In the new consensus statement on the Virgin Mary by the joint Anglican-Roman Catholic International [dialogue] Commission (ARCIC), released on May 19 in Seattle, the Anglican side appeared to concede everything, the Catholic side nothing. The product of six years of discussion, "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ" was hardly the giant step toward Christian unity its framers envisioned. The document asked Anglicans to accept controversial Catholic teachings about Mary as "authentic expressions of Christian belief."
Declared Rev. Rod Thomas of the evangelical group Reform in the Church of England: "The document goes nowhere near addressing the understandings of revelation, of scriptural authority, and the uniqueness of Christ that were the cornerstones of the Reformation and are the cornerstones of evangelical faith today."
ARCIC didn't attempt to alter the two "infallible" Catholic teachings that Mary was born without sin of a virgin and was assumed bodily into heaven, and it affirmed the special devotion given to Mary by many, as long as "the honor paid to Christ remains pre-eminent." And although Mary had a special role in God's plan of salvation, it said, redemption is through Christ alone. It acknowledged there were "real and perceived abuses" that led to "excessive exaltation" of Mary's role.
Pressure from all around
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is getting pressure from three sides as he tries to hold the troubled worldwide Anglican Communion together. The conservative majority of the communion's primates, or top leaders, want all members of the communion-including the U.S. Episcopal Church. and the Anglican Church of Canada-to adhere to traditional, biblically based Anglican teaching on sexuality, or be ousted. Liberals in North America and Europe are looking to Canterbury to provide shelter. Now the Vatican is pressing hard as well.
The Vatican had pulled out of official ecumenical talks with the communion over the consecration of a gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions in North America. It reinstated the talks after the Anglican primates recently took initial punitive steps against the North Americans. Vatican officials urged Canterbury to address "the moral questions at the heart" of the conflict. "Ecclesiological" solutions alone are too open to different interpretations, they warned.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Williams appointed a "Panel of Reference" on May 11 to try to mediate disputes where conservative parishes stranded in liberal-headed dioceses want spiritual oversight by a biblically faithful bishop.
· Catholic priest Michael Sklucazek denied communion to about 100 pro-gay demonstrators wearing rainbow-colored sashes at the Cathedral of St. Paul (Minn.) on Pentecost Sunday. Archbishop Harry Flynn had warned earlier they wouldn't receive communion because the sashes, worn annually at the behest of the Rainbow Sash Alliance, had become a protest against church teaching.
· The clergy-short 1.3-million-member United Church of Christ will vote this summer on a plan to attract more prospective ministers. It would offer an option for ordination that would bypass the traditional college-and-seminary training track.
· A United Methodist Church regional appeals panel ruled 8-1 to reverse a verdict defrocking Philadelphia clergywoman Irene "Beth" Stroud for violating the church's ban on non-celibate gay clergy. The clergy jurors claimed "legal errors" resulted in her punishment. Eastern Pennsylvania Bishop Marcus Matthews said he will appeal the judgment to the UMC's supreme court.
· Megachurches are multiplying so fast that researchers can't keep up. Previously, Hartford (Conn.) Institute for Religion Research had reported finding about 850 churches with weekly worship attendance of 2,000 or more. New research indicates the total is closer to 1,200. The largest numbers are in Texas (174), California (169), Florida (83), and Georgia (64).