Report on the 2007 Primates Meeting in Tanzania

Author note: This is a report intended for the Calgary Anglican Essentials chapter meeting. It’s also posted here: https://theagetocome.wordpress.com/2007/02/22/report-on-the-2007-primates-meeting-in-tanzania. Feel free to use it for its intended purpose, that is to give a brief overview of where we are now in the Anglican Communion, and how we got here.

Background
So, how did we get here? It seems like a good idea to give a little bit of background to the current crisis to be able to make sense of current events. Where did this all begin? Well, it began in Genesis 3, with “Did God really say…” It began with the serpents’ deception and the beguiling of Adam and Eve. It began with both Adam and Eve choosing what seemed good in their own eyes, rather than obeying God.

Am I being facetious in stating this? I do not think so. All sin and turmoil both within the Church and without has this as its source. There is nothing that is happening in the Anglican Communion that has not happened before, and will not happen again – until our Lord returns. Still, while these things inevitably come, remember the ‘money’ verse – that is the gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church. We may be beset by heresy, just like Anathasius amongst the Arian bishops, but we have this promise: if God be for us, who can be against us?

How do we trace the threads that have lead to this current battle in Anglicanism? I am no historian, nor do I have the room to detail every move that has brought us to this pass. So consider this as simply a basic overview.

We can probably trace the current controversy back to the 1960’s (albeit that there are roots that go deeper). It was then that the Episcopal Church in the USA refused to discipline Bishop Pike, who publicly criticised basic Christian doctrines such as the concept of the Trinity and the Virgin birth. In 1966 he resigned, but the damage was done. The Episcopal Church had tolerated a bishop who seemed unable to confirm basic Christian doctrine. Whether this was down to weakness, protecting their own, secret agreement or some other reason is somewhat moot.

Through tolerating that evil, we left the door open for further heresy. The Church that tolerated Pike became the church that embraced Spong. We get ‘thesis’ that might be better described as ‘antithesis’. For instance: ‘Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt’. Certainly, something is bankrupt here.

This is the background to the current controversy. Sooner or later things had to come to a head. Now, it may have taken 40 years, but come to a head it has. And, because of that long incubation period what we are having to face now is much much worse than it needed to be. Indeed – ‘awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death’ may be entirely applicable. The good news is this – we have awakened, and we are strengthening. God is merciful – we have not slumbered to our own destruction.

Recent Events
The issue that has brought things to a head at this time is human sexuality – in particular homosexuality. This is really just a presenting issue, though it is often mischaracterised as something more. It is the battleline between those who would hold onto the faith once given and the plain interpretation of scripture and those who would reinvent both in order to bow down before the gods of this age.

The key line drawn was at the Lambeth conference in 1998. There, amongst other things was resolved that “in view of the teaching of Scripture, (this conference) upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”. Many in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada disagreed with this analysis.

Fast forward to 2003. Despite being warned that it would tear the communion, in July 2003 Gene Robinson, a practising homosexual divorced from his wife was elected bishop of New Hampshire. Earlier in that year, the Diocese of New Westminster in British Columbia added to the mix by issuing a rite of same-sex blessing. Similar rites have been issued in other dioceses in North America, officially or otherwise. In 2004 the Anglican Church of Canada went further to affirm “the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships”.

What has followed has been four years of turmoil. Just as stated the communion has been torn by these actions. 22 of 38 Anglican provinces are in a state of impaired or broken communion with the Anglican Church of Canada and the US Episcopal Church.

In 2004 the Windsor report was issued (Anglicans do like their reports) which set itself up in opposition to these innovations. The Dromantine communique in 2005 went further and requested “that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference. During that same period we request that both churches respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion.”

The Canadian response has yet to be given (due in June 2007). The US ‘response’ was given in June 2006 and left a lot to be desired. Probably the best thing to be said is that it set a new standard for creative use of words. An apology was (sort of) forthcoming. On the matter of practising homosexual bishops an undertaking was given to “exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church”. Words defined so widely to mean anything and therefore nothing. Indeed, the same words are being used as a pretext to avoid consenting to the election of orthodox bishops. On the matter of same-sex blessings nothing was said at all.

