But He Warns Of Liberal Change If Conservatives Boycott Lambeth
By Auburn Faber Traycik
The Christian Challenge (Washington, DC) July 30, 2007
“This is a fight we are engaged in and we will see it through to the end. We are determined to see that the Anglican Communion ends up on the right side of the debate” over homosexual practice.
So West Indies Archbishop Drexel Gomez declared outside Washington, D.C. Saturday, drawing a standing ovation from a sizeable gathering of orthodox believers during a day-long Festival of Faith at St. Luke’s Church, Bladensburg, Maryland. The event also featured retired Quincy (IL) Episcopal Bishop Donald Parsons.
Gomez assailed opponents for characterizing fidelity to the consistent witness of scripture on homosexual practice as homophobia, bigotry, and fundamentalism. He said that he and co-religionist Anglican leaders would keep the Communion in line with the 2,000-year consensus of Christianity on same-sex relations, holding that the issue relates to “God’s ordering of life.” It is therefore - contrary the recent declaration by the Anglican Church of Canada - a matter of “core doctrine.”
But the leading conservative primate (provincial leader) also warned of a liberal recasting of official Anglicanism if some conservative provinces boycott the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. A few provinces have already determined to skip the meeting over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to include therein all Episcopal prelates who have violated the Lambeth ’98 sexuality resolution except actively gay prelate Gene Robinson, and to exclude U.S. missionary bishops backed by African provinces.
Gomez also sees obstacles to fulfilling the hopes of embattled American conservatives that The Episcopal Church (TEC) would be deemed by primates this fall to have left the Communion, a move they thought could help usher in a new jurisdiction for faithful U.S. Anglicans.
Such Communion housecleaning is still hampered by a weak top-level Communion structure that is already undergoing de facto change, but which awaits formal strengthening via the prospective Anglican covenant, which would be binding among provinces that adopt it. That is something Gomez knows a lot about, and talked a lot about in Bladensburg, as he not only helped produce the 2004 Windsor Report which (inter alia) recommended a covenant to help alleviate Anglican structural problems, he heads the panel that is designing the pact. Backed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his fellow primates, the covenant is a key agenda item for Lambeth ’08, which, however, already appears to be in trouble due to Dr. Williams’ controversial handling of invitations to the once-a-decade meeting.
GOMEZ TOLD his Washington-area audience, which numbered over 200 at its peak, that he sees little prospect that all 38 Anglican primates will meet later this year to determine the Communion status of TEC, whose bishops and Executive Council have rebuffed the primates’ last-ditch pleas to forswear further same-sex blessings and actively gay bishops, and to cooperate in the primates’ plan to provide an alternative leadership for disaffected Episcopal dioceses and parishes. Episcopal bishops have until September 30 to give a final answer to the primates’ appeals, before which time Archbishop Williams is due to meet with the prelates. Gomez and others still hope TEC will have a change of heart, but no one is predicting one.
In London recently, the Steering Committee for the Global South coalition of Anglican leaders urged Archbishop Williams (who is away on study leave) to convene a Primates’ Meeting after the Episcopal bishops’ September 19-25 assembly, to determine the adequacy of the U.S. prelates’ response to the primates’ requests. Gomez backed the call (though, contrary to reports, he told TCC that neither he nor Southern Cone Archbishop Gregory Venables was at the Global South confab in London). However, Gomez does not think Dr. Williams will grant the request, with the Communion Office almost certain to plead a lack of money.
The West Indies leader maintained in Bladensburg, too, that, while the primates could determine that TEC no longer shares the same faith as the Communion, there is “no mechanism” for putting any province out of the global church, in the absence of an Anglican covenant, which, however, will not be a “short-term process.”
He believes that Global South provinces will reply to the final word from TEC’s leadership, but that the “Communion response” to the American Church he says is needed may have to begin with individual provinces de-recognizing TEC. (Nearly half of Anglican provinces are already in impaired or broken communion with it.)
Still, he contended that a “Communion meeting and a Communion decision” which “may lead us beyond geographic delineations” is needed to work out American problems – a reference, he later told TCC, to a possible new U.S. province.
“We have to move forward from this state,” in which Episcopal conservatives appear to be “under siege,” Gomez said at St. Luke’s. “Technically speaking, Anglicanism in the U.S. is synonymous with the Episcopal Church, but many have left it and identified with more traditional forms of Anglicanism. That movement is increasing.” Though it was not clear how it would be realized under current circumstances, he asserted that: “We need a Communion meeting where we can deal with things that really affect our Communion. There should be no reason why a priest or congregation is persecuted simply because they want to practice traditional Anglicanism,” he remarked to applause from the Bladensburg audience.
