“The cancer needs to be cut out.” So said some who would like to exclude the Episcopal Church of the USA and the Anglican Church in Canada from the Anglican Communion.
The Episcopal Church’s consecration of Gene Robinson, a homosexual in a relationship, and the authorisation of blessings of same-sex unions by the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster provoked a flood of denunciation from parts of the Communion.
Guided and funded by traditionalist groups in the United States, this strategy initially aimed at complete exclusion of ECUSA and Canada from the Communion. But in the longer term, it’s a thrust for domination of the Communion.
Though claiming, with partial justification, that the Windsor Report supports their attitude, they have been as selective in abiding by the Windsor proposals as in their interpretation of Scripture. And they have achieved considerable success.
The Primates at Dromantine, in February 2005, asked ECUSA and Canada not to attend the Anglican Consultative Council – the only constitutional body among the so- called Instruments of Unity– and the rump of the ACC, shamefully and by a wafer-thin margin, endorsed that request.
Some of what I heard at ACC-13 last year concerning ECUSA and Canada (and homosexuals) could best be described as a ‘hymn of hate’, reminiscent of the genocidal parts of the Old Testament rather than of the gospels, and profoundly un-Christian.
Hence my motion at this year’s session of General Synod/te Hinota Whanui, which
noted the present situation,
endorsed the traditional Anglican teaching that all human knowledge is incomplete,
agreed that Anglicans should therefore listen to those with different views, acknowledge their integrity, and remain in communion with them,
recommended that all Communion- wide gatherings should try to include all churches of the Communion.
Uncontroversial stuff, a few years ago – but not now.
The debate in General Synod was passionate from both sides, and at times angry. Though not plumbing the depths of virulence at ACC-13, the same sub-text emerged: that homosexual love is the ultimate evil. I was reminded of the dramatic image from Lambeth 1998, of an arrogant bishop attempting to exorcise a homosexual lobbyist.
When the synod motion was put, the voices sounded even both ways. Hearteningly, what that showed was not that synod was evenly divided, but that some synod members can shout! In a division, the motion passed overwhelmingly in each House, with a total of 67 “Ayes” to 14 “Noes.”
So, what was achieved?
Firstly, this church has not adopted any particular position in regard to homosexual relationships and leadership. Despite what was said in debate, my motion was not about homosexuality, though triggered by different responses from different churches to the place of homosexuals in the church.
What this church has done is to restate its support for the Jesus model of relationship – inclusive, not exclusive, tolerant of diversity, accepting rather than rejecting, loving rather than hating.
Will the synod motion make any difference to the Communion?
Perhaps not: this small banner for tolerance and Christian relationship appears to have gone unnoticed in the wider Communion as it focuses on the agonies of ECUSA’s response to the Windsor Report, and the denunciation by some [often the same who denounce acceptance of homosexuals] of its election of a woman Presiding Bishop. [Remember: neither Lambeth nor the ACC opposed the ordination of women.]
This church has a reputation in the Communion for innovation, lateral thinking, and tolerance. And that may get us into trouble: The Times of London, reporting Rowan Williams’ recent speech about the Communion, listed us with ECUSA, Canada and Scotland as likely to be relegated to the outer marches of a two-tier Communion.
But, nonetheless, we have upheld that banner of tolerance and love – and, God willing, we will continue to do so.
The young people of our church have got it right in the prayer for Toru, the Anglican Centre for Youth Ministry Studies: “Most merciful God, your love compels us to come to the table of unity, despite our differences…”
Tony Fitchett is a lay representative of the Diocese of Dunedin in General Synod/te Hinota Whanui. He is also a lay representative of this church on the Anglican Consultative Council.