Voices from the realignment and dissenter community in the Anglican Communion are ratcheting up the volume, with great piety, wringing of hands, and agonizing groans. They are doing so in reference to a doomsday date of September 30th, one provided by the Primates Communiqué in March. They are doing so in order to push the House of Bishops to act in order to avoid the doom that is purported to follow if they do not accede to the requests of the Primates. It is a shallow gambit in a difficult struggle.
The Archbishop of Nigeria has issued a paper titled, "A MOST AGONIZING JOURNEY," available on the Church of Nigeria site, but on Thinking Anglicans in much better format. Fr. Jake does a fine job hacking through the underbrush of this document. Most of the realignment / dissenter community saw fit to just print it as it is. The Archbishop notes the time, "With about seven weeks to go, hope for a unified Communion is not any brighter than it was seven months or ten years ago." He, of course, is referencing the date of September 30th.
Forty Days of Anglican Prayer has started a countdown to that same date, prayerful, mind you. In that they follow on Baby Blue who has had a counter working down to September 30th for some time.
Now there is also a strange story in the Church of England Newspaper that the Archbishop of Canterbury is going to be "manipulated" by the House of Bishops and its schedule of activities, and that the Windsor bishops want to help the Archbishop avoid being manipulated. Again, the noise is that the meeting between the Archbishop and the House of Bishops of TEC is going to be a failure as far as the realignment / dissenter crowd is concerned, and therefore the September 30th deadline will come without any submission by the HoB to the requests from the Primates.
The Living Church, on the other hand, makes it clear that the Windsor bishops at their meeting worked on how to get the ABC to be clear about insisting on compliance and the "consequences" of noncompliance. So the Windsor bishops are involved in some not to subtle efforts to manipulate the ABC.
The volume is turned up precisely so that the Episcopal Church (TEC) will all be suitably impressed and frightened into submission. Acknowledging the noise is one thing – it is just there. But TEC need not be frightened by it or assume that TEC has done something to provoke it, something the House of Bishops could fix.
The September 30th "deadline" is duly noted. It, like the deadline for responses to Lambeth invitations (July 31), have been seen as just that – deadlines – beyond which there will be consequences. But in neither case did the document which originated the so called deadline spell those out. In the case of the invitations the Archbishop said it would be very helpful if responses could come in by July 31. Reportedly only about one quarter of them had come through by that date. He has since extended the period for acceptance. And in any case, as the Church Times editorialized, there was no deadline ever mentioned by the Archbishop.
In the case of the Communiqué, where everything was couched in the politeness of recommendations we have a similar problem. The Dar Es Salaam Communiqué, pushed through in what was called a "great spiritual struggle," included this statement, found in the section called "Key Recommendations of the Primates":
"In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and
2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134);
unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).
The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007.
If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion."
So the requests are accompanied by what many have taken to be a dire warning. If they are not met it would appear that at least some of the primates would either insist that The Episcopal Church (and perhaps the Anglican Church of Canada) be read out of the conversations leading to a covenant, excluded from various meetings, or if that failed, that these same Primates would themselves boycott various meetings, including Lambeth.
There are indeed "consequences" to whatever the House of Bishops may convey by way of the Presiding Bishop to the Primates. Here are three possibilities (I am sure there are more):
- The House of Bishops responds by acceding to one or the other or both of the requests. Doing so is highly unlikely, since "unequivocal common covenant" is hard to come by, and the HoB cannot determine for the whole church, much less all its own members, how a resolution is to be interpreted. Still, the HoB could try. And, if it succeded the Primates – particularly those of the so called Global South – would be in a bit of a quandary. Unless the Primates, or some of them, are intent on rejecting the responses as somehow insincere, the tents of the intruders must be pulled down. But then what of the growing insistence that this is not about sexual issues (as both of the requests are) but rather about the list the Archbishop of Nigeria has produced? (See his letter "A Most Agonizing Journey.") What about the requests for alternative primatial oversight, based in part on the fact that the Primate of TEC is a woman? No, if the HoB accedes it only leads to the next round of requested capitulations. Remember the source of much of the discontent goes back to our not disciplining Bishop Spong and the ordination of women.
- The House of Bishops responds by determining that in neither case can they do what is asked and still stay true to the doctrine and discipline of The Episcopal Church, believing that the HoB ought not make unilateral decisions in areas where either the discretion of the diocesan or the will and governance of General Convention is contravened. The HoB might argue out the issues and reach decisions about each request, rejecting each. At the same time the HoB might affirm its willingness to promote the idea of an Anglican Covenant, give assurances that The Episcopal Church remains, from its standpoint, in communion with every Church in the Anglican Communion, and intends to take its place in the life of the Instruments of Communion. Then the whole matter of life together in the communion is thrown back on things like the invitations to Lambeth, continued inclusion in the Primates Meetings, restoration of normal life in the ACC, etc. At that point the resolve of the Primates of the so-called Global South is to either press the decision makers – the Archbishop of Canterbury and the ACC – to disinvite TEC, or if that does not work to simply walk themselves, setting up whatever alternative universes they wish. These might include a new-and-improved Anglican Conference with its own Province in North America, separation from the "Global North" and its lackeys, and melding with churches like the Traditional Anglican Communion.
- The House of Bishops might simply decide to politely decline to be coerced by the September 30th deadline, pointing out that the Primates's request require the voice of the whole church, which voice can best be registered by the actions of General Convention. In this case they would neither affirm nor deny the requests; they would take no vote and voice no opinion on the merits of the requests. Rather they would refer the requests to the proper agent, the General Convention. They would leave it to the various interested parties in the Anglican Communion to determine what to do about that. Much of what would follow with option two above would hold here. (This possibility has my vote, but then again, thanks be to God, I don't have one.)
The clock is ticking. September 30th will come and go. The Anglican Communion is messy now, it will be messy then. There will still be good things done by the member churches of the Communion, there will still be the need to coordinate much of the international work of the churches, there will still be the needs for mutual concern, relief, development, mission, prayer and encouragement. Followers of Jesus Christ don't need to work on deadlines. The one deadline we have ever had to worry about came and went and was dealt with on Good Friday and we live in the joy of life where death has no dominion.
All the noise and clamor is there to make it appear that September 30th is THE moment that will determine all things Anglican and/ or spell the death of what is most dear to us. It is not. The bishops of The Episcopal Church will, we trust, know that.