Bishop's Statement on Communiqué from Primates of the Anglican Communion
posted Tuesday, February 20, 2007
by the Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander
Grace to you and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord!
The Primates of the Anglican Communion concluded their meeting today and issued a lengthy communique summarizing their meeting and offering their recommendations. The full text of the communique is available online at Episcopal News Service.
The communique is broad in its scope, and digesting the totality of it will require some effort on the part of all of us. In typical Anglican fashion, the language of the document is highly nuanced. It will take some time before it is clear what the operative interpretation of the document will be. I caution everyone not to assume that our initial reactions are going to be helpful for the long haul. Only after time passes and conversations continue will the meaning of the document for our life together begin to come more precisely into focus.
There is much in the communique for which all Anglicans should be grateful. The emphasis on the Millenium Development Goals, the communion-wide initiatives with respect to theological education, and the forthcoming study on biblical hermeneutics from an Anglican perspective are all matters that hold great promise for our common life. I am grateful to the Primates for taking leadership in these and other areas.
The Primates received the report of the task force charged with evaluating The Episcopal Church's response to the Windsor Report. It was heartening to see in that report appropriate recognition of the sincerety with which we have struggled with the Windsor Report and the generally positive response to our actions at the General Conventions, imperfect as though they may have been from a variety of perspectives. From the report submitted to the Primates, it seems clear that The Episcopal Church has engaged the Windsor Report with greater energy and seriousness than much of the rest of the Anglican Communion.
Although there is a great deal of work to be done on an Anglican covenant, work that will take place over a number of years, I was encouraged by the tone of the covenant process that has been proposed. Since the recommendation was first made in the Windsor Report, I have made no secret about my concerns with respect to an international Anglican covenant more complicated than the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. The Quadrilateral has served us helpfully for well more than a century. Because it has been the principal Anglican guide to ecumenical relationships, it does not seem unreasonable to consider it sufficient as a framework for our fellowship within the Anglican family of churches. I look forward to the conversations on an Anglican covenant, and I believe the process as proposed has integrity. At the same time I believe that caution, careful reflection and much prayer are in order lest we too easily compromise those principles of our Anglican/Episcopal heritage, which make vigorous gospel-centered ministry possible throughout the breadth of our Communion. Here I refer principally to the ability of our tradition to flourish in the mission of Jesus across the boundaries established by cultural, political and economic variants around the world.
My principal concern has to do with the request of the Primates for clarity and specificity from our House of Bishops with respect to the consent process for the election of bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions. This is problematic quite apart from one's personal stance on these matters. The request of the Primates does not present a problem in many parts of the Anglican Communion where the provincial House of Bishops largely dictates the positions of the church on all matters. However, to assign such a role to our House of Bishops, to the exclusion of the laity and clergy represented by the House of Deputies, does not respect the unique features of the polity of The Episcopal Church. Since 1786, The Episcopal Church has been a unique American brand of Anglicanism that values the historic episcopate and honors the role of bishops in the church, but stops well short of giving our bishops full and unfettered authority for the governance of the church. The polity of our church is deeply intertwined with our uniquely American form of democracy. For the Primates to assume that our House of Bishops can make the decisions for which they are asking without the full participation of the whole church strikes me as an invitation to violate our own canons. Again, this seems to be an important concern quite apart from where one stands on the issues in question.
Taken as a whole, it seems to me that the communique from the Primates of the Anglican Communion is a fair summary of the various positions that continue to be in play, both within our own church and around the Anglican Communion. I believe we should receive it with humility and generosity of spirit, study it carefully and debate it vigorously. There is much in the spirit of the communique that is a gift to us, even if we find ourselves unsure or unsettled by some of its content.
There is an inherent tension in the life of the church. On one hand, the church is a great deal larger than our localized experience of it. We need the Anglican Communion and the Communion needs us. Our witness to the Gospel of Jesus is so much stronger and more powerful when we engage God's mission together. On the other hand, when we gather in our own parish church to hear and proclaim God's Word, pray together, and celebrate the sacraments of our redemption, we receive all that we need, each and every time. It is difficult to live into this tension and not be tempted always to resolve it, but therein is yet another gift of God's mercy and grace.
To God alone be the glory!
The Right Reverend J. Neil Alexander
Bishop of Atlanta
February 19, 2007