Is it time to step back?

I suggested in my last post that Professor Grieb's proposal to the House of Bishops, that the Episcopal Church withdraw for a time from participation in Anglican Communion bodies, had considerable merit, and that a variation on that proposal might be considered now.

While working on this next post the remarkable writer of the blog The Pluralist posted an entry titled, SACRIFICE! which pretty much says it all. It is a powerful piece and puts in play a lot of bits and pieces of commentary that has been floating around. Adrian Worsfold, the Pluralist, writes wonderfully and has a talent for drawing. It is enough to make most of us in blogland jealous.

Adrian begins, "...there's a kind of opinion gathering pace about it now being time for The Episcopal Church and even the Anglican Church of Canada to offer themselves as sacrifices." He then proposes that, "If The Episcopal Church is going to make a sacrifice, it has to sacrifice
itself. If the Anglican Church of Canada felt it was being ignored at Lambeth, it too might want to join its neighbour."

Please read his essay in its entirety. But for tasty bits of the full meal, here are some of his most important points:

"The point about sacrifice is that you give up something very significant. But it is not pointless. A sacrifice has some sort of hope built into it: that by doing the sacrifice something is cleared to allow something better to happen."

"That free offering is The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada removing themselves from active participation in Anglican Communion structures."

Better to give way first, to pull away and wait. See what happens. ...The only thing to do when pulling out is to be prophetic, that is to be fully welcoming of all that will come in."

I am reminded of the Presiding Bishop's assessment of the Lambeth Conference, where in a brief message she said, "The Anglican Communion is suffering the birth pangs of something new, which none of us can yet fully appreciate or understand, yet we know that the Spirit continues to work in our midst."

The Pluralist also couches the struggle in a 'turn the other cheek' mode: "better to give way first, to pull away and wait..." There is in the image of giving way the possibility that this is itself a way of struggling to participate in the birth of something new, something quite remarkable, and that the first signs of this will be "to be fully welcoming of all that will come in."

In the essay I have been working on the punch line was to be a proposed letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury from the Episcopal Church. I am very glad that The Pluralist wrote first, for he sets the matter of sacrifice in place before us. My concern about the Grieb proposal carries forward to the Pluralist's proposal. It concerns the matter of sacrifice.

Psalms 51 says this (vs 17-18 BCP) "Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, but you take no delight in burnt-offerings. The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

It should break our heart to step out of the Anglican Communion. But for the good of something yet to come perhaps that is the only way to go. We die so that something new can be born.

Here is the sort of letter I was imagining. It is addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to the Anglican Consultative Council.

"The Episcopal Church wishes to affirm that it is, for its part, in full communion with all the churches in the Anglican Communion and that this fellowship of churches constitutes our most immediate family in the wider ecumenical witness of Christian churches. In particular we affirm that we are, for our part, in communion with the See of Canterbury. We recognize that every such affirmation must be met by mutual recognition for that communion to indeed be full and it is our prayer that the several churches of the Anglican Communion and in particular the See of Canterbury, and therefore the Church of England, will be able to affirm this state as well.

We in the Episcopal Church are clearly and painfully aware that some of our actions and decisions of the past several decades have been seen as disruptive of the common life of the communion. Most notably these have concerning the inclusion of women and gay and lesbian persons in the full life of the church including episcopal leadership. We believe that these actions and decisions, meager and slow in coming as they are, are none the less the expression of profound faith and belief that we are living out our vocation as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and doing so guided by the Holy Spirit.

We realize that these actions, decisions and beliefs have contributed to a time of confusion and limitations of relationships within the Anglican Communion.

We wish you to know that we stand ready to withdraw from the councils of the Anglican Communion for the sake of the fellowship we so strongly desire. We seek your advice on the matter, but unless otherwise persuaded we intend to propose at our next General Convention that we voluntarily withdraw from active participation in the several agencies of the Anglican Communion until such time we might mutually deem appropriate.

