Thursday, January 14, 2016

On the Death of the Anglican Communion

My prediction about the sun setting on the breakup of the Anglican Communion is coming true, even as I write before the final session of the primates gathered at Canterbury.

Enough has leaked from the gathering to be able to form a picture of what went on. The Archbishop of Canterbury and his staff had tried to direct the progress of the group's deliberations by resorting to a standby from ++Justin Welby's corporate days: the RAND-developed group facilitation mechanism known as the "Delphi Technique."

That technique tries to direct an outcome by strictly controlling dissenting voices, and channeling them into increasingly ignorable "minority views", with the object of developing a so-called "consensus" that in reality represents the carefully-preserved majority thread. The attendees are  divided into small discussion groups which do not communicate with each other until after the supposed group "consensus" is announced by the facilitators, based solely on the carefully selected "majority" views in each mini-group.

This manipulation was too much for one Primate, Archbishop Stanley Ntgali of Uganda. He decided to leave the gathering on its second day, and explained his reasons in an announcement that castigated Canterbury's manipulation of the discussion process.

It turns out that many of the other Primates attending were new to the game, and had little understanding of the divisive steps taken by ECUSA in 2003 with the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson, contrary to the expressed wishes of the Primates then in office. These newer Primates were also put off by the manipulative Delphi process directed by the Archbishop of Canterbury's staff.

The departure of Archbishop Ntgali served to galvanize their awareness of what was at stake, and they began to listen to their GAFCON colleagues more closely. In the course of events that followed, the Delphi process appears to have been scrapped, or else completely bypassed, and the GAFCON Primates and a clear majority of their colleagues reached a consensus that the Episcopal Church (USA), with its adoption of same-sex marriage rites at General Convention 2015, had gone too far.

An agreement evolved that would require ECUSA's suspension from Communion-related activities for three years. This would give ECUSA a sporting chance to decide in its General Convention (to be held in 2018) that it really did not mean to go against the majority of the Anglican provinces in approving same-sex church weddings that blasphemed the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and substituted same-sex love as a model for the relation between Christ and His Church.

With the primate of Canada (Archbishop Fred Hiltz) remonstrating that his church had not gone so far (at least, not until its next General Synod later this year), the primates decided to extend their sanction at this point only to ECUSA, and to leave the Anglican Church of Canada to its future deliberations.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry protested that his church was trying only to be faithful to the Holy Scriptures as its leaders perceived them, but the clear voice of the Bible in opposition to same-sex concourse (whether in or out of so-called "marriage") spoke louder than his protests. As a result, Presiding Bishop Curry will have to explain to his House of Bishops (and to General Convention in 2018) that they could face further sanctions -- even permanent expulsion -- from the Anglican Communion if ECUSA continues openly to contravene the sense of the Anglican Communion embodied in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

The reaction to the Primates' sanctions among Episcopalians committed to that church's revisionist agenda was overwhelmingly negative, as might be expected. An announcement of the Primates' Statement posted at Episcopal Café garnered more than 100 comments as of this writing -- most of them derisive and derogatory. There were many calls to cut off the Episcopal Church (USA)'s subsidy to the Anglican Communion Office -- as though ECUSA should withhold its money from those who dissent from it, while expecting its own dissenting members to voluntarily surrender their churches and bank accounts in lieu of being sued for them. (The double standard of liberals -- "one rule for me, another for thee" -- marks them every time.)

So what will come of the Primates Meeting 2016, and of the Anglican Communion as a whole?

First of all, note that Archbishop Foley Beach of ACNA remained a participant almost to the end. This fact alone serves as a marker that the new Anglican Communion -- however it evolves in the years to come -- will no longer be limited as the old one was, particularly if ECUSA ceases to play a significant role. (The full statement issued by the Primates at the end of the meeting notes: "The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church of North America was recognized as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognize that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction.")

