely at the forefront of their majority decision. When a senior body ‘disciplines’ a junior body, the desire is — or it should be — to recall that junior body to right actions and positions as the senior body understands those actions and positions. Do these majority primates seriously expect The Episcopal Church to rescind its actions on marriage equality, and to put into place a ban on any similar legislation in the future? That is what should logically be expected for a ‘discipline’ to achieve its goal. The reality is that the imposition of this three-year hiatus from any decision-making in the Anglican Communion is a punishment, not a call to discipline. And what will be the situation at the end of this three-year period? The primates will be right back where they started from…though during that time and in the realization of what ‘punishment’ means, I hope that a number of the primates who once sided with those who sought to punish and not to lift up in thanksgiving will have come to a better, more Christ-like mind.

    1. Christi says:

      I agree, James.

  2. Doug Desper says:

    Take the “high ground”….? That should have happened at the last General Convention before this leadership succumbed to loud voices who berated the Church to redefine Marriage for the first time EVER in catholic Christianity.

    Why now should TEC speak for or represent the Anglican Communion in Anglican or interfaith bodies? It is OUR Province that is clearly out of step with the rest of the Communion, not to mention most of the Christian Church on this planet. Call this departure from the faith received as “witnessing” all day, but the action doesn’t match our Prayer Book, Catechism, or any Anglican or catholic understanding of Marriage.

    It is insulting for liberals — including those in this ENS article — to keep equating their damage done to Marriage as the same as “witnessing” and “welcoming”. There has never been a question of who is welcomed to worship. ALL have been welcomed. But, damaging Marriage by redefining it is a bridge too far. By what stretch of sophistry can anyone declare our General Convention’s actions as normative in the sense of being catholic? Likewise, it barely fits any definition of “reason”. Here’s why: the revisionists in charge redefined marriage solely because they wanted people to feel “welcomed” and to affirm committed relationships. To achieve this meant that Jesus’ teaching on Marriage in Matthew 19 (quoting Genesis 2) had to be entirely ignored. In fact — it was entirely omitted from the so-called Marriage Study. Go figure! If one wants to know what Christian Marriage should look like wouldn’t you want to BEGIN with the words of Jesus Himself? Apparently not, since it did not fit the liberal revisionists’ foregone conclusion that marriage is “evolving”. Further irrationality is that the basis for marriage is now primarily to 1). affirm committed human relationships, and 2). to be pastorally sensitive to those in our society who practice alternative lifestyles. This demands the total rejection of Matthew 19/Genesis 2. So, now think ahead 50 – 75 years. What happens when another variety of human bonding and relationship demands recognition and blessing? Will we consent to marry 3 persons in a committed, loving relationship — rest assured, it WILL be the future (it is already happening). The Pandora’s Box was opened — and this Church can never again refuse to bless anyone in any arrangement of bonding. In the future new loud voices will call it “witnessing” and “welcoming”.

    The irrationality and Biblical disobedience of the last General Convention has answered what the future will be — what it MUST be due to its own short-sighted impetuous decision to destroy Christian Marriage. Marriage MUST , by current trajectory become whatever the culture demands. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 will have become entirely dusty irrelevance….like it is to some today.

    For those reasons we are not able to represent Anglican understandings of Marriage. Thank God, because our leaders really don’t have anything coherent to say.

    1. Tracy Lawrence says:

      I agree. It’s a secular revision; not a scriptural one. That’s why the language is consistently twisted and misleading. There is no basis in scripture, there is a basis in the American Civil rights movement of the 60’s, now extended to shaming Catholic/Anglican Christians who don’t hold the political views of the progressive liberals who are dominating TEC’s leadership. It’s anti-Christian really, as is the LGBT movement.

  3. Gary Roberts says:

    Desper: Shucks…and here I thought we were free from the dogma that God “dictated” our holy scriptures (unlike our Moslem and Morman brothers and sisters). Plus let’s not forget that our theology rises from the people (at least in our faith story), and I personally think that God’s folk are speaking with clarity about marriage and “respecting the dignity of all!”

