Leadership and the Anglican Communion

Primates2016logo_article_imageThis was my immediate reflection on the Primates’ statement last Thursday, published on the Premier Christianity blog.

Prior to the gathering this week of the Anglican Primates (heads of the 38 autonomous Anglican provinces) almost everyone predicted it would end in disaster. There was suspicion from the moment that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, announced the ‘gathering’ (not an official meeting) that it would end in tears. And only last week all the speculation was about when it would fail, not if—Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday?

But contrary to all expectation, not only have almost all the Primates stayed together (Stanley Ntagali, Archbishop of Uganda, did leave on Tuesday), they have issued a clear statement, agreed by a two-thirds majority, which offers a form of rebuke to the Episcopal Church in the United States (TEC) for its acceptance of same-sex marriage.

It is worth noting carefully what the statement, which was due to be released on Friday but was leaked a day early and then confirmed, does and does not say. On the one hand, it does not expel TEC from the Anglican Communion; there had been a previous motion asking TEC to voluntarily withdraw, but that was defeated by 20 votes to 15. At numerous points the statement emphasises the continuing relationship between the Churches of the Communion, and the commitment of its leaders to continue to work together. There is an emphasis on the need to preserve unity, despite differences of view on the nature of marriage. And there is an explicit commitment to set up a process to address the differences that have arisen. All of this has meant that the conservative group, GAFCON, have expressed their unease at the outcome. This does not address the matter in the way they would have liked, and they (rightly) see this as the start of a process, and not the end. It does not yet settle the matter.

On the other hand, it is difficult to see how the statement could be any stronger in its censure of TEC without actually expelling them. For three years, until their next General Convention in 2018, they will not have a vote in Communion matters, will not function as ecumenical representatives of the Communion, nor be able to participate in its internal workings. As TEC’s Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, told the other primates, the church will find this hard to take.

So the statement has ended up steering a very careful middle course about which the ‘extremes’ are unhappy, but which has nevertheless held everyone together.

How, exactly, did Justin Welby achieve this?

Many will attribute it to political shrewdness. In his opening address on Monday evening, Welby made much of his own personal indebtedness to African Christianity (which he experienced in his gap year before going to Cambridge) for bringing him to living faith. And he has made use of the same team of negotiation facilitators who have supported the ‘Shared Conversations’ in the Church of England over the last two years. But there are two other factors that it would be too easy to ignore.

The first is Justin Welby’s deep commitment to the importance of relationships. This is what he was referring to when he talked of ‘reconciliation, even if we don’t reach agreement’ in interviews immediately before the gathering. This is what he meant when he talked of disunity being deeply offensive to God. And this is what drove him, in his first year in office, to personally visit every single one of the primates in the other provinces. (By contrast, Rowan Williams visited few, and only went when invited.)

It is this commitment to relationships that is evident in the statement. Though TEC will not have a vote, it will ‘have a voice’. Though trust has been badly damaged, the relationship has not been ended.

The second is the commitment to prayer. Welby made this his number one commitment when he took up office, and he has invited a community of young people to spend a year at Lambeth to share in its life of prayer. These young people were present in Canterbury to pray throughout the gathering, and I expect they will be very excited at the outcome.

What will be the result of this decision?

Different people will certainly react in different ways. Those taking a ‘liberal’ view of same-sex relationships, wanting the Anglican Communion to follow the lead of TEC, will be frustrated, disappointed and angry. They will be cross that no reference has been made to the rights of gay men and women in many of the African countries where homosexuality is illegal. I think that is to fail to understand what the meeting was about—not so much the immediate issue of sexuality, but the process by which this is debated and acted on in different parts of the communion. This question might well come again, and soon, in the planned discussion.

There will be more formal effects in other parts of the Communion. Both the Anglican Church of Canada and the Scottish Episcopal Church have strongly signalled that they want to move to recognise same-sex marriage. If they go ahead, it will be in the knowledge that there will be ‘consequences’ for the part they play in the Communion, that they will be moving away from the majority view.

