Observations of Presiding Bishop Mouneer Anis on the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans
Thursday October 04th 2007
I am very grateful for the warm welcome from and hospitality of the Presiding Bishop and other Bishops from The Episcopal Church in America (TEC). I was invited to participate in the House of Bishops (HOB) meeting as well as the Joint Standing Committee, as a member of the Primates Standing Committee. It was a wonderful and unique opportunity to be able to listen to the TEC Bishops in New Orleans and learn about the Church in America. I was also very grateful for the opportunity I was given to address the HOB.
During the HOB meetings I observed the following:
Membership in the Anglican Communion
The majority of Bishops are keen to maintain their membership with in the Anglican Communion. ”We need the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Communion needs us”. Some Bishops also expressed their appreciation of the companionship relations and mission work between TEC Dioceses and other Dioceses within the Anglican Communion.
Values of significance within TEC
Ensuring social justice for all members of the society This would be expressed by the full participation of practicing homosexuals of all aspects of the ministry of the church, including ordained ministry. This also guarantees that gay and lesbian couple have their unions blessed in the church.
Alleviating poverty through implementing the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG).tt
Autonomy. While they value their membership within the Anglican Communion, they are absolutely clear that TEC is an autonomous church and should not receive instruction from any other body or church, like the Primates Meeting.
Inclusiveness. The American Bishops spoke about inclusiveness as an utmost necessity within church life. Everybody, regardless of life style or sexual orientation or belief should enjoy full participation in church life. Though they stress this value, the orthodox Bishops within TEC feel marginalized and excluded.
TEC adopted a different direction from the Anglican Communion
The issue of homosexuality and the blessing of same-sex marriages is just a tiny part of the direction that TEC is moving in. Their views of the scriptures, salvation and Jesus Christ, His divinity and uniqueness, are very different from the majority views of the Anglican Communion. They strongly believe that this new direction is prophetic and will lead to reformation within the Church. For this reason they cannot wait for the rest of the Communion because they are taking the lead towards this new direction. Several bishops are very critical of the idea of a Covenant; this is why it was not mentioned in their response to the Primates. The Archbishop of Canterbury graciously addressed the House of Bishops and shared that he believed that the heart of the issue is about the understanding of ecclesiology and Catholicity. He also shared with them that it is a Bishop’s responsibility to serve the common discernment of the whole Church. It was surprising for me to observe the angry response of several Bishops to these remarks. Perhaps this is because the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out the very reason for the crisis we are in. This reason is the spirit of individualism within the American Church. Such individualism is manifested by their disregard for the rest of the Communion and ecumenical partners.
Resolution B033 of the General Convention in 2006 states that they will ”exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on the Communion”, (which they clarified to include non-celibate homosexuals). In spite of this, Gene Robinson is welcomed and supported by the HOB. It is a source of pride for the majority of bishops that they were able to go ahead of all the churches and consecrate a bishop who is an active gay. Moreover they asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to find a way for Gene Robinson to participate at Lambeth 2008. This clearly expresses their determination to continue to travel in this ‘new direction’.
Outside Intervention within TEC
The House of Bishops expressed their rejection of the interventions by Primates from other Provinces. However they did not accept the Primates recommendation of a Pastoral Scheme. Instead they came up with an internal plan for ”Episcopal visitors” which is unlikely to solve deep disputes between Dioceses and parishes and TEC. Of course it is impossible to imagine that TEC could both be a party in the dispute as well as a judge of it.
In conclusion, I believe that TEC did not and will not change its position in regard to the issues that tear apart the fabric of the Communion. They tried to use very ambiguous language to show that they responded positively to the Windsor Report and well as the Primates recommendation. However, I see that they are determined to go their own way. I am afraid that TEC’s position may lead to more intervention and further fragmentation within the Communion. They describe their position as a new Reformation, but they forgot that the reformation led to a split!
At a time like this we need clarity and firmness to resolve this crisis. Without this the Communion will fragment because every church will take the actions she likes. I do pray for Archbishop Rowan Williams at this time, so that the Lord may give him wisdom and the love in this difficult time.