House of Deputies

On September 10, President Jennings made these remarks to the Episcopal Chancellors Network Conference:

Well, you made it. You’ve survived to experience the final session of the 2016 Chancellors’ Conference. For the next hour, before we all head to the airport, we’ll consider the constitutional and canonical implications of the changing relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. But I can give you the condensed version now:  there aren’t any.

There are, however, a variety of interesting implications for the Episcopal Church’s budget, mission relationships, and social justice work. As chancellors, it’s vital to understand what the Anglican Communion means to the Episcopal Church and, just as importantly, what it doesn’t mean.

First a bit — just a little bit, I promise — of background. The Anglican Communion is a relatively recent notion, and cultural differences among Anglicans across the globe were present at its creation. The first Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops around the world was held in 1867, and although energy for the gathering had been building for several decades, the precipitating factor that led Archbishop of Canterbury Charles Longley to call the conference was a dispute between the archbishop of Cape Town and the bishop of Natal, whose name was John Colenso. The dispute was rooted in Colenso’s argument for Christian tolerance of polygamy as practiced in indigenous cultures and his support of and respect for the Zulu people in the part of South Africa where he served.

That wasn’t the first times Anglicans fought about colonialism, but it’s the fight that, at least in some ways, begins this particular story.

A few decades later, in the 20th century, Anglican laypeople and clergy began gathering to discuss issues of global mission. There was a Pan-African Congress in 1908 initiated by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, now called USPG. Then, at the 1948 Lambeth Conference, a committee of bishops reported that, “for the future cohesion of the Church, something more than the Lambeth Conference is needed.” The Anglican Congress of 1953 was called and took place in Chicago, and then another Anglican Congress in Toronto in 1963. A press release issued a year before the 1963 Congress said that planners hoped delegates would answer the question, “What does the Christian faith mean to 40,000,000 members of the Anglican Communion in an age of atheistic ideologies, humanistic philosophies, and revitalized non-Christian religions?”

Sound familiar?

Out of the Anglican Congress of 1963 and the Lambeth Conference of 1968 came the Anglican Consultative Council. That body met for the first time in Limuru, Kenya in 1971. The ACC, as we call it, is the only one of the Anglican Communion’s four bodies — called instruments of communion — that includes laypeople and clergy. Its job is to “facilitate the co-operative work of the churches of the Anglican Communion, exchange information between the Provinces and churches, and help to co-ordinate common action.”

Now, if you have the strength, let’s review the 1970s. Shortly after the ACC was founded in 1971, the first primates’ meeting was held in 1979. The ACC met to facilitate cooperative work and help coordinate common action. But then came a crisis in global Anglicanism, and that drove the primates to meet together for the first time. Do you remember that crisis? I do. On September 16, 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted to make the canons governing ordination to the priesthood equally applicable to women and men. Crisis indeed.

We weren’t the first, by the way. The crisis had been building for a while thanks to the Synod of Hong Kong and Macao, which permitted the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1971, and Canada, which voted in 1975. And the first woman priest in the Anglican Communion was even earlier than that, also in Hong Kong, in 1944. Her name was Florence Li Tim-Oi.

So, in the same decade, the ACC was created to expand mission and the primates’ meeting was created to manage crisis. As my colleague and friend Bishop Ian Douglas puts it, “Two Instruments of Communion — the Archbishop of Canterbury and the ACC — were developed out of a desire to expand the mission of God in new contexts and new cultures. The other two — the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting — have their historical origins in debates about the limits of diversity and the reception of new cultures, ideas, and practices.” It might sound strange to our ears that the archbishop of Canterbury is associated with a desire to expand the mission of God in new contexts, that’s just what happened when Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury, was sent by Pope Gregory I on a mission to England in 597.

Four Instruments of Communion. But — this is important — just one, the ACC, is a registered charity under British law. The ACC — not the Lambeth Conference, not the Primates’ Meeting — is the corporate entity of the Anglican Communion. The standing committee of the Anglican Consultative Council are its trustee-members, and they include both ACC members elected by their peers and members of the primates’ standing committee.

In summary, the legal entity that represents the worldwide Anglican Communion is just 45 years old, and it is one of the two Instruments of Communion that is rooted in the desire to expand the mission of God. When the ACC was founded, it was intended specifically to give laypeople and clergy a greater voice. Each province sends members to the ACC according to its constitution. Some provinces, like the Episcopal Church, have three members:  a bishop, a clergyperson, and a layperson. Right now, Rosalie Ballentine, chancellor of the Diocese of the Virgin Islands and a deputy to General Convention, is the lay member and I’m the clergy member. Ian Douglas, bishop of Connecticut, has just finished his term as the bishop member, so Executive Council will choose a new bishop member in the next couple of years.