Within the Church of England, this is bound to give encouragement to ‘traditionalists’ who would agree with the view of marriage, as between one man and one woman, that the statement affirms. And I suspect that there will be a sense of growing respect for Justin Welby. He has managed, in three short years, to address effectively the two major issues which dogged the primacy of his predecessor, Rowan Williams—the move to accept women bishops in the Church of England and the divisions in the Communion on sexuality. As one or two lone voices suggested, the next result could well be new life and vigour breathed into this global church.

And the wider media? If it isn’t written off as yet another expression of the church’s ‘homophobia’, I suspect the whole thing will be greeted with mute incomprehension.

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40 thoughts on “Leadership and the Anglican Communion”

  1. Dear Ian
    this is an excellent piece, but with one omission. It did say later on;

    The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.
    This is a rebuke to those in the communion who have colluded with such laws.
    However mine is a smalll point to an otherwise well balanced and preceptive piece

    • In 2013 the Daily Monitor provided a round up of Ugandan bishops’ Christmas messages. These paragraphs were in that report:

      “In Uganda, there are so many injustices like child sacrifice, domestic violence, drug abuse which are now a big issue in our schools… I want to thank Parliament for passing the Anti-homosexuality Bill. I want the world to understand what we are saying,” the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Most Rev Stanley Ntagali, said.

      …“Can you imagine your son brings another man at home for introduction?… The church preaches forgiveness, reconciliation and transformation. I do not want people to look at us and say the church is against the homosexuals. We love everybody. The homosexuals, and lesbians are all children of God but we want them to repent and have eternal life,” Archbishop Ntagali said.

      At St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe, Bishop Wilberforce Kityo Luwalira commended MPs for passing the anti-gays Bill but asked them to object the proposed law to legalise abortion describing it as murder.

      The Bishop of Mbale, the Rt Rev Patrick Gidudu, asked Ugandans and political leaders who are against the Bill to seek God, repent and renew fellowship to save the country from God’s wrath…”

      A communique which claims to oppose homophobia and persecution of LGBT people then only identifies “consequences” for TEC. Why, in the last three years, given that the appalling homophobia of the Ugandan Church has continued unchecked, did the Primates not discover that there were “consequences” for Ntagali and the Church of Uganda?

      It is inaction of this kind – a total inability to speak out against specific and extremely dangerous and damaging homophobia of the Ugandans and others on the part of our archbishops and bishops that render the ABC’s apology fairly meaningless. It is inaction in the face of this that makes those of us who are faithful LGBT Anglicans suspicious of every word that is said about opposing homophobia. We don’t want words, they are cheap. We want changed behaviour, and the sanctions necessary to help people to change.

      • Amen

        I think Welby does seem to genuinely want change at least in the Church of England, but whether he will be able to do that remains to be seen

      • We might well deplore the intrusion on privacy through criminalising homosexual acts in African nations.

        What is unacceptable is tying LGBT advocacy for same-sex marriage to foreign aid. For instance, Malawi’s recent Marriage, Divorce and Family Relationships Act was condemned by US human rights organisations simply for defining marriage as a conjugal relationship between one man and one woman.

        The backdrop to Western nations advancing their LGBT policies in Africa is that their aid agencies use LGBT-related eligibility criteria not only to secure decriminalisation of same-sex sexual acts, but also achieve the legitimisation of same-sex relationships as marriage.

        Obama’s 2011 Presidential Memorandum directed USAID and all federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that the United States is able to impose its LGBT policies on developing countries. As a result, their foreign aid agencies currently use the threat of withdrawing funding as a leverage for imposing same-sex marriage.

        As an example, the US Government’s Millenium Challenge Corporation restored a previously withdrawn $350 million Energy Compact with the ultra-conservative nation of Malawi. The agency claimed that ‘the compact is expected to increase incomes to 5 million impoverished individuals by $2.4 billion over 20 years.’

