From First Things
The Anglicans: What Happened in Tanzania
By Jordan Hylden
The primates at Tanzania asked the bishops of the Episcopal Church to do two specific things: first, unequivocally promise not to authorize Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions; second, unequivocally promise not to consecrate any more actively homosexual bishops. It has been described as an ultimatum, and it comes with a deadline (September 30) and consequences: If not followed, the Episcopal Church will not be invited to next year’s Lambeth Conference and so in effect will be judged to have walked apart from the Anglican Communion.
Furthermore, the primates’ statement provides for the creation of an American “church-within-a-church,” fulfilling a long-standing request of conservative Episcopalians. All Episcopalian bishops will be given the opportunity to come under the direct authority of a separate five-member Pastoral Council (two members of which will be chosen by the current presiding bishop and the remainder by the archbishop of Canterbury and the primates). Conservative Episcopalian bishops will be allowed to nominate one of their own number as a “Primatial Vicar,” who will act in effect as presiding bishop for the church-within-a-church under the supervision of the primates’ Pastoral Council.
This new council could act as a significant check on the Episcopal Church’s internal authority, and it has been given great leeway to negotiate its own terms. In an especially telling line, it is given authorization under paragraph 157 of the Windsor Report to consider whether the Episcopal Church’s future actions merit further steps toward the withdrawal of the Episcopal Church from membership in the Anglican Communion. In essence, the new church-within-a-church stands ready to become a new American Anglican province in its own right if the Episcopal Church should decide finally to revoke its own current status in the communion.
In addition, the primates have encouraged but not required those who have already left the Episcopal Church to return under the new pastoral scheme, and they have left the door open for their inclusion in more-or-less their present form. The primates have also requested that all legal action currently pending against breakaway parishes come to an end, a significant repudiation of the Episcopal Church’s well-publicized strategy of filing as many lawsuits as possible. It remains to be seen whether the national church office will comply, but one certainly hopes that it will.
The next move belongs to the Episcopal Church, and Anglicans can only wait to see how it will respond to the primates’ requests. For many liberals within the Episcopal Church, for whom the gay-rights agenda is a nonnegotiable justice issue, complying with the primates’ requests would be seen as acquiescing to bigotry. The liberal argument in favor of delaying full homosexual inclusion has long been to wait “for a season” so as to “continue the conversation,” thus tactically awaiting the best opportunity to win the greatest gain. But this argument lost much of its luster at Tanzania, since the logic of subscription to an Anglican Covenant (a new and excellent version of which was also unveiled in Tanzania) means that the Episcopal Church would need to bind itself to the decisions of a largely conservative global Anglican body. The civil-rights-era argument that “justice delayed is justice denied” will thus appeal strongly to many liberals, some of whom are already tiring of an endless conversation that seems every time to end with conservatives having the last word. Still, there remains an outside chance that Episcopalians will join together to accept the primates’ requests, thus preserving the church’s Anglican status.
It has been a long road, and much uncertainty lies ahead. But what uncertainty remains is principally related to the decisions now facing the Episcopal Church. As for the Anglican Communion, its choice has been made. Years from now, it may well be that we will look upon this week as a crucial turning-point in Anglican history, crucial as anything since the English Reformation.
Read the whole thing here.