FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Reflections on the Primates Communiqué
From the General Secretary of Ekklesia
March 14, 2007
I am writing following the Primates Meeting in Tanzania to share some thoughts about the Communiqué and hopefully to address some of the great anxiety that I have observed from a number of leaders from churches that are under overseas jurisdictions. Understandably, they have expressed concern that they might be pressed to “just go back” to ECUSA, but I am convinced that fear is unfounded. The circumstances and fate of those churches was a matter of great importance and discussion at the Primates Meeting in Tanzania.
The description that some in the US have offered of churches that are under “foreign jurisdiction” (but not in CANA or AMiA) as “independent,” does not match the understanding that the bishops overseas have. Without exception, overseas bishops consider clergy and congregations they have received to be regular members of the dioceses into which they transferred. They are expected to play a real and significant part in the life of the diocese. Among other things, clergy have been asked to attend the diocesan synod or annual clergy conference of the diocese that was receiving them.
I am not aware of any bishop who has received clergy or a congregation that does not see this as a sacred trust to provide care for them until a fully faithful structure can emerge in the US. Obviously, that is a tall order.
I can also say with confidence that the same is true for the Primates of the Provinces that have received clergy and congregations. This point was strongly reiterated at the meeting in Dar es Salaam. Several Primates have shared that they spoke in the meeting with great clarity that they “would not send their children back into an abusive home.” They also said that they “had to be completely satisfied that the problem was solved before they would even discuss releasing any of their churches.” It was clearly reflected in the Communiqué:
“Furthermore, those Primates who have undertaken interventions do not feel that it is right to end those interventions until it becomes clear that sufficient provision has been made for the life of those [faithful] persons.” (Paragraph 26)
In addition, they said:
“Those who have intervened believe it would be inappropriate to bring an end to interventions until there is change in The Episcopal Church.” (Paragraph 34)
Not only would Primates have to be confident that the new structure was safe and theologically sound, but it also would require agreement from the people in the churches that would be affected.
“Congregations or parishes in current arrangements will negotiate their place within the structures of pastoral oversight set out above.” (From “Recommendations)
Having the authority to negotiate means that a congregation will not have to join or submit to a structure that they do not believe is fully Biblically faithful. The authority to negotiate means the ability to say, “No.”
The Communiqué also recognizes the fact that the problems extend far beyond the issue of human sexuality. There are numerous other issues of Christian faith under assault.
“The primates recognise that such pastoral needs as those considered here are not limited to The Episcopal Church alone. Nor do such pastoral needs arise only in relation to issues of human sexuality.” (Paragraph 36)
The Presiding Bishop’s now famous rejection of Jesus as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” is not mitigated at all by her willingness to include Jesus as “our way but not the only way.” It is an utterly fundamental rejection of the Christian faith. If the Cross is only one option, then it is not necessary, and it is a terrible mistake. Without the Cross, there is no atonement and no forgiveness of sin. Sadly, it is only one of a number of fault lines that run through the heart of the Episcopal Church. If the Episcopal Bishops didn’t embrace her theology, she would not have been selected as Presiding Bishop.
If the Episcopal Church claims to conform to the Primates’ (Biblical) challenge, there are still other problems. For example, I believe that the majority of the current leaders of the Episcopal Church have so abused faith and order that they have forfeited any authentic spiritual leadership role even if by some miracle they were to manifest repentance of Red Sea proportions.
Like others, I hoped for a more definitive meeting from Tanzania. As remarkable as it turned out to be, there were several factors that kept it from being more so than it was. One was the tremendous turnover of primates. There were fourteen there for the first time. No matter how much reading or preparation they had done, there is a great pressure to start over again covering ground that has been covered many times already.
Another concern was, had the Communion broken apart, as I believe it very nearly did, it would have been with a minority of provinces separating (albeit probably a significant majority of the membership); but would have left the church in the industrial nations (including the Episcopal Church in the US) claiming the “franchise” and name “Anglican.” Sadly, that would have left them with a public face of great leverage to be able to lead millions of people astray who continue to think all this will pass. In the discussions, however, a miraculous dynamic emerged. Such a great majority wound up insisting on Biblical faith and teaching as the foundation for the Anglican Communion for the future, it is not only the Episcopal Church that is being challenged, but revisionists in other regions as well. While the language is Anglican and gracious, the recognition at the conclusion that the issues are not limited to the Episcopal Church (nor are they limited to issues of sexuality) is tremendously important. It is certainly worthy of taking the additional time and energy, as unpleasant as that prospect is.
The Communiqué is a last attempt to “fulfill all righteousness” before the awful realities of a permanent separation are manifest. One can try to put a good face on it, but there simply cannot be a common future when faith is not held in common.
Though the struggle is not over, neither is it lost. I would encourage those who are anxious and losing heart to remember that the Bishops and Primates who have rescued them will never abandon them. We have a future and it is in Christ. It will also be with millions of others who are committed to Biblical faith and order.
Yours in Christ,
Dr. Bill Atwood
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