Global issues dominate Primates Meeting, as marriage equality still challenges communion

Scottish Episcopal Church faces same ‘consequences’ as U.S.-based Episcopal Church

By Matthew Davies
Posted Oct 3, 2017
Curry at Primates Meeting

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry offers the opening prayers for Nevada during Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral on Oct. 2. Photo: ACNS

[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury – England] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is joining most of his fellow Anglican primates – or senior church leaders – in Canterbury this week for a five-day meeting that focuses primarily on global issues of peace and justice, evangelism and discipleship. But the issue of marriage equality has taken up a significant portion of the opening two days.

The Scottish Episcopal Church on Oct. 3 agreed to accept certain “consequences” for voting earlier this year to allow same-sex marriage in church.

The primates, at its last gathering in January 2016, called for the same consequences to be applied to the U.S.-based Episcopal Church. They asked that the Episcopal Church would, for a period of three years, “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and … not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity” on Anglican Communion bodies. That action came in response to the 2015 General Convention decision to change canonical language that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman (Resolution A036) and authorize two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples (Resolution A054).

In a similar move, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church last June voted in favor of allowing gay couples to marry in church. The vote means that the canon law will be changed to remove the definition that marriage is between a man and a woman, which enables gay and lesbian Christians to be married in church. The change in canon law also will stipulate that members of clergy will not be required to solemnize a marriage against their conscience.

Bishop Mark Strange, primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said in a statement that the decision “was ours to take as a self-governing province of the Anglican Communion” but that he recognized it has caused “some hurt and anger in parts of the Anglican Communion.”

Strange also recognized that the decision taken at the last Primates Meeting “to exclude our brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church from debate on doctrine and from chairing Anglican Communion committees, is a decision that now also pertains to us. We will continue to play our part in the Anglican Communion we helped to establish, and I will do all I can to rebuild relationships, but that will be done from the position our church has now reached in accordance with its synodical processes and in the belief that love means love.”

He explained that the process in Scotland had included “much prayer, theological debate, open and, at times, very personal testimony and that opportunity had been provided for groups throughout the church to discuss this matter and to pray about it; this included the voice of the youth in the church, the sharing of powerful words and stories from elderly members and hearing representation from those who hold a traditional understanding of marriage, those who see marriage as including same-gender couples and those who have encountered exclusion in declaring their love.”

Welby at Primates Meeting

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby addresses media Oct. 3 during a press conference at the conclusion of the second day of the Primates Meeting. Photo: ACNS

During an Oct. 3 press conference, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that there “were a lot of expressions of disappointment” with Scotland’s decision, but that Strange had been “careful in expressing his recognition that this was going to lead to consequences in terms of not being able to play a role in ecumenical or leadership roles in the Anglican Communion … and that was in line with the decisions reached in January 2016.” Welby said that no formal vote was taken by the primates to ask the Scottish Episcopal Church to accept the consequences “as there was no need for one.”

At their January 2016 meeting, a majority of the primates requested action against the Episcopal Church, officially using the language of “consequences,” although some have argued that they are in fact “sanctions” with a different identity.

Three months later in April 2016, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Communion’s only official policymaking body, declined to endorse or take any action similar to the primates’ call for three years of so-called “consequences” for the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church’s three ACC members participated fully in the meeting.

In his briefing to reporters, Welby said that some primates had raised the question on whether the “consequences” for the U.S.-based Episcopal Church had been followed through.

“I went through what we have done and they were satisfied,” he said. “I think I can show very clearly that everything that was decided that could be carried out was carried out.”

He said that the primates raised two “confusions” over the decision:

“One was that the Episcopal Church … was at the Anglican Consultative Council Meeting in Lusaka last year. Of course the ACC is a trust under English law. They are members of that trust. In fact one of them at the time, although he has stepped down, was a trustee. I have no power to overrule English law and say they can’t come. And so that was explained. I don’t think that had been fully understood.

“The other was asking why the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was on the task group looking at walking together. When you look at the wording of what was decided last time it was perfectly clear that there needed to be a conversation, a dialogue, about what it meant. And you clearly can’t have a conversation when you only have one group in the room.

“Talking to people over dinner last night and since, there has been no disagreement with that.”

Three primates – Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria, Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje of Rwanda, and Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda – are not attending the Primates Meeting because of the developments in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Another three – Archbishop Sturdie Downs of Central America, Archbishop Jacob Chimeledya of Tanzania, and Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo of Myanmar – are missing the meeting due to a mixture of practical, health and internal country affairs, according to the Anglican Communion Office.

The primates in January 2016 also asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish a task group “to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognizing the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.”

