January 14, 2016

The ‘Splainer: Can the Anglican-Episcopalian marriage be saved?

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Two guides stand behind tape at Canterbury Cathedral which is closed due to the Primates of the Anglican Church meeting, in Canterbury, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh.

Two guides stand behind tape at Canterbury Cathedral which is closed due to the Primates of the Anglican Church meeting, in Canterbury, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh.

The ‘Splainer (as in “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do”) is an occasional online feature in which RNS staff give you everything you need to know about current events to hold your own at the water cooler.

(RNS) The Anglican Communion has voted to suspend the Episcopal Church, its American branch, from participating in decision-making and governance for three years. The move came in a private meeting of Anglican leaders in Canterbury, England and is designed to send a message — Anglicans feel the decisions Episcopalians have made regarding gay clergy (they got ’em), same-sex marriage (they do ’em) are out of line with what the the majority of Anglicans consider Christian doctrine.

Q: What is the relationship of the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion?

A: The Episcopal Church is one of 44 member churches that make up the Anglican Communion, most of which trace their roots to the Church of England, which broke from Rome in 1534. History buffs and viewers of PBS’s “Wolf Hall” will remember that Henry was upset over another marriage — his to Queen Catharine of Aragon, which Rome would not dissolve so he could marry his mistress, Ann Boleyn. Today, the Anglican Communion represents about 85 million Christians in 165 countries. The Episcopal Church has 109 dioceses in the U.S., Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. It claims just over 2 million members, the vast majority of them (1.8 million) in the U.S. Over one-half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Episcopalian.

The Anglican Communion has no authority over its member churches, each of which governs itself. It has no pope, like Roman Catholicism, but considers its “primates,” as leaders are called, equal. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is considered “first among equals.” Michael Curry is the newly-installed Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and is attending the conference.

Q: What’s rocking the Anglican boat? Why can’t they all just get along? 

A: Like many other Christian denominations, the Anglican Communion is divided on the question of homosexuality within the church. In 1976, Episcopal Church officials voted to affirm homosexuals as “children of God,” and the following year ordained their first gay priest. A quarter of a century later, it ordained Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop — and that’s when things heated up. Anglican leaders met, issued a warning statement against Robinson’s consecration. Robinson wore a bullet-proof vest beneath his vestments at the ceremony. Six U.S. dioceses left the Episcopal Church and aligned themselves with member churches as far away as Nigeria. That kicked off ongoing litigation about what those formerly-Episcopal churches do and do not own among church property.

Since then, almost every large Anglican and Episcopal meeting has included some discussion of the Episcopal Church’s relationship to the broader communion. Can it continue? Will it continue? Or will the Episcopal Church separate from the Anglican Communion? The discussion intensified when, in early July — only a few days after the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land — Episcopal Church leaders voted to permit their clergy to perform same-sex marriages. Justin Welby’s response: the decision “will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith resolutions.”

Q: How do the “sides” in the debate break down?

A: Conservative Anglicans who oppose the Episcopal Church’s acceptance and affirmation of homosexuality can generally be found in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, and in Global Anglican Fellowship . Together, they claim to represent two-thirds of the world’s Anglicans. They reject same-sex marriage and practicing gay clergy. Only the Episcopal Church ordains gay clergy and performs same-sex marriage. The Anglican Church of Canada currently blesses same-sex unions and will take up the question of performing same-sex marriages this summer. Some of its dioceses permit the ordination of openly-gay clergy. Many conservatives at this week’s Canterbury meeting lamented that the sanctions did not go far enough because they did not also include the Canadian branch of the communion.

Also with the conservatives is the Anglican Church in North America,  formed after the installation of Gene Robinson and now claiming 1,000 member churches. More significantly, its  archbishop, Foley Beach, participated in the Canterbury meeting, despite the fact his denomination is not a voting member of the communion. Anglican watchers like Jeffrey Walton at the Institute on Religion and Democracy think that means the Anglican Church of North America is closer to becoming a more important player in the broader communion. “There is now an understanding that the Episcopal Church is no longer the only authentic expression of Anglicanism in North America,” Walton said. “Basically, a decision has been made that the Anglican Church in North America will be officially a part of this family and this conversation.”

Q: What happens now?

A: The sanctions imposed on the Episcopal Church are for three years. Near the end of that period, Episcopalians will convene at their triennial “general convention,” and its a sure bet they will craft their official, denominational response. As to what that will be, Anglicans have different ideas. Some in the broader communion hope the Episcopal Church will change its ways. But many Episcopal leaders say there is no going back. Schism may be on the horizon.

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  • William Bockstael

    It´s better to have a divorce than living in a toxic relationship…

  • Billysees

    REMINDER —

    Are any churches worthy enough to follow anything and everything they proclaim?

    I’d rather consider and think about these things when it comes to my life and how I should live —

    …our [church] knowledge is partial and incomplete
    …we [churches] see things imperfectly…
    …All that I [any church] know is partial and incomplete…
    (1 Corinthians 13:9,12)

    All LGBT stuff falls into these and other verses —

    All things are allowable, all things are lawful, all things are permissible…1 Corinthians 6:12…..1 Corinthians 10:23

    WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION or understanding Paul wrote. Don’t let any one or any church stand in your way. Do your own thing. The Holy Spirit will help you.

    You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, so you can keep it between yourself and God if you want…
    …BLESSED are those who ‘don’t condemn themselves’ for doing or being what they have decided is best for themselves….Romans 14:22

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  • james reed

    The Episcopal Church has doomed itself. I am currently a member, but considering seeking an Anglican Church in the near future. I’ve heard too many sermons around what the scripture “meant” to say. When ones reasoning overides scripture, particularly direct quotes of Christ, it’s just too much. TEC leadership is on a fringe theology binge. It’s been said that the last Episcopalian has already been born. I can believe it.

