From the sidelines: Yesterday, the Episcopal Church was “sanctioned” by the rest of the Anglican Communion, and will be on a 3 year disciplinary program by which it cannot vote in Communion matters, or represent the Communion in interfaith/ecumenical activities.
This is all about the vote taken at last summer’s General Convention concerning rites for the celebration of same-sex marriage. Truthfully, I think it’s stupid to have separate rites if the church is going to consider marriage to be equal whether the partners are of same or different sexes. You make a few changes to words. You leave out things about procreation if it is not appropriate to have them (we’ve done that for ages with couples who, because of age or infirmity, were not likely to procreate). We had the rites, it was just a matter of expanding their application.
To some extent, this has got to be a relief. (Although it remains to be seen if the highly principled Primates decide they can also do without the substantial financial assistance TEC provides.) It’s like saying “You can’t do committee work”, when committee work is a big pain and waste of time anyway.
The bigger question (for me, as a former Anglican theologian) is this: is it possible to remain “Anglican” without being part of the Anglican Communion? Ten years ago I might have said no. Today, I reverse my position.
Over 200 years of being steeped in the Anglican tradition cannot be erased by a vote. The heritage of both Catholic and Reformed theologies, and the careful balancing of the two, will not go away because of a vote in Canterbury.
The finely-tuned system of church polity–imperfect as it is–will not cease to be a part of the Episcopal Church. Nor will the linguistic legacy of Cranmer’s prayer book, nor the choral tradition. The understanding of the sacraments of baptism and eucharist, which are ever-evolving but rooted in the Gospels and centuries of reflection,will continue.
The Episcopal Church stands accused, by the conservatives of the Communion, of “abandoning” core values of the faith. I have difficulties with this, as there is nothing in the creedal statements of the church, nor even the 39 Articles of Religion, having specifically to do with same-sex marriage. Those are at the core of the faith. None of that has been jettisoned.
If anything, the best of Anglican theology was embodied in the decision to go forward with full acceptance of the law of the land, and to allow the solemnization of marriages between any legally-eligible parties to take place in church.
The law stands for justice and equality–Gospel values.
The law acknowledges faithful, stable relationships–Gospel values.
The law signifies an expanding understanding of human development–an Anglican virtue.
The law binds people to greater responsibility and accountability–an Anglican virtue.
The question is not about how long the Episcopal Church will be under sanction, or what will be needed to get back in the good graces of the rest of the communion.
The question is now about whether membership in the Anglican Communion helps or hinders the Anglican identity and ethos of the Episcopal Church.
It will be, at worst, a sad goodbye, if the decision is made to leave. But far worse will be an abandoning of Anglican principles for the sake of returning to full membership within the Communion.