The task group held its first meeting in September last year and reported back to the Primates during the first two days of the meeting in Canterbury. Curry is a member of the group.

Issues of human sexuality have dominated many of the Primates Meetings of the last 15 years. Although this gathering has begun by addressing recent provincial actions on marriage equality, the primates are now expected to turn their attention to other pressing global concerns that affect the 165 countries and 39 provinces the primates represent.

Curry has said that he hopes to talk about migration, immigration and refugees at the meeting, his second since becoming presiding bishop in 2015.

“Most of our countries are impacted by people who are fleeing wars and violence and injustices and in many of our countries extraordinary ministries are reaching out to help those who find themselves refugees,” Curry said in a recent video message. “In the Episcopal Church, that is true as well. Even now, young people who we call DREAMers, whose parents brought them here years ago … are frightened and fearful that they might have to leave this country. … Refugees are our brothers and sisters because one God created us. …We must help those who are our brothers and sisters and find themselves refugees.”

Curry’s message comes against a backdrop of a growing intolerance of refugees in the U.S. and at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump has announced he intends to reduce the refugee admissions ceiling for the coming year to 45,000 persons, almost half the previous historic low of 85,000. Meanwhile, on Sept. 24, the Trump administration issued its third travel ban in less than a year aimed at blocking all refugees and travelers from eight mostly Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

As the Canterbury meeting got underway with the tragic news of the shooting in Las Vegas, the primates gathered around Curry in prayer and solidarity, issuing a statement that called the weekend massacre “truly shocking.” The primates also invited Curry to offer the opening prayers during Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral on Oct. 2.

In a video message published last week, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “We will miss those who are not there, miss them very much.”

And of the meeting itself, Welby said: “I am greatly looking forward to the Primates Meeting. It’s an extraordinary feeling to have the leaders of all the provinces gathering together to pray, to encourage one another, to weep with one another, to celebrate with one another.”

Who are the primates and what is the Primates Meeting?

Primates are the senior archbishops and presiding bishops elected or appointed to lead each of the 39 autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion. They are invited to the Primates Meetings by the Archbishop of Canterbury to consult on theological, social and international issues.

The Anglican Communion Primates Meeting is one of the three instruments of communion, the other two being the Lambeth Conference of bishops and the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion’s main policymaking body. The Archbishop of Canterbury, as primus inter pares, or “first among equals,” is recognized as the focus of unity for the Anglican Communion.

Each province relates to other provinces within the Anglican Communion by being in full communion with the See of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury calls the Lambeth Conference, chairs the meeting of primates and is president of the ACC.

In some Anglican provinces the primate is called archbishop or metropolitan, while in others the term presiding bishop – or as in Scotland, primus – is used.

The Archbishop of Canterbury also invites to the primates meetings the moderators who lead the united ecumenical churches of North India, South India and Pakistan.

In 1978 Archbishop Donald Coggan, the 101st Archbishop of Canterbury, established the Primates Meeting as an opportunity for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation.”

The primates have met in Ely, England, in 1979; Washington, D.C., in 1981; Limuru, Kenya, in 1983; Toronto, Canada, in 1986; Cyprus in 1989; Newcastle, Northern Ireland, in 1991; Cape Town, South Africa, in 1993; Windsor, England, in 1995; Jerusalem in 1997; Oporto, Portugal, in 2000; Kanuga Conference Center, Hendersonville, North Carolina, in 2001; Canterbury, England, in 2002; Gramado, Brazil, in May 2003; London, England, in October 2003; Newry, Northern Ireland, in February 2005; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in February 2007; Alexandria, Egypt, in February 2009; Dublin, Ireland, in January 2011; and Canterbury in January 2016.

The provinces and primates of the Anglican Communion are listed here.

— Matthew Davies is advertising and web manager for the Episcopal News Service.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Oct. 4 at 12:15 EDT to add further comments from Welby on the circumstances surrounding the implementation of the 2016 “consequences” for the Episcopal Church.


Comments (11)

  1. Bruce Garner says:

    From the above article: “Bishop Mark Strange, primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said in a statement that the decision “was ours to take as a self-governing province of the Anglican Communion” but that he recognized it has caused “some hurt and anger in parts of the Anglican Communion.””

    When will the primates recognize that their actions continue to cause hurt and anger to millions of LGBTQ people around their own provinces and the world? When will they own the persecution that their positions have created? When will they take responsibility for very un-Christlike behavior to other members of the Body of Christ? To other folks who profess a faith in the same Jesus Christ as they do?

    It’s time for the hypocrisy to end. Some primates refuse to accept the equality of LGBTQ folks in the realm of marriage. Yet they still do nothing about any within their provinces who have more than one wife. I’ve heard claims that they are adapting the situation to local custom. Yet I fail to see how that differs from what The Episcopal Church and The Scottish Episcopal Church have done.

