When the Anglican Primates met last month in Tanzania, they issued an extraordinary communiqué to the American Episcopal Church: comply with our directives by the end of 2007 or face expulsion from the Anglican Communion. The Bishops said, “well, thanks for the advice; here we stand: we can do no other.” They rejected the Dar Es Salaam Communiqué for five reasons:
- “First, it violates our church law in that it would call for a delegation of primatial authority not permissible under our Canons and a compromise of our autonomy as a Church not permissible under our Constitution.
- “Second, it fundamentally changes the character of the Windsor process and the covenant design process in which we thought all the Anglican Churches were participating together.
- “Third, it violates our founding principles as The Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England.
- “Fourth, it is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage. It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.
- “Most important of all it is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them. We cannot accept what would be injurious to this Church and could well lead to its permanent division.” Read it all here.
The American branch of Anglicanism is governed by a polity that is similar to that of the United States, with a bi-cameral legislative and governing body that has served well for more than two centuries. Accepting the Communiqué would have meant that only one of those Houses has any real meaning, the House of Bishops. That’s like the U.S. Senate declaring itself the only legitimate law-making body in the U.S. Congress. There’s a Constitution which prevents that. The same is true in the Episcopal Church. Without the laity, the whole people of God, the House of Bishops is just a magesterium comprising “a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.” That may be the way the Roman Church functions, but it’s not the way the Episcopal Church works.
The Bishops are right to take such an extraordinary stand in response to the crisis. The violations of diocesan boundaries, the imposition of a magisterial order, the desire to create an “Anglican Covenant” which supersedes the ecumenical Creeds are all actions that could not be accepted in good conscience of the House of Bishops.
So what happens next? The Bishops asked for a face-to-face meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and members of the Primates' Standing Committee to explain their point of view. It may or may not be granted, but it will not change things. The American Church, for better or worse, and to no one’s actual surprise, has decided that to bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, liberation of the oppressed, and proclamation the year of the Lord's favor are more important than trying to pacify those in Anglicanism who consider them heretics.
There’s a new thing coming to be here on the broken foundation of the old, if only we can perceive it.