We consider ourselves in full communion will all the churches of the Anglican Communion as currently constituted. We wish it to be understood, however, that the continued assignment of bishops by other Anglican churches to serve in the jurisdiction of this church will lead changes in the relationships we have with those churches. We will be in a state of impaired relation with them. The establishment of a new North American Province recognized by some Provinces as the legitimate Anglican church in this jurisdiction will lead to a break in relationship with the sponsoring Provinces.

In all this we remain committed to the vision of the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of churches and live in the hope that our relations with other member churches will be strengthened as we live out our particular vocations as churches and our collective hope of unity in Christ Jesus. We look forward to continued good relations and full communion with many of the member churches of the Anglican Communion and in particular with the Church of England."

This is of course only an imagining. It is a rough draft as well. But the idea is this: We offer ourselves, as the Pluralist suggests. At the same time we affirm that we, for our part, are in communion with the member churches but hold some of them accountable for their actions in North America.

Well, there it is then.


  1. The proposal in your draft letter has much merit. On the positive side, we seem to be particularly good at self-sacrifice, so that part should not be hard to adopt.

    We will need, however, to avoid the consequences that often seem to go along with that posture: the danger of being treated as an ever-forgiving dormat, and the danger of our acquiescence in such treatment.

    Assuming we can overcome those pitfalls, the intriguing question becomes: so how will we understand and define the “accountability” by which we will measure other’s responses (or continued courses of action)? Perhaps you would like to share your thoughts on this matter?


  2. I am no fan of 3 of the 4 so-called Instruments of Communion, the ABC, the Primates meeting, and Lambeth.

    But a voluntary withdrawal seems to me to be mistaken. For me, the analogy is that I, as a gay man, should absent myself from family gatherings because some of my family might be/are offended that I chose to live my life honestly and openly as a gay man. If I were to stay away, where is the possibility of reconciliation?

    Granted, that possibility is lessened if other family members choose to absent themselves because I will be there, but the possibility still remains, if I am there, that in future, reconciliation will occur.

    And if, in future, I am no longer invited to family gatherings, at least that is an honest, plain, up-front dynamic, one that lets no one “off the hook”.

    It seems to me the idea of voluntary withdrawal is based on a lie, one that says that a false peace and a false harmony based on separation is better than an honest conflict and an honest discord based on presence and relationship.

    I see nothing in the ministry of Jesus that would justify such a withdrawal.

    I think absenting ourselves from the Anglican Consultative Council, the only body with representation by all orders of ministry and with any sort of juridical authority, would be a big mistake.

    Bryant A. Hudson

  3. Bryant: thank you for your comment. I had hoped I was clear...withdrawal from active involvement with the various bodies of the Anglican Communion would not be understood by this as withdrawal from communion with churches in the Anglican Communion. In effect it would be saying that we must do what we must do and we hope that the communion and fellowship with various churches would continue. That is, we would be in communion with Anglican Churches quite independent of the workings of the so called instruments of communion.

    You rightly point out that our inclusion in the ACC is a different matter. We are members and the ACC alone has the authority to limit its membership as it chooses. In the case of the ACC perhaps the letter should read, "We are members of the ACC and believe our membership, rather than our active participation, is a matter for the ACC and the Episcopal Church. For our part we intend to remain part of the ACC. Our withdrawal from active participation in no wise is to be understood as withdrawal from membership."

    Then again perhaps the idea of voluntary withdrawal (perhaps a better phrase is voluntary separation) from active participation is flawed. My sense is that I see no reason to go to meetings when we are there only to be flogged and castigated for actions and decisions we believe are both right and ours to make.

    You seem to think reconciliation can take place within the confines of the Lambeth family system. I am less optomistic. I think a family system where the parent keeps repeating the same round of arguments over and over again as if doing so often enough would simply overwhelm the family members is no place for reconcilation, save capitualtion. But then, as the mad priest says, OF course I could be wrong....

  4. on that last comment....thre are no doubt spelling errors all over the place. It got out of my hand before corrections. Forgive, forgive.

  5. Mark,

    I too meant withdrawal from the STRUCTURES, not from engagement with others in the Communion. One may get along quite well with a sibling, but choose to avoid the gatherings of the whole family. Absent outright abuse, I still think that would be a mistake in this case.

