A Look Back at Canada's Anglican Communion

''They have said that these developments tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level, and a state of broken Communion now exists between ECUSA and some twelve to eighteen provinces of the Co
( [email protected] ) Aug 12, 2004 08:35 PM EDT

Two months have passed since the delegates to the Anglican Church of Canada passed yes-no legislations on the inclusion of homosexual ‘marriage’ rights to the denomination. Looking back at the controversies that stirred the debates the conservative American Anglican Council released the full text of the Revd Canon Gregory Cameron’s address to the gathered delegates. Cameron, as a member of the Lambeth Commission – a task force responsible to discuss issues concerning the full inclusion and acknowledgment of the homosexual lifestyle in the 77-million member communion – spoke on behalf of the communion on the sensitivities at hand over the issue.

The following is the full text of Cameron’s June address, as released by the American Anglican Council of August 12, 2004:

I suppose that I should begin by saluting your courage as a General Synod in being willing to debate what is probably the single most controversial topic that could be chosen for debate in the life of the Anglican Communion today. It is arguably crazy that this issue is taking up so much of the Communion's life and energy at present and, as your Acting Primate said last night, it is a debate which has been short on generosity and long on vituperation. To debate it, however, is your absolute right and, many would say, your duty, but it does mean that I am filled with something of a quiet terror as I stand here before you knowing the strength of diverse opinions on the issue.

I have been asked to speak to you as the Secretary of the Lambeth Commission on Communion and, as you have heard, this was the body set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the request of the Primates of the Anglican Communion after their meeting in London last October to look at ways of keeping the Communion together in the wake of all the events of the last eighteen months. And so it is that I have come not only to speak to you now, but perhaps more importantly to listen to you, to discern what is going on in the life of the Anglican Church of Canada and to hear the different viewpoints that are generated and expressed. And I am extremely grateful for the hospitality afforded to me and for the honesty with which those conversations have already begun.

No debate or decisions can be taken in a vacuum, and that I suppose is why I have been asked to provide this Anglican Communion context - but I am very uneasy about doing that in a situation where almost anything one says will be interpreted as aiming at one particular goal or another. I am uneasy about it as well because, quite honestly, I am struggling with different loyalties in the current situation:

First of all, I want to be loyal as a disciple of Christ, because that is what I try to be;

I want to be loyal to the Chair and members of the Lambeth Commission, whom I represent on this occasion, and for their process of work, and that does not complete itself for another four months or so;

I want to be loyal to my friends who are gay, and whose Christian faith and discipleship often put my own to shame;

I want to be loyal to my fellow Christians of the Global South, who see recent developments as a terrible betrayal of the Gospel;

and last, but not at all least, I want to be loyal to you as the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, and to respect your proper autonomy.

And I rehearse those loyalties, not merely as a piece of self-indulgence, but because I suspect that many Anglicans across the globe feel the same tug of similar and different loyalties, and this is one of the main reasons why the debate has become so fierce. On all sides, this debate touches deeply the integrity and convictions of our faith.

Of course, the idea of a Public Rite of Blessing for Same Sex Unions is not new, and it is not distinctive to the Anglican Church of Canada. Indeed, only yesterday a colleague was pointing out to me that bishops in the Episcopal Church of the USA have been developing such rites since at least 1973. You do not need me to tell you how the case for same sex civil marriages, let alone mere same sex partnerships, is very much part of the political debate here in North America, in the United Kingdom and in Australia; nor will you need reminding about the decisions of the General Convention of ECUSA last Summer which recognise the development of rites of blessing as within the legitimate life of the Church;

Less well-known are the same debates currently going on within the Lutheran Church of Sweden, in the Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran churches in the States; the acceptance by some of the Lutheran churches of Europe of pastors openly living in same-sex relationships; and the decisions by Old Catholic dioceses in Europe to authorise such rites; for many, such developments are a welcome sign that the Church is at last turning its back on centuries of prejudice and oppression.

However, nothing can be plain sailing - and no sooner did your Diocese of New Westminster persuade its bishop to accept its desire for a Public Rite of Blessing of Same Sex Unions than that decision was under attack.

The Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Hong Kong passed a motion advising against the adoption of controversial decisions in the life of the Anglican Communion - by a diocese without consulting the province, and by a province without consulting the Communion; and in so doing, some of its members at least were seeking to invoke an ancient principle of Church government - that what touches all should be decided by all.

Opponents of the decision in New Westminster were quick to point out that not only had ACC-12 urged caution but that the decisions flew directly in the face of the teaching on human sexuality adopted by the overwhelming majority of Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 1998.

The Primates of the Anglican Communion, as a body, reiterated their own views at their meeting in 2003 - and they wrote to all the Communion to say that they could not as the college of the senior bishops of the Anglican Communion together support the authorisation of such rites, echoing their earlier statements of 2000 and 2001.

The Archbishop of Canterbury himself said at that meeting that there was no theological consensus on such matters.