Other provinces send two people — a bishop or clergyperson, and a layperson, and still others send one person. The ACC Constitution says that person is “preferably a layperson.”

The leadership of laypeople and clergy, together with bishops and primates, is written into the constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council which is the legal entity of the Anglican Communion. But lately, the ACC is having just a few challenges with this aspect of its identity.

Until 1984, the ACC was, true to its founding spirit, led by laypeople, including Dr. Marion M. Kelleran of the Episcopal Church who was chair from 1973-1979. She is the only woman to have chaired the group. Clergy served as ACC chairs from 1984-1996 and since then, the ACC has been chaired by a bishop. And then, at the ACC meeting earlier this year, Archbishop Paul Kwong was elected chair. Assuming that he remains head of the Hong Kong church until the next ACC meeting, expected in 2019, he will be the first sitting primate to lead an ACC meeting. 

I like Archbishop Kwong very much. We sat at the same table in Lusaka, and during bible study and conversations about Anglican mission, I learned a good deal from him. I appreciate his leadership. But I am concerned that his province is one of the provinces of the Anglican Communion that sends one member to the ACC, and, as I mentioned a moment ago, the constitution says that person is “preferably a layperson.” But instead, the province of Hong Kong sent not a layperson, not even a clergyperson, but its primate. And now he is the chair of the only Instrument of Communion that gives representation to laypeople and clergy.

As Ian Douglas said after Archbishop Kwong’s election, “It’s concerning to see the ACC become more closely identified with primates, who have a different history and authority in the Communion. The Instruments of Communion provide balance and mutual accountability to one another, and when one instrument is at risk of becoming subservient to another, our ability to express God’s mission in diverse contexts may also be at risk.” Rosalie said it like a chancellor: “I think that we need to respect the need for a balance of power and checks and balances. The ACC is the one instrument with laypeople on it. Lay people need to have a voice in the leadership of the communion and not be subject to the four-part governance of primates. Shared decision-making is part of our identity as Anglicans.”

So why does this matter? Well, let me tell you a bit about what’s happened so far this year. We started the year with the Primates’ Meeting in January, in which the primates assembled in Canterbury and voted to issue consequences to the Episcopal Church for passing marriage equality at General Convention in 2015. They said that for three years, the Episcopal Church should “no longer represent us [the Anglican Communion] on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.” The length of time was presumably chosen to give us time to reconsider at General Convention in 2018 our actions on Resolution A036 and Resolution A054, which enacted the canonical and liturgical changes necessary to bring about marriage equality in the Episcopal Church.

Leaving aside, for the moment, gospel justice, the difficulty with this set of sanctions from the primates meeting is that they didn’t have the authority to impose them. Remember how the ACC is the legal entity of the Anglican Communion and is governed by its own constitution? Nowhere in that constitution does it say that the primates can control who serves on the standing committee of the ACC, or which ACC members can vote on what.

This was not a disagreement that broke down entirely along ideological lines. “Experts across the communion, including Norman Doe, director of the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University and one of the drafters of the proposed Anglican Covenant, said in the Church Times, “I find it utterly extraordinary. No instrument exists conferring upon the Primates’ meeting the jurisdiction to ‘require’ these things ... Whatever they require is unenforceable.”

As the headline in Deputy News read, “Primates Meet. Confusion Ensues.”

Fast forward to April. The Episcopal Church’s members of the Anglican Consultative Council — Ian Douglas, Rosalie Ballentine, and me — traveled to Lusaka, Zambia for the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. We went despite conjecture from some quarters that we should not go. And while we were there, we voted fully on all matters, including matters of doctrine and polity, and no one at the ACC meeting ever suggested that we shouldn’t. Despite attempts by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Josiah Iduwu-Fearon, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion to the contrary, the ACC declined to endorse or impose the consequences against the Episcopal Church that the primates’ meeting wanted but didn’t have the authority to order.

It all came down on the final day of the meeting. As Ian Douglas said, “We’ll look back on today and see that the door could have closed or opened,” he said. “It opened.”

The turning point came when Resolution C35, which would have “welcomed” he primates’ communiqué that sought to impose consequences on the Episcopal Church for approving marriage equality, was withdrawn just before debate on it was scheduled to begin. Earlier in the day, the meeting had approved another resolution, C34, that “received” the report on the primates’ meeting that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby had given to the ACC on April 8.

