By George Conger
Reactions to the US House of Bishops New Orleans statement amongst the Primates have broken along factional lines, with conservatives denouncing the statement as insubstantial and dishonest, while liberals have praised its candor and modesty.
The divergent views of the adequacy of the US response to the Primates request for clarification of American church practices towards gay bishops and blessings further complicates the Archbishop of Canterbury’s hopes of forestalling a schism within the Communion.
Straightened finances and fears of a boycott by the primates of Wales, Ireland and Scotland to an emergency primates’ meeting to discuss the American response to the primates’ Dar es Salaam communique, has led to Dr. Williams telephoning the Communion’s primates to try to find a common mind. Whether the primates’ round robin will produce an amicable resolution appears to be further hampered by the different world views of the players in Anglicanism’s great game. Aides to the Archbishop told The Church of England Newspaper during his meeting with the American bishops in New Orleans that Dr. Williams hoped to find the right combination of words that would satisfy the church’s disparate factions.
However, leaders of the Global South coalition have demanded not words, but action from the American church, and have little trust in the veracity of American promises of good behavior. Leaders of the liberal wing of the US Church and across the Communion are also divided, with some arguing that truth must not be subordinated to expediency while others hope their place within the councils of the church can be saved through the artful use of semantics.
The Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Alan Harper of Armagh lauded the American response, saying the American “Bishops have gone a considerable way to meeting the reasonable demands of their critics.”
Archbishop Harper noted the “generous agreement” of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori “to put in place a plan to appoint Episcopal visitors for dioceses that request alternative oversight” and stated that while the bishops had declined “participation in the ”˜Pastoral Scheme’ offered by the Primates,” they had “at least” recognized the “useful role” of the Communion in these debates. Dr. Harper stated this seemed to be a “balanced and relatively generous response in a very delicate area of inter-provincial relationships.”
Bishop David Beetge of the Highveld, the acting primate and vicar general of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, said he welcomed the decision “for the simple reason it gives us more space and time to talk to each other.”
The Primate of Australia, Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Brisbane said he believed the US had “responded positively to all the requests put to them by the Primates in our Dar es Salaam communiquÃ©.”However, he went on to damn the American Church with faint praise saying “Certainly they have responded to the substance of those requests.”
However the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr. Peter Jensen was not as sanguine. “At first reading, the statement from the TEC bishops does not seem to say anything new,” he noted. “The situation may not then be changed in any way.”
The African churches were stronger in their condemnation. “What we expected to come from them is to repent. That this is a sin in the eyes of the Lord and repentance is what me, in particular, and others expected to hear coming from this church,” Kenyan Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi said.
The Assistant Bishop of Kampala, David Zac Niringiye told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme Uganda believed the statement was inadequate as it was “not a change of heart”, but a temporizing solution.The Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola stated the US response fell short of what was required. The primates had given the US “one final opportunity for an unequivocal assurance” that it would conform to the “to the mind and teaching of the Communion.” He said the primates were unwilling to accept further “ambiguous and misleading statements” from the US Church. “Sadly it seems that our hopes were not well founded and our pleas have once again been ignored.”
Meanwhile the Anglican Mainstream group said they were disappointed with the response because it failed to address the specific questions asked of it by the Primates’ Meeting in February, and backed the Common Cause College of Bishops. In a statement they said: “The first two points ”” on the election of non-celibate gay and lesbian bishops, and on public rites for blessing same-sex unions ”” suggest that the TEC House of Bishops has agreed not to walk further away from the rest of the Anglican Communion for the moment. “However, the TEC House of Bishops gives no indication of being prepared to turn and walk back towards us so that we may walk ahead together, and in reality same-sex blessings are continuing. “Moreover, there is no response to the Primates’ request to suspend all legal action.”
The Church Society also rejected the House of Bishops statement saying it demonstrates TEC has ”˜abandoned orthodox Christianity’.
–This article appears in the October 5, 2007 Church of England Newspaper, page 3, under a different headline