In other words, at least three, arguably the four, of the Instruments of Unity in the Anglican Communion took positions opposed to the developments in New Westminster;

Others went further, and were quick to condemn - in June 2003, the Primate of Nigeria and leader of 17 million Anglicans, announced that he was severing Communion with the Diocese of New Westminster, because he believed that it was being unfaithful to Scripture.

Now your Acting Primate has rightly pointed out that as a matter of Church law none of these voices have anything more than a moral authority in the Anglican Communion. And primates have not been slow to assert the autonomy of the independent provinces, such as for example the Primate of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, who has said almost, "it's none of our business what happens in other provinces". But you need also to be aware that many of our sister and brother Anglicans of the Global South - much of Asia, most of Africa and in Latin America - are asking the question whether the Anglican churches of the West are prepared to pay any attention at all to the Instruments of Unity, and they intend to judge the value we place on the Communion by the heed we pay to the views expressed. Nor should we decry their motives, this is no game playing - on all sides people are acting out of profound convictions that this is what God calls the Church towards.

Your Acting Primate could have cited principles adopted at successive Lambeth Conferences to support his anger at the irregular actions of primates from overseas in intervening in the internal affairs of the Church of Canada. "That is not the Anglican way", he said to us last night - but the fear of the Lambeth Commission is that it may end up becoming the Anglican way, as we move from respect towards rivalry. And that is why the Commission is working so hard to find ways to allow the Anglican Communion to walk together again.

Whatever happened in New Westminster, within days of Nigeria's condemnation, the whole matter was eclipsed by the election of a Bishop Co-adjutor for the Diocese of New Hampshire in the States.

These two events taken together have caused joy for many of those who have witnessed - or experienced - the intolerance and persecution of gay people at first hand; but it is also true that it caused enormous pain in other places - in Pakistan, Uganda, Nigeria and Egypt, Christians - and not just Anglicans, but Baptists and Copts and others - were publicly pilloried and physically attacked, homes being set on fire and people physically assaulted.

The Russian Orthodox have severed links with ECUSA; the Oriental Orthodox Churches have suspended talks with the Anglican Communion, and their church leaders have denounced what they see as an attack on the institution of marriage and the teaching of the Bible about family life.

The Roman Catholic Church has paused for thought about what they make of the Anglican Communion's claim to be a worldwide family of churches, and stated that developments constitute a new and serious obstacle to the path to unity. Reaction has come from right across the oikoumene of the Church. As Cardinal Kasper said to the Archbishop of Canterbury on his visit to Rome, "In this day and age, no-one is an observer; we are all participants".

Within our own Communion, the leaders of twenty-two of the thirty-eight provinces of the Anglican Communion, representing about forty-four million Anglicans, have pronounced that they reject the moves in New Hampshire and in New Westminster as incompatible with the Gospel and with the Christian fellowship of which they are part. They have said that these developments tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level, and a state of broken Communion now exists between ECUSA and some twelve to eighteen provinces of the Communion.

I really would that this was not so, but I cannot pretend that this is not the reality across the Anglican and ecumenical world at the moment. All of this has become a distraction from the wider mission and ministry of the Church, and innumerable bishops speak of how they are frustrated by the seeming inability of the Church to move beyond this topic.

The Lambeth Commission, for its part, is painfully, carefully listening to all who will talk to it to discover whether there is a way to hold this great family of ours together - and it has been given a mere twelve months by the primates in which all provinces have been urged not to take precipitate action in order to allow space for the Communion to find a way to heal itself.

This week, the eyes of all those other provinces will turn to you, to watch how you decide. It is your decision, and you must bring your collective wisdom to bear upon it, but I'm afraid to say that the context of this decision is so fraught at the moment that the fear must be that no matter what the careful wording of your resolutions this week, the Anglican Church of Canada will be seen to be debating, as I think your Acting Primate recognised last night, the place of gay and lesbian lifestyles in your Church. Fairly or unfairly, the Anglican and ecumenical worlds are likely to react to your decisions on whether they perceive you to support or to reject the possibility of public rites of blessings of same sex unions as elements of your lived-out faith in Canada.

If you say "no" to the motions before you, then you will be in danger of letting down the thousands of gay people in your midst, who are part of your Canadian family, as well as all those others who are looking towards the Anglican Church of Canada to set a new standard in dealing with this issue;

But if you say "yes", the work of the Lambeth Commission becomes horribly complicated, because we will be told that the Anglican Church of Canada refuses to hear the voice, or to heed the concerns of your fellow Anglicans in the growing provinces of the Global South, who are your international family. The reaction to such a decision, without very careful explanation and liaison by the Church of Canada, is likely to be on a par with that currently being experienced by your neighbours to the South.

No that may be a price worth paying if you conclude that that is where Christ leads. You must do what you believe God is calling you to do - as your Acting Primate said - to do what will expand the realm of God; but I think I would be unfaithful to the task I have been set if I did not say that the implications of your decision for the unity of the Anglican Communion, perhaps even its very survival in its current form, are just about as serious as it could get.