    I am having trouble with the distinction between membership and participation in the STRUCTURES/ACC. Am I missing something?

    Your comment about abusive relational dynamics is well taken. I do suppose there is a line of acceptable behavior to be crossed. On the whole, I still think honest conflict is better than false peace. And not showing up (and participating) because we make others uncomfortable seems to me to be such a false peace.


  6. Mark, this is an excellent piece (as is The Pluralist's to which it responds).

    One suggestion regarding your revised proposed letter: Rather than speaking of "[voluntary] withdrawal from active participation," or "voluntary separation," might we not speak of "[voluntary] abstention"? That communicates that we intend to stand aside for a time, but do not intend to go away.

    Some of the Anglican churches seem to be concerned that we (TEC and ACofC in particular) are "the gay church" and are painting them as such by association. Well, if they want to identify themselves as "the no-gays church" they can do that, but I think that will come back to haunt them, even in East and West Africa and certainly in Sydney. At some point, we believe and trust, they will have an "Oops!" experience, and we can then say, "Let's get together for dinner (including The Dinner)."


  7. In effect it would be saying that we must do what we must do....

    Mark, I'm with you wholeheartedly in that statement, but I believe if there's going to be further separating, then the move should come from the other side. In other words, we should wait to be thrown out, or reduced to a lesser status. They will do what they will do, but we MUST do the right thing and accept the consequences, whatever they will be.

    On a personal level, I'd like not to have to pay attention to anything the ABC says. He came to the conclusion that the Good News is that faithful, committed same-sex relationships are in the same category as faithful, committed man/woman relationships. But he will not spread that Good News to a world badly in need of hearing it. Light under bushel basket anyone?

    Nevertheless, I say let them make the move. Let them throw us out.

  8. Although I'll need to spend some more time in thought and prayer about such a proposal, my initial response is that it holds out a very honest, clear, and positive direction for us to consider.

    I guess I have a hard time considering continuing to voluntarily take part in 'family' gatherings where we're welcome as long as we leave part of our immediate family at home. Maybe it's being from New Hampshire, but it certainly felt like the way my grandmother would have dealt with family gatherings if I had married a black man (her first question when I got engaged waaay back when was "He's not black is he???") It would have become, "Of course you can come to the family reunion, but you have to leave him at home." If my bishop is our family, how can we keep pretending that our family looks otherwise?? I'm for staying honest, staying open, and staying ready to head right back into the midst of the family stuff, as soon as our whole family is welcomed.

  9. I disagree completely.

    Jesus was passive, but on the other hand, did not attach himself to the cross. Indeed, it is passion that is the name here, a "being done to".

    For the US to withdraw is, once more, an attempt by us to control events. No, no, no.

    And, despite Mark Harris's assurance, yes, it would be interpreted as a withdrawal from Anglicanism. And, it would only step up the notion that conservatives in the US are the only true Anglicans; the result would be an even worse situation in the US.

    Instead, we should be our authentic selves, honest and clear, and allow others to do to us whatever hardship they think is necessary.

    We cannot play the role of Caiaphas and Jesus at the same time!

    Moreover, institutions cannot sacrifice themselves. This is cover-language. Only people can be sacrificed, and the question here is, as always, who is being sacrificed, and who is calling for the sacrifice.

  10. Many thanks for the warm comments here about my writing and drawing.

    I'd go further than given here: a sacrifice isn't a sacrifice if it is hedged about with qualifications, nor is it so if there is an immediate plan of action for an alternative power grab (as seen with GAFCON).

    You do have to clear the decks. If you like, crucifixion is complete. However, there can be no sacrifice of others. The minorities and majority retain their immediate family.

    Of course this is very risky; it always is. There is a strong possibility of failure, and forces against that lack any sense of grace.

    But you would find an organic, clearly very well meant, bubbling up of very friendly responses, and you would find that elsewhere, strong forces will not accept the centralising features of the current agenda of the Archbishop of Canterbury and others.

    More than this you will find hands across the ocean of friendship, even formal if loose agreements - full interchanges of ministry, for example. For some, these agreements will be more heart based than those even going to the Communion.

