What we can be thankful for
We give thanks for the Primates’ willingness to specifically address the crises in Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Gaza. We are thankful for their endorsement of an Anglican Relief and Development Alliance to establish a global network of relief agencies throughout the Communion, especially in light of the current global financial crisis. We are thankful for their commitment to strengthen Theological Education in the Anglican Communion.
We also give great thanks that the Primates unanimously reaffirmed the traditional, Biblical teaching in regards to human sexuality as defined in Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1979), stating “The position of the Communion defined by Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 in its entirety remains.”(1) (emphasis added) This position of course stands in stark contrast to TEC’s consecration of a non-celibate homosexual as bishop, the increasing number of dioceses who are calling on General Convention to repeal Resolution B033’s moratorium on any further consecrations of homosexuals or lesbians as bishops, and the proliferation of same-sex blessings and authorization for rites for blessing same-sex unions at the diocesan level.
One can only wonder how the Presiding Bishop of TEC could sign this Communiqué given her very public disagreement with the teaching in Lambeth 1.10—unless of course, she sees it as the former Presiding Bishop saw it, merely another speed bump to disregard in an alternate reality.
It appears the Primates were able to openly and honestly share their experiences, perceptions and convictions about the new teaching on sexuality that TEC has imposed on the rest of the Communion. While they observed a spirit of open and respectful dialogue, they also declared that this teaching has damaged and fractured relationships, and threatens the very soul of the Communion. We give thanks that the Primates recognized the inability of the current “Instruments of Unity” to address TEC’s shredding of the fabric of the Communion—an inability which the Primates described as an “ecclesial deficit.”
We are grateful the Primates recognized the Common Cause Partners, and the Anglican Church in North America, as faithful Anglicans whom they described as “dear sisters and brothers for whom we understand membership in the Anglican Communion is profoundly important.”(2)
Finally, we are grateful that in the Primates’ diagnosis of the sickness that threatens the soul of the Communion, they have called for a professionally mediated, face-to-face meeting of all the significant parties to the crisis in North America. For the first time they are including in Communion processes those orthodox and Biblically faithful Anglicans who have been sickened by the false gospel of TEC, and have fled to or sought refuge in other Provinces of the Communion.
Despite the accurate diagnosis for which we are thankful, the solutions set forth in the Communiqué fail to address the very “ecclesial deficit” the Primates described.
Incoherent language regarding the proposed Anglican Covenant
The Primates repeatedly acknowledge the need for mutual accountability. But the instrument they propose for this is a “Covenant” which has no mechanism for enforcement whatsoever. It is a covenant which the Primates describe as having a “relational basis and tone,” “freedom and robust accountability.”(3) Robust accountability cannot be attained without delineating the limits of Provincial freedom. The Biblical teaching on human sexuality in Lambeth 1979 Resolution 1.10 exactly delineated the limits of sexual freedom for Anglican Christians. This Communion teaching, so unanimously reaffirmed by the Primates, has no mechanism for enforcement under the proposed Covenant. There are no meaningful sanctions for those who will continue to flaunt Lambeth 1.10. The proposed Covenant is a recipe for the disaster we have seen repeated in the Global North where Biblical truth always takes a back seat to possessive individualism.
On the one hand, the Primates talk about the proposed Covenant as an instrument that will preserve the mutuality that should characterize the life of Christians and of Churches. And with the other hand they remove that possibility by declaring that the proposed covenant will depend entirely on the good will of those who are parties to it: self limitation and gracious restraint born of true affection…humility and integrity.(4)
Has anyone been paying attention to the leadership of TEC, especially the Presiding Bishop, since the last call for gracious restraint less than two years ago at the Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam? The leadership of TEC has accelerated litigation against those who fled to other Provinces, suing parishes and individuals at an astonishing rate. We count at least 56 cases TEC has initiated directly and through dioceses. And this does not even take into account the litigation they have yet to file in the dioceses of Ft. Worth and Quincy. When challenged at the Lambeth Conference, revisionist TEC bishops had the audacity to lie through their teeth and claim that local churches were suing them! Where is the humility and integrity in such reckless indifference to the truth? Where is the gracious restraint against such accelerating, costly, punitive litigation?
