I remember years ago when I was sworn in as a Deputy District Attorney (prosecutor) in California, and one of my first appearances was before a senior judge in Juvenile Court. I was fresh out of law school, eager and earnest to make my case against the juvenile whom I can’t even remember now. What I do remember is the judge’s reply. After I had made my case, he looked over his glasses and down his nose at me and said “Mr. Ashey, why do I care?”
I didn’t even know how to respond. Somehow I did, but it took some time to help the judge refocus on the facts and the law of this case. The bottom line is that he was just plain weary of hearing and judging such matters. He was tired of duplicity in fact and nuance in the law. He was discouraged that he wasn’t seeing any change or improvement in the community through the efforts of the court system. And as a result, he had lost any vision of justice, of what is good and right.
After the last two weeks or more in global Anglican affairs, I can sympathize with the judge’s feelings. I’ve heard the same feelings from others—bishops, clergy and lay leaders all across the Anglican Church in North America. Why should we care any longer about the Anglican Communion? The Archbishop of Canterbury calls the Primates together to discuss The Episcopal Church (TEC). The Primates decide at that gathering to discipline TEC, in the mildest possible way, for just one of many communion-breaking behaviors—changing the doctrine of marriage. Immediately the Archbishop of Canterbury denies these are “sanctions” and plays up the importance of “walking together.” Immediately, TEC leaders publicly defy the Primates, declare that they have no intention of turning back and trumpet that the Primates have no authority whatsoever to discipline them. The Archbishop of Canterbury makes no reply.
Then, the Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), James Tengatenga, claims that the Primates can’t do anything about The Episcopal Church. He also says TEC will be welcomed at the next ACC meeting and will vote. The Archbishop of Canterbury makes no reply.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury does decide to speak, he goes “off the orthodox rails” in three separate public addresses—one to the Church of England, two to ACC-16 itself—that what holds the Communion together is relationships based on “freedom, order and human flourishing.” Say what? Whatever happened to Richard Hookers’s classic formulation of Anglican authority: Scripture, tradition and reason? The Archbishop of Canterbury has decided at the very least to “supplement” Hooker and classic reformed Anglicanism with a blank canvas on which anyone can paint their own picture of what “freedom, order and human flourishing” might look like in their church. And so we see the beginning of Richard John Neuhaus’s prediction: “Where orthodoxy becomes optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” Meanwhile, the great Richard Hooker rolls over in his grave.
And so we come from Canterbury, England, where the Primates met in January to Lusaka, Zambia, the site of the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting. Delegates from The Episcopal Church fully participate, voting on and even proposing resolutions. They brag about it in an open letter to their church. One of their media strategists boasts online that they deliberately defied the Primates in doing so. A Bishop from Kenya and two other delegates defy their Archbishop and attend ACC-16. Turns out someone posted an unauthorized letter purporting to be from Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya on the Church’s website authorizing them to go. And what happens when the Bishop arrives at ACC-16? He receives an award and is elected to the Anglican Communion Standing Committee! Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury poses smiling with the TEC delegation and declares that the “consequences” for TEC in the Primates Communique have been “fully implemented.”
But wait! The outgoing members of the Anglican Communion Standing Committee issue a public rebuttal of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement. Specifically, they state that no consequences were imposed on TEC, and none were agreed to by ACC-16. Days later, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Josiah-Iduwo Fearon, rebuts them and says that “in his opinion” they were well-meaning but didn’t understand what it meant when they approved a motion “receiving” the Report on the Primates Meeting. Confusion reigns. Does receive mean “acknowledge” without any comment? Does receive mean “agree with the conclusions of the Primates?” How can we slice and dice this word to satisfy everyone? What nuance will satisfy everyone’s picture of “freedom, order and human flourishing”?
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury is silent. That is, until May 11, when he announced the appointment of the “Task Force” the Primates approved to “maintain conversation among (among the Primates) with the intention of restoration of relationship.” The Archbishop of Canterbury appoints the Presiding Bishop of TEC to the Task Force! Barbara Gauthier sums up her utter perplexity and bafflement, and ours, at this turn of events:
++Welby stated that the “consequences” imposed on TEC by the Primates have been received and “fully implemented” by both himself and the ACC.
Those “consequences” included banning TEC members for three years from being elected or appointed to any Communion-wide committee or group dealing with Anglican polity and/or doctrine.
++Welby appointed TEC’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to serve on a Communion-wide task group whose only purpose for existing is to discuss how to deal with Anglican polity and doctrine in the wake of a crisis precipitated by an unrepentant TEC. Go figure…
It’s a case of politics and media spin worthy of any secular center of political power and intrigue.
But is that how we want the Anglican Communion to function? In the face of this incredible dysfunction and ongoing deficit of authority, people are asking why should I care any more about the Anglican Communion?
Dr. J.I. Packer edited a series of pamphlets on Anglican Essentials. In “Taking the Anglican Communion seriously,” he quotes authors Buckle and Pell:
“To most Anglicans the Anglican Communion is more of an idea than a reality in their lives; our local congregations and perhaps our dioceses provide the usual limits for our thinking about the church. Yet each and every Anglican has a stake in the Anglican Communion. It unites us to Christians who share the same heritage of beliefs, same worship patterns, same history, and same ways of expressing our faith. The Anglican Communion is our window on the world, making us aware of the struggles and joys experienced by fellow Christians in almost every part of our planet. Therefore, to play our part in the world church, the church catholic, we need to take our Communion and its future seriously…”
So let’s take The Communion seriously. The American Anglican Council encourage Biblically faithful Anglican leaders across the Communion to say that they are done with meaningless meetings that cost dearly and distract us from fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission. The meetings simply further expose the sheep to the prowling wolf.
Christ-centered Anglican leaders should have no more part in perpetuating the current corrupt and broken system of Anglican Communion governance. Christ-following Anglican leaders (it’s a shame I must put it that way) should not contribute to efforts to undermine the ancient, catholic authority of bishops to guard the faith and order of the Church, a special responsibility that is inherent in their office. They ought to “stand up and stand out” [see sermon below] against any thought that exalts itself against the knowledge and glory of God uniquely in the face of Jesus Christ (II Cor. 10: 3-5; 4:3-5). These leaders must speak up and stand out even when those thoughts and actions are within the Church itself.
While structures are not the only answer, orthodox Anglican leaders need to create new structures that are genuinely conciliar and recognizable to other Biblically faithful Christians across the world. Such structures must serve the Church in fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.
It’s painfully obvious that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby cannot or will not do any of these things. However, there are leaders who could. I ask for your prayers that God would encourage such leaders to be courageous, stand up and stand out.
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President and CEO of the American Anglican Council.
Sermon Summary: “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didn’t make any excuses. Instead, they quietly, calmly refused to negotiate. They didn’t give in to second thoughts in front of the furnace. They knew what was right because they knew God’s word. They knew both the clarity of God’s Word and the authority of God’s Word. And for that reason they had an anchor, a moral compass and an assurance that God is faithful– and that our vindication ultimately lies with God himself…”