Tanzania 2007
That brings us up nicely to date. In February 2007 the Primates met once again in Tanzania to consider the US response to what was requested of them in 2005. Following is an order of events as they occurred.

First up to bat was a sub-group committee report (see:http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/2169) (Anglicans love their committees too). In many words, they gave a green light to 2/3rds of the the Episcopal Church’s (TECs) response. They decided that TEC had apologised very nicely. They also decided that they had agreed not to consecrate any more homosexual bishops. On the same-sex blessing issue, although they tried very very hard, they had to concede that it was unclear as to whether TEC had responded adequately to the request.

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth was then to be heard on the orthodox side, as this interpretation of events was charitable to say the least, particularly considering the major contortions TEC had undergone to avoid saying anything at all. However, this was a report originating from the Anglican Communion Office (kind of like the administrators of the communion) which has a decided liberal bias. It also turned out that one of the members of the sub-group (quite possibly the orthodox member) had not seen the report before it was published.

Further wailing and teeth gnashing was to be heard on the news that the primate (presiding bishop) of TEC had been elected to the standing committee of the primates. This is the body that meets between primates meetings to do additional primatey things outside of the main meetings. However, this body is elected by regions, and it turns out that the three liberal primates (Canada, US and Brazil (the latter which is an offshoot of TEC)) has the votes to make it happen.

Other than these two bits of news we all had to wait until the final communique to find out what had actually happened during the meeting. The time passed slowly and the Anglican blogosphere was full with much agonised speculation and the occasional freakout. Smelling salts were passed round. Eventually Monday came, and it was a good day.

The two main things that came out that day (after protracted negotiation) was a draft covenant and the communique.

First things first. What is this covenant you speak of? When you think of covenant, think long-term. The Anglican Communion as it is, isn’t really a communion. It is more a loose collection of churches associated more through their history than a common covenant. When we used to agree on fundamentals of faith, this was good enough. However, this is no longer the case, and has been recognised as such. Hence, the formation of the Anglican covenant. Will it work? Hard to tell at this stage, but it is the beginning of an attempt to build a genuine communion.

The draft covenant can be found here: http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/2272/

Second thing is the communique, which can be found in it’s entirety here: http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/2286/. Again, unfortunately it is rather wordy. It also suffers from a severe case of a document produced by committee. In particular the divisions within the primates are very obvious in this document which attempts to try and say two different things at the same time.

With all this said, the communique is unanimous in upholding traditional teaching, and also has teeth. I have summary of the key points below, much of which can be found here: http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/?p=1291

Communique key points
The Archbishop of Canterbury said at the press conference that ‘the meat of our recommendations is paragraph 17. This reads “At the heart of our tensions is the belief that The Episcopal Church has departed from the standard of teaching on human sexuality accepted by the Communion in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 by consenting to the episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed same-sex relationship, and by permitting Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions. The episcopal ministry of a person living in a same-sex relationship is not acceptable to the majority of the Communion.” ‘

The report of the sub-group has effectively been over-ridden. Para 23 reads “Further, some of us believe that Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention does not in fact give the assurances requested in the Windsor Report.” And Para 24 says, “The response of The Episcopal Church to the requests made at Dromantine has not persuaded this meeting that we are yet in a position to recognise that The Episcopal Church has mended its broken relationships.”

Pastoral Scheme
The communique says ” We recognise that there are individuals, congregations and clergy, who in the current situation, feel unable to accept the direct ministry of their bishop or of the Presiding Bishop, and some of whom have sought the oversight of other jurisdictions.”

It then goes on to develop a rather convoluted scheme where some of TECs Presiding Bishop powers are delegated to a Pastoral Council, which then delegates to a Primatial Vicar. This is a cumbersome scheme that is potentially unworkable. It also could be the genesis of a new orthodox province in the US.

