Middle East archbishop reflects on Primates Meeting

[Diocese of Egypt] I must confess that as the time neared for the Primates’ Meeting, I became worried and anxious. The reason for this is that I am convinced that the Anglican Communion is God’s gift and value very much the unity among provinces. And yet I was torn because the unity I value should not be at the expense of the truth. After a lot of prayer, and because of the prayer of many of our friends, I found an outstanding Peace. The Lord spoke to me and reminded me that He is the head of the Church, not me. He has promised that even the gates of Hades will not overcome His Church. I went to Canterbury with this Peace filling my heart, not knowing what was going to happen, but trusting the true head of the Church to enable us to continue to be faithful to Him.

As I reflect now on the Meeting, I have come to the following points.

  1. Why this meeting was different from other Meetings
  2. Division versus Walking Together
  3. The Turning Point
  4. Various Reactions and My Appeal
  5. A New Atmosphere and Spirit
  6. A Journey to Build Trust in the Instruments Begins
  7. A Word of Thanks

I. Why This Meeting Was Different from other Meetings

This Primates’ Meeting was very different from the previous ones in the following ways.

  1. The Archbishop of Canterbury consulted widely with the Primates in regard to the agenda. In the Meeting, the Primates voted for the most important agenda items. This gave the Primates a sense of ownership over the Meeting.
  2. When the Primates chose the first item for discussion, “the response of the Primates’ Meeting to the latest action of the Episcopal Church (TEC) General Convention”, it became clear that this time the burning issues were not going to be swept under the carpet.
  3. The invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is another recognition of the facts on the ground. ACNA is an Anglican Church that holds the Anglican teachings which are recognised by a large number of Provinces from the Global South. On this basis, the Archbishop did not want to exclude anybody.

I can safely say this Meeting was different because it addressed the real issues.

II. Division Versus Walking Together

The Primates have seen that the “change in their [TEC’s] Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage”. The standard teaching of the Anglican Communion on human sexuality and marriage is found in Lambeth 1.10 in its entirety. This was affirmed by two Lambeth Conferences, several Primates’ Meetings, the Windsor Report, and the Windsor Continuation Group.

Some of the Primates came with the desire to walk apart; those who support same-sex marriage in one direction and the others who do not in another. On the other hand, there were those who believed that the issue of same-sex marriage is not a core doctrinal issue and hence is not an essential of faith. These are the two ends of the spectrum.

In the middle, however, there are Primates who are aware that within TEC and Canada, there are people who hold the standard and acceptable teaching of the Anglican Communion in regard to the issue of human sexuality. Any kind of complete exclusion will affect these people. These Primates in the middle believe in diversity, but not unlimited diversity: diversity on the non-essentials and unity on the essentials of faith like the authority of the scripture.

The Primates voted on what consequences there should be for TEC in response to their action; six Primates voted for no consequences and a simple rebuke, but the overwhelming majority, thirty Primates, voted for some form of consequence of varying severity. This showed that while there was a wide range of opinions about what form the response should take, there was a fundamental consensus that there should be some real consequence.

III. The Turning Point

The turning point of the discussions came when Archbishop Winston Halapua of Polynesia asked the question, “how can we bless each other even if we walk in different directions?” In response to this question, I asked the presiding bishop of TEC and the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada to sit together with me for lunch. The Archbishop of York joined as well as the Archbishop of Uganda.

We had a frank and gracious discussion about how each of us felt and how the issue at hand had affected our respective provinces. We then moved on to consider the way ahead. I shared a thought I had had prior to the Primates Meeting of 2011. This idea was to create a “distance and continuous dialogue”. In other words this would create a space for contemplation without tension as a first step towards restoring our Communion. It does not involve excommunication of TEC, but limits their full participation in the Anglican Councils for a period or space.

When we shared this with the rest of the Primates, they wanted to know the nature of this distance. As a result, the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a balanced working group to work out a proposal, which you can now see in the Communiqué.

 IV. Various Reactions and My Appeal

Two different kinds of reactions arose after the release of the Communiqué. Some reacted with outrage and others with triumph. Sadly I found little grace in these reactions. I recalled the compassionate words of Jesus in Luke 13:34, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that”. I feel that we need to pray so that we may have such Christ-like compassion.

I appeal to everyone to spend this coming three years in a more constructive contemplation on how to restore our impaired Communion. How can we move ahead and advance the mission of our Lord? What kind of suitable structure can we have to guarantee that we will not be distracted away from the purpose God has put before us? Let us not think in terms of triumph and defeat, instead we have to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and the perfecter of our faith.

I am aware of those who challenge the authority of the Primates to make decisions. I would say that the decisions of the Primates’ Meeting as they appeared in the Communiqué, are not new, they are “consistent with previous statements” from the different Instruments of Communion. I will be responding to this issue in more detail in the near future.

 V. A New Atmosphere and Spirit

Once we decided on the consequences for the actions of TEC, we started to discuss other issues. The spirit in the room had changed 180 degrees. It was amazing and tremendously encouraging to hear the passionate discussion about mission and evangelism, the challenge of refugees, religiously motivated violence, and environmental issues. It was a real joy for me to witness the different Primates sharing on how the Lord is at work in their provinces and how their churches are growing. I felt that this is the Anglican Communion I love.

VI. A Journey to Build Trust in the Instruments Begins

I feel now a journey has just begun in order to restore the trust in the Instruments of Communion. This trust was lost because of the reluctance to follow through on the recommendations of previous Lambeth Conferences and Primates’ Meetings. We have now a real opportunity to follow through the recommendations of this Primates’ Meeting. In addition to this, we have a good space to discuss the best possible shape of our Communion that would guarantee the expansion of the Kingdom of God.