He said that the primates, in their unanimously-adopted communiqué from Tanzania in February, attempted to address that roiled situation – to provide space for all sectors of the church to work together until a covenant is in place - with their proposed pastoral scheme. It called for a Pastoral Council to be appointed by the primates, Dr. Williams, and TEC’s presiding bishop, and to arrange alternate primatial and episcopal care for faithful American Anglicans within and outside of TEC. The scheme was promptly rejected by Episcopal leaders, who complained that the primates were overstepping their authority, acting like colonialists, and interfering with TEC’s polity; only General Convention could deal with the primates’ requests, they said.
What the primates proposed “was not an order,” but an “offer” rooted in concern for the U.S. Church, and aimed at benefiting the whole Communion, Gomez noted.
“We have to change the mindset, because it is quite clear that there are people in The Episcopal Church who not only resent traditional Anglicanism, they want to root it out,” he stated.
The Archbishop asserted that 2007 and 2008 will mark “the turning point in Anglicanism,” not least because of Lambeth ’08, which, as noted, is already in question, not only because of conservative objections to the inclusion of pro-gay bishops, but to Dr. Williams’ move to downgrade the Conference into what the Global South Steering Committee recently called an expensive episcopal jamboree packaged as a “prelatical training course.” Gomez said the Global South’s question is, “How can you have the designated leaders of the Communion meeting in one place and refusing to address the issue that is tearing the Communion apart, that is preventing Anglicanism from moving forward?”
If the bishops of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), which represents 12 African provinces, skip Lambeth, Gomez said, over half the bishops would be missing. A boycott by the Nigerian province alone would mean a shortage of over 120 bishops, enough to make a “big difference,” he added. Such significant absences would mean that, unlike Lambeth Conferences of the past, “whatever decisions are made (in ‘08) will not necessarily be representative of the thinking of the Communion.”
Saying his province believes that it is “better to be at the table,” Gomez said: “My fear is that, if traditional people don’t turn up (at Lambeth), the liberals in the Communion will change Anglicanism and will do so without blinking an eyelid.”
What about pressing Dr. Williams, if TEC refuses to repeal its pro-gay policies, to adjust Lambeth invitations accordingly? In remarks to TCC, Gomez argued that, while the primates could warn of the consequences of including violators of the Lambeth resolution among Conference participants, the Lambeth invitations are solely within the Archbishop of Canterbury’s purview. Williams has warned that he could rescind invitations to bishops who have caused serious division or scandal in the Communion, but the threat has been widely discounted.
The fate of the Anglican covenant hangs in the Lambeth balance, and naturally, the draft covenant itself, or more specifically its content, is a battleground as well.
Liberals tend to think the pact an unAnglican attempt to impose a “collective papacy” on the Communion, and to repel gay or liberal members. But while the draft covenant clarifies the operation of existing international authorities and elicits commitments to respect them and settled doctrine, Gomez told his Washington-area listeners that it is not intended to invent a new model of authority, or define Anglicanism in a new or narrow way. Rather, the covenant is essentially an attempt “to state the faith we have all inherited, so that we can have a new confidence that we are about the same mission.” The statements of belief were largely drawn from historical or other official sources, such as the Lambeth Quadrilateral and the Church of England’s Ordinal.
The Archbishop stressed, too, that the process of developing the covenant will be consultative and deliberative, with provinces now studying the text and submitting responses. Lambeth is to debate a revised version as presented by the Covenant Design Group. A final draft would have to undergo ratification by individual provinces to become effective.
In Gomez’s view, though, the Communion cannot remain (or become) such without a covenant. The global church is experiencing “great tension,” and the “bonds of affection” which once held Anglicans together have been “strained,” and some would say “broken,” he said. Mistrust and suspicion resulting from the homosexuality conflict are rife, and fellowship (as earlier noted) has been curtailed, with some primates declining to receive Holy Communion with TEC’s current or former presiding bishops. There are accusations of “heresy, bad faith, and of theological and ecclesiological innovation.” Prelates are taking over the care of churches outside their own provinces; new jurisdictions are being erected and bishops being consecrated. Extreme positions are being taken up, and language across the Communion has become “strident.”
The draft covenant seeks to rebuild the trust necessary to have a world communion, Gomez said. It promotes “a theology of interdependence, where we express autonomy in communion” and solicits a willingness ‘to act for the common good, not to insist one [one’s own] way.”
That was the situation presented by TEC in its approval of an actively gay bishop and same-sex blessings. It “took decisions without any regard for the rest of the Anglican Communion,” without thought for the “ecclesiological and theological implications.” The American Church acted in defiance of what it knew were the beliefs and practices of the rest of the global church, Gomez stated.