        Great news, but as a condition of delivering that ultimate benefit to those 5 million impoverished, the MCC also stated that ‘criminally punishing lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals under laws will prompt MCC to initiate the investigation required for suspension or termination of the Compact’.

        I’m all for the respect of privacy that decriminalises private consensual sexual acts. I’m also in favour of free speech on the morality of such acts.

        But, what does this precious foreign aid to relieve the impoverished masses look like? Well, the MCC hired German Consulting Engineers, Fichtner, to oversee the award of all contracts and last year’s US Trade and Development Agency’s contract to undertake a hydropower feasibility study on behalf of the Malawi government went to Texas-based Water Wheel International

        Overseas aid is simply Western agencies paying Western corporations to deliver technological progress in return for acceptance of liberal Western policies.

        How lucky we Global Southerners are!

        • David

          I think some aid has always been tied to how a country behaves e.g. as an extreme we hopefully wouldn’t give any aid to ISIS (the UK probably actually are via our “friends” Saudi arabia). I think that most human rights organisations would see LGBT as humans and so it would be difficult of them to think well of regimes that did not. There are of course ways of giving aid to people in need without giving it to governments who will use it to oppress.

          There’s an American Christian called Scott Lively who is currently on trial for crimes against humanity for trying to get Uganda to have the death penalty for gay people. We live in a globally connected world now and it is impossible for one nation not to impact others. Let’s make that impact for good, not evil.

        • David

          I think some aid has always been tied to how a country behaves e.g. as an extreme we hopefully wouldn’t give any aid to ISIS (the UK probably actually are via our “friends” Saudi arabia). I think that most human rights organisations would see LGBT as humans and so it would be difficult of them to think well of regimes that did not. There are of course ways of giving aid to people in need without giving it to governments who will use it to oppress.

          There’s an American Christian called Scott Lively who is currently on trial for crimes against humanity for trying to get Uganda to have the death penalty for gay people. We live in a globally connected world now and it is impossible for one nation not to impact others. Let’s make that impact for good, not evil.

  2. Hi Ian,
    Thank you for this post and for sorting out the glitch with posting comments here!

    My respect for Justin Welby has certainly grown following Primates 2016 – I had been feeling at times that the church, far from standing on a rock, was actually wobbling around in a quicksand.

    Some of the negative comments I have read on Twitter in response to Primates 2016 seem to suggest that somehow those who remain faithful to the church’s doctrine on marriage are regarded by some as being more concerned about the ‘letter of the law’ than the ‘spirit of the law’, and as unloving Christians who have no appreciation of the love of Jesus. I don’t think this is true, and it certainly isn’t true of me. Loving people and also drawing up boundaries in relation to people are not mutually exclusive.

    Thank you again.

    • Thank you Ian for your article, and Christine and Jonathan for your comments. I completely agree with the the final sentence that loving people and drawing up boundaries in relation to people are not mutually exclusive. When our children were younger, we needed to draw boundaries but the challenge (which I don’t think we always met) was for them to know that these boundaries were part of our genuine love for them. In this context, the world believes that any ‘boundaries’ are judgmental and intolerant. It is easy to profess that the boundaries arise from love, but how do we act in a way that people know they truly are loved?

      • Jonathan, Rod and Christine: the point is that many of us do not believe that same sex activity (not attraction, but activity) is sinful.
        If you believe it is, why are you not campaigning to make it illegal? There is no logic in not doing that is there?

        • Another *wonderful* non-sequitur Andrew. Under what ethical scheme are all things sinful to be made illegal?

          Selfishness? Greed? Pride? How would one make these illegal?

          I am finding it increasingly common in this debate for others to impose their own, odd, literalism to one part of my argument, then when the other part of my argument does not fit theirs, I am ‘inconsistent.’