    1. Doug Desper says:

      Are Christ’s words on Marriage in Matthew 19 human “dogma”? If so, we should all stop going to Church because nothing can be believed. Would it be best to walk out for an early Coffee Hour while the Gospel is read this Sunday? Somehow I don’t sense that a true believer considers that an option — nor the teachings of Christ as some kind of merely invented opinion.

      Marriage is the gift of God — or so taught Christ in Matthew 19 when He directly quoted (word for word) Genesis 2. It is not “a theology rising from the people” to be continually redefined for the age. The error of preferring human wisdom instead of God’s design is exactly what Jesus was responding to in Matthew 19; especially pointing out how hearts had been hardened to their own mistakes.

      1. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

        Doug, you are misinterpreting Jesus in Matthew 19. The problem there is that men held all the power to divorce, or cast out women. And for a woman, being cast out of the protection of a male household meant being vulnerable to abuse and extreme poverty. Using it to justify a modern issue really isn’t a strong argument.
        My partner of 23 years and I got married last year. It was a joyous and sacramental occasion where God’s inward Grace of 23 years was on public display. We were supported by 175 people, our entire parish. Our marriage is real, Graced by a loving God, sacramental, and everything that any marriage should be.
        Given all the hate rhetoric in the public realm, I am grateful for the loving support of our church.
        I warn conservatives that we take our marriages just as seriously as you do, disparaging them is impolite, rude, one cannot see the love Christ in disparaging our marriages. If you don’t know any married gay couples, get to know us, it will make a difference. Our love is no mistake. We are created in the Image of God, same as you. And it takes a lot of hubris to say otherwise.

  4. Andrew Castiglione says:

    Didn’t this nonsense start with the ordination of women, which was not nonsense, creating a few loud and soft screams heard all over the world, and which, thanks be to God, has turned out be a wonderful blessing which many of us knew would be, and just maybe, this is what all of this is about. Then the screaming got louder with the ordination of Gays, Gay marriage, etc. It became the excuse. LGBT are everywhere, including all the pull away churches, and Continental African churches, where I understand some bishops have multiple wives. True? Anyway, LGBT are All created by God and in God’s image, just like so call straights! We worship a God of Love, understanding, and total acceptance. Accept it!

  5. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    Though I am gay and sacramentally married, I advocate staying engaged with the larger communion. To me that includes our fiscal engagement.

  6. Alda Morgan says:

    I agree with Cynthia and admire her generosity toward those who disagree with her…and with the decisions TEC has made. And I certainly agree with Bp. Curry’s call to stand on the Gospel ground. He has also modeled that stand and done us proud. We’re not cast out of the communion nor are we totally abandoned by fellow Anglicans. No one can tell where we’ll be in three years or where the communion will be in three years. Let’s get on with it–trusting the Holy Spirit, acting on the decisions made at General Convention last year, and continuing the ministries and witness to which we are called, including that of responding with humility and faith to the action of the OPrimates.

  7. Jim Rosenthal says:

    I think it might be good to look at the Primates Meeting and its purpose in its original design. I must say as one-time comms director at the ACC it was never projected as a place any votes would ever be taken, that was the ACC role if and when needed. Last Sunday the church I attended in London had 39 communicants, last Friday I attended by invitation Friday Prayers at the local mosque, the largest in Western Europe. At 3000 I stopped counting. Men from all walks of life… When I think of the good I witnessed mad possible by TEC I can only shake my head in dismay. May God bless Archbishop (why not!) Curry! May Jesus Christ be praised in all of this…

  8. Doug Stinson says:

    Jim Rosenthal,
    I’m confused. Are you saying that the actions of the Episcopal Church represent a blessing from God because it has alienated many Anglicans who are now beginning to populate Muslim mosques ? Since when is religion a popularity contest ?

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