Ephraim Radner on the Primates Gathering-reaffirming Communion: An act of Hope

As it has turned out, however, the Primates decided (“unanimously”) to stay the course of the Communion’s established order, indeed to strengthen that ordering and to maintain the ecclesial commitments that lie behind it. They have affirmed the resumption of their formal meetings, as well as a new Lambeth Conference of all Anglican bishops in 2020. Echoing the scriptural language of the 2004 Windsor Report that first sought to deal with rifts over sexuality, the Primates forcefully affirmed their commitment to “walk together.” They also took up previous decisions they had made in more formal meetings in the past, and laid out (apparently with a two-thirds majority voting in favor) a general way they might deal with one of the major sources of theses rifts, the Episcopal Church of the United States. The Episcopal Church’s advocacy for homosexual affirmation culminated this past summer in a change in its canons to permit same-sex marriage. Without throwing the American Church out of the Communion, the Primates explicitly asked that representatives of the Episcopal Church no longer actively serve in decision-making bodies of the Communion that deal with doctrine and polity, or represent the Communion in ecumenical and interfaith discussions. The language here was also from the past (i.e. Rowan Williams), focusing on the negative effects of “distance” among members, but also on the protective benefits of “distancing” among conflicted members. How this will be sorted out was left to Canterbury and a taskforce that will be put in place.

In one way all this is a grand symbolic gesture, and nothing else. Member churches of the Anglican Communion, mostly organized on national or regional lines, are ecclesiastically autonomous bodies governed by their own internal canons and decision-making processes. A meeting of the Primates has no legislative authority over individual churches, even though, of course, each Primate exercises considerable authority within their own church. What has held the Communion together over the years has been a set of dynamics that have often puzzled observers, and more recently, Anglicans themselves. In the past few decades the image that has often been used to describe this ecclesial glue has been that of “family”: Anglicans are related by blood ties, shared history and formation, rooted commitments, fundamental mutual responsibilities, and sometimes the push and pull of savage passions.

These are elements that terms like “federation” simply cannot engage.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, --Justin Welby, Anglican Primates, Archbishop of Canterbury, Primates Gathering in Canterbury January 2016, Theology