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Tuesday
Jan192016

Anglican Communion Embraces Its Dark Side

On January 14, 2016 the Anglican Communion suspended the Episcopal Church U.S. from voting and decision making on both doctrine and polity for three years. The Communion stated that the Episcopal Church had lost its “vote” but not its “voice”, meaning it was demoted to observer status. The Episcopal Church will not be allowed to represent the Communion on interfaith and ecumenical bodies or dialogues. It cannot serve on the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council. It cannot vote at the Anglican Consultative Council. The punishment, called consequences by the Communion, was a result of The Episcopal Church supporting marriage equality. To read the Communion’s official statement click here

The movement to punish the Episcopal Church was led by the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) which holds regressive, if not oppressive, attitudes and practices toward the LGBT community. Members of GAFCON include bishops from six African countries as well as bishops from Australia, England, the United States, and India. While this is a diverse group I think it is fair to say that the momentum for GAFCON opposition to the LGBT community comes from the African churches. In some thirty-four African countries LGBT people can be imprisoned for years and in some countries for life. Uganda made the news when it legalized the execution of LGBT people, only to backtrack when the international community protested, and in some cases threatened to withdraw financial aid. Now in Uganda being gay or lesbian will only get you life imprisonment. In all these countries the Christian church has been strong supporter of and advocates for such legislation.

Before the gathering in London, GAFCON members had threatened to walk out if they did not get their way, thus causing the much feared break-up of the Anglican Communion. At the heart they wanted the Episcopal Church to be expelled from the Communion until it repented[1]. As such we are asked to view the suspension as a noble compromise. In the end only Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda walked out of the meeting. Ntagali moved a resolution on the second day of the gathering that said the Episcopal Church should voluntarily withdraw from the meeting and other Anglican Communion activities until it repented. The Episcopal Church refused and the Archbishop walked out.

I have a four simple statements that encapsulate the decision taken in Canterbury, but let’s be clear about what happened. This was not about who we invite to dinner. It was the church aligning with a faction that calls for the imprisonment, and in some cases, the execution of people in the LGBT community. No amount of faith language and referencing Jesus can hide the nastiness of this decision. Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, from Nigeria and the secretary general of the Anglican Communion said the Western Churches should stay out of African moral debates. The irony of his statement is interesting, to say the least, given he and his fellow Africans lead the way in suspending a Western church for moving forward in its moral debate. It seems Idowu-Fearon would be happy for the churches in the Communion to let each other get on with their lives in their respective countries as long as Western churches do what he thinks is right.

My four simple statements:

  1. As is often the case, those who threaten to break and destroy get their way, while those who are punished remain.
  2. It is almost always the case that church unity proves more important than justice.
  3. It gets real old real fast when oppressors asks for understanding and forgiveness from those they oppress even as they continue their oppression.
  4. The decision was an repudiation of the Enlightenment values upon which our Western societies are built. (Liberal churches in the West are largely what they are because of the Enlightenment, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming into a more human place. Fundamentalist churches in the West embrace a selective opposition[2] to Enlightenment values and often do so overtly. The Anglican Communion’s decisions regarding the dignity and rights of LGBT people and marriage equality oppose Enlightenment values and are out of step with Western society.)

Finally, one of the most embarrassing moments in this entire fiasco happened when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, apologized to the LGBT people for the pain inflicted upon them by the church. Bottom line: Sorry, but deal with it because church unity is more important than your suffering, even if that means your brothers and sisters being imprisoned for life.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger


[1] It was hoped that the Episcopal Church would either repent, which means ends its support and inclusion of LGBT people and marriage equality, or voluntarily expel itself.

[2] I say “selective opposition” because while fundamentalist Christians in the West oppose, for example,  human rights for certain people, they are happy to embrace their freedom to speak, to assemble, to protest, as well as their medical care, flying to nice places on holiday, watching their wide flat screen HD TV, etc.

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