For the past week, the primates from around the Anglican Communion have been meeting in England to discuss the state of the church, and drink tea. (Please note: these are the heads of regional churches, not the monkeys.)
In the run up to this meeting, the churchy media went a bit nuts with speculating. What would happen? Who would storm out? The conservative primates had all threatened to storm out, at one point or another. Would so-and-so get an invite? Would this person wear appropriate vestments? More fussing than normally happens at a middle school party.
We found out what actually happened today. The primates, in what seems to be an effort to quell the rumor mill, put out a statement.
And the frenzy ratcheted up another couple notches.
The secular press immediately declared that we had been SUSPENDED FROM THE COMMUNION (no, that’s not a thing that can happen.) Some of them declared that SANCTIONS HAD BEEN IMPOSED (again, nope, not a real thing.) All in all, it was pretty breathless and frantic, and please to recall, the secular press in general has a horrendous track record of reporting on the Episcopal Church because our polity is wackadoodle.
So, some things to bear in mind, now that you’ve read that statement for yourself:
(If you haven’t, go back and do that. Good Lord. Primary sources are important.)
- The Archbishop of Canterbury ‘fired’ our representatives on all Anglican ecumenical and interfaith dialogues a few years ago. That was already a reality. (And not a great one either, but neither was it the kiss of death, because few people noticed, other than those affected.)
- Up until now, the previous archbishop had wanted to solve this problem by instituting that old chestnut, the Anglican Covenant. Under the terms of the Covenant, if a province does something unpopular, they lose all representation until they repent. So the understanding, in many quarters, had been that the suspension we’d been under was just infinite. Or until Jesus returned and sorted this out himself. The fact that we now have a 3 year time frame WITHOUT an attached expectation of repentance is a rather big deal.
- It’s not altogether clear how the primates can manage what they’re proposing. They don’t get to determine membership on the ecumenical dialogues, or on any voting groups. Up until now, the primates met together to plan the Lambeth council. Probably, this statement is referring to a voluntary abstention from certain votes on TEC’s part.
- Weird how no one’s mad at Canada, huh? Considering that Canada was blessing same-gender unions, and had legalized same-gender marriage before we did, and that New Zealand is now also doing both those things, it’s rather fascinating that the Episcopal Church alone is the one in trouble.
Let’s talk about that last one, because it’s that last one that’s really where this gets interesting.
Way back in ye olden times of 2003, when we ordained +Gene Robinson, and this whole thing kicked off in earnest, the Anglican Communion responded by issuing the Windsor Report. Among other things, it said that Canada was also in trouble for being troublingly nice to LGBTQ people, as well as Nigeria, Rwanda, and the Southern Cone, who had crossed into provinces that weren’t their own and stolen churches–a no-no since Nicea. (Literally.) The Episcopal Church got the biggest talking-to out of the report, but everyone else was also in trouble.
Interestingly, in the ensuing years, in the ensuing statements and actions, no one ever came after Canada. But the Episcopal Church got nailed. We lost representation on ecumenical groups, like I said, and we were called out in document after document. What had started out as a pretty widespread communion breakdown shifted into something we did, by ourselves.
I have a theory.
Up until very recently, there really was no Anglican Communion to speak of. There was us, and the UK churches…and a bunch of colonies. That was it. Then, around the 1980s, those colonies in Asia and Africa started to gain their independence. And all of a sudden, these people had the ability and wherewithal to express their own thoughts and ideas, independent from the mother church. Suddenly, it became very important for them to have their own voice, their own identity, beyond that of a British colony.
Fast forward: The OTHER thing that happened in 2003 if you weren’t myopically gazing at the church was the invasion of Iraq. American cowboy president unilaterally takes over another sovereign nation preemptively.
Now, if you are a bishop in a postcolonial state, worried about the reach of Western imperialism and global capitalism, this is pretty much the nightmare scenario for you. Because those hot-headed Americans are now running amuck across the globe taking whatever they want with their giant military, and who knows who is next. And by the way, those Americans also went and ordained this gay bishop in New Hampshire.
I would argue that for many in the global South, the two events were fused. Just as our understanding of politics in South Sudan is usually without nuance, the suggestion that the American Episcopal church (which, let’s remember, was also spread around the world through the military) would have a different approach than our government might not get picked up. The refrain that is frequently heard around this is that “Those Americans are trying to force everyone else to do it their way”. While that’s both not true and pretty impossible, it does reflect the perception of America…which got thrown back onto the church.
All of which is to say that what’s happening right now is all about the US, and not about gay marriage. It’s about churches and people long denied a voice now finding one, and using it to express their anger.
What’s frustrating, of course, is that this is anger directed at the exact wrong thing. Seriously, Uganda! I hate colonialism too! Ask me about Yorktown sometime! Rwanda, I agree, global capitalism is horrible and we need a better option. We should work on that. And Nigeria, none of us like the British, so let’s just shake on that right now.
But could we name this what it is, rather than misdirect it at LGBTQ people who didn’t do anything? This isn’t about them. This is about the scars of our mutual history coming to the surface.
The good news is 1.) that this post is almost finished, and 2.) that it now seems like everyone will get to stay at the table to figure this out together. Because while we may be angry with each other, it is now looking like there is definitely light 3 years out on the horizon.
And we will get to find out what we have to argue about next.