As chancellors and lawyers, you know that the difference between “receiving” a report and “welcoming” a report is a big difference indeed. And so did the members of the Anglican Consultative Council.

But we’d hardly made it to the airport when primates began registering their discontent. And so then the Archbishop of Canterbury sent out a public statement insisting that the ACC had endorsed the consequences of the primates’ meeting against the Episcopal Church and, in fact, that the consequences had been “fully implemented.”

This assertion was so outrageous that, a few days later, the six outgoing members of the ACC’s standing committee — remember, that’s the body that serves as the board of the only incorporated entity of the Anglican Communion — took the unprecedented step of issuing a public rebuttal to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“In receiving the Archbishop of Canterbury’s formal report of the Primates’ Gathering and Meeting, ACC16 neither endorsed nor affirmed the consequences contained in the Primates’ Communique,” the six signatories wrote. “There was no plenary discussion or decision with respect to the Primates’ Communiqué. From our perspective there did not seem to be a common mind on the issue, other than the clear commitment to avoid further confrontation and division. ACC16 did welcome the call for the Instruments of Communion and the Provinces to continue to walk together as they discern the way forward. No consequences were imposed by the ACC and neither was the ACC asked to do so.”

Again, this was not a dispute that broken down along ideological or geographic lines. The six members who issued the rebuttal are Helen Biggin of the Church of Wales, Joanildo Burity of Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, Bishop Ian T. Douglas of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Sarah Macneil of the Anglican Church of Australia, Vice Chair Elizabeth Paver, a canon in the Church of England and outgoing chair Bishop James Tengatenga of the Church of the Province of Central Africa.

So now, five months later, we Episcopalians find ourselves in an odd position. We participated fully in a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, we worked together on issues including intentional discipleship, gender-based violence, climate change, religiously motivated violence, food security and other issues that affect all of us across the Anglican Communion. We strengthened partnerships across the globe, and deepened our church’s commitment to shared mission with Anglicans from all parts of the world. At no point did any ACC member refuse to work with us, celebrate with us, or pray with us because of the Episcopal Church’s commitment to marriage equality. We continue to contribute $400,000 per year, or $1.2 million each triennium, to the $3 million annual budget of the Anglican Communion Office.

And yet, we have been openly rebuked by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, and that rebuke has been delivered by the communications vehicles of the Anglican Communion Office, which we help to fund. The nature of our participation in a global meeting has been misrepresented, and authority over that participation has been wrongly claimed by the Archbishop and the primates’ meeting that he convenes. I have come, regretfully, to conclude that the polity of the Anglican Communion is in peril, and the Episcopal Church’s support for marriage equality is being used as a smokescreen by a few primates who want very much to coopt the authority of the Anglican Consultative Council and its standing committee.

I want to emphasize that this is not an issue of the Episcopal Church’s inability to work with people whose beliefs or cultural mores about LGBT people differ from ours. All of the ACC members I worked with in Lusaka made it clear that they want to walk with the Episcopal Church even though we might disagree on some issues. And I want the Episcopal Church to walk with them, even though we disagree on some issues, like women’s ordination, or LGBT equality, or the interpretation of scripture.

I also want to emphasize that in many cases, the primates who insist on trying to sanction the Episcopal Church do not speak for the members of their churches, many of whom are laywomen with very little voice and no vote in the councils of the church. For seven years I have served on the steering committee of the Chicago Consultation, and we work across Anglican Africa with scholars, lay leaders, clergy, and a slowly growing number of bishops who are concerned about the plight of LGBT people in their countries and churches, are working to be places of sanctuary, and are developing biblical interpretations that affirm the dignity and humanity of LGBT people.

So we Episcopalians do not have a problem with our relationships in the Anglican Communion, and we do not have a problem with global mission, and we do not have a problem upholding unity in diversity. We don’t have a problem with the implications of these communion politics for The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, because, to paraphrase the Thirty-Nine Articles, “the Archbishop of Canterbury hath no jurisdiction in this realm.”

But we do have a problem, and it is a problem that we share with Anglicans around the globe. The polity and balance of power among the Instruments of Communion is under threat from a few primates who would like to exercise more authority than the governing documents provide to them, and they are willing to use the resources of the Anglican Communion Office, to which we contribute significantly, to pursue their aims. Both at the next General Convention, when we agree on the budget for the next triennium, and by 2019, when the ACC is expected to meet again, this time in Sao Paolo, Brazil, we need to figure out how we want to address this problem.

I’ve packed an enormous amount of background and information into a short time, and in the few minutes we have left, I’d like very much to hear your questions, your thoughts, and your concerns about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.