Second, note that the Primates, in and of themselves, were not gathered as one of the Communion's Instruments of Communion; nor does the Primates Meeting alone control the membership list of provinces in the Anglican Communion. ECUSA accordingly could, if it dared, simply ignore their "sanctions", and show up as usual at Communion gatherings, and insist on its right to participation and to vote. But that would be a highly provocative stance to take, and might result only in more formal sanctions applied properly and unanimously.

That said, if we assume that ECUSA will voluntarily withdraw from participating in votes on the Communion's "doctrine or polity" for a period at least three years, the principal consequence will be that ECUSA cannot vote on whether its suspension will be continued before that three-year period is up. Its General Convention will meet July 2018 in Austin, Texas -- and it is completely predictable that the legislation passed by that body will not backtrack from anything that has gone before, but will probably exacerbate the differences between it and the majority of the Communion. The Primates who voted for a three-year sanction will be presented with a fait accompli, and they could well vote to make ECUSA's suspension from the Communion permanent as a result.

This development will strongly depend on whether the GAFCON and Global South Primates build and maintain their connection with the Primates from the rest of the Communion over the succeeding three years. But there will be another factor at play, namely, the amount of money which ECUSA and its wealthier dioceses and parishes spread around in the Communion during that same period.

The old saw about the Communion used to go something like this: "The Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the British make the rules." It now appears that the British alone no longer make the rules, and that the Americans are already not paying as much as they did before. (The Africans, it may safely be said, have never stopped praying.) The latest statement from the Anglican Communion Office shows (see the last page of the link) that ECUSA has paid through 2014 less than half of what was requested (£204,772 of £538,280). Thus the withdrawal of all funds by ECUSA may turn out not to be the decisive step that many Episcopalians conceive it to be.

What is certain is that in three years, the Anglican Communion will not be what it is now, nor anything like what it was in 2003: the Episcopal Church (USA) has already seen to that. If the recent sanctions provoke ECUSA to amend the Preamble to its Constitution, and to cease proclaiming itself as "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion", both the Communion and ECUSA would be the better for it.

ECUSA as a former Anglican province has long since decided to walk apart from its fellow Anglican provinces, in its single-minded elevation of human justice over God's justice as expressed in unequivocal Holy Scriptures. It is time to stop the pretense that it remains willing to be "in communion" with the See of Canterbury -- at least, so long as Canterbury remains faithful to Lambeth 1.10, and especially if ECUSA withdraws its financial support (as, in all honesty, it should once it withdraws its membership). Let it find its new communion partners among those who likewise think the Holy Spirit is doing a "new thing" among them, and let the test of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39) decide who, ultimately, is in the right.

The Anglican Communion is dead. Long live the Anglican Communion!

And thanks be to God.


  1. Many thanks for this prompt and detailed and excellent summary of the gathering of the primates.
    And for years of excellent commentary and for very useful links to fellow commentators.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Haley. It shows the gravity of where we sit in all this.

  3. Thanks AC.

    Any thoughts on implications for ECUSA claims to orthodoxy in current or appealable legal cases?

    1. It would be difficult to use this decision in a court case, Tim, because it is just an interim (3-year) decision, and not a final one. ECUSA remains a member of the Anglican Communion, and will do so until either it amends its Preamble, or is voted off the membership list by the Anglican Consultative Council.

  4. Because of our Rabbi, I actually knew and understood the particulars of the 'pronunciamento" of the Convention. It is certain. "The Anglican Communion is dead. Long live the Anglican Communion!"