Where is the gracious restraint and self-limitation of a TEC House of Bishops who have tortured the plain meaning of the canons to depose 12 bishops and 104 priests and deacons for transferring to another province of the Anglican Communion in order to maintain integrity and faithfulness to Communion teaching on human sexuality? Where is the gracious restraint and self-limitation where, without any due process or appeal, the Presiding Bishop deposes a sitting bishop for what he might do? Or where she deposes a bishop ordained and canonically resident in the Church of England? Or where she dismisses a lawfully constituted diocesan standing committee and substitutes her own? Or where she hires a personal litigator to guide the accelerating litigation on the very eve of the Primates meeting?
And the list goes on…
It is no surprise that within minutes of the release of this Communiqué, the Presiding Bishop signaled her own feelings about gracious restraint in the ENS press release: “The long-term impact of 'gracious restraint' is a matter for General Convention.” “We are going to have to have honest conversations about who we are as a church and the value we place on our relationships and mission opportunities with other parts of the communion and how we can be faithful with many spheres of relationship at the same time. That is tension-producing and will be anxiety-producing for many, but we are a people that live in hope, not in instant solutions but in faithfulness to God”(5)
Since she has already announced that General Convention will not even consider the proposed Covenant until 2012 (or 2015 if constitutional changes are required), there will be no gracious restraint to hold the Communion together while the leadership of TEC continues to export a false gospel to the rest of the Communion, and impose it at home. What will happen to the Biblically orthodox, faithful Anglicans in TEC, “dear sisters and brothers in Christ,” who will continue to face inhibition, deposition and other canonical abuses over the next three years, without any recourse to Communion structures? What will happen to the men, women and children in TEC pews who have not received enough sound teaching to recognize this false gospel as a counterfeit?
In short, without any mechanism for enforcement, the proposed Covenant is already irrelevant and an empty promise.
The futility of mediating when the result has already been settled
We trust the Primates read the fine print in footnote 11, which states that “the advent of schemes such as the Communion Partners Fellowship and the Episcopal Visitors scheme instituted by the Presiding Bishop in the United States should be sufficient to provide for the care of those alienated within the Episcopal Church from recent developments.”(6)
So what is the point of gathering all the significant parties alienated by TEC for a professionally mediated conversation, when the result has already been pre-determined in this footnote of the Communiqué? For those still within TEC, will the “conversation” simply be a presentation of two alternatives to choose from: on the one hand a Communion Partners Fellowship “scheme” (their word, not mine) that has no details as yet beyond DEPO and mere fellowship… Or an Episcopal Visitors “scheme” imposed by the Presiding Bishop without any consultation with the parties she and TEC’s leadership have aggrieved?
For those who have left TEC, footnote 11 holds this promise: “The aim would be to find a provisional holding arrangement which will enable dialogue to take place and which will be revisited on the conclusion of the Covenant Process, or the achievement of long term reconciliation in the Communion.”(7) (emphasis added)
Those who left TEC after years of “dialogue” over the fundamentals of the faith and issues of human sexuality understand the futility of this process. They crossed the Red Sea (figuratively speaking) and were rewarded by inhibition, deposition, loss of income, costly litigation, and/or loss of their churches. They will not be repatriated to Egypt—and certainly not under any arrangement that views them as the problem, and not TEC.
And there lies the rub with a “provisional holding arrangement.”
From my experience as a former prosecutor, I know what a “holding tank” is: it’s the room where “troublemakers” are held before they are brought before judge and/or jury for a plea, trial and sentencing. Elsewhere, the Primates refer to faithful Anglicans in North America as people “we earnestly desire reconciliation.”(8)
Whether intended or not, the language of paragraph 14 and footnote 11 casts orthodox Anglicans in North America as the troublemakers who need to be reconciled to the rest of the Communion. This language ignores the schismatic actions of TEC that have torn the fabric of the Communion, and continue to shred it to pieces.