          • You can’t make those illegal. But you CAN make homosexual acts illegal and they are in several countries where the Anglican Church is. And they used to be here.
            So I should take it that you think same sex activity is not sinful? Please be clear.
            And anal sex between a heterosexual married couple? sinful ? Or not?
            Oral sex in a heterosexual marriage? Sinful or not?
            Have asked these questions of you several times and you can never tell me for some reason.

          • Andrew you appear to have rather missed the point I was making.

            And please don’t go back to flogging that dead, sexual-ethics-by-biomechanical-numbers horse (to mix three metaphors).

            I answered it before, and I’m not interested in playing your prurient game here. Please desist or risk being moderated out.

          • On the contrary Ian, you seem to have rather missed the point – which is that homosexual acts are illegal in parts of the communion, it seems with your support.

          • With neither my support nor the support of the Primates:

            The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.

            The Primates recognise that the Christian church and within it the Anglican Communion have often acted in a way towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation that has caused deep hurt. Where this has happened they express their profound sorrow and affirm again that God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression.

            I’ve no idea why you keep projecting hatred.

          • “The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.”
            Ian: you keep missing the point. I am clearly and deliberately not talking about same sex attracted but those who are in same sex intimate relationships. Watch the press conference again and hear what Archbishop Joseph Idowu Fearon says. You will not find that Primates supporting the legality of same sex relationships.

          • I think the words of the communique were carefully worded to mean different things in different provinces. In Lagos and Kampala they mean “carry on persecuting”. In London they mean “of course we condemn the actions of the churches in Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya”. As with many of this type of thing they can mean exactly what the reader wants them to mean.

            Andrew – you are right Archbishop Fearon demonstrated almost immediately that the churches in these countries are unlikely to following the British understanding of the communique, ie repent. He is thought of as an arch liberal in his home country too!

          • Oh and of course we don’t know the status of the church of Uganda with respect to the communique – have they consented to be under it or not?

        • Andrew

          Actually I think I’m right in saying that when the CofE campaigned for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1960s the argument was that activities could be sinful without being illegal and that keeping it illegal gave the impression that it was a worse sin than quite a lot of legal, but worse sins – if that makes any convoluted sense? To my mind it was an acknowledgement that some people are gay and just making their lives hell and loves near-impossible was not going to make them straight.

          Unfortunately the CofE, certainly the wider communion, are not there yet!

    • Christine

      I wonder if actually those comments are about a lack of action or holding-to-account of anglican churches in relation to persecution of LGBT people, rather than anything to do with same sex marriage?

      I think a fair number of people have just figured out that the CofE is not going to change its opposition to same sex marriage-at least while Welby is ABC-, so maybe the comments are in frustration about this. (Actually we’ve known this for quite some time)

      • I understand that The Archbishop has deplored persecution of LGBT people and that he welcomes LGBT people in the church. Remaining steadfast about the church doctrine on marriage is not the same as rejecting gay people, yet unfortunately some people seem to assume that this is the case, despite what the Archbishop has said.

        • Christine

          The primates have said they deplore persecution etc, but they said the same in 1998 and then some of them did the opposite and others turned a blind eye to it happening in their own provinces. This is why people are now not taking them at their word. Im quietly hopeful it will be different this time!

        • Ultimately Christine, if you want to discipline homosexual people in active relationships, as Ian has said he does, then you eventually have to resort to law. OR you say that it is perfectly legal and you welcome them without discipline. Logically there is no half way house on this.

          • I think there is discipline and there is discipline for example the extreme worst that will happen to a gay person in the english church is that he or she will be asked not to come back. In Uganda that same person may end up imprisoned for life.

            in the CofE remarried divorcees are accepted if they state that they know their relationship to be wrong. I am sure many Ugandans would prefer that to a life behind bars.

          • … only if you think that all things which are legally permissible are also ethically acceptable…

  3. Couldn’t have put it better, Ian. It is not my, or Andrew’s, opinion that determines whether something is sinful. Even when it is clear that something is sinful, on the basis of the teaching of scripture, that doesn’t mean that we should campaign for legislation against it. How would we frame a law to tackle pride, which the Bible speaks about as forcefully as it does anything to do with sex?

    • It has done me good to read your comments, Jonathan, Rod and Ian.
      I have had one more thought – this one about loving our neighbour as ourselves. Loving myself has meant being pretty tough on myself in many ways. Here is a mundane example of one of these ways: over the Christmas period I ate just two mince pies. I love mince pies and I looked longingly at many mince pies, including the ones in my home which I had bought for visitors, but I have high cholesterol and I need to keep to a strict diet. I am being more loving towards myself by keeping to the diet (well, more or less!) than I would be if I indulged in all the foods I would like to eat. I know I can’t really compare mince pies with sexuality – my main point is that loving oneself involves self-control and I think it is Ok to pray that others will be able to exercise self-control.

      I did smile about the comments about legalising sin – for instance pride. Andrew, if pride became illegal, maybe ‘Gay Pride’ would need to find a new title? 😉

      • Christine

        To take your mince pie analogy, the loving-your-neighbour thing would be for the person who is acting as your neighbour to also not have a mince pie because you cannot. This is literally compassion.

        If straight people were encouraged to adopt life long celibacy alongside their gay brothers and sisters it would not only be exercising considerable compassion, but change the church community away from fairly isolated nuclear families into being a true Christian family again.

        Unfortunately most of those who preach celibacy for others will not accept it for themselves.

        • Hi Pete,
          I don’t expect people to give up mince pies (and chocolate!) because I’m not supposed to eat them. If people adopted that principle they would also be teetotallers – I like alcohol, but it doesn’t like me. They would also need to give up curries and all spicy foods because I have what is called ‘an intolerance’ to these foods. I have a diabetic friend who loves ‘eating meetings’ with members of the fellowship, but she brings her own food, and others eat what they want. You suggested that it would be an act of compassion for straight people to adopt lifelong celibacy. Many straight people already have celibate lives – an elderly friend told me she had never married because no one proposed to her and she believed that sex belonged to marriage, so she remained celibate. Others, notably widowed and divorced people of my acquaintance,currently live celibate lives. I think they make this choice because they feel accountable to God.

          • so that’s a no then is it?

            If we can’t even adapt what we eat to welcome marginalised people then what hope is there for the church?

  4. Thanks for the post, Ian, but as for Primates 2016 taking a moderate position, if ever there was an example of the Golden Mean fallacy!

    In ignoring the human rights abuses of many provinces while punishing equal marriage, this is neither a “moderate” outcome, nor is it an example of Welby’s leadership: going by multiple credible reports, he nearly sank the meeting by trying to smother disagreement with the hilariously-named “Delphi Method.” It was only after the Gafcon primates saw through his corporate methods and junked the management speak that the “gathering” got down to business. If anyone deserves credit for leadership ability, it’s Gafcon, for bringing the rest of the Global South around to their side. Welby had to tag along or be left behind, and he’s now dancing to their tune.

    In the popular mind, the outcome can’t be separated from the underlying issue of sexuality, so it’s another PR disaster: in terms of process, in presuming to “require” TEC do anything, this “gathering” has exceeded its powers (not hard: it has none), and if TEC representatives refuse to abide by its request, as one’s already done, it could blow up in their faces.

    Still, by driving a wedge between TEC and the rest, Gafcon might get Canterbury to join their new Communion, which is, I suspect, what they want: the prestige of the history, but them in control. Welby will surely look back and ask himself, “Was it all worth it?”

    • James, I think your comments lack their usual clarity.

      First, I don’t think anywhere I suggest a Golden Mean. What most media outlets either missed or (mostly) misreported was the emphasis on staying in relationship. The written statements from the meeting made that very clear.

