Archbishop Justin Welby invited all the Primates of all the international branches of the Anglican communion to attend the congress in Canterbury this month to discuss the deep divisions within the communion being caused by the differences in opinion (and practice) on the nature of marriage.
The decision of the council was leaked yesterday and was characterised, on social media at least, to be a decision to expel the Episcopal Church of American, ECUSA, from the Anglican Communion.
This does not in fact appear to be the case as far as I can work out. According to the official statement, it is rather a decision to put the ECUSA on a kind of probation period of three years, during which time they may not officially represent Anglicanism at ecumenical events, while the issue is properly investigated. They still remain part of the Communion, but in ‘disgrace’ (like a naughty child being sent to the corner). There is, understandably, outrage about the decision.
I am very surprised by this decision, although from what I can gather it has more to do with the fact that ECUSA has flouted and disobeyed Anglican canon law for several years (and am I right in thinking that there was also a scandal to do with church assets when there was a split within the American church?) than that it has to do with a difference of opinion and belief.
As a person with a rather conservative and evangelical background and a Messianic within the Anglican communion, I would tend to hold with an orthodox position on marriage personally. (I have written about this previously here and here, and would not force my opinion on anyone else.)
However, one of the things that attracts people to Anglicanism is the freedom of conscience – although we have conservative creeds and liturgies, nobody is forced to think or believe anything they’re not comfortable with, and so there is room for a large spectrum of belief within Anglicanism – we are, after all, a ‘broad church’ – the third way of ‘Scripture, Tradition and Reason’ covering the breach between ‘low church’ and ‘high church’ Anglo-Catholicism as well as between liberals and conservatives. Within those two extremes, that middle way of Anglicanism would seem to be the one place where LGBT+ folk can feel safe and accepted and welcomed.
I would be very interested to hear from Jewish/Messianic believers who are also LGBT+ since a great deal of what I have seen of Messianic Judaism has tended to be uber-conservative and ‘Torah-observant’ to the point of very strict exclusivity (i.e., repent, or out you go). I can hardly imagine what it must be to be LGBT+ in that sort of setting, and it would be a horrible choice between accepting their ruling and being celibate, keeping quiet about your sexual orientation, or finding another LGBT+ accepting church that lacks that Jewish flavour. If your experience of MJ as LGBT+ has been different, I would be interested too.
(As an afterthought, I have to say that the Messianic fellowship I attended IRL, it was much more laid-back and the topic never came up – I very much doubt that the leader would have made it an issue, and he was himself an Anglican, so I’m talking really more here about my experience of the MJ community online.)
I am deeply saddened that this decision, which seems somewhat out of step with the nature of Anglicanism overall, has caused so much hurt and pain to an already wounded, marginalised group of society.
I do not believe that the decision is characterised by hate and bigotry, as many people are suggesting. However, that must be the way it is perceived by members of the ECUSA, the LGBT+ community and those Anglicans who hold more liberal views elsewhere. It seems ill-advised, but I expect that the ‘probation’ was considered to be more wise than outright expulsion. But from the reaction so far, it seems likely to force the rift that they were seeking to avoid. I hope I’m wrong in that.
Can the position of Orthodoxy be defended while still maintaining the freedom of conscience and belief that characterises Anglicanism? And cannot Orthodoxy be communicated in a spirit of love and forgiveness? (Actually, if you read the document, I think this is what they were trying to do, but they appear to have failed miserably.)
Or is an ultimate rift between liberals and conservatives inevitable now? How very, very sad if that is the case.