The Complicated Relationship Between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion Strikes Again

You have all probably heard from multiple sources that when the Primates met at Canterbury last week they ‘suspended’ the Episcopal Church from fully participating in activities of the Anglican Communion for the next three years.

There is certainly more to this than the various headlines have presented, and more background is needed to fully understand what happened and what that means for the future of both The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

First of all, the Anglican Communion is NOT the governing body of all the Anglican (and Episcopal) churches in the world. When you research the word ‘communion’ you will find that the Anglican Communion is:

    A group of Christian Churches derived from or related to the Church of England, including the Episcopal Church in the US and other national, provincial, and independent churches. The Anglican Communion has no official legal existence nor any governing structure which might exercise authority over the member churches.

The loose relationship in no way resembles the Roman Catholic church and its council of cardinals. We are bound by friendship and belief in following the teaching of Jesus. Therein lies the rub.

There are 44 different regional and national member churches in more than 160 countries within the Anglican Communion. Each of the regional and national churches have a primate (or in our case, Presiding Bishop) who represents their group within the Anglican Communion, there are 41 primates and Anglican Communion officials who attended the latest primates’ meeting. A complete list of all members can be found at Provinces of the Anglican Communion.

Archbishop Justin Welby called this unscheduled meeting of the primates (usually they meet every ten years) to try and defuse the animosity that exists between certain members of the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church. There have been rumblings of ‘schism’ ever since the 1970’s when The Episcopal Church issued a statement that gay men and lesbians “have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.” This was exacerbated by the consecration of Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. The final straw for some members of the Anglican Communion was the development of an official rite for same-gender marriage developed in 2009 and approved in 2015.

Many of the African primates of the Anglican Communion have an interpretation of biblical scripture which suggests to them that The Episcopal Church is non-biblical and non-Christian. Benjamin Nzimbi, the former primate of the Anglican Church in Kenya, once said, “Our understanding of the Bible is different from them. We are two different churches.”

One must note that, Africa, as a whole, is oppressive to LGBT persons; in approximately 70 countries, persons can be imprisoned or even executed for being homosexual. In several cases, the Anglican Church has taken a position of support for these draconian laws and associated punishments.

Last week the majority of the Anglican Communion voted to ‘suspend’ The Episcopal Church from any activities that ‘represent us (The Anglican Communion) on ecumenical and interfaith bodies; in addition, The Episcopal Church cannot not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee, and that while The Episcopal Church can participate in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, cannot take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity’ for three years.

The total text of the communiqué can be found at: Statement from the Primates 2016.

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, told the Episcopal News Service that the Primates statement about TEC was “not the outcome we expected.”

    Bishop Curry added: “While we are disappointed, it’s important to remember that the Anglican Communion is really not a matter of structure and organization. The Anglican Communion is a network of relationships that have been built on mission partnerships; relationships that are grounded in a common faith; relationships in companion diocese relationships; relationships with parish to parish across the world; relationships that are profoundly committed to serving and following the way of Jesus of Nazareth by helping the poorest of the poor, and helping this world to be a place where no child goes to bed hungry ever. “That’s what the Anglican Communion is, and that Communion continues and moves forward.”

    He said: “This has been a disappointing time for many, and there will be heartache and pain for many, but it’s important to remember that we are still part of the Anglican Communion. We are the Episcopal Church, and we are part of the Jesus Movement, and that Movement goes on, and our work goes on.”

The President of the House of Deputies, Rev Gay Clark Jennings, emphasized that The Episcopal Church will not step back from its firm belief in the sanctity of all people, and striving ‘to make safe the road from Jericho to Jerusalem that is walked by everyone who strives for just and fair societies and full inclusion in the Body of Christ.’

The Episcopal Church will continue to work around the world to spread the good news of the Gospel, to

    feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and heal the sick (Matthew 25:35-36)

as we are directed by Jesus.

Although we may be suspended from decision-making in the Anglican Communion, The Episcopal Church will continue as it has in the past. It is anyone’s guess what will happen at the end of the three years.

It is our work now, while we hurt and are sad for the Anglican Communion and this misguided spirit that mocks the teaching of Jesus, to pray for the world, and all those that are persecuted as we move forward, following our belief in the sanctity and belovedness of all people of God.

Written for Saint John’s Episcopal Church Crossroads, Worthington, OH; 19 January 2016

NOTE: number of attendees at the meeting modified on 22 January 2016)

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