Dear Friends in Christ:
By now you will have heard the announcement from Burlington, Ontario, by the Essentials Network of a formal separation from the Canadian Church. You may well be asked about it this on Sunday and for some time to come, so I thought I would offer you my own preliminary reflections on what should be our principal responses.
First, this development, while not unexpected (the signs have been there for several years, see below) is both unwelcome and unnecessary. Unwelcome because it violates both the ancient traditions of our church and also the consistent urgings of Scripture for unity among Christians. Unnecessary because no Canadian Anglican is being compelled to act against their conscience in matters of doctrine or ethics, and so there is no need for ‘safety’ from ecclesiastical oppression.
Second, Anglicans in this country do not want to see their church at war with itself. The prospect of costly and bitter litigation will rightly be regarded as a waste of the church’s precious resources given for mission. Further, our efforts at evangelism and outreach will be hampered by the media’s coverage of our organization in conflict. People searching for a spiritual home will be wary of involving themselves in a place of turmoil. Sadly, these consequences will be increased by the Network’s announcement.
Third, it has been the cry of every breakaway group that “we haven’t left them – they’ve left us.” Apart from the tiredness of the cliché, it is an attempt to avoid responsibility for personal choices. Every effort has been made, both in New Westminster and across the Anglican Church of Canada, to provide space for genuine differences of conviction on non-essential matters of faith. We have recognized the difficult place in which those of minority opinion find themselves (and there are several minorities, not just one) and have sought to foster mutual respect and mutual support. The vast majority of conservative and traditional Anglicans in Canada understand and accept this, and will stay with their church. This is not, therefore, a conservative breakaway. It is a decision to leave by those who feel uncomfortable with reasonable accommodation within the Body of Christ.
Fourth, the Network blames the church for its own decisions. Let us remember a brief chronology. It was ten years ago in 1997 that we first heard the term ‘global south.’ This was from the Kuala Lumpur meeting of certain bishops prior to the Lambeth Conference the following year. They issued the “Second Trumpet From the South” stating their intention to be in communion only with those who held their view of human sexuality. At the 1998 Lambeth Conference a well financed and organized lobby succeeded in raising this position to the level of Resolution 1:10, effectively marginalizing a careful statement prepared during the Conference by a broad spectrum of bishops.
We saw the development in North America of groups called the ‘Anglican Mission in America” and the “American Anglican Council” and the irregular and provocative consecrations, in Singapore in 2000 and Denver in 2001, of ‘missionary’ bishops to serve in the United States against the wishes of the Episcopal Church. During this time, congregations in the US and Canada were being urged by these groups to withhold financial contributions from the church.
Thus the seeds of this breakaway movement were laid long before same-sex blessings were authorized in New Westminster or a partnered gay bishop was elected in New Hampshire. The attempt now to lay blame for this development on events that took place in our diocese in 2002 and in the US in 2003 is in my view both a denial of history and an avoidance of responsibility.
Lastly, I think we need to respond to the Network’s announcement in several ways.
Pray for the unity of Christians, for a spirit of charity towards those with whom we may disagree, and for God’s forgiveness of our mutual failure to honour the prayer of Christ in St. John’s Gospel “that they may be one.”
Give particular support to those conservative and traditional Christians who remain with their church and grieve the departure of friends.
Teach our members about the genius of Anglicanism and its balance of Scripture, reason and tradition within the boundaries of common prayer.
Emphasize in our preaching and leadership the centrality of mission and its priority over ecclesiastical politics.
Challenge the false stereotypes that foster polarization – e.g. the ‘heartless conservative’ or the ‘unbiblical liberal.’
Give thanks that our church, for all its messiness, is honestly and openly facing issues some other bodies cannot.
Press forward in ministry and evangelism at the local level.
Deepen our study and immersion in Scripture. Place ourselves under the authority of the Christ it reveals. Avoid both an empty relativism and a harsh literalism.
Encourage both local media and the non-churchgoing public to understand the deeper roots of this development.
Take the ‘long view’ – i.e. remember the consistent triumph of the Gospel over the historic fragmentation of the church, and the persistence of faith through the failures of human discipleship.
Please remember our diocesan and national leaders in your prayers too. And above all, let’s get on with the normal work of being the church.
The Right Reverend Michael Ingham