Within the wider family of the Anglican Communion, so far 2016 has been a busy year! A Primates Meeting called by the Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, commenced on 11th and concluded on 15th January. This gathering was called in the midst of one of the most contentious controversies of recent times, often euphemistically referred to as ‘Human Sexuality in the context of Christian Belief’. Many prophets of doom and gloom had forecasted that this meeting was a serious gamble that could conceivably spell the end of the Communion itself. Many predicted that there would be a mass walk-out by the primates of some of the more conservative member churches. However, although it was not without its controversy, no walk-out occurred and the meeting concluded with a commitment from all participants to preserve the Communion and to continue the ‘walk together’.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was once asked what was the essential ingredient or glue which kept the Anglican Communion together. He replied that he was not sure but suggested that perhaps it was simply ‘we meet’. In other words, despite the autonomy of individual churches and the obvious differences in doctrine and interpretation of the Scriptures, members were still willing to meet together. And it was through dialogue, and in particular through respectfully listening to one another that relationships are fostered and maintained.
The controversial downside to the meeting was the issuing of a much leaked joint communiqué by the primates at its conclusion. In it, there appeared to be a censoring of the American Episcopal Church (T.E.C.) for its stance in recognising and supporting same-sex marriage without reference to the wider Communion. The consensus of the primates was that for the next three years the T.E.C. should refrain from representing the Anglican Communion in ecumenical and inter-faith matters and they were not to appoint representatives to any of the Communion’s central bodies.
From a purely legal Canon Law standpoint, the communiqué’s consensus has no legal standing and is unenforceable; firstly because the Primates Meeting does not hold the power to make such decisions and secondly, it totally infringes the autonomous nature of individual members of the Communion. However, both the Archbishop of Canterbury and our own Archbishop of Armagh are keen to point out that it is the spirit of wanting to continue to stay and work together which is important. Members of T.E.C. feel aggrieved at being singled out – but members of the Anglican Church of North America (A.C.N.A.), a conservative breakaway grouping of T.E.C. and GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) a worldwide grouping of conservative Anglicans, feel aggrieved that it does not go far enough!
Closer to home, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev. Dr. Richard Clarke, last week launched a new booklet by the Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian belief entitled, ‘Guide to the Conversation’. It is envisaged that this booklet will assist members of the Church in the ongoing process of listening, learning and dialogue on the issue. Again, despite some letters to the Church of Ireland Gazette which have argued that there is nothing to discuss as both Scripture and Church teaching are clear and unequivocal on this issue, it is important that all sides ‘continue to meet’. It is also important that the firmly held beliefs of both sides to this debate are allowed to be voiced and heard. At the end of the day we should remind ourselves of the question, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ Would Jesus be willing to listen only to the voice that shouted the loudest? Would Jesus insist that orthodox doctrine always be enforced? Would Jesus reach out in love or would he reject those he disagreed with? We pray that God may direct all the discussions on this topic as people seek his will on their earthly pilgrimage.
With every blessing,
Rev’d John L. Tanner, Rector.
Tel: 01-289 3154 / 086 302 1376