      Second, the communique (which should have come first) certainly did not ignore the human rights issues, and Justin returned to that before and after the press conference—even in personal conversation with the protesters. Very few even mentioned that.

      Thirdly, you are completely mistaken about GAFCON. It is clear that they did not get what they wanted, and +Uganda left because his motion was rejected.

      There is no new communion; the existing primates had a very strong consensus (only 3 out of 35 voted against) and no wedge was driven at the meeting.

      • Ian, by “golden mean” I was referring to this comment: “So the statement has ended up steering a very careful middle course about which the ‘extremes’ are unhappy, but which has nevertheless held everyone together.”

        The problem is, Primates 2016 hasn’t held everyone together: as you note, Stanley Ntagali walked after a vote to ask America and Canada to leave failed. As it happens, I don’t think he acted improperly, since he was acting under instructions from his Provincial Assembly. But it does show unity as a facade. As for Gafcon, Ntagali doesn’t speak for the rest. He was restricted in a way they weren’t, and by staying, they clearly believed they were making gains.

        While the Communiqué does make general commitments to ending criminalization of LGBT people, it says nothing specific about Uganda and Nigeria, and no sanctions/consequences have been imposed on them.

        The outcome is that TEC has been singled out for censure, while provinces whose primates openly advocate the criminalizing of gay relationships haven’t even been called out by name. If this isn’t a victory for Gafcon, it’s certainly a battle won, and does nothing to help unity.

        • They all stayed together, they all committed to walking together; they rejected a GAFCON request for censure; there was near consensus on the final statement.

          It’s an odd picture of a ‘facade’…

          • Actually Uganda walked out, TEC are only partially together with the others and we are left wondering what status the ACNA has. Nothing has really been resolved and massive problems are stored up for the future.

    • James – sorry, but I disagree GAFCON are very upset about this result and shocked that they did not have the support from other non-western churches that they thought they had. The only people who are happy with the outcome are the people who are somewhere between GAFCON and Welby in their conservatism.

  5. James, sadly it’s clear that Ian is unable to see that Nigeria is allowed to treat homosexuality in one way because it’s part of their culture, but America isn’t. The press conference made that very clear.

  6. Ian

    You describe my view of the proceedings quite well under the liberal label. However I think the frustration is not really because the primates have failed to do anything about LGBT persecution (primarily in Africa, but in all other provinces as well), but that the churches of Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya are not treated equally to TEC. These churches continue to promote the criminalisation of gay people which has been against anglican communion teaching for a considerable number of years. The reason for the difference we are told is that TEC have changed their doctrine, whereas the other churches are merely out of line in practise.

    So that’s the conclusion of the meeting that doctrine matters more than lives!

    One bright ray of hope is that Welby does at the moment seem to intend to act on his words so maybe things will get better for LGBT Anglicans because of this meeting.

    I think it would be useful to know which parts of the primates statement the archbishop of Uganda agrees with and which he doesn’t and if it will all be binding in his church or just the bits he agrees with. But we aren’t allowed to know things like that!

  7. I think James Byron (above) is right to raise the attempted use of the Delphi Method. It was indeed only the resolve of the Primates in refusing to be led down that route and the grace of Justin Welby in accepting their refusal that saved the gathering from a premature ending.

    Democracy alone can never be the final arbiter of truth or a guaranteed route to best policy, but where it is used it should at least be honest, transparent and not subject either to manipulation before arriving at a decision or spin after a decision has been made.

    Splitting people up into small groups and using ‘facilitators’ loads discussion in favour of mediocrity because there is a greater psychological pressure to agree in face to face discussion than in full debate, personal ramblings tend to outweigh focussed discussion and facilitators hold all the cards. In a Christian context this means that prophecy is denied its power, wisdom is diluted and radical thinking is marginalised.

    I really hope Canterbury 2016 marks the end of Delphi for both the Anglican Communion and the CofE.


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