EDITORIAL: Anglican stopgap for same-sex divide
“THIS IS A PROBLEM we had to face head-on and we did.”
By “we” the Most Reverend John Holder, Archbishop of the West Indies Province of the Anglican Church and Bishop of Barbados’ Anglican diocese, was referring to the primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion, an umbrella of almost 40 religious provinces and 85 million worshippers in Africa, England, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, North America, Australia and New Zealand. And the “problem, nightmare if you will, is the thorny question of same-sex marriage and the hard-headed attitude of the United States Episcopal Church.
The issue of same-sex marriage, a union of people of the same gender, is threatening to undermine Anglican unity and doctrine. That’s why for three days last week the Archbishops from around the world, Holder among them, met in London under the chairmanship of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and came to come to grips with the problem, thanks, in part, to the hands-on involvement of Holder and a small group of “princes” of the church who decided on a common sense compromise that at its most basic is keeping the US church in the fold, albeit with a reduced role in the communion’s decision-making. Thank goodness for Holder’s level-headedness.
What triggered the schism was a move by the Episcopalians who changed their canons, church law, to give gays and lesbians the right to marry each other. Not only that, the church approved new wedding rites that gave straight and gay couples equal standing in the eyes of the church. It was a fundamental break with tradition of marriage, which for centuries held that “marriage” was designed for a man and a woman, Adams and Eve, not Adam and Steve. In taking its stand, the US virtually decided to go it alone but may soon be joined by Canada, which is considering the matter.
“We decided from the very start that we are not going apart but staying together,” explained Holder.
It wasn’t an easy task but in the end they opted not to kick the Episcopal Church out of the fold as some conservative African and Middle Eastern primates had demanded but to punish the US church over its acceptance of same-sex marriage. For the next three years, the Episcopal Church, long the church of the establishment in the US – 11 presidents beginning with George Washington have been Episcopalians or Anglicans – will not be allowed to help the communion decide key elements of church doctrine and administrative arrangements. The Episcopalians will not be able to represent Anglicans in ecumenical meetings with other faiths.
The move isn’t going to be felt by worshippers in Barbados, Jamaica, Ghana, Nigeria, Boston, the Sudan or England, for example. They will continue their old relationships with Episcopalians in the US without being forced to take sides on the issue.
“The decision in Canterbury will have little or no effect on persons in the pews,” was the way Holder put it.
It’s a classic compromise which enables the conservatives in the communion and the progressives in the US to agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
The Anglican Communion is the world’s third largest Christian faith and the US Episcopal Church is one of its wealthiest with an aid programme that helps millions in Africa, the Caribbean and other regions. But no one is sure how the schism is going to be finally resolved. Holder and the other prelates have bought time to consider the next step.
It’s a stand-off that must be resolved eventually. Let’s hope and pray that Episcopalians who for the first time in hundreds of years have a Black man, the Rev. Michael Curry, the new presiding bishop at the helm, can find the strength to end the division.