Source: AAC International Update
January 29, 2013
The following article by the Rev. Canon Phil Ashey first appeared in the January 29, 2013 edition of the AAC’s International Update. Sign up for this free email here.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
When +Justin Welby is enthroned as the new Archbishop of Canterbury on March 21 (Feast of Thomas Cranmer), he will immediately inherit a stunning challenge to his ability to lead the rest of the Anglican Communion. That challenge was summed up in an almost-buried seventh paragraph of the Church of England’s House of Bishop’s Report of December 20, 2012. In short, paragraph 7 reported that being in a civil partnership is no longer an impediment to becoming a bishop in the Church:
7. “The House considered an interim report from the group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling on the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality. Pending the conclusion of the group’s work next year the House does not intend to issue a further pastoral statement on civil partnerships. It confirmed that the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of England apply equally in relation to the episcopate.” (Emphasis added) (Entire report here)
Translation: Gay clergy in civil partnerships will be allowed to become bishops if, when questioned, they promise to be sexually abstinent.
Of course, even gay rights activists conceded that “In practice at least half of the House of Bishops ignore the guidelines and do not ask [clergy in civil partnerships] questions about celibacy,” when placing them in congregations.
And, even if they do follow the guidelines and ask questions of civil-partnered gay clergy candidates for bishop, what if the candidates are not truthful? Some prominent liberals like Canon Giles Frasier have suggested that civil-partnered gay clergy candidates for bishop have a moral obligation to lie when asked if they are abstinent! To do otherwise, they say, would be to collaborate in “unjust limitations” upon the sexual freedom of gay and lesbian people.
This is a major change in Church of England doctrine. It has been taken by executive action of the House of Bishops-with no plans at present for consideration by the whole General Synod of the Church of England. Worse still, it is in effect a violation of Anglican Communion teaching on human sexuality and holy orders as stated in Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 (1998), which provides that the church can neither bless same-sex unions, nor ordain those involved in same-gender unions. As such, it is an innovation which touches the life of the entire Anglican Communion and was unilaterally implemented by the CofE Bishops without prior consultation with other churches of the Anglican Communion. By the way, this action also violated the 1997 Virginia Report. (See The Report of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, “The Virginia Report,” 1997, para. 4.13 et seq).
In a Communion already divided for a decade by the unilateral action of The Episcopal Church not only in consecrating non-celibate gays and lesbians as bishops, but also in abandoning and even subverting Gospel truth, the decision of the Mother Church’s House of Bishops is a further affront to Anglican unity. Consider the swift and outraged responses from other Anglican churches and their leaders:
From the Anglican Church of Kenya (5 million+ members), Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, January 6, 2013:
“…bishops have a particular responsibility to be examples of godly living. It cannot be right that they are able to enter into legally recognised relationships which institutionalise and condone behaviour that is completely contrary to the clear and historic teaching of Scripture, as reaffirmed for Anglicans by the 1998 Lambeth Conference in its Resolution 1.10.”
From the Anglican Church of Uganda (11 million+ members), Archbishop Stanley Ntigali, January 7, 2012:
“When the American Church made this decision in 2003 it tore the fabric of the Anglican Communion at its deepest level. This decision only makes the brokenness of the Communion worse and is particularly disheartening coming from the Mother Church….Our grief and sense of betrayal are beyond words.”
From the Anglican Church of Nigeria (20 million+ members), Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, January 9, 2013:
“As a House of Bishops, while we acknowledge that we all fall short of God’s call to holiness, we dare not compromise the clear teaching of our Lord on faithfulness within Holy Matrimony and chastity outside of it. Sadly we must also declare that if the Church of England continues in this contrary direction we must further separate ourselves from it and we are prepared to take the same actions as those prompted by the decisions of The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada ten years ago.”
From the Primates of the Global South of the Anglican Communion (Including Jerusalem and the Middle East, Indian Ocean, Myanmar, Burundi, Congo, Nigeria, SE Asia, Kenya, and the Southern Cone), January 12, 2013:
“Sadly, both the  decision to permit clergy to enter civil partnerships and this latest decision…are wrong and were taken without prior consultation or consensus with the rest of the Anglican Communion at a time when the Communion is still facing major challenges of disunity. It is contrary to “the inter-dependence” which we try to affirm between churches within the Communion. Moreover, it does not only widen the gap between the Church of England and Anglicans in the Global South, it also widens the gap between the Anglican Communion and our ecumenical partners. Further, it jeopardizes the relationship between us Anglicans living in the Global South and followers of other faiths, and gives opportunities to exploit such departure of moral standards that this type of decision may provide… We strongly urge the Church of England to reconsider this divisive decision.”
Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers for the new Archbishop of Canterbury as he faces into this storm. How could his own House of Bishops widen the gap between the Church of England and the majority of Anglicans worldwide on the very eve of his first meeting with those Archbishops? What does that say about his influence and leadership within the existing power structures of the Church of England? Was this report and decision received over his objection-or is he among those who would gladly receive it? Will he seek to move it into the whole General Synod of the Church of England for reconsideration? Even if he has the will to do so, does he have the authority and/or influence to do so? Surely, as an experienced mediator of conflicts, he must have seen how this action would be received by the majority of Anglican leaders and churches already in conflict for the last decade. If he could not impress this upon his fellow bishops, what hope has he in dealing with other innovating bishops in other Anglican Churches in the Global North?
If the See of Canterbury is unable or unwilling take a lead in maintaining the faith, unity and order of the Anglican Communion, such leadership will have to come from elsewhere.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is COO of the American Anglican Council