I should mention that the last foot-washing service was very humbling and moving. At that time, I realised I should be more aware of my weaknesses as we address weakness in others.

VII. A Word of Thanks

I would like to thank Archbishop Justin Welby for his leadership of this historic meeting. I also would like to thank Archbishop John Sentamu whose contributions helped a lot in reaching a conclusion. I am also grateful for all my colleagues who persevered in order to reach what we reached and to move ahead with our Communion. I also must not forget the supporting staff of the Archbishop of Canterbury who worked around the clock to serve and help us.

The Most Rev. Mouneer Anis

Comments

  1. Frank Riggio-Preston says:

    Put simply, TEC will not go backward. Those who cannot live with same-sex marriage need to pour themselves into Jesus’ teachings in love instead of man-made dogma and hate.

    • Doug Desper says:

      Frank, was Jesus full of hate when He confirmed the purpose of marriage as found in Genesis 2? (See Matthew 19). Are we to get our scissors out like Thomas Jefferson and create a New Testament for “us”? Please don’t fling insults towards those who remain faithful to what has always been the doctrine of Marriage — which is still found in our Prayer Book and Catechism.

  2. He speaks of religiously motivated violence – yet for some reason this is in a separate section, outside the discussion of marriage and “consequences” for TEC and Canada. It should be in the same section, because religiously motivated violence against LGBTs in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and elsewhere is the exact sin the Primates must answer for – all the Primates, including Mouneer Anis.

    The fact remains that the Primates’ Meeting has no power to dish out consequences. Anis can issue all the papers he wants, but he can’t change that. Nor can all the sweet words of scripture hide the Primates’ bloodlust for scapegoating.

  3. Frank Bergen says:

    I find Archbishop Mouneer’s reflection heartening and I pray that others who, like me, disagree with his position are able to read it with acceptance of our disagreement and without being disagreeable about it. In reflecting recently on the Diocese of Arizona’s resolution in opposition to the death penalty in our state, I realized that it has taken the church(es) two thousand years to arrive at opposition to a practice in which many of our churches have collaborated or even taken the lead in the not-so-distant past.

  4. Richard McClellan says:

    Africans who are gay can be thrown in jail and beaten in public. And these African bishops do exactly what about it?

  5. Michael Grear says:

    The elephant in the room…which is never discussed: Jesus said nothing about gays…let alone gay marriage. However, he did state divorce is against God’s wishes. Does any Anglican Church refuse to recognize a divorce, let alone disallow one to remarry in the Anglican faith? I know of none, but I may be in error. All Christians, liberal or conservative, “pick and choose” what they will accept from the Bible in the 21st century. The Bible is a guidebook cradled in compassion and not cement. In the Bible, God is shown changing his mind when callenged as to what is holy. Only think of God’s willingness to change His mind in regards to the number of holy men required in Sodom in order to stop its destruction. God DOES change his views when confronted by his creation’s compassionite requests. We must reflect on God’s willingness to see beyond the rule of law when love is being trampled.

  6. Alda Morgan says:

    Although I strongly support the TEC’s commitment to changing the Christian understanding of marriage to include sane-sex partners, the fact is we ARE changing a doctrine that has been followed in the Church since its beginning and there is Scriptural support for it. I know all the arguments that discount those parts of the Bible, but the fact still remains that they are there and are fiercely believed by many in the Anglican Communion. (The reality of canons within a Canon remains and should be faced, but that’s not the major issue at the moment.) Knowing all this, how can those of us who are departing from the literal truth of those biblical statements be surprised that our opponents are angry and troubled? in fact, in varying degrees, they are the majority, not us. Like those who carried out civil disobedience during the civil rights battles of the 60s, we should be prepared to accept the price for our actions. In this case, it is suspension from several of the communion’s deliberative functions for three years. From my perspective, this is a light sentence and we will earn good will by accepting it with some grace. It seems to be how our Presiding Bishop behaved and I’m proud of that. Clearly, the council found a shared mission in many other important concerns. Let’s get on with it!

  7. Richard McClellan says:

    In our diocese, each pastor of each parish simply has been told that you can either perform SSM ceremonies or you choose not to. Simple as that. No bishop is forcing any pastor’s hands here.

    • Doug Desper says:

      Richard — I hope that you stay right. While I support the ordination of women, a look backwards in history shows that assurances about matters of conscience are no assurances at all. When women’s ordination was introduced assurances were given that “all may — none must”. Now look at how it has become just the opposite as dissenters are marginalized.
      No, I’m afraid that today’s assurances are just that: for today. We keep hearing and reading about justice and fairness and the Baptismal Covenant’s respect for the dignity of all. For those reasons we will see the eventual requirement that SSM be accepted without exception. Theological revisionists will not be content until it is so.
      We are truly evolving into a Church bent on dying on the hill of niche grievance politics. Meanwhile issues of abortion/adoption alternatives, elder abuse/care, and all the mainstream societal concerns that should catch the attention of “respecting the dignity of all” are not of much interest. Some of our leaders pride themselves of being “ahead of the curve” on 2 issues while neglecting the vast and glaring matters that are really…really challenging the life and dignity of our neighbors.

  8. Don Nicholson says:

    I read the Archbishop’s comments with sadness. Once again, not a word about the physical and mental abuse of LGBTs throughout Africa. To be clear, neither in Matthew 19 (the subject was divorce) nor anywhere else did Jesus have anything condemnatory to say about LGBTs or same sex marriage. The way he lived his life, the things he said and the people he associated with make clear that his message was about love and equality for all.

    When Joseph and Mary came to the inn they were told “There is no room for you.” We in TEC have met the innkeeper. But let us be patient. Jesus’s love will prevail.

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