The media caricature of episcopal Eloi and Morlocks suits this ”˜orthodox’ vs ”˜progressive’ spat: it’s either homophobes vs reformists, or traditionalists vs heretics. Theological nuance and ecclesial viae mediae get lost in the fray. If you’re looking for prayerful reflection and profound consultation on the Apostolic Faith, you won’t find it on the BBC or in the pages of the Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail or Independent.. because that is not the drama the media want the Primates’ Meeting to be, not least because it is no drama at all. Stories of good disagreement just don’t sell copy.
If a bishop or group of bishops do walk out of this Primates’ Meeting, they are doing nothing but walking out of a meeting. It doesn’t mean they are walking out of the Worldwide Anglican Communion or abandoning the Anglican Consultative Council, because it isn’t at all clear on what legal basis they may do so, not least because the Communion and Council have no structural-theological foundation and no one is under any obligation to do anything except consult. The Christian family are all those who are washed by the blood and share in the baptism of Christ. Walking out of a meeting neither un-washes nor de-baptises; we remain eternally Christian and provisionally Anglican, awaiting the consummation of Christ, the great reconciler. We are one family whatever the magnitude of rightness or wrongness of any doctrinal issue, regardless of whoever throws the biggest hissy fit or mounts the most militant media campaign.
It is tediously boring and disappointingly undramatic to say so, but the most likely outcome of the Primates’ Meeting 2016 will be that the differences which obtained at the outset will remain at the end. There will be no agreed statement and no authoritative declaration on marriage and sexuality, principally because Justin Welby did not convene this gathering to formulate such, but instead to work through the question of how the Anglican family might live together through profound disagreement. In reality, of course, the Communion has been impaired since the 1990s, but it is still the Communion and all provinces are in communion with it. Some consider themselves to be in full communion with each other; others in partial communion. In some cases, the bilateral bonds of communion are broken entirely, but they remain in communion with the Communion, despite that Communion being broken by uncommunicative communicants.