Monday, February 1, 2016


Lost in all the sensational news about the Anglican primates' punishment (or "consequences") for the Episcopal Church, is a story from the primates' gathering of 11-15 January that has been underreported and underappreciated. I would like to draw everyone's attention to that subject, the failure of the replacement stratagem.

For twelve years, Episcopalian/Anglican ultra-conservatives in America (those who refused to accept the Episcopal Church's reforms for homosexuals) have worked to destroy or diminish TEC and replace it in the Anglican Communion with an anti-homosexual-rights denomination as the only legitimate Anglican province in the United States. The primates' gathering last month demolished that stratagem. That was a major event of the gathering.

The Final Communiqué of 15 January included this paragraph:

The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church in North America was recognized as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognize that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction.

1-The gathering refused to consider the admission of ACNA to AC, 2-The gathering said the ACC was the proper place for the issue, 3-The gathering did not recommend ACNA's admission, 4-The gathering discouraged ACC from considering ACNA's admission. Bottom line, ACNA's admission as a province of AC is a dead issue at least for the time being.

Now, it is possible that future primates' meetings can resurrect the issue of admitting ACNA, but they have already set a difficult precedent. They would have to revoke their statement of 15 January before considering the issue again. That is possible but not probable. Having the Anglican Consultative Council take up the question is likewise possible but not probable. The ACC is weighted to favor the Anglo-centric part of the AC, not the Third World part.

As everyone knows, Foley Beach, the archbishop of ACNA was invited to the gathering. He was apparently present in the sessions. The only reason he was invited was to get the GAFCON primates to attend. It worked. But, once there, Beach played no significant role in the meetings. In a later interview with David Virtue, Beach tried to emphasize his importance, but an official statement from Lambeth Palace made it very clear that Beach was only an observer and not a voting participant. Given the above statement in the Final Communiqué, Beach obviously held no sway in the gathering.

There were two important letters issued by GAFCON figures. In the first, primate Ntagali of Uganda, who walked out of the meeting when his proposal to expel TEC was denied on Tuesday, issued an official letter on Wednesday, the 13th. No where did he mention Beach or the ACNA. His only concern was that he had failed to expel TEC. On the 14th, Eliud Wabukala, chair of GAFCON, published a letter. His only remark about ACNA was: "We are pleased that Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America has played a full part in the Canterbury meeting of Primates." He went on to call the actions "sanctions" but doubted their effectiveness. Most of all, Wabukala regretted that TEC had gotten off without having to repent of its sins. He did not mention the issue of the admission of ACNA to AC.

My take is that the GAFCON/Global South primates mustered up all their strength to get the punishment for TEC, weak as it was. They had no strength left to press on for other issues. They even gave in on homosexuality by defending the rights of gay people (while not condemning the criminalization of homosexual acts). They threw Beach and ACNA under the bus. Now, it is possible that the GAFCON/Global South primates were not present for the wording of the Final Communiqué. All we know for sure is that they all fled Canterbury before the TV cameras were turned on for the subsequent press conference. However, it was obvious that Beach/ACNA were unimportant to them.

The failure of the replacement stratagem must be a bitter disappointment to the American schismatics who have worked so hard and so long to make it happen. The stratagem has a long and fascinating history. It had its origins in 1996 when the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a right-wing political PAC funded by a few very conservative foundations and individuals, set up the American Anglican Council (likewise funded) whose goal was to defeat and/or diminish the role of liberalism in TEC, specifically on the issue of homosexuality. AAC played a major role in the TEC General Convention of 1997 defeating a resolution to set up a blessing of same-sex unions. They organized a coalition to get into the Lambeth conference statement of 1998 a condemnation of homosexuality. However, their real work began in 2003 when TEC confirmed an openly gay bishop. AAC sponsored a movement to split up TEC. An officer of AAC issued the Chapman Memo in Dec. 2003 as a blueprint for schism. Led by several US bishops, AAC created the Anglican Communion Network as the nucleus of a movement for schism. Of the ten dioceses that joined ACN, five later voted to leave TEC. South Carolina played an important role in ACN. The American ultra-conservatives' goal was to create an "orthodox" (anti-homosexual) church to take the place of TEC in the Anglican Communion. Even early on (Oct. 7, 2003), the ACN leader, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, told a reporter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "'We are asking the leaders of the church to rule that those who continue to uphold the historic faith represent the legitimate, bona fide expression of Episcopalianism in the United States.'"

The core of the ACN gradually left the Episcopal Church and formed a "replacement" church called the Anglican Church in North America in 2009. GAFCON, many of whose primates had already broken off communion with TEC, recognized ACNA as the replacement province and installed ACNA's archbishop, Duncan then Beach, as a "primate." The Archbishop of Canterbury and the official