Traditionalist Anglicans around the world reacted to the news the primates of the Anglican Communion had suspended the Episcopal Church from membership in the 70 million member bodies' international council with a mixture of elation and caution.
Conservative leader Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh called the February 25 communiqué an "epochal" moment in the life of the church, while the archbishop of Sydney adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, summoned the leaders of the 38 member churches of the Anglican Communion to Newry, Northern Ireland, to discuss the Windsor Report. The study, released in October, was commissioned after a diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada authorized its clergy to perform same-sex "unions" and in the wake of the American church's decision to consecrate a noncelibate homosexual priest as bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire. The consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson scandalized Anglicans in Africa, Asia, and South America and divided the church in the United States.
Following four days of closed-door meetings, the Anglican leaders (called primates) unanimously agreed on February 24 to "request the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw" from the Anglican Communion's consultative council for three years. During the suspension, the churches were to reconsider their actions and amend their ways or provide an acceptable theological rationale for normalizing homosexual behavior.
The primates also asked, "as a matter of urgency," that the archbishop of Canterbury appoint a "panel of reference" to see that the American and Canadian churches grant alternative pastoral oversight to conservative congregations unable to accept the ministrations of liberal bishops. During the life of the suspension, conservative primates agreed to desist from initiating further "cross border interventions": a practice whereby overseas church leaders have assumed oversight of U.S. congregations in defiance of the wishes of the American church.
The divisions among the primates prior to the start of the conference were deep. The custom of daily Eucharist was abandoned after a number of primates, led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, refused to worship with Episcopal Church USA Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold. Archbishop Williams initially objected, but relented after the Africans made plain their belief that unity of doctrine preceded unity of worship.
Both sides praised the skills of Archbishop Rowan Williams in keeping the dialogue between the seemingly irreconcilable camps moving forward, allowing them to come to a unanimous decision by the end of the meeting that safeguards the rights of conservative Episcopalians in the United States and provides an opportunity for liberals to justify their actions before the wider church within a fixed period of time.
Liberal leaders praised the communiqué. Archbishop Peter Carnley of Australia said evangelicals "should rejoice with us that the primates of the global south are very pleased with the outcome and so are the North Americans."
Archbishop Andrew Hutchison of Canada said that though the communiqué "was not a perfect document," he was encouraged that the primates had set in place a mechanism to ensure that the voices of gay and lesbian Anglicans would be heard in the forthcoming debates over homosexuality.
Griswold endorsed the communiqué as well, noting that he would return home to consult with the leaders of the Episcopal Church on the recommendations of the statement and the Windsor Report.
'It buys time for a full resolution'
Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, leader of the Anglican Communion Network, called the report "breath taking." The teaching of the church and the authority of Scripture had been upheld, he said.
"As the Synod of Whitby in A.D. 664 decided for unity with the universal Christian church in matters of worship and church order, so the 2005 primates meeting has decided for unity with the universal Christian church in matters of doctrine and morals," said Duncan, whose nework is the principal traditionalists opposition group in the Episcopal Church USA. "The decisions taken at Newry in Northern Ireland are epochal."
Peter Jensen, the archbishop of Sydney and leader of evangelical Anglicans in Australia, was more circumspect. He said he "cautiously welcome[d] this decision and communiqué from the primates," but noted that "everything now depends on how effective and speedy" the reforms are implemented.
"It should be seen as a victory for the Archbishop of Canterbury in that it buys time for a full resolution of this serious theological and pastoral problem in the life of churches and congregations of the Anglican Communion," Jensen said.
Other American conservative leaders were taking a wait-and-see attitude. Bishop Keith Ackerman of Quincy, Illinois, deferred comment on the communiqué, saying he would suspend judgment until after he had conferred with 25 other Anglican leaders on February 26.
Other evangelical leaders were disturbed by the lack of vigor in communiqué, saying that it was simply another "line in the sand" and a "fudge."
David Phillips of the leading English evangelical group Church Society said his group was "alarmed" that the primates failed to discipline the wayward American church. He encouraged the primates to "set out a clear statement asserting that the actions of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada are beyond the bounds of Christian orthodoxy."
Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda, however, said Bible-centered Anglicans in the United States should take heart from the primates' communiqué. He says it creates a mechanism to ensure orthodox Americans remained unmolested in their worship and beliefs by the American church's liberal hierarchy. "We have moral obligation to those with whom we are in fellowship together," he said. "We will not abandon them as we are answerable for them before God."
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Titus One Nine, a weblog run by orthodox Anglican theologian Kendall Harmon, has become the main hang-out for commentary on Episcopal-Anglican matters. Classical Anglican Net News and Midwest Conservative Journal are also Anglican-focused news weblogs with strong orthodox perspectives.
A collection of all Christianity Today's coverage of the Anglican Communion is available on our website, including:
Canterbury Crackup | Eschewing church discipline has come back to haunt Anglicans. (Dec. 03, 2004)
Advice Rejected | Lambeth Commission report leaves church in disarray. (Nov. 10, 2004)
'African Church Has Come of Age,' Say African Anglican Bishops | It now faces the dual threat of Western heresy and militant Islam. (Oct. 27, 2004)
N.T. Wright: Anglican Report Is 'Fireproofing the House' | Top theologian on Lambeth Commission talks about what happened behind the scenes, whether the report should have been tougher, and why it's critical of some conservative bishops. (Oct. 21, 2004)
Windsor Report Leaves Conservative Episcopalians Hopping Mad | Conservative network leader: "The disease of the U.S. church has found its way into this report." (Oct. 19, 2004)
Stronger Action Needed, Say Global Anglican Leaders | "The primates will add teeth" to Windsor Report, conservatives predict, hope. (Oct. 19, 2004)
Disappointed Anglican Conservatives Mull Options, Threaten Revolt | Americans must belong to Episcopal Church, report says. (Oct. 19, 2004)
Report Rebukes Episcopalians for Disunity but Declines Sanctions | U.S. church in limbo as conservative dissidents mull their options. (Oct. 18, 2004)
Weblog: Anglican Report Treats Conservatives Harsher than Liberals | News, predictions that commission would sanction Episcopal Church were greatly exaggerated. (Oct. 18, 2004)