Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Nearly two weeks have passed since the primates' gathering in Canterbury. One of my favorite games in history is to pick out the glaringly ironic events, that is, the ones that seem to be one way but are really just the opposite, e.g. the Confederacy fighting for freedom while keeping 4m people in slavery.

Just yesterday came news of another strikingly ironic event. Months ago, videos hit the news purportedly showing Planned Parenthood officials selling fetal parts. Conservatives exploded in anti-PP acts. The conservative authorities in Texas decided to punish PP and took legal action. The DA in Houston took the case to a grand jury expecting to charge PP with crimes. Well, guess what. The grand jury not only cleared PP of any wrongdoing but turned around and charged the video makers with felonies. Turns out the videos were all fraudulent and made while violating numerous laws. The video makers will now go to jail. Now that is irony.

And, so we have irony in Canterbury. A meeting that was supposed to bring unity and order actually produced disunity and disorder. In trying to make sense of this mess, I am going to put down what I see as the main elements in this chaos:

1. What was the event?
The Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) insisted on calling it a "gathering." This was to keep it from being called a "meeting." A primates' meeting would be one of the Four Instruments of Communion of the Anglican Communion. Some of the GAFCON primates would not attend a "meeting" since the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) would be present, but they would attend a "gathering" (I know, I am scratching my head too).

It should be recalled that the Anglican Communion is a friendship circle of 38 independent churches claiming heritage from the Church of England. It has no central government of any kind.  

2. Who was present, and when?
We were told all but one of the primates showed up on Monday the 11th. That would be 37 counting ABC. Another report said 36 were present. 
Primate Ntagali of Uganda said he left at the end of the second day (Tuesday the 12th) after his motion to expel TEC and ACC was voted down. ABC said in his press conference that Ntagali left on Wed.
Foley Beach, archbishop of Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) said the majority of GAFCON primates left on Thursday evening ( ).
All we know for sure is that two primates (Hong Kong and Southern Africa) were present with ABC for the press conference on Friday the 15th, neither from GAFCON.

3. What role did Foley Beach play in the gathering?
We know that ABC invited him for one reason only: to get the GAFCON primates to attend. Without Beach, most of the GAFCON primates would have stayed away.
Exactly what Beach did in the gathering is highly controversial. He reported that he was treated very well ( ). Paul Handley of Church Times reported: "Dr. Foley Beach was a full voting participant in the Primates' gathering in Canterbury." ( ). Lambeth Palace refuted that in a statement of 17 January: "Apart from when the meeting agreed the agenda at the start, it was made clear to Archbishop Foley Beach that it would not be appropriate for him to take part and he was not invited to do so." (
 ). Beach himself issued a cryptic statement: "with the exception of voting on the consequences for the Episcopal Church, Archbishop Beach participated fully in those parts of the meeting that he chose to attend." ( ).
Bottom line: I suppose we should take the "official" word of Lambeth Palace. I wish they had defined what "take part" meant. We still do not know exactly what role Beach played in the gathering.

4. What did the primates agree upon, and who took part in the agreements?
Apparently, the statement issued on the 14th was agreed to first. ( ). This was a list of eight items spelling out the wrongdoing and the "consequences" for TEC. TEC was found guilty of violating the majority view of marriage. Thus, it was given "consequences" of restrictions in the AC for three years. ABC refused to tell the votes, but Jack Iker reported the vote as 26 for, 3 against, and 6 abstentions ( ).
The final communiqué appeared on the 15th as a much longer document covering numerous topics ( ). It is not clear whether the GAFCON primates were present for this part of the agreement.
One important item said that the gathering refused to consider the admission of ACNA to the AC. Instead, the primates agreed that any such issue belonged before the Anglican Consultative Council. They did not recommend it be sent to ACC. In fact, they discouraged ACNA's admission because of problems of polity and jurisdiction.
Another point dealt with homosexuality. The primates said they rejected criminal sanctions against homosexual people. It is important to note that they did not say they opposed the criminalization of homosexual acts (thanks Jeremy Bates for pointing that out).
The inclusion of the items on ACNA and homosexuality suggest that the GAFCON primates may not have been present to vote on this part of the agreement. Or, perhaps this was the trade off for imposing punishment on TEC. All the communiqué says is "adopted by the majority of the Primates present." So, who was present? We do not know.

5. Is the Communiqué binding?
The AC does not have a central government of any kind. The 4 Instruments of Communion do not constitute a government. There is no constitution, charter, or any other document establishing authority. One of the 4 Instruments, the Anglican Consultative Council has a charter, but this does not give it power over the 38 individual churches of the AC. Besides, there would be no way to enforce any agreement.
In the past, the primates meetings have suggested restrictions on individual churches but these were only voluntary and could not be enforced.
The difference with this communiqué is that it specified punishment for one church that is not voluntary. Still, there is no way to enforce this punishment.
Norman Doe, a specialist in canon law, said that no primates' meeting had any right to impose consequences on any body ( ). He dismissed the communiqué as meaningless.
The problem is that ABC has allowed a new process to be formed in the AC by which a majority of primates can make decisions for the whole and mete out "consequences"(punishments). Even thought this is non-constitutional and unprecedented, there is nothing to stop this from developing into something more in the future. It is changing the traditional nature of the AC.

6. Will TEC comply?
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and House of Deputies president Gay Jennings have said emphatically that TEC will go on as usual. Curry said TEC will not change its policies on inclusion of all people. Jennings said she will go to the Anglican Consultative Council and participate fully.
I think we can conclude TEC will ignore the "consequences" and dare anyone to challenge it. As we said, AC has no way to enforce punishment on TEC since TEC is an independent church.

7. What was the point of the "consequences"?
ABC threw TEC "under the bus" to appease GAFCON. The hardliners' original demand on Tues. to expel TEC failed after which Ntagali withdrew leaving everyone to wonder whether the rest of GAFCON would follow. ABC must have been frantic. It is not clear, but there may have been a second vote on Wed. morning to expel TEC for three years and this failed 15-20. Immediately afterwards, a majority formed to impose some sanction on TEC and the group came up with limited punishment for three years. My take is that if ABC had not agreed to something against TEC, GAFCON would have walked out on the spot. Thus, ABC sacrificed TEC to appease GAFCON and keep them in AC. The point of the consequences was to impose some sort of punishment on TEC to keep GAFCON in AC. It did not really matter that it was unenforceable.

Were the "consequences" punishment?
Yes. If there were not punishment they would have no meaning.

Why does ABC insist on calling them "consequences"?
To soften the blow to TEC. He is not fooling anyone. If all the world knows X is X and ABC insists X is Y, he is only demeaning and diminishing himself.

8. What is to happen in the future?
When asked what was to happen at the end of the three-year period of "consequences" ABC said he did not know. When asked whether Beach would be invited to the Lambeth Conference in 2020, ABC said he did not know. ABC did not seem to know much in his press conference.
We do know that two meetings of the primates have been scheduled, one before the end of the three years and one after. The precedent has just been set that the primates can take virtually any action by majority vote. I see nothing to stop them from voting to expel TEC from AC. It should be recalled that the agenda for the Canterbury "gathering" was drawn up by the primates themselves on the first day. ABC allowed the primates to draw up the agenda and to make decisions by majority vote. This is a dangerous precedent that, left unchecked, will inevitable lead to the dissolution of the AC.
Foley Beach had a different take on the future. In his interview with David Virtue (see above) he indicated TEC was on parole for three years and could face stiffer sanctions if it does not change its policy on same-sex marriage. Moreover, he said ABC had promised to follow up on this.
The Communiqué itself says nothing about what happens after three years. However, the process that ABC has set up for majority rule could easily lead to new, and more punitive, actions in three years.

If a province of AC is to be punished for going against the majority of AC, in future is it supposed to check with the majority before changing another canon? How is it supposed to do that if there is no central authority with which to check?

9. Winners and Losers?
The big winner was Michael Curry. His powerful orations for human rights during the gathering and afterwards prove why he was chosen as presiding bishop. He made it clear that whatever the cost, TEC will never retreat on freedom, equality, and justice. He was the man standing head and shoulders above the rest on the moral high ground, even diminishing ABC.

Another winner was GAFCON. They intimidated ABC into forcing punishment on TEC. They proved that the balance of power in AC has shifted to Africa. ABC in effect recognized that in order to keep some semblance of AC. In the future, there is nothing to stop GAFCON/Global South from controlling the agreements of the AC. Too, GAFCON can use its new power to intimidate the nine Anglican provinces that are moving to extend equality to homosexuals.

A loser was Foley Beach. He loitered about pretending to be important when he was not. It appears that his "friends" threw him "under the bus" in order to get sanctions against TEC. He was not accepted as a primate of AC. He was not allowed to vote on the important issues. His church, ACNA, was not even allowed to be considered for admission to AC. The primates dismissed it by saying that if it should want to apply, it must go to the Anglican Consultative Council, but they discouraged ACC from considering it. In effect, admission of ACNA is a dead letter, at least for the next few years.

The biggest loser was ABC. As I said before, he made a faustian bargain by selling the soul of the old AC for a fleeting image of unity, an image that is bound to fade away.

10. Unity.
"Walking together" surely looks a lot like walking apart to me. Instead of unity, there is plenty of the opposite. Right-wing and left-wing have criticized the gathering and Communiqué equally. Somehow, I do not think that is the unity ABC had in mind. I have yet to see a person who really likes the agreement of 15 January, other than ABC, of course.

If you are confused about all this, do not worry. You are not alone.

It seems to me the Canterbury Communiqué of 15 Jan. is another of those striking ironies of history. On the surface it made unity and peace while producing the opposite.