Reflections on the Primates’ meeting

Where are we now?

We have arrived at the end of a feverish period in the life of the Anglican Communion. In the week beginning 13th October, when the Primates of the Communion met at Lambeth Palace, the future of the Communion was under threat. We are, at the moment, still together, and the threat of schism has not occurred. The Communion has not fragmented, but the Primates have listened to and learnt from one another and as a result, have committed themselves more deeply to work together. They have felt pain and uncertainty.

The statement produced by the Primates at the end of the two days makes a number of points which are of great value to us.

At a time of tension, we have struggled at great cost with the issues before us, but have also been renewed and strengthened in our Communion with one another through our worship and study of the Bible. This has led us into a deeper commitment to work together, and we affirm our pride in the Anglican inheritance of faith and order and our firm desire to remain part of a Communion, where what we hold in common is much greater than that which divides us in proclaiming Good News to the world.

We feel the profound pain and uncertainty shared by others about our Christian discipleship

Whilst we acknowledge a legitimate diversity of interpretation that arises in the Church, this diversity does not mean that some of us take the authority of Scripture more lightly than others.

We commit ourselves afresh to mutual respect whilst seeking from the Lord a correct legitimate diversity of interpretation of Scripture. The commit to seeking from the Lord a correct discernment of how God’s Word speaks to us in our contemporary world. They commend specifically (and only) the section of the Lambeth Conference resolution about listening to the experience of homosexual persons and the need for ongoing study on questions of human sexuality. They refuse to pass judgment on the constitutional process of ECUSA. The controversies will not be resolved without a lengthy process of prayer, reflection and substantial work.

Thanks to the BBC and ITN, I have had conversations with David Banting of Reform and David Phillips of the Church Society that might otherwise never have occurred. They were revealing conversations and I have learnt much about both of them. They have an anxiety about losing the argument if they are drawn into conversation with us. Their lack of historical knowledge extends to the belief that Christianity arrived in this country with a full-fledged marriage rite and legal provision for marriage. They are absolutely dependent on allegiance to rules rather than Holy Spirit or love. This is not to their advantage. They are only committed to the negative paragraphs of the Lambeth 1998 statement. We can hold them to the requirement to listen to us and our experience, reaffirmed by the Primates.

Our preparation for the Primates’ meeting was carefully planned and very successful.

We began with the global letter to Primates which was widely circulated and used by many people, some of whom wrote to every single Primate.

We followed this with the Global Open Letter, which 24 people signed. The letter was sent to the main newspapers in every country from which the Primates came. In Britain, the Independent published it as their lead letter.

In London, we held the service at St James’ Piccadilly on Tuesday evening, and other services were held in Liverpool, Lichfield, Oxford and Cambridge. The London service was attended by 250 people, plus press and TV.

Our media profile was excellent, both nationally and locally, with many people undertaking interviews and live appearances on TV and radio. We were quoted on the front page of the Times and interviews and film clips were used on the main news bulletins on BBC 1 and 2, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky. We also gave interviews to stations and papers from other countries, including the USA, Canada, Finland, Australia and the Bahamas.

During the week, we worked alongside and in a very complementary way with Inclusivechurch and friends from the USA. Personally, the relationships developed with the media over recent years paid off handsomely.

What next?

On 2nd November 2003 Canon Gene Robinson will be consecrated co-adjutor bishop of New Hampshire with Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold leading those consecrating. The Anglican Communion will then be living with a new reality, a partnered gay bishop has become a bishop through the due canonical processes of his church. This reality will be added to the authorised blessing of gay relationships in New Westminster and Lincoln., and the gay bishops, partnered and single, already ordained in the Church of England and in other parts of the communion. In England, this new reality is being added to the tens of thousands of single and partnered lesbian, gay and bisexual people , involved at every level of church life from infrequent attendee to members of PCCs, Deanery, Diocesan and General Synods. We have lesbian, gay and bisexual deacons, priests and bishops, celibate, single and partnered.

In November, the House of Bishop’s Working Party will publish their report. It will not announce any change in policy, and is a comparatively conservative overview of the current state of affairs. But it will survey the full spectrum of possibility, from a very conservative stance to the blessing of relationships and the ordination of partnered lesbians and gay men. The report will give us a further opportunity to talk about ourselves, our experience within the church, and our expectations.

Certain bishops, dioceses, parishes and Provinces will declare themselves to be in a state of broken or impaired communion, either with the diocese of New Hampshire, or with ECUSA.

In the USA, some extremely reactionary parishes will make plans to leave ECUSA, and will attempt to gain control of property assets and financial assets such as pension funds. This will be very expensive in legal terms on both sides, and success for the conservatives is highly unlikely.

Anglican leaders in the Third World fear the American church will take revenge on them by cutting off funds for food, aid and charitable work. They believe about £12m distributed by the American churches to Africa and other Third World countries is at risk because of the developing nations’ uncompromising stand over the gay issue. Officials maintain they will continue to fund Africa, but Trinity Church on Wall Street, the world’s richest Anglican congregation, is said to have cut off some funding already. Rwanda is understood to have been told it will no longer receive a £60,000 annual grant. Many Third World churches depend on US aid for computers, phone systems and bishops’ travel costs.

Bernard Malango, Archbishop of Central Africa, said that Oge Beauvoir, Trinity’s funding officer, had told him grants to his province would be cut because of the breach. Malango said this would not change his mind. “I am not going to sell my rights. I am a man of principle“. Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria, warned: “We are mindful of the backlash this strong stand can engender from the rich churches in Europe, America and Canada who have long used their wealth to intimidate financially weak churches in Africa.”

More than half the Anglican leaders outside America may sever relations with ECUSA. Anglican provinces in southeast Asia, central Africa, South America and elsewhere may declare that US bishops are no longer welcome to celebrate communion and their priests will not be able to take up posts in areas that have broken relations.

Gene Robinson’s comments

On 19th October, Gene Robinson said that he was ready to travel to London to discuss the crisis with the Archbishop of Canterbury, that he had been “called by God“ and that he did not intend to stand down. . ”If the Archbishop of Canterbury were to ask me to stand down, I would take that very seriously because he is our spiritual leader and I will listen very carefully to him, and then I will pray about it. So I cannot tell you what the result would be. But what I can tell you right now, because I pray about this every day, is that I do feel called by God to move forward with this. If at any point I felt that God were asking me not to do this, I would quit in a minute. But I have not felt that.”

At a question-and-answer session at Grace Church in Manchester, New Hampshire Gene Robinson insisted that he could not be blamed for a schism if conservatives made good their threats to leave the Anglican Communion. He said, “I’m still struggling with it, except that I do have this sense that I am supposed to go forward, and I believe that is coming from God and not my own ego. If I thought it was just a matter of stepping down, and that we hadn’t revealed some divisions that are going to be there no matter whether I step down or not, it might be different. But it’s not all going to go back to being nice and pretty again.” He said that, “This is one of the hardest things I ever tried to do, and I can assure you I wouldn’t be doing it if I weren’t pretty sure that God wanted me to do it at this time,” he said. “If I went away, if I did step down, do you really think other qualified, faithful gay and lesbian folks wouldn’t be elected? There are lots of them out there already. My standing down isn’t going to make it all go away and we’re all going to go back to the way we were.”

He agreed that his consecration on November 2 will provoke a crisis in the Anglican Church. “Ok, so it’ll be a moment of crisis and we’ll all have to choose. I hope we will choose hanging together, because I believe we can hold together while we continue to fight about this. If someone decides that this one issue is bigger than all of that that holds us together, and that they can’t stay in a church that is willing to affirm someone like me, and they decide to leave, I’m sorry, I just can’t be responsible for that. I hope they don’t leave. I don’t want them to leave. This Church is big enough for all of us. Nobody is making them leave.”

He voiced the hope that the row over homosexuality would die down without the Church splitting, just as it has done over the issue of women priests. “I think it will calm down when people see that not a lot has changed. Let us be clear. We have always had gay bishops. I am just being honest about it.:

Mr Robinson described the opposition to his homosexuality as “the death throes of patriarchy“. He said that opposition to his sexuality stemmed from the collapse of white males’ dominance in society. “I think it has something to do with the end of patriarchy. I think for a long, long time, white men, of which I am one, have ruled the world. With the emergence of people of colour in this country and elsewhere, with the emergence of the women’s movement, and with the emergence of gay and lesbian folk who are willing to be who they are, I think it’s a threat to the way things have always been, that white men have been in charge of just about everything.”

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