Deadlines
The primates requested through the presiding bishop that the house of Bishops of TEC:

1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the Bishops will not authorise any rite of blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through general Convention – see Windsor 143, 144 – and,
2. confirm that the passing of resolution B033 of the seventy-fifth general convention – means that a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent – see Windsor 134; unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the communion – see Windsor para 134.

The Deadline for the answer is September 30th 2007.

“If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.”

Within the bounds of Anglican-speak, this is strong stuff. The wheels of Anglicanism may grind exceedingly slowly, hopefully they will be seen to grind exceedingly fine too.

In any case, while this conversation may indeed be taking a long time, it is going in the right direction. You might be able to reduce it to something like this:

AC (1998): Don’t do this.
Primates (2003): Really do not do this.
TEC/ACC (2003): We’re not listening, lalala….oh look we did it, what was that you said?
AC (2004): This was bad, we know you heard us, and we really don’t want you to do this again.
Primates (2005): We really mean it – you must tell us you are not going to do it again and until you do, go sit in the corner.
TEC (2006): Mumble….sorry….maybe…..mumble. Fingers crossed behind back.
Primates (2007): What’s that you say? Speak up there. You have until we count to 5.

That’s really where we are right now. We have until the primates count to 5 – or September 2007 if you want to be literal. What will happen then? Hard to say, really. I’d imagine that more mumbling will be taken as a ‘no’. That may well result in invitations to the next Lambeth Conference being withdrawn, which would be a de-facto suspension from the Anglican Communion. Of course, it may not – the nature of ‘consequences’ has not been elucidated. The other option is that we as a church may say ‘yes’, which would be wonderful, because in doing so we will have to abandon this ‘new thing’ and return to the fold. Of course, we may say ‘yes’ and go ahead with this new thing anyway. That may buy TEC/ACC a little more time, but such duplicity would not go unnoticed.

This puts the spotlight more firmly on Canada too, with the General Synod coming up in June 2007. The primate of Canada’s response to the Tanzania communique can be found here: http://www.globalsouthanglican.org/index.php/comments/archbishop_hutchison_says_church_must_look_seriously_at_primates_request/. According to him “this is something that the Canadian Church will have to look at seriously”. What that means in practice is yet to be seen.

However it is safe to say that the ACC is under further pressure to conform to doctrinal normals if it wants to remain part of the Anglican communion. And, will it do so? That is another one of those questions that is hard to answer. For sure, I think mumbling will be the order of the day. Equally, mumbling is unlikely to be satisfactory. The Canadian church is probably more institutionally bound to the communion than the US church. However, it is also closely bound to the US church and is infected with the same heterodox disease.

At this time, the best thing to do would be to pray. Over the summer, both churches must agree to or decline the two requests made by the primates in Tanzania. It is time to choose.

Deuteronomy 30:15-18 (New International Version)

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

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17 Responses to Report on the 2007 Primates Meeting in Tanzania

  1. Pauline Bettney says:

    Thanks Peter – I will get my teeth into it asp.

  2. kiwirev says:

    Good job, I particularly enjoyed the “gnashing” bits and the summary. I agree with your take on it all and am feeling pretty hopeful about it all.

  3. white rabbit says:

    Good post and thanks for the input. The Canadian response due in June will endorse homosexuality. No doubt about that. Whether the endorsement will come from a genuine, but deluded, belief in homosexual marriages or as part of the global depopulation programme I do not know. Believe it or not, I can actually live with poufs in the pulpit for as Paul said in 1st Co 9:27 he could preach the truth yet be a castaway himself. So a poufter could preach the truth and lose a few rewards in heaven or get a cooler spot in hell. Unfortunately, poufter sermons tend to zero in on the same boring subject. Just as priestesses tend to drone on about “not being just a housewife.” Could someone please explain to me why “traditional” churches can promote babes in the pulpit but not poufs. I don’t see the difference.
    I also think that divorce is a bigger problem than homosexuality. But I would tend to marry a divorced couple rather than a pair of homosexuals depending on the circumstances. As for me. I plan to stay in the established “off the rails” church than go under a bishop in Bongo Bongo Land.

