The announcement yesterday by Archbishop Mouneer Anis (Jerusalem and the Middle East)that he will not be attending the upcoming Anglican Consultative Council meeting (ACC-16) has sent shock waves through the leadership of the Anglican Communion. His decision to not attend was filled with characteristic grace. He said he was not opposed to The Episcopal Church (TEC) participating in the meeting’s general sessions. He said he was dismayed by ACC Chairman Bishop Tengatenga’s denunciation of the authority of the Primates gathering in January to address matters of faith and order between the Churches , including discipline for TEC’s approval of same-sex marriages. Archbishop Mouneer has been characterized as an “institutional moderate” and was among the majority of Primates who agreed, for the sake of the Communion, to continue to “walk together” provided TEC stepped back from positions of leadership in ecumenical bodies representing the Anglican Communion, leadership positions on Inter-Anglican Standing Committees, and decisions on Anglican doctrine and polity. His willingness to entertain TEC participating in general sessions was especially gracious, since they would have been able to participate in agenda items such as “The Bible in the Life of the Church” which clearly involve matters of doctrine.
The Episcopal Church’s intention to continue to participate in the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC (also known as the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion), was just too much. It was a clear and direct rejection of the discipline prescribed by the Primates. It is an act of rebellion aided and abetted by Chairman Tengatenga’s denunciation of the Primates authority. No doubt, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s deafening silence — in the face of this rebellion against the authority of the very meeting of Primates that he convened—is just too much.
There comes a point when institutions become so corrupt and compromised that they are irredeemable. Continued participation simply enables the institutions’ corruption. Archbishop Mouneer has recognized this point, and has justifiably stepped back. His decision comes after the GAFCON provinces of Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya decided to not attend ACC-16. Each of the remaining GAFCON and Global South provinces and their Primates who joined the majority in January prescribing gentle discipline for TEC must now decide whether there isany reason at all to attend ACC-16.
We can expect a full-court press by the Canterbury and Anglican Communion Office authorities to persuade them to go. Typically, the Anglican Consultative Council—funded heavily by TEC (Trinity Wall Street alone having donated more than $700,000 to the ACC since 2006)—will help cover most of the costs of those who attend. This will make it very uncomfortable for any Biblically faithful Anglican leaders who support the Primates’ discipline to say “no” to Bishop Tengatenga and TEC. If the reasons given by Archbishops Okoh (Nigeria), Ntagali (Uganda), Wabukala (Kenya) and now Anis (Jerusalem and the Middle East) are not enough to dissuade those churches from participating in ACC-16, here are two more, from the “Constitution” of the Anglican Consultative Council itself:
- 1. The Anglican Consultative Council has no authority whatsoever to contradict or override the inherent authority of bishops—and especially the Primates—in matters of faith and order between the Churches of the Anglican Communion.
The Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council is quite simply the legally recognized Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws of a charitable organization. The Constitution as such contains all the enumerated powers we would expect of a Board of Trustees/Directors of a charitable organization, its purpose, their fiduciary duties, notice of meetings, conflicts of interest, etc.
The purpose or “Objects” of the Anglican Consultative Council are to “Advance the Christian Religion and in particular to promote the unity and the purposes of the Churches of the Anglican Communion…” (Art. 4, at page 4)
But of course that begs the question: who decides what the Christian Religion is? Who decides the purposes of the Churches of the Anglican Communion? That is the question I addressed last week at some length. The answer is that the bishops, and in particular the Primates as “principal bishops” of the Churches they lead, decide. That authority has been inherent in their office since ancient times, and it is best exercised in Synod.
But nowhere in the Constitution is the ACC referred to as a Synod. Nowhere is it described as functioning in any way like a Synod. In regards to its relationship with the Primates and the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, the ACC has power only “to assist them…as and when required to do so.” (Art. 5.12 at page 5, emphasis added) That is not the language of a Synod. It is the language of a subordinate and advisory body that serves the bishops rather than contradicting and usurping their authority.
This becomes even clearer in the language of Article 5 where the ACC is referred to multiple times as an “advisory body” only: with power “to advise on inter-Anglican, Provincial and Diocesan relationships” (Art. 5.3 at page 4), power “to advise on matters arising out of national or regional Church union negotiations,” (Art. 5.8, at page 5) and power “to advise on problems of inter-Anglican communication.” (Art. 5.9, at page 5). The powers enumerated to the ACC in the rest of Article 5 are what we would expect for the Board of Trustees of a charitable organization—in language that facilitates the exercise of their fiduciary duties.
But here’s the rub: The Anglican Communion is more than a charitable organization under the UK Charities Act. It is a Church—led by Bishops who have special responsibility to guard the doctrine, discipline and order of the Churches they lead, and Primates to guard the faith and Godly order in the relationships among those Churches. One hardly knows how to characterize the repudiation of the Primates gathering by the ACC—arrogance, rebellion or legal fiction, it’s all the same. Even to participate in the ACC gathering is to enable such wrongful and injurious behavior.
- 2. According to the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Archbishop of Canterbury is beyond accountability: if the Church of England errs, he may not be removed as President of the ACC or the Standing Committee.
What will happen if, as many expect, the General Synod of the Church of England concludes its facilitated discussions on the recommendations of the Pilling Report by providing a rite for the Blessing of Civil Partnerships, if not Same Sex Marriages? If this happens, the Church of England will be like TEC, in violation of Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) against such blessings. If the Primates were willing to apply such gentle discipline to TEC as they did in their January gathering, why would they not also apply the same discipline to the Church of England—requiring them also to step back from representation on all ecumenical bodies, all Standing Committees of the Anglican Communion, and voting on any matters of doctrine and polity?
According to the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates would have no authority to do so with regards to the Primate of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. “The Archbishop of Canterbury shall always be the President of the Council ex officio…and a member of all its Committees,” including the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (Arts. 7.1, 7.3.1 at page 7, emphasis added). “Always” means “at all times.” (Definitions at page 3, emphasis added). The ABC is not even subject to retirement under the provisions of Articles 8 and 15. In other words, the Presidency of the ACC, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, and every committee of the ACC remains in the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, without any interruption, as a matter of UK law.
Therefore, if the Church of England should choose to go the path of TEC, whatever “relational consequences” the Primates might choose to apply would be a an empty sham at best. The Archbishop of Canterbury would continue to serve as President of the ACC and the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. In effect, he is immune from “relational consequences” and still able to represent the Church of England in his capacity as Primate under the terms of the ACC Constitution.
Of course, this leaves the Archbishop of Canterbury in the unique position of being the only Primate beyond accountability—under the terms of the Constitution of the ACC, under UK Charity Law. Is this something that should continue? Given the theological, spiritual and even physical challenges Anglican provinces are facing, is such a dysfunctional system likely to truly address the problems at hand?
Such questions need an immediate answer. The Communion’s Instruments of Unity are at odds with each other and desperately in need of re-forming. It is time for Biblically faithful Primates to do so.
 The Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council aka The Articles of Association of the Anglican Consultative Council by Certificate of Incorporation of a Limited Company, No. 7311767, (incorporated 12 July 2010) under the UK Companies Act 2006,