Saturday, October 14, 2006

Interim Report

Interim Report (the Rev. William R. Coats)

As we move close to the National Gathering of The Episcopal Majority – now a mere three weeks away, it seems timely to review "where we are." Let me try to summarize where matters now stand.

The Domestic Situation

About eight radical dioceses of TEC have made it clear they intend to leave the Episcopal Church. A few other bishops who attended the Camp Allen meeting now refer to their dioceses as "Windsor dioceses"; it appears they have been invited to join the eight but have so far held back. Where the exiting dioceses will go and how they can do it now remain the principal questions. When or if the others will join in the exodus remains equally unclear.

At an earlier time, much of the talk of the radicals concerned Alternate Primatial Oversight (APO). This was a bit of a stall, since almost everyone knew there is no way to make something like this happen. It did serve the purpose, however, of freezing the Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom the radical dioceses look (on some occasions) as a kind of Anglican pope. It also gave them the veneer of legitimacy; they could try to be seen as working within the system if they continued to make reference to Canterbury. At any rate the call for APO brought from Dr. Williams the usual call for meetings, with the usual vague hope of a working agreement. This, of course, never came about - since in fact, it could not. There is no provision, either within the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion, for such a relationship.

Meanwhile, Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola and his cohorts at a meeting in Kigali laid out their apparent strategy. It consisted of establishing an alternative jurisdiction in the U.S. under which the radical dioceses could come. As a first step in this direction, they consecrated the Rev. Martyn Minns (formerly a priest in Virginia) as a bishop in the Nigerian church, assigned to establish such an alternative jurisdiction.

The question remained: How could the secessionist dioceses get from the Episcopal Church to the new jurisdiction? For sooner or later the veneer of legitimacy would give way. This is further complicated by the fact that the eight bishops wish to exit the Episcopal Church with all their diocesan assets. This will prove to be a more difficult process. When Bishop Robert Duncan (Diocese of Pittsburgh) tried, over a year ago, to change the diocesan canons to allow parishes to have absolute control over their assets, he was rebuffed in the courts. The newest strategy employed by Bishop John-David Schofield of San Joaquin is to call a diocesan convention and have the convention vote to change the diocesan canons to expunge all references to the Episcopal Church. Apparently, he hopes to be allowed (through this maneuver) to remove the entire diocese to a jurisdiction which will be determined by consultation with others including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

There may be other strategies by the eight dioceses to effect the same end. Two things are now clear: A few dioceses will attempt to secede from the Episcopal Church. This has been planned for a decade or more, and probably is irreversible. At the same time it is clear there will be a great many legal actions. Some dioceses will be declared vacant, and there will be many ecclesiastical presentments and trials. Much of the latter could be avoided if the people of the seceding dioceses would simply leave and join the new jurisdiction, as Archbishop Akinola urged many months ago in Pittsburgh. But the secessionist bishops engage in an amazing hypocritical blend of high conscience and crass materialism.

Much attention must be given to those loyal Episcopalians in the secessionist dioceses! They will be the core of the new Episcopal Church in these areas. But for the time being, they suffer under great stress and strain. It would be a great help if others throughout the nation showed their support of the Episcopalians in these secessionist dioceses.

In the meantime and in the short term, the secessionists' actions will have a destabilizing effect on the church. Some moderates within the church will be enticed by forces within the Anglican Communion to have the Episcopal church roll back its support of gays and lesbians as a condition to remaining in the Communion. The General Convention of 2009 will be the next testing ground.

The International Situation

Matters overseas are quite a bit up in the air. The main strategy of the radicals here and abroad was initially focused on the Anglican Covenant. First suggested in the Windsor Report, the covenant was to be a document that would take many years to develop which would redefine Anglicanism and be submitted to national churches for ratification. A number of forces for some time have been hoping to "tighten-up" Anglicanism and reduce national autonomy. They had for a number of years asked the Primates and bishops of national churches to consult in advance before undertaking certain actions. Thus, when Bishop Griswold served as chief consecrator of Gene Robinson, he was severely criticized for not consulting with others. They viewed him as "going back" on his prior agreements. This is a necessary background for understanding Presiding Bishop Griswold’s subsequent role and actions after 2003.

The radicals hope to shape the Anglican Covenant in such a way that neither the Episcopal Church nor the Canadian church can sign it. All indications suggest it would, for instance, prohibit the ordination and consecration of homosexual persons and prohibit the blessing of same-sex partnerships.