  4. jean says:

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks to the link on StandFirm, I have discovered your blog and have very much enjoyed reading your reflections.

    After Tanzania, I am cautiously hopeful that the TEC will pull back from the brink in the end. The cynical part of me suggests that, if nothing else, many bishops will count the costs and realize that perhaps 25% of the dioceses would realign if a clear decision to walk apart was made – the TEC is rich but does not have bottomless coffers and endless endowments to spend on legal battles over property. But we shall see in seven months.

    I was also somewhat encouraged by the statement of the PB upon return from Tanzania – for the first time ever, her words had a conciliatory tone towards the traditionalists. Maybe, just maybe, her encounter with the godly primates of the global south transformed her a little bit, and cracked the layers of ice deposited by years of study of revisionist theology, heterodox practice, and an understanding of traditional Christians largely through caricatures and the distorted lens of a liberal institution. This may have been a teaching moment for her.

    We should all pray for the TEC – +KJS will have an incredibly difficult time selling the Tanzanian agreement to her base. And right now there are very many Episcopalians who are having an incredibly difficult Lenten season, because they had bought the liberal spin and had truly believed that, by pressing for SSB and non-celibate gay bishops, they were walking with the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, in the liberation of an oppressed people. I am fervently praying that Tanzania will eventually be a teaching moment for them too.

  5. Dave Baker says:

    Thanks for the summary. You have laid out the chain of events well and indeed, the situation looks a bit more hopeful. But as you say, time will tell. It irks me that we are so casually limped in with the US Episcopal church. Some decisive action by those in charge a few years back in BC may have changed all that.

    For now, I pray that we will return to teh faith once taught and quit trying to conform to the morals to the day.

    DB

  6. Marg Ellen says:

    Thanks, Pete, for shedding light on the Primates’ Communique for us. I especially liked your reduced synopses. Let us pray that the ACC will look long and prayerfully at their agenda for our General Synod this June and make their decision now based upon the knowledge that if they endorse same sex blessings they will have decided to walk apart from the Communion. It is time to put the writing on the wall for all to see.

  7. Thanks for that excellent summary, Peter. Another aspect of the disastrous decline in historic Christian beliefs in the Anglican church, but one much harder to track, is the loss of faith within our seminaries. When did that take hold, and how did it spread?

    That’s probably tangential to the public manifestations you describe in your report, but orthodox Anglicanism cannot prevail until our seminaries are re-claimed.

  8. white rabbit says:

    Scott might find Michael Rose’s book “Goodbye, Good Men” of interest. It tells how the liberals brought corruption into the Roman Church but the principle and techniques apply to any church. I am also led to believe that Bella Dodd of NYU said that in the 1930s the communists placed 1100 members into the Roman Church as priests (and we all know who trained MLK so it is not just Rome). The attack on the church is as much from within as without

  9. Peter says:

    Now then, looks like I am behind on the comments. Firstly, thank you all and I am glad it has helped some folk. To address in particular:

    Pauline – I hope it will help your Essentials crowd some.

    Gene – There is always hope, eh? See, I’m becoming Canadian, eh? 🙂

    white rabbit – There may be a few things I’d like to call you on here. ‘poufs’ , ‘babes’ and ‘priestesses’ might just be offensive to some folk. Perhaps you might think about the language a little. I have no problem with disagreement, but I’m not overkeen on ad-hominem, and this is sailing very close to that IMHO. Regarding the substance, I don’t think that we want to necessarily assume that everything that happened in that last 40 years was a bad thing. Let’s take each case on it’s merits. I think the argument for women priests is in a very different place than the argument for homosexual priests. Regarding the former, both sides seem to have an arguable case; regarding the latter, the case ‘for’ appears particuarly spurious. I’m with you on the divorce thing though – the unmentioned sin.

    jean – thanks for dropping by 🙂 I might be very wrong, and I don’t mean this as a slur, but the PB to me appears weaker than might have initially appeared. She does seem to be someone who will go with the zeitgeist, whatever that happens to be. Perhaps after a while away from the primates she will get with the ‘new thing’ agenda again. Well, we will see, I could be wrong.