Up to now, Anglicans have had only one way of dealing with disputes: “We hold a meeting.” For the sake of the protection of truth, however, “you cannot have a world communion and fail to have some accepted mechanism for making decisions on behalf of the communion,” the Archbishop averred. There has to be mutual accountability, he said, and not only on the gay issue. Among other matters that may arise are lay presidency at Holy Communion, which finds supporters in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, and “certain issues in Africa,” which probably include the cultural challenge to the Church posed by polygamy.
A covenant also would reassure ecumenical partners, who find it difficult under current circumstances to get a consistent definition of Anglicanism. “Do we Anglicans have a clear and shared identity? This is the question…our ecumenical partners are increasingly asking us,” Gomez noted.
And if Anglicans can covenant with ecumenical partners, finding in them enough to recognize a shared faith, it would be strange if they are unable to covenant among themselves, he commented. Rejecting the idea that such a pact is unAnglican, he said that Christian life is in fact nurtured in covenants – such as those represented in the Eucharist, baptism and marriage.
“And if truth be told, there is some sense that we have been living by an implicit covenant together already, loosely based upon the Lambeth Quadrilateral. But these limits have never been quite so agreed and recognized.” Even so, Gomez said, the 1920 Lambeth Conference declared that: “The Churches represented (in the Communion) are indeed independent, but independent within the Christian freedom which recognizes the restraints of truth and love. They are not free to deny the truth. They are not free to ignore the fellowship.”
“I personally stand by the draft (covenant) we have…produced because I believe it is short, comprehensive, and easy to follow,” Gomez told the St. Luke’s gathering. “But I realize there are difficulties we have to face.”
He said some think that the draft concord places too much emphasis on the primates (despite a 1998 Lambeth resolution calling on them to exercise enhanced responsibility for maintaining Anglican unity, a mandate which the leaders have largely taken up in the intervening period). Gomez noted, though, that the primates would not be acting alone in the case of disputes on matters about which the Communion has not articulated a clear position, but rather consulting with other Anglican “instruments of communion,” (the covenant’s reform of the term “instruments of unity”); these include the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anglican Consultative Council, and Lambeth Conference.
Some conservatives score the covenant for a weak endorsement of the Anglican formularies, or think it does not go far enough in defining terms or in providing for the enforcement of discipline. Encouragingly, from the orthodox viewpoint, one section of the draft pact calls for member churches to “uphold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition.” The Communion, however, would appear to be in breach of the historic and most universal meaning of those terms in permitting women’s ordination. (TCC is awaiting further comment on this from the Archbishop, however.) And Gomez stressed to his Washington audience that the covenant development process is just beginning.
IN HIS TALK during the Festival of Faith, Bishop Parsons examined the call to each Christian to be some form of theologian, who explains what God has done in Christ Jesus. But for how to go about the “task of theology,” he suggested that his audience look to the early church.
“What was their ideal,” he asked, “a lone ranger or a member of the apostolic college? Is it an I, or a we?”
He noted that the disciples went out “two by two,” and that St. Paul used what others had developed, saying he was delivering to those to whom he wrote what he had received. Paul was extremely careful in transmitting sacred tradition, Bishop Parsons said. It was a “we,” not an “I,” he observed.
“It was the whole church that determined the canon of scripture,” that established the creeds and identified the sacraments, he said. Doing theology must be more than just oneself or one’s “little group or convention,” he contended.
Preaching later during an Evensong that concluded the Festival, Bishop Parsons, speaking about anxieties that talking to others about Christ can create, again noted the “two by two” principle, and cited some biblical references to show that not even Jesus or the disciples had complete success in gaining converts. He also recommended not over-preparing but listening to what people are saying, and allowing the Holy Spirit to “teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” The one sure thing, he said, is that there is “a large, empty hole” deep inside each of us that only God can fill.
Archbishop Gomez celebrated and preached at the Festival of Faith’s High Mass at St. Luke’s, reminding during his sermon that, as everything Jesus did was related to doing His Father’s will, the Church is to be faithful to Jesus in carrying forward that work of salvation. “God cares so much that He comes to us in Christ Jesus…We are called to tell the story of God in our midst.”
In a postmodern world, though, he said Anglicans must be confident enough in their knowledge of the faith and “what Jesus has done for us in the power of the Holy Spirit” that they are prepared to be maligned. Hence, every congregation should make Christian education a priority. Christians also witness to the Lord by how they live their lives, he said, stressing the need to restore the “servant church.”
Archbishop Gomez joined the multi-cultural St. Luke’s congregation at Mass on Sunday (July 29), celebrating and preaching once again, after which parishioners welcomed him at a luncheon. One of the few remaining traditionalist congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, St. Luke’s, a Forward in Faith parish aligned with the Anglican Communion Network, is led by the Rev. Fr. Mark W. Lewis, assisted by the Rev. Mr. James Fraser.