Since the creation of an Anglican Covenant might take a long time, Archbishop Akinola and others of the so-called Global South have accelerated matters within the Communion. Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, the Archbishop seized the initiative by announcing he and his fellow primates would soon submit their version of the Anglican Covenant. Further, Archbishop Akinola has said on a number of occasions that it would be a "take-it-or-leave-it" document. Apparently, the Akinola "draft" will be given to the primate assigned to draft the Covenant, Archbishop Drexel Gomez – himself a fervent opponent of the American and Canadian churches. Many of the primates meeting in Kigali excoriated the Episcopal Church and announced plans to create a separate jurisdiction in the United States, in large measure spearheaded by the recently consecrated Bishop Martyn Minns. As a result of these actions, the Nigerian archbishop has set himself up as the lead actor in worldwide Anglicanism, having reduced the power and influence of Canterbury significantly. Dr. Williams now serves simply as cover, giving legitimacy to whatever Archbishop Akinola and his American cohorts may devise.

Nonetheless, some rays of hope emerge in the international scene. Not all the primates of the so-called Global South are in lockstep with Archbishop Akinola. Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Southern Africa has repeatedly taken a more moderate position, the Philippines has expressed reservations, and the Bishop of Mexico is trying to form with Brazil and our Province 9 a "Global Center." The difficulty here is the lack of any really specific platform or leader to bring these disparate groups into a coherent force. One particular problem, frankly discussed by the Archbishop of South Africa, is that these forces cannot be seen to be too pro-Western. One clever aspect of Archbishop Akinola’s presentation is combining opposition to homosexuality with opposition to Western arrogance, secularism and materialism. Indeed, in a September address in the Niger Delta, Archbishop Akinola seems to declare his mission is to save the West for Christianity!

Considerable doubt about the course outlined by Archbishop Akinola exists, as well, among what are termed the Celtic churches: Scotland, Wales and Ireland. But here, too, no united stance has come into being.

The Most Reverend Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, raises critical questions about the future of the Communion in his Presidential Address.

In England there is strong support for the full inclusion of homosexual persons, and there is some muted support among some of the bishops. However, three Bishops of strongly reactionary views have overwhelmed the more moderate English bishops. Bishop Tom Wright of Durham, Bishop Scott Joynt of Winchester and Bishop Nazr Ali of Rochester have been almost hysterical in their denunciation of the Episcopal Church and are in constant contact with the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, American Anglican Council, the so-called "Windsor Bishops," and similar groups in the United States. Some of their actions in England have been seen as a form of bullying, thus reducing many moderate bishops to silence. At any rate progressive or moderate forces in England seem almost without a compelling strategy. They have much to lose with the development of a new Anglican Covenant. For while it is certain England will sign on to virtually any document, should its provisions be as anti-homosexual as Archbishop Akinola intends, these forces will face dire repression. Even now some English bishops are questioning priests who have taken advantage of that nation's civil partnership laws about their sexual behavior.

In short, while there are stirrings of opposition to Archbishop Akinola there is at present neither the coherent force to prevent Archbishop Akinola from gaining his goals, nor a coherent strategy on how to form such a force.

For the time being, there is the suggestion that moderate and progressive forces make themselves known at international gatherings of the Primates. In order for opposition to Akinola to coalesce, there must be some means to show that there are voices abroad other than his. True Anglicans must forge a statement of principles about Anglicanism to which a large body of groups or persons loyal to traditional Anglicanism can sign on. We need some means by which to say to the Akinola devotees that his vision of Anglicanism is radical and not in keeping with the Gospel as we have grown to understand it down through the centuries.

At this time, forging such a movement appears a long shot. All signs point to the dissolution of Anglicanism. The American radicals are for all intents and purposes now part of another church. There is no reversing this. The Anglican Covenant probably will be devised in such a way as to give the Episcopal Church no choice but to turn its back on gay men and lesbians as the price of staying within the Communion.

But what kind of Communion will this be? Archbishop Akinola has for some time now been the driving force in the Communion, having reduced Canterbury to a mere figurehead. They have cornered Archbishop Williams into a corner, with his choices being either to acquiesce to Archbishop Akinola or to remain further weak and isolated. Do all the national churches wish to be ruled and directed by Archbishop Akinola and his cohorts?

At present one strategy appears open to the Episcopal Church. While it is now difficult to rouse and organize the various forces within the Communion uneasy with Archbishop Akinola and his cohorts, the question for them is: What will happen after the Covenant is drafted and the American and Canadian churches do not sign?

I think there is every reason to believe a great number of the national churches in the Communion will remain in communion with us. A number of forces overseas are just now coming together. There is, for example, a small group even in Nigeria that merits support. Plans are in the works for some kind of presence at the next meeting of the Primates in Tanzania, and efforts continue in England to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury convince him to take a more open view of our position. It is clear there is much support for the position of the Episcopal Church in Canada, the British Isles, and provinces of Africa, southeast Asia, and Central and South America. Further work needs to be done now with those provinces that are wary of a Communion shaped by the radical views articulated by Archbishop Akinola.



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