    And Blessed be His Name!!!
    El Gringo Viejo

  5. I think you may be premature in concluding the AC is dead. The pent up frustration and anger of the conservatives demanded a definitive resolution: expulsion of TEC or a breakup of the AC. Neither occurred. But the expectations of the conservatives were rooted in emotion rather than based on logic and practicality given the governing structures of the AC which contain no mechanism for member discipline. If the object of the meeting was to restore Godly order to the AC by disciplining an errant member province, then my take is that GAFCON achieved all it could reasonably expect to achieve short of putting an end to a communion of 80 million souls. Because of the work of the GAFCON primates, there is now a de facto disciplinary mechanism in place: formal peer rejection by majority agreement of the provincial leaders. We may never know whether Archbishop Welby intended this result or whether it was forced on him by compromise. Nevertheless, a measure of Godly order was restored to the AC by the reaffirmation of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 on human sexuality and an implicit mandate for TEC’s governing documents to comply as a condition for continued membership. Contemplated future actions by ACoC and C of E to formally undermine Lambeth 1.10 may have been thwarted.
    On a scale of one to ten, I would give GAFCON a success rating of eight. By majority action, the AC primates drew a line in the sand and the province (TEC) whose governing documents are repugnant to Lambeth 1.10 was disciplined akin to making a misbehaving child stand in the corner until he or she repents. Here, TEC’s repentance requires it to amend its marriage canon consistent with the spirit of Lambeth 1.10. Since TEC’s repentance requires a formal corporate act it is only fair it be given a reasonable opportunity to comply which will not be until its General Convention convenes in 2018. We all know TEC will do no such thing. Nonetheless, there are two conclusions to be drawn: (1) there is an objective standard and a measure of discipline in the AC where none existed before; and, (2) TEC has been hugely humiliated by the child-like discipline imposed by the majority of its peers in the AC. The humiliation is all the greater because upstart ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach was treated as an equal and invited to be witness to the entire process.
    Whether the secular erosion of the AC has reached a high water mark remains to be seen. TEC and its liberal allies will use all of their wiles to undermine the process of restoring Godly order. But the primates have spoken and D-Day for TEC will arrive in 2018. Given what is at stake, waiting three years to see if this round of chemotherapy takes is worthwhile.

    1. rgvlaw, thank you -- those are very good observations.

      My reference to the "death" of the Anglican Communion is with regard to the passing of the old order (as embodied in the "old saw" I quoted in the article). We will, I believe, not see those days ever again. But we will have a new Anglican Communion going forward, for the reasons that both you and I articulate. Thus I adopted the language used in England on the death of an old monarch and the enthronement of a new one.

    2. Primate, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda appears to understand the Scriptures, to paraphrase Jesus, "be gentle, but wise," "do not cast pearls before swine" and "be fishers of men," quite well. Bishop Ntagali walked away from a political meeting after an already 15+ year long battle, and his actions showed leadership. It made me want to move to Uganda! It would have been wonderful to see more of the Bishops leave that scene.


    3. Rgvlaw's and Blogger A.S.Haley's posts serve to point out the fact that what what's occurred as a result of the Primate's recent meeting represents a step forward in strengthening the future life of the Anglican Communion. When The Episcopal Church (TEC) clearly began to move down an erroneous path (a movement that I recall specifically occurred most notably in 2003) with regard to activities relating to same-sex lifestyles, it became clear that in due time there would indeed be a moment of reckoning, a fact enunciated by Rowan Williams years ago. Looking forward, TEC has now been given three additional years to deal with this issue to the satisfaction of a majority of Primates of the Communion. TEC should begin to soberly face the reality that it is clearly in a position of being subject to measures that further distance TEC from a majority of the Communion unless TEC is able to rectify its actions and pronouncements with regard to matters relating to same-sex lifestyles.

  6. One of your Anglicanon to the Right has posted on the notion of "adapting the Church to the times or die" theme that I found interesting enough to incorporate in a blog post of my own with the following comments: or
    Heb13v8 | Must the Church adapt with the times? - J :)
    Heb 13:8 KJV Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
    __ The central activity of the Assembly, the presentation of the Gospel is in the power and spirit of God, not in words of human wisdom.
    1Co 2:4-5 KJV And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: (5) That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
    2Co 2:14-17 KJV Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. (15) For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: (16) To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? (17) For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
    A Response to: "The Church has to adapt and change with the times or else it will die."
    From Not Another Episcopal Church Blog [/] An unsanctioned, underground forum from a blogger in the Upstate of South Carolina. [/] Wednesday, January 13, 2016 [/] or *
    How many churches have to die before people will realize that it is not the Church's job to affirm every new social movement that comes along and to change its teachings to [...]