Bishop Sumner's Statement on Primates Meeting
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Greetings in Christ. It has been a tumultuous week in the Anglican Communion, and, while I think we do not yet fully know the implications of what has occurred, I do want to share with you some preliminary thoughts.
Perhaps the place to start is with the obvious: we are, and will remain, Episcopalians. We share, by God’s grace, in a wider fellowship, the Anglican Communion. Amidst our various opinions, we as the Diocese of Dallas are a ‘Communion Partners’ diocese, one that has maintained the traditional discipline on marriage. I have stated before that this unique perch gives us a particular witness within TEC and the Communion in which we seek to ‘speak the truth in love.’
Since articles in the newspaper convey part of the picture, let me back up. The Communion has for a number of years been at odds over TEC’s revisions on marriage, and for this reason global deliberations had mostly ground to a halt. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, summoned the Primates (the Archbishops) of the member churches to Canterbury this week primarily to deliberate on this question. The meeting of the Primates is one of what are called the ‘instruments of unity’ for our communion, which also include Canterbury himself, the Lambeth conference of all diocesan bishops every ten years, and the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates for example must send their recommendations to the ACC.
Juba, Rangoon, and Kampala are far away, geographically and culturally. We have our own national church. Why should we care about the state of our communion with them? The first answer is that the worldwide communion is a gift of God which embodies our faith in the Church catholic and apostolic, throughout the world and across centuries. Secondly, the fellowship of churches has traditionally been a way that one church tested its teaching, especially when it changed: did our siblings recognize that change as part of the continuum of the faith? In this case they did not. No church is an island either, to paraphrase a famous Anglican.
I have read the communiqué from their week-long meeting, and I believe it is important to hear what they have to say in its entirety. First of all, the Primates have voted to exclude the Episcopal Church from the councils of international Anglicanism for a three year period, during which time there will be continued conversation. This results from the fact that the Primates do not perceive the introduction of same-sex marriage in TEC as a legitimate development of the faith. At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that the goal of the meeting was not to punish, but to maintain the unity of the communion to the extent possible in light of strong differences.
The Primates have also made a number of other important points: they all share a desire to ‘walk together’, as the Windsor Report put it. They have all decried homophobia and laws that discriminate against gay people. They have joined hands on other matters of concern to our world, such as political corruption and ecological degradation. On these matters we strongly applaud their commitments as well. At the same time, I think it is fair to say that the status of the ACNA was left aside. They were not recognized at this meeting, and their Archbishop wisely did not vote to discipline our church.
Someone called me today and asked ‘Are we still part of the Anglican Communion?’ Constitutionally, firstly, we define this in Dallas as communion with the see of Canterbury, and by this measure the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes.’ However, secondly, the decision of this past week is, while not surprising, saddening and disquieting. The wound in our communion is real. I hope the Episcopal Church can hear our brothers and sisters in a spirit of humility. Thirdly, at ground level, closer to home, I believe we are still welcome as brothers and sisters to most of our fellow Anglican Churches, especially since we are a diocese which shares the teaching of the tradition and of the Communion (we see this e.g. in the recent statement of the Church of the Sudan).
We have not come to the last chapter of this story! It is undoubtedly clear that God has an important role for dioceses like ours. I will keep you updated- you for your part need to be praying for our global fellowship. And amidst all the Church’s struggles we remain confident that ‘the Word of God endures.’
As a footnote, the Primates agreed with the Coptic Pope on a shared and set date on Easter- that controversy only has taken 1600 years to resolve!
Reaffirming Communion: An Act of Hope by Ephraim Radner. Radner is a past visiting teacher and upcoming lecturer in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas