Where do we go from here?

Consecration of Mary Glasspool:

Where do we go from here?

Fulcrum Leadership Team

co-published with Church of England Newspaper (26 March 2010)

The bishops and Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church (USA) have consented to the election of Mary Glasspool as bishop suffragan in the diocese of Los Angeles. That consent sadly confirms that TEC is determined to ignore all the repeated appeals of the wider Communion and, in the closing words of The Windsor Report, ‘walk apart’.

Since that report in 2004, it has been clear that the moratorium on same-sex blessings was being ignored in a significant number of dioceses, despite assurances otherwise. It has, however, been possible to claim that TEC was strictly adhering to the Communion’s repeated requests for a moratorium on “the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges”. Such a claim is now impossible. We are now indisputably in a radically new situation. TEC as a body has determinedly, perhaps irrevocably, chosen autonomy over “communion with autonomy and accountability”.

It is important that this is not simply a matter of disagreement about biblical interpretation and sexual ethics although these are central and important. It is now very clearly also a fundamental matter of truth-telling and trust. In September 2007, at the Primates’ request and after meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, TEC bishops confirmed they would “exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion”. They made clear that “non-celibate gay and lesbian persons” were among such candidates.

When asked recently how they could therefore now proceed to confirm Mary Glasspool in the light of that assurance, one TEC bishop said this simply expressed where the bishops were in 2007 and they may be somewhere different now. At least where they are now is crystal clear.Both moratoria have been rejected. In addition, TEC is pursuing legal actions, with widespread concern its leadership intends aggressive action against the diocese of South Carolina which upholds the Communion’s teaching.

The key question is ‘what happens next?’.This week a Fulcrum statement declared, ‘Actions have consequences’. The first and most obvious consequence of this development is that TEC as a body has revealed it is incapable of signing the Anglican covenant.This is not simply because they have once again categorically rejected the pattern of life together that it articulates and the shared discernment it presupposes. The more serious and deep-rooted problem is TEC’s particular polity (which allows for confusion and assertion in the place of coherent policy and practice) and their understanding of how the Spirit leads them. These make TEC as a province incapable of making meaningful or credible commitments to the Communion about their future conduct. The only hope now is for TEC dioceses to reject TEC’s path by committing to the covenant and for such commitment to be recognised by the Communion.

But what about TEC and the current Communion? This emphatic further breaching of the bonds of affection shows that not only TEC’s promises about the future but its apologies and expressions of regret for the past are worthless. In particular, their 2006 regret relating to the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire - which the Primates accepted and which Windsor said “would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion” - is now shown to be either fraudulent or short-lived. If the Communion is committed to the Windsor and covenant vision of communion life and if the Communion is to keep wrestling with integrity in relation to its teaching and practice on sexuality then, despite the financial implications, it must now proceed in its common life without TEC.

The nature of the Communion’s structures at present is such that effecting this distancing will require clear and decisive action by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the very least he needs to make clear that bishops participating in the May consecration in Los Angeles will thereby exclude themselves from being invited by him to participate in the Instruments or to represent the Communion in any form.

Unless he does this all that the Instruments have repeatedly said in relation to TEC’s conduct will be undermined. The sickness of TEC’s inability to say what it means and mean what it says to the rest of the Communion will then have infected the Instruments and will surely destroy the Communion. The fact the Presiding Bishop of TEC and Ian Douglas are on ‘The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion’ (which according to the proposed covenant will have a crucial role in monitoring the covenant’s functioning) only highlights the need for decisive action if the Communion and the covenant are to retain any credibility.

In fact, the situation is now such that it may be better for the Archbishop simply to state – as one of the Instruments and a focus and means of unity - that TEC as a body has rejected the Communion’s repeated appeals for restraint, made false promises, and confirmed its direction is away from Communion teaching and accountability. It has thereby rendered itself incapable of covenanting with other churches and made it unclear what it means when it claims to be in communion with the see of Canterbury and a constituent member of the Anglican Communion.

Although decisive action is necessary, Archbishop Rowan’s limited powers within the Communion and his laudable desire to keep on going the extra mile to enable dialogue mean many think it unlikely. Some long ago gave up on him. Many, however, both within the Church of England and the wider Communion (particularly in the Global South which meets next month) have been patient and sought to work with him by supporting the Windsor and covenant processes. They need now to make clear that unless he gives a clear lead then all that he and others have worked for since the Windsor Report and all that is promised by the covenant is at risk because of the new situation in which TEC has placed us.

Fulcrum Leadership Team

Leave a comment