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October 19, 2003

  • Integrity Before Unity
  • imageContrary to popular belief, the Archbishop of Canterbury is not the Anglican version of the Pope. The role in practical terms has no impact on the governance of churches worldwide—he’s a figure of respect rather than reverence—but he does preside over the worldwide Anglican Communion, and as such has some clout. It was for that reason that I was pleased when they announced that Rowan Williams would be consecrated the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a lifelong Anglican, I was thrilled that a Labour-controlled Westminster had appointed a political and theological liberal, whose writings I had long respected, to the role.

    It’s a shame, then, that when it comes to the issue of gays and lesbians in the Anglican Church, Rowan Williams has proven to be a mealy-mouthed coward like the rest of the hegemony of Anglican Bishops.

    This week, the Archbishop of Canterbury called an emergency meeting of Primates—the head Archbishop of a national or provincial Anglican Church—to discuss the ‘growing crisis’ within the Church regarding gay and lesbian representation. Two issues precipitated this crisis: the election of a openly gay, non-celibate, bishop in the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA); and the decision of the Diocese of New Westminster here in Canada to conduct the blessing of same-sex unions. Their response was in equal parts dull, disjointed, double-minded and just plain dumb. It basically translated to a lot of liberal caveats that while they can’t actually do anything, they would nonetheless plead, “you mavericks are going to spoil the unity of our church. Please rethink what you are doing”.

    Let’s turn this around. It’s not actually what ECUSA or the Diocese of New Wesminster did that precipitated this crisis. Rather, it’s the shrill, reactionary response of conservatives within the Anglican Church hierarchy. And what angers me—no, what sickens me—about the dog and pony show conducted this week in England is that they’re catering to those reactionaries rather than listening to the voices of the people who feel that the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church is a good thing.

    What’s not talked about in any of this is these decisions were made in quasi-democratic structures. Both the decisions to elect Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, and to conduct a public rite of blessing for committed same-sex couples happened as the result of a majority vote at a Synod. On a diocesan level, like New Westminster, this meant a lay person and a clergy from every Anglican parish in the Diocese voted on the adoption of a blessing of Same-Sex unions. And, a majority won. In ECUSA the rules are slightly more complex, as it had to be ratified at a local and national level, but nonetheless the election of Gene Robinson was just that: an election and again, a majority decision was made.

    This week however, the Anglican Communion has made it clear that a decision made in a democratic manner by its people is not welcome.

    Now, I admit, the Church is not a democracy, nor does Christian practice and teaching advocate democracy. But both decisions by ECUSA and New Westminster, send a signal that there are many, in fact a plurality of the people of God within their respective corners of the Anglican Church who think its time to make changes toward the way sexuality is approached in the Church. And rather than respecting that, what Rowan Williams and his pack of guileless cronies are saying is “We don’t care if your decision reflects the will of the people. Overturn the decision.”

    Speaking as someone who put up with two terms of a Mike Harris Tory Government in Ontario—where ignoring local decisions and local democratic structures was done frequently without a second thought—this does not sit well with me. Again, the Anglican Church is not Roman Catholicism. Decisions in many regions are made by democratic vote and those regional church bodies have autonomy. They should not be the victim of pressure of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Communion or anyone else.

    I accept that there are many who are wounded by the decisions made by ECUSA and New Westminster. I accept that there are other places in the Church where this is not acceptable. But why are those voices always the ones being listened to, and not the voices that installed the change? Why is the threat of schism being trundled out, much less being given credence? Why does the Anglican Communion constantly bend over backwards to the people who say no to change?

    (And these questions are not only applicable to the handling of this issue, but their handling of women’s ordination as well—many of these national churches who threaten to ‘cease being in communion’ with ECUSA should Gene Robinson be consecrated Bishop are not known for a collegial reputation with, for instance, women Bishops).

    Pandering to these elements rather than saying “We thank you for being the pioneers who are going to bring the Church into the future” sends a statement that unity is more important than justice. As far as I’m concerned, a Church so intolerant as to threaten schism every time they are threatened with change deserves to die.

    Unity might matter, but followers of Jesus—the same guy who once said that he did not come to bring peace to the earth but a sword— should also concern themselves with acting justly. Supporting such values is to act with integrity. That’s why the lack of public dissenters to the Primates’ collective statement—stand up ECUSA primate Frank Griswold and Anglican Church of Canada primate Michael Peers—angers me so. And that’s why Rowan Williams has gone from being the great white hope of the Anglican Communion to just another cowardly bureaucrat garbed in Episcopal purple.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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