    Isn’t it time to put more energy into the mission of the church in carrying out what Jesus commanded of us? We are to love one another as he loved us. We are to love God and love each other as we love ourselves. Those are very clear and unambiguous commandments, to which Jesus provided no exceptions.

    I also hope the Archbishop of Canterbury would learn to actually lead rather than wring his hands in angst that should never exist. He could just say: That is the way it is in the two provinces that have decided to marry same sex couples. He can follow that up with remarks about it being part of the complex quilt of the Anglican Communion that embraces many views on many subjects. And he could then say to his colleagues that it is time to move on to issues about hunger, poverty, disease and those issues that actually do harm the children of God.

    1. Douglas Carpenter says:

      Bruce Garner says it quite well above. In our parish lives have been enhanced by same-sex weddings. They are a blessing to us.

    2. Priscilla Johnstone says:

      I also agree with Bruce Garner’s statement above. Many of our churches offering a welcome to all people have become spiritual homes to LGBTQ people seeking a place to worship. I am proud of our Church for our outreach to people being targeted politically, proud of our stand for social justice for all including migrants and our Dreamers. At a time when many churches are losing people due to lack of relevance, we are preaching Jesus’ message of love for all.

  2. Richmond Parker says:

    If we throw the Bible out the window , what will we have left ? PECUSA had 3,600,000 members in 1966 , and now has 1,800, 000 members. The people are voting with their feet …….. The genetic determinists say that homosexuality is normal , it is wrong to disapprove of homosexual acts . and that it is absolutely impossible for homosexuals to change their orientation…. . I have read Leanne Payne’s book THE BROKEN IMAGE , and also Francis MacNutt’s book on the same subject . Please read these books yourselves . …… If the genetic determinists are right , it must follow that war is normal and inevitable , adultery is normal , lying is normal , idolatry is normal , blasphemy is normal , stealing is normal . etc. , etc. , and we might as well close up shop now !
    Respectfully Submitted , Richmond Parker ” Rich “

    1. Bruce Garner says:

      Try reading Scripture in context for a change. Old Testament references to same sex behavior prohibitions are all part of the Levitical Purity Code which contains literally thousands of prohibitions based on cultural issues, dietary issues, property issues, etc. Did you stone your disobedient children? If not you violated this code. Do you eat shellfish and pork? If so you violate this code. Did your wife squat on straw during her monthly period? If not, again, violation of the code. Keep in mind that dietary restrictions kept the Hebrew people alive and avoided diseases from foods that could not be preserved.

      References to same sex behavior in the Christian Testament were all in letters to new Christian communities that were trying to survive in pagan surroundings. Same sex activities were based in cultures where one man humiliated another by putting him in the “place” of a woman during sex, including raping conquered peoples. Other examples were part of lists regarding idolatrous activities. There were no references to loving, committed and monogamous same sex relationships among males and no references at all to women. One scenario depicted people giving up their “natural” inclinations for “unnatural.” In modern terminology, straight people were behaving like gay people. So, yes, if you are not same sex oriented but you engage in same sex behavior, that could be “sinful.” Most times abomination is used which does mean sinful but does mean to make to want to throw up. Any translation that uses the word homosexual is not accurate since the word did not exist until the early 1900’s.

      Jesus made no mention of human sexual behavior at all much less same sex behavior. He did talk about relationships and what was good and healthy and what was not. He indicated that by their fruits we would know them and listed the good fruit that comes from a good tree, so to speak.

      Aside from all of the above, we are looking at a culture of at least 2,000 years ago at its “newest.” They had no frame of reference for such issues. The world was flat to them and the universe revolved around the earth. We know that is not true. Do you really want to base how you look at people different from you through the lens of that many thousands of years ago? I don’t.

      Yes, The Episcopal Church has lost members. A primary factor can be attributed to more deaths than births among us. Another factor is our refusal to engage in evangelism. People leave for all sorts of reasons and many are looking for some reason to leave and will do so over the color of paint in the nave, having and ordained woman in the pulpit and yes, even today, having a person of color as their priest.

      Rich, you lump my sexual orientation in with true choices that people make. I did not choose my sexual orientation. Do you really believe that I would choose to subject myself to the crap people like you throw my way? That would indeed be insane. I didn’t choose my sexual orientation any more than you chose yours. Do you recall when you chose to be straight?

      I doubt you have much, if any, contact or relationship with loving and caring same sex couples who demonstrate all that marriage should be just by their daily lives. Any relationship, regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the members of the couple, is wrong if it is based on abuse, exploitation or coercion…even if the couple is legally married. It is not the status it is the characteristics of the relationship.