  • Tim Watt

    Can you point me to scripture where Jesus said anything about homosexuality?

  • Rich

    ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’?” – Jesus, Matthew 19: 4-5

  • William Bockstael

    If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her … And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife …Then shall his brother’s wife … loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face.

    Deuteronomy 25:5-9

  • Arimathean

    He didn’t say anything about it because the concept of “homosexuality” as we know it had not yet been invented. For the Jews who made up Christ’s audience, the sinfulness of fornication went without saying. When St. Paul addressed non-Jews, he explicitly condemned fornication.

  • Billysees

    james,
    ” The Episcopal Church has doomed itself. ”

    I doubt it. Consider this —
    Man’s ways are of the Lord, so how can we understand our own ways?…….Proverbs 20:24

    Now just exchange a few words and we have —
    The Episcopal Church’s ways are of the Lord, so how can church members understand everything that’s going on?

    ” When ones reasoning overrides scripture, particularly direct quotes of Christ, it’s just too much. ”

    No it’s not. When you realize what Paul is declaring about his own writings and undoubtedly those of others,…

    …our knowledge is partial and incomplete
    …we see things imperfectly…
    …All that I know is partial and incomplete…
    (1 Corinthians 13:9,12)

    …you’ll conclude that we all must apply a certain amount of our personal reasoning in order to ‘work out our own individual and collective salvation’.

  • Billysees

    What William is saying is that there’s a certain amount of stupidity that can be found in all of scripture.

    Just ignore the dumb stuff and practice what is beneficial to all.

  • Billysees

    Arimathean,
    ” …the sinfulness of fornication went without saying. ”

    Fornication is simply a stepping stone or a learning experience that enables better kinds of things such as marriage or a monogamous relationship.

    ” When St. Paul addressed non-Jews, he explicitly condemned fornication. ”

    It makes no sense to condemn a learning experience that doesn’t last for a long time in most cases.

    Don’t forget what Paul wrote —

    …our knowledge is partial and incomplete
    …we see things imperfectly…
    …All that I know is partial and incomplete…
    (1 Corinthians 13:9,12)

  • Shawnie5

    Except, as far as fornication goes, it didn’t actually go without saying. Jesus DID mention fornication in Matthew 15 stating that it is one of the things that proceed from the fallen heart and make us unclean. And fornication covered a number of behaviors, all of them listed in Lev. 20, and every one of His listeners knew that. If Jesus had meant to separate same-sex behavior from out of the middle of that list for a special ok, that would have been the perfect time to do it. Yet we know that He did not.

  • Shawnie5

    “…our knowledge is partial and incomplete” True, it is. Which is exactly why we should heed carefully what HAS been revealed to us.

    We expect our kids to heed certain guidelines we give them precisely because their knowledge is partial and incomplete at this stage of their development. They can not possibly foresee all of the possible ramifications of the choices they make so we have to do it for them until they can. We are no different in the Father’s eyes.

  • Billysees

    Shawnie5,
    ” If Jesus had meant to separate same-sex behavior… ”

    I wasn’t thinking of same-sex behavior at all. The purpose of my response to Arimathean was to explain fornication in general rather than condemn it.

    ” Except, as far as fornication goes…Jesus DID mention fornication…stating that it is one of the things that proceed from the fallen heart and make us unclean… And listed in Lev. 20…”

    Good heavens Shawnie, I know darn well you have no interest in Lev. 20. That stuff is not worthy of being quoted and you know it.

    I sincerely believe that Jesus did not know or understand enough about human nature that qualified him to give competent advice in every kind of subject matter. That he never got married or experienced falling in love disqualifies some of his advice.

    Same with the Bible. It’s just not enough to go on. We need more. That’s why there’s a Holy Spirit. Thank God for that. I am aware of John 6:63.

  • Billysees

    Shawnie5,
    ” Which is exactly why we should heed carefully what HAS been revealed to us. ”

    Good answer. The best I’ve seen regarding my often repeated words of Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:9,12.

    That’s exactly why ‘our kids’ need to realize the
    importance of the following —

    1. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another……..Romans 14:13

    2. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…..Romans 15:7

    3. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing or tolerating with one another in love…..Ephesians 4:2

    4. …live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble……1 Peter 3:8

    5. Be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone…….Titus 3:2

    6. Stay out of the seat of the scornful.

    7. Faith without good, quality works and deeds won’t amount to a hill of beans…..James 2:26

  • Shawnie5

    “I know darn well you have no interest in Lev. 20.”

    I think everyone ought to have an interest in Lev.20, since it lists practices for which God rejected many groups of Gentiles before the Torah ever existed.

    “I sincerely believe that Jesus did not know or understand enough about human nature that qualified him to give competent advice in every kind of subject matter.” Well, there is the crux of the difficulty right there, I suppose. No need to say more.

  • Sid Martin

    The General Convention is the sole judge of the doctrine and worship of the Episcopal Church. The decision to bless same sex unions is not subject to review by any council of foreign primates. The next General Convention should declare that the Episcopal Church is an independent church in the Anglican tradition and no longer a province of the Anglican Communion.

  • There are so many frauds today. Making a mockery of marriage which God, not man, has created. Man often corrupts what God creates. Making a mockery of ministers, or clergy. Why try to claim that you represent God while standing for that which He calls abhorrent? What is need today is good “old fashioned” REPENTANCE! Yes, repentance! When was the last time that you heard that preached? Have you ever heard that preached? We need to turn away from sin and turn back to God. We need to receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord and abide in His Word. Then we will know God’s peace and wisdom and direction. He gives His Holy Spirit to those who receive Him. God Bless