    Dave – our moment in the spotlight is coming up…!

    Marg (Liz) – I think that reduced synopsis is sadly accurate, on an emotional as well as a factual level.

    Scott – Ah yes, the seminaries. Perhaps it might be that the apostate ones will die out, to be replaced by growing orthodox ones. Again, this fight is not over yet!

    Blessings on you all,

    Peter

  10. white rabbit says:

    Fair enough Peter. But i might take you up on the use of the word priestess for that is like calling an actress an actor and I am of the age that Jane Fonda, Brigette Bardot, Sophia Loren and Gina Lollabrigette are actresses and not actors. Same with priests and priestesses. I think that when we start mucking about with the language we are on the slippery slope but i shall take the hint and be less flippant in the future. But I know what you mean.

  11. Peter says:

    Hi white rabbit – I’m with you in the strict sense, it is a correct use of language. Trouble is, that word has pagan connotations, and is often used in that way to insult.

    Anyway, thanks for the reply 🙂

    Blessings,

    Peter

  12. jean says:

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the interesting comments.

    It may very well be that +KJS is indeed weaker than originally thought – which is why everyone should pray for her, that she doesn’t revert to her previous pattern, because she will be under enormous pressure to do so from Integrity and the progressive wing of the TEC, to whom she owes her meteoric rise in the organization. Still, she seems cut from a different cloth than her predecessor (Frank Griswold), who repeatedly gave assurances to the rest of the communion that he would not or could not keep, and always clouded his words in a fog of impenetrable vagueness. I still remain cautiously hopeful.

    I found the historical background you gave interesting – some of it I’m familiar with (the story of Bishop Pike). There is actually more to that story, which is quite sad, but also seems to be a clear warning of what happens when one follows the path of a James Pike.

    Bishop Pike apparently was very well known in the late 50s and early 60s, for a appeared on a nationally broadcast religious TV shoe, and for many was the public face of the Episcopal church, even though only the bishop of California. As he got deeper and deeper into apostasy, his life fell apart. He was an alcoholic, a serial philanderer, divorced several times (had 3 marriages). Tragically, his son committed suicide, and Pike started consulting mediums and clairvoyants in an effort to communicate with him – I believe even participating in a televised seance with a popular medium of the day. As he drifted further away from the church, he got interested in gnostic spirituality, and died in 1969 during a trip to Israel – he and his 3rd wife were traveling in the Israeli desert when their car broke down. He died wandering in the desert, searching for help.

    Pike was also very publically involved in the civil rights struggle of the 60s (he marched with MLK in Selma), ordained the first female deacon in the TEC, was part of the beginnings of the gay movement within the church, so in that sense is still a role model for our reappraising brethren. Therein lies a big part of the problem in the TEC – there are a significant number of parishioners who seem to put their politics first – be it ecology or womens rights or pacifism or whatever – and will listen to the voices that support their causes, and swallow their bad theology. For too many people, the fact that someone like Pike denied the Trinity and the Virgin Birth is not important, since he supported the ‘right’ causes.

  13. Pauline Bettney says:

    Thanks Peter. It is very helpful. Judging from the reactions in TEC it seems as if they still don’t get it. However, Hutchinson’s reaction seems much more realistic. Shall be praying for the next 3 months!

  14. Peter says:

    Hi jean, thanks for dropping by again 🙂 Yes, I’d read the story of Pike, and it is a very sad one. May the Lord give us grace to stand firm in Him. I could have added more, but the report was already a bit long for a blog post as it was 😉

    Hi Pauline, glad to be able to help even in a little way.

    Blessings on you both,

    Peter

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