      Jesus was clear that: We were to love each other as he loved us. We were to love
      God and love each other as we love ourselves.

      If you want to condemn people, feel free to do so. Just remember that Jesus also said to us that when we judge others, we will be judged by the same criteria ourselves. His advice was that we not judge each other at all. The true “broken image” my friend is our failure to reflect what Jesus taught in our own relationships with each other.

      Bruce Garner

      1. Doug Desper says:

        What is a shame, Bruce, and dishonest in fact, is how the so-called Marriage Study was organized. The desired conclusion was achieved by the premise and parameter of the study which that was that “marriage is evolving”. Beginning with that argument a lot of effort was spent tracing how marriage has been seen over time and how it has changed. Many, many nice but ambiguously generic verses about love and tolerance have been snatched from the Bible to make the point that marriage should be, you know, “fair” to everybody. One ridiculous argument has been “all the sacraments for all the baptized” as though we have ever ordained a baby as a bishop! But, do you know what? Jesus beat us to that one….and what is dishonest about the study is how his plainest of words about marriage were entirely left out. Strange for “The Jesus Movement” to not begin….with Jesus. Perhaps that is because the desired outcome by activists would have no ground to stand on.

        Leaving aside all else let’s start with Jesus (you know, like a real Jesus Movement would).

        In Matthew 19 Jesus was cornered into clarifying what proper bonds of marriage should be in God’s value of things. He would say that divorce was granted only because our hearts are hardened…and how God disapproves of such. But before that often-ignored bombshell comes what the Marriage Study dared not begin with or go near:
        4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

        By the time that Jesus was cornered by the Pharisees in Matthew 19 it was well-known that humanity had tried nearly every option of pairing up and marrying: multiple wives, slave wives, and on and on. Marriage had not “evolved” since the days of Genesis 2, but instead had deteriorated! To this centuries-long experiment in self-fulfillment Jesus got all conservative and loud about it. He even quoted Scripture to back His stand! He quoted from Genesis 2 about what marriage should look like. He didn’t stammer, stutter, equivocate, leave room for Indaba, bring it before a voting body, or ask what the cosmopolitan pressure groups in town thought. Marriage is based in Genesis 2, said Jesus Christ.

        The Jesus Movement has ignored that one….pretty much on purpose.

        And speaking of knowing fruits, maybe the alarming downward spiral of our Church is the direct result of the Lord of the Harvest pruning the Church because we can’t live with the plainest of His words.

    2. Vernon Sheldon-Witter says:

      Similar losses have been experienced by every mainline Protestant Denomination from the year 1966 through 2017. Presbyterians,Methodists,Lutherans, The UCC, the ABC,and the DofC have all suffered from a staggering loss in membership, while Fundie Christian groups have grown. Your statement seems to forget the fact that that the drop in Episcopal Membership is not an isolated incidence, but part of a nation wide trend. Also every time TEC changes something (the BCE,Women’s Ordination etc.) there is tendancy for disgruntled former Episcopalians to peel off of members who either start attending other churches with similar social beliefs or the forming of Pseudo-Episcopal groups such as the ACNA.
      Perhaps this study by the Lilly Endowment may shed some light on your blanket assertion of TECs drop in membership

      1. Vernon Sheldon-Witter says:

        Excuse my typo. The correct term I wanted to use is the BCP-not BCE. Mea Culpa.

  3. Anthony Oberdorfer says:

    Doug Desper speaks for many of us who have just about given up hope that the Episcopal Church can be saved.

  4. Vernon Sheldon-Witter says:

    Similar losses have been experienced by every mainline Protestant Denomination from the year 1966 through 2017. Presbyterians,Methodists,Lutherans, The UCC, the ABC,and the DofC have all suffered from a staggering loss in membership, while Fundie Christian groups have grown. Your statement seems to forget the fact that that the drop in Episcopal Membership is not an isolated incidence, but part of a nation wide trend. Also every time TEC changes something (the BCP,Women’s Ordination etc.) there is tendancy for disgruntled former Episcopalians to peel off of members who either start attending other churches with similar social beliefs or the forming of Pseudo-Episcopal groups such as the ACNA.
    Perhaps this study by the Lilly Endowment may shed some light on your blanket assertion of the reason for TECs drop in membership

  5. Mary Barrett says:

    Well, what a blessed church TEC is. God calls many of us here, and for those that go elsewhere, may God bless their journey as well. The Holy Spirit is present with us all and calls us to remember Love as we journey onward along this path of growth and awareness. Pray the Daily Office as much as you can. God is continuously revealed as we do so, helping us to heal within and among ourselves, helping us to move forward as a community.

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