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Just talk? Or is it time to walk?

"Just talk? Or is it time to walk?" Continued...

Issue: "Sciavo: Saved by the bill," Nov. 1, 2003

As it turned out, talk was all they did-sometimes in heated exchanges. Many of the global South primates had come prepared to expel ECUSA from the Anglican Communion if it didn't reverse its actions. Over the preceding year, some had traveled to North America and allied themselves with ECUSA's conservatives and with dissenting Anglican Church of Canada parishes in the Vancouver-area New Westminster diocese. These 11 Canadian churches are opposed to Bishop Michael Ingham's approval of blessings for same-sex unions. They, too, were looking to the primates for relief from crackdowns by their ham-fisted bishop.

At least half of the primates came to the meeting having declared themselves in impaired communion with the dioceses of New Hampshire and New Westminster.

But the primates couldn't do much beyond talk and issue a statement they all signed (see sidebar). Church expert Peter Toon says his fellow conservatives expected too much. He points out that the primates' meetings are not like an ecclesiastical court or synodical business session. They are what amounts to a fellowship meeting of senior bishops from 38 autonomous church provinces. They have moral authority as a group, and all Anglicans should take seriously the things they agree upon, but they have no enforcement power or the right to kick any member church out of the Communion-as liberal primates were quick to point out. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself is a relatively powerless "first among equals," but he does have the right, in consultation with the Archbishop of York, to determine with whom he is in communion.

Several American conservative leaders expressed disappointment with the diplomatically worded statement. But upon reflection, most said they were pleased it went as far as it did, despite a few touches by liberals. (For example, liberal primates succeeded in making "interpretation," rather than "authority," of Scripture the core of the dispute over sexuality.)

The primates ...

reaffirmed the 1998 Lambeth position in which an overwhelming number of the world's bishops said homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture;

expressed in strong words heard around the world that the sexual innovations of the American and Canadian churches were morally and biblically wrong;

admonished dioceses and provinces against unilaterally changing Lambeth positions or traditional Anglican teachings;

called for alternative spiritual oversight for biblically faithful parishes in liberal dioceses by like-minded bishops;

appointed a panel to work with the Archbishop of Canterbury on legal issues of entanglement and disengagement, with a deadline of one year;

warned if the consecration of Rev. Robinson takes place on Nov. 2, as scheduled, it will have immediate and long-term consequences that will tear apart the Communion.

At a church service Oct. 12, Rev. Robinson said he was determined to go through with his consecration, but he left open the possibility that a phone call from the Archbishop of Canterbury could possibly change his mind-if it also was accompanied by a similar "call from God." As for what the Bible says about homosexuality, "you can't elevate a piece of historical Scripture to give it a modern significance it does not have," he said. "The Bible is the story written by us about our love affair with God."

Although he signed the statement, Bishop Griswold distanced himself from parts of it at a press conference following the primates' meeting. Asked whether he would still participate in Rev. Robinson's consecration as scheduled, or try to persuade him to withdraw, he replied flippantly: "I might do anything."

In a BBC interview the next day, Archbishop Williams said, "Undoubtedly there is a huge crisis looming," but the primates hadn't jumped into quick solutions. "There are constitutional, legal questions for all the churches," he said, and the new commission needs some time to do its work. He was not optimistic.

Meanwhile, fires continued to burn in North America, where U.S. conservatives are engaged in a new round of where-do-we-go-from-here discussions around the country as they try to keep their distressed church members from walking.

One of the fiercest fires is burning in Canada. Bishop Michael Ingham of the New Westminster diocese in Vancouver has initiated proceedings against conservative bishop Terry Buckle of Yukon. Bishop Buckle earlier this year began providing "alternative" spiritual oversight to a group of churches. These parishes, now numbering 11, had rejected Bishop Ingham's leadership for his role in approving blessings for same-sex couples in the diocese. Bishop Ingham accused Bishop Buckle of trespassing across diocesan boundaries, contrary to church rules. The area's senior archbishop, David Crawley, has now banned Bishop Buckle from New Westminster and may defrock him.

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