    If The Episcopal Church waits to be removed, it won't be. It will be hedged about with the emphasis on restoring on terms that exclude minorities. This ever made conditional bubble has to be burst.

    No doubt also some in the Communion will want to reintegrate GAFCON and see it as an opportunity to seal the so-called orthodoxy of the Communion. The problem is that GAFCON is based on a kind of religious trotskyism of control, and it would have conditions to integrate itself back into the Communion - what it wants is the Communion to integrate itself into it. A Primates Council and all that would be essential for it.

    Such actions would simply bring more hands of friendship across to North America.

    It is odd but it is GAFCON's creation that makes all the difference: it is what the Archbishop of Sydney has called a "strategic error".

  11. I agree that we need to consider this. I do feel strongly that any decision to step back needs to be described in the language from Lambeth that we are doing this out of our generosity. Let others see it as penance; we will have stated our intent.

  12. Aside from all the other reasons for and against what you suggest, there may be legal considerations for not voluntarily abstaining (or whatever term is used).

    The other side will NOT be suspending their goals in return for a diminished participation by TEC and may be able to benefit from that in the litigation that will likely continue for years.

    A voluntary reduced role would not seem to solve the problem claimed by some of the Africans dealing with muslims in their areas because TEC would still be "in communion".

    Better to let the process work, see where it goes, I think.

  13. I'm not sure what it means to withdraw from the communion. My first question (being a practical sort) is what does that mean for any financial support that might be flowing from the American churches to other churches? What does that mean for the recognition of priests and ministries across boundaries? Does that mean that the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican communion becomes, overnight, the same as the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the various Lutheran denominations?

    Or what, exactly??

  14. Mark, I cannot see what we would gain by withdrawing from the Anglican Communion right now. It also concerns me that you see women's ordination as a part of that division. In fact, the debate on women's ordination is nearly over within the Anglican Communion. TWENTY-FOUR of the provinces ordain women to the priest hood and of these half now have cleared any canonical bars to women in the episcopate.
    As for the current controversy around human sexuality, that might make sense if TEC and Canada were the ONLY provinces ordaining GLBT people or blessing same sex unions, but they aren't. As hard as it is to believe, the tide is slowly turning towards acceptance of this and that's what has got the GAFCONites so exercised. We need to stay the course.


  15. There were several brief mentions in the Lambeth news coverage of a comment by ++Katherine. I never did understand the context in which this took place or what she meant. She was quoted as saying, "TEC could stand for The Episcopal Communion".

    Can anyone shed light on this?

  16. Another thought occurred to me regarding withdrawing from participation in the Anglican Communion. Not a few folks in my territory in the Diocese of Louisiana would be intensely disturbed by the move. They're content to remain in the Episcopal Church as long as it's part of the AC, but if they had to choose between TEC and the AC, they would choose the AC. What sort of provision would the national church make for these people?

    If we sit tight, meanwhile going about out business as we feel led to do and accepting the consequences of perhaps being voted out or reduced to a lower status, the powers in the AC will need to work out how to provide for the folks who favor the AC over TEC. Put the monkey on their back.

  17. Fr. Mark,

    I waxed rather long on why I am against this idea, so I stuck it on my blog. Basically, however it comes down to the questions of who will speak for the persecuted if we give up our voice, and why do we think that schism wont be even worse without our participation.

    I think it is a bad idea.


    Jim's Thoughts

  18. No. No. No.

    I'm perfectly happy to be "sacrificed." But let the bigots, the homophobes, the schismatics and the neoconservative hitmen "play the priest" and nail us to the cross.

    I'll be double-damned if I'm going to pound the nails myself so that a hatemonger like Akinola never has to be accountable for his own vile actions.

  19. Mark+,

    Am I reading your letter correctly by summarizing it as follows?

    Dear Family,

    We are right. You are wrong. We prefer being right over being in relationship with you. When you have come round to seeing things our way, we are open to being in relationship with you on our terms. Until then, anything you do that gets in our way will be resisted.



    This isn't sacrifice or self-giving. It's passive agression.

    Nathan Humphrey+


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.