The Primates of the Anglican Communion concluded their meeting today with the issuing of a Communique dealing with a wide range of issues, including climate change, the rise of religiously motivated violence in many places of the world, and the need for child protection measures in all the churches of the Communion. They committed themselves and the churches of the Communion to the evangelical proclamation throughout the world of “the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
But there is no doubt that matters of human sexuality, in particular the 2015 action of the Episcopal Church in changing its marriage canons to make possible the marriage in the church of same-sex couples, dominated the discussions of the Primates. Members of the Diocese of Tennessee should be cautious in reading the headlines in the media. “Addendum A” of the Communique outlines the actual steps to be taken as a result of the Episcopal Church’s action at the General Convention this summer. Members of our church will no longer be appointed to represent the Anglican Communion in ecumenical and interfaith dialogues. They should no longer be appointed or elected to standing committees of the Communion, and in internal bodies of the Communion our representatives will not take part in decisions about matters of doctrine or polity.
Some members of our church will be surprised at these developments, or wonder at their sense or logic, yet they were foreseeable in terms of previous developments and outcomes over the past decade and a half. The Primates’ communique contains its own rationale: “The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.” Departure from this teaching through the unilateral action of a member church disregards “catholic unity” and challenges “the mutual accountability and interdependence” that exists between the churches of the Communion. According to the communique, these actions cause pain, mistrust, and impair the communion or common life that exists between Christians. The result is further distance between the churches and ongoing strain upon our relationships in the Communion. The actions of the Primates’ Meeting in regard to the Episcopal Church are understood by the Primates to acknowledge that distance, and to reflect the desire of the Anglican Communion to continue to gather in a meaningful way.
References to the teaching of Scripture, “catholic unity,” and “mutual accountability and interdependence” reflect historic commitments of Anglicans since the Reformation and before, as well as elements at the heart of the formation of the Communion itself that have ecumenical implications for the recovery of unity among all Christians.
Other elements of the communique and meeting ought to be noted. In the midst of distance that is opening up is a unanimous desire to continue to walk together. There is commitment to a process led by a Task Group to maintain conversation, restore relationship, rebuild trust, heal wounds, and strengthen relationship and recognition of each other’s common faith in the midst of difference. There is renewed commitment by the Primates to meet again, after a number of years during which no gatherings were possible because of lack of trust. The very fact that the Primates, including our own Presiding Bishop, were able to gather and remain together for this meeting is significant and a sign of hope. The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and rejected criminal sanctions against gay and lesbian people, while re-affirming the call to pastoral care.
Let me repeat my own words following another Primates’ Meeting in early 2007. “We need ways in which the Communion can hold together in spite of difference, and pursue a common life. Those ways will come through consideration of the church, “that wonderful and sacred mystery” (BCP, 291). I’m sure that the church referred to in this prayer is a worldwide phenomenon with its roots firmly planted in the earliest times, growing and reaching out to the future. A Communion in which there is no way to reach a common mind about the extent of difference will not be able to grow together, or even hold together. Insisting that our present differences are not enough to divide us will not convince others who believe differently. Instruments are needed by which we can engage each other and hold each other accountable, and not simply be churches that are talking past each other.”
I reaffirm my commitment to the Diocese of Tennessee, the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion of which the Episcopal Church remains a part. I encourage myself and every member of our diocese to be humble and generous as we engage the work that lies before us.
- The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee