Lambeth Commission may recommend exclusion of ECUSA

The Lambeth Commission met for the last time in Windsor from 6 to 9 September to finalise its recommendations, though it was thought to have reached a broad consensus at the two earlier meetings. The Commission is due to present its final report to Archbishop Rowan Williams later in September, and it is likely to be published in mid-October. It will be debated by the primates at their meeting in Northern Ireland in February and will then go to the Anglican Consultative Council, the representative body of the Anglican Communion, before it can be implemented.

Writing in the Times on 2 September, Ruth Gledhill predicted that disciplinary measures against the Episcopal Church in the United States are expected to be recommended by the Commission and it will face exclusion from the worldwide Anglican communion for ordaining bishop Gene Robinson. The commission is expected to have resisted calls from conservatives to expel the Episcopal Church immediately. But if it has not recanted by the time the next Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops is convened in 2008, the whole church could still face exclusion. Exclusion would not necessarily be permanent but would last until the province “repented” of its actions in the election of Bishop Robinson. It would be allowed to return when Bishop Robinson retired, or in the unlikely event that he was removed from his post, as long as ECUSA did not consecrate any more similar bishops, or sanction rites for the blessing of gay unions.

Debate over homosexuality will not be stifled but only bishops who abide by the Church’s official line will be welcome at Anglican meetings. New bishops will be required to sign up to the policy. Members of the commission are understood to have favoured this approach because it avoids a formal split in the Church and relies on the already existing role of the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite bishops to summits.

The Anglican Church in Canada, where the diocese of New Westminster authorised the Church’s first same-sex blessings rite, is also likely to face disciplinary action, although not as severe as America. The General Synod in Canada agreed this summer to delay the approval of same-sex blessings, but if the Canadian Church were to pursue this, it too could find itself excluded.

The disciplinary measures are expected to be made possible as part of a radical restructuring of the Anglican Church in response to the crisis over gays. The restructuring is the most radical of a number of options that have been considered by the commission. Another way forward would have been to persuade all provinces to agree a joint code of canon law, but it would have taken many years for all the separate synods to agree. It is expected that the Anglican Communion will be reformed into a federation similar to that of the worldwide Lutheran Church.

As Ruth Gledhill comments, “there is certain to be a bitter fight between the different factions before any recommendations are enacted. The report is expected to cause widespread dismay among liberals and Anglican-Catholics in the West, who will regard it as a capitulation to the conservative evangelical lobby, a severe personal blow and a setback to the cause of gay rights within the Church.”

The report could be difficult for the Primate of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Frank Griswold, who could find himself shut out of the annual meeting of the primates and also for the Bishop of New Westminster, the Rt Revd Michael Ingham, who authorised a rite of same-sex blessings in his diocese 15 months ago.

But religious commentator and journalist Clifford Longley doubted if there would be such a dramatic conclusion. “There are an awful lot of battle cruisers skimming around and avoiding shooting at each other. No one wants a battle,” he told Reuters. “I think I put my money on it being a fudge. Temperamentally I do not think they are inclined to go for a fight. Never in the past has any of these commissions come to anything. They have never managed to apply sanctions.”

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