“Provisional holding arrangements,” “dialogue,” and professional mediators appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury are not new solutions (does anyone remember the “Panel of Reference”?) Unfortunately, they are the same processes that have failed to hold the Communion together, and the same processes of delay that TEC will take advantage of while imposing a false gospel at home and throughout the rest of the Communion.
Embracing TEC’s culture of denial and decline
Between 2002 and 2007, TEC’s average Sunday attendance dropped 118,818 or 14 percent—the equivalent of 381 people leaving every week. This would be the same as five average-sized congregations (73 people) leaving every week for six years.(9) By contrast, and during the same period of time, the Anglican Mission in the Americas, one of the founding members of the ACNA, grew from 10 churches to 134—with another 40+ missions as of this date preparing for parish status. They achieved this evangelism and church growth almost entirely through church planting, and with a less than 10 percent failure rate.(10)
Despite these facts, the Primates’ only reference to the ACNA comes, again, in footnote 11, where they write: “Any scheme developed would rely on an undertaking from the present partners to ACNA that they would not seek to recruit and expand their membership by means of proselytisation.”(11)
What does this warning mean?
Does “proselytisation” include church planting? Does it include fulfilling the Great Commission? Does it include people asserting their constitutional right to free exercise of religion by transferring from a TEC church to an ACNA church? Does it include parishes currently in the process of discerning whether they can remain in the oppressive spiritual environment of TEC? This heavy-handed limitation on ACNA smacks of a kind of "protectionism” of TEC by the Communion. It rescues the revisionist leadership of TEC from the consequences of preaching a false gospel—which they confidently and falsely predicted would grow the church.
Article 3 of the Provisional Constitution of the ACNA declares that the mission of this church is “so to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that people everywhere will come to know Him as Lord and serve Him as King in the fellowship of the Church.”(12)
It is no coincidence that this declaration and definition of mission comes from the highest councils of the Anglican Communion.(13) It reflects the ACNA’s resolve to be profoundly missional and profoundly Anglican at once. Sadly, the Primates missed an opportunity to bless the ACNA and instead imposed a limitation and a warning that contradicts the Communion commitment to evangelism, discipleship, church growth and mission.
The Primates’ Communiqué offers a compelling diagnosis of the divisions within the Anglican Communion, without any promise of meaningful Communion structures to address those divisions.
Now is the time for faithful Anglicans in North America, both within TEC and within ACNA, to follow the encouragement from Hebrews 12:
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3 NIV)We are all sinners, and we are all in need of a season of repentance, humility, and restoration. May we all fix our eyes on Jesus, and follow him on the course he has marked out before us, renewing our commitment to evangelism, discipleship and mission—and building a united, Biblical missionary Anglicanism in North America and world-wide that will give glory to God by reaching multitudes who do not yet know Jesus Christ.
 Primates Meeting Communiqué, February 5, 2009, paragraph 12.
 Ibid., paragraph 14.
 Ibid., paragraph 16.
 “Primates support ‘Pastoral Visitors’ to assist in healing
Anglican divisions,” Episcopal Life Online, February 5, 2009.
 Primates Meeting Communiqué, February 5, 2009, paragraph 14,
 Ibid., paragraph 14.
 These statistics are taken from The Episcopal Church’s online
 Address of the Chairman of the AMiA, January 29, 2009, AMiA
Winter Conference, Greensboro NC.
 Primates Meeting Communiqué, February 5, 2009, Paragraph 14,
 Article III, Section 1 of the Provisional Constitution of the
Anglican Church in North America, adopted by the Common Cause
Partners December 3, 2008, Wheaton IL.
 From Towards the Conversion of England: The Report of a
Commission on Evangelism appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury
and York, pursuant to a Resolution of the Church Assembly passed at
the Summer session, 1943, London: Press and Publications Board of the
Church Assembly, 1945.
The Rev'd Phil Ashey, J.D., is the Chief Operating Officer of the American Anglican Council.