The Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury and "relational consequences."

The Primates of the Anglican Communion, meeting in January, outlined what the Archbishop of Canterbury came to call "consequences" that would follow in the actions of the 2015 General Convention. There was at the time some question as to whether or not these were "consequences," "sanctions," or "punishments."

Well it turns out that there are indeed "consequences," but the requirements in the Communique are surely to be understood as sanctions and punishments. 

The Anglican Covenant, in Section Four, speaks of consequences. It reads as follows:

4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below." 

Objections to the Covenant are largely about Section Four, and its process for determining that a given church has acted without due deference to the whole Communion. But The Anglican Covenant assumed that the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, made up of members of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates, would be the source of recommendation regarding "relational consequences." And, while it is unclear just how this would all be initiated in a time when not all members Churches of the Communion had adopted the Covenant, there was at least the general sense that the Covenant is binding only on those members of the Communion who have adopted it.  

All of which is to say, the notion of "relational consequences" only works when relationship is there. The whole notion of relational consequences does not hold when the articles of the Covenant are not mutually affirmed, and more importantly when there are not relationships already in play.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, his staff and the Anglican Communion Office knew this. The whole spin on what to call the Primate's requirement of exclusion of The Episcopal Church's participation in various Anglican Communion organizations was an effort to hide the raw fact that the Primates required certain exclusions. 

The Primates message read

"“It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity." (I put the word require in red).

Now we are in a somewhat murky time in the Anglican Communion. Not all provinces have adopted the Covenant. In fact at latest count only 11 Provinces have officially adopted the Covenant. That is considerably less than 1/3 of the Provinces. (This was last updated in January 2015 by the ACC office, a sign that things are moving very slow indeed with other buy-ins.)  If the Covenant were in force and those 11 Provinces wished to make a case for "relational consequences" and if TEC were a party to the Covenant, then maybe the matter would be about agreed on consequences of actions deemed unacceptable to the member churches of the Anglican Covenant Communion.

In this case the Primates reported to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion their requirements. There was nothing of the process in the Anglican Covenant. There was nothing about relational matters.  

The Standing Committee reported out the following:

"The Standing Committee received a report from the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Primates’ gathering in January 2016 and noted the stated commitment of the Primates to ‘walk together’ despite differences of view. The Standing Committee welcomed the formation of a Task Group as recommended by the Primates to maintain conversation among them with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, and healing the legacy of hurt. The Standing Committee considered the Communiqué from the Primates and affirmed the relational links between the Instruments of Communion in which each Instrument, including the Anglican Consultative Council, forms its own views and has its own responsibilities."

In other words, the Standing Committee did not affirm the required actions dictated by the Primates. 

Which means that the Primates did not invoke "relational consequences" but were out to impose sanctions and punish. To the extent that the Primates communicated a line of action they wish to have imposed, and to the extent that the Archbishop worked to see that line of action fulfilled, we have a display of executive power by the Primates. 

The Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury may wish us to understand the matter as one of consequences, and somehow about what the Anglican Covenant hopes to achieve, but it is not.  It is a matter of the power to sanction and punish. 

Following the ACC meeting, The Archbishop stated
“Given that my report, referred to in the resolution, incorporated the Communiqué and was very explicit on consequences; the resolution clearly supports and accepts all the Primates’ Meeting conclusions.

“No member of the Episcopal Church stood for office in the ACC or Standing Committee. The consequences of the Primates meeting have been fully implemented.”

This is nicely put hokum. It is, on the face of it, false. Here is what the resolution from the ACC stated:

The Anglican Consultative Council
  1. receives the formal report of the Archbishop of Canterbury to ACC-16 on the Primates’ Gathering and Meeting of January 2016; and
  2. affirms the commitment of the Primates of the Anglican Communion to walk together; and
  3. commits to continue to seek appropriate ways for the provinces of the Anglican Communion to walk together with each other and with the Primates and other Instruments of Communion.

 Just to be clear: no where in the ACC resolution is there any mention of notion that the "the resolution clearly supports and accepts all the Primates’ Meeting conclusions."  Receiving a report is not supporting or accepting all the Primates' Meeting conclusions.

The fact that "no member of the Episcopal Church stood for office in the ACC or Standing Committee" is a sign of the graciousness of the ACC members from TEC, not a sign that the consequences were accepted as binding in any way.  

In particular the decision by Bishop Douglas not to stand for election to the office of Chair of the Standing Committee was an act of grace on his part, not a result of "consequences" required by the actions of TEC at the last General Convention. He indeed acted relationally. He often does. At least from the outside it seems to me his actions were not about obedience to the Primates' requirements, but about life in relationship. 

The Archbishop speaks of consequences as matters to be "fully implemented."   Relational consequences are matters that arise out of relationships. They are not implemented, as directives or commands might be. They are lived into. Bishop Douglas lived into the requirements of relationship. I hope and trust we in TEC will remember this extraordinary example of the honoring of relationships.

I am sorry to say that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates Meeting wanted more (or less if one lives in the fear of God). They wanted obedience to sanctions and (in the case of some Primates) acceptance of punishment.

But they cannot have what they cannot force. There is no mechanism for implementing relational consequences, save relationship. If the supposed offenders do not acknowledge sanction and do not accept punishment, the whole pack of cards falls down.

And, they cannot force relational consequences. Those are a product of reception and quite possibly grace. Force is counter to relational engagement and consequences and they ought to have known better.



  1. Crusty Old Dean says the ABC is a "thug". You call "hokum". I rather like the term "studied mendacity" which calls the ABC on his lying BS without stooping to his level. Honest to Ethel! I know Jesus loves him but how does he look at himself in the mirror in the morning?

  2. Mark Harris at his best. How fortunate we are!
    Tom Woodward

  3. Years ago I attended a province meeting with Bishop Wantland when he and his delegation refused to take communion with the rest of us. Ever since I've wondered why we, those who keep communion, let ourselves be assigned the role of "bad actor" while the ones breaking communion claim the role of victim.
    Speaking of consequences. What should the consequences be for those who refuse to meet at the Lord's Table? What should the consequences be for the older brother who refuses to join in the Father's party because his "prodigal" brother will be there? Whatever its faults, TEC always shows up. Perhaps the ABC should be suggesting consequences for those who refuse to take their part in the Anglican Communion.

  4. An excellent appraisal, Fr. Mark, of what took place at the ACC Meeting.

    The ABC may have thought ACC members were actually accepting the 'Consequences' that were suggested by the informal gathering of the Primates in January; whereas, as there has been no offical signing up to the 'Covenant' document by the Provinces concerned that might have provided for such an agreement, there was no collective 'agreement'.

  5. Mark, as arcane as institutional doings may seem at times, you do valuable service to render notice when the Archbishop has no clothes. On May Day, no less! I myself was provoked to wonder how "Love one another" got garbled into "relational consequences," while implying that said consequences are mostly about curses rather than blessings. Speaking of which, today's Daily Office reading from Leviticus 26, on "relational consequences" of the covenant, has God saying "I shall not loathe you," which Robert Alter points out means literally, "my throat will not expel you," i.e., "I will not retch in disgust over you." While the church may sometimes deserve such a divine response, we may be thankful that God yet showers us with blessings, not curses; and that the primates may retch all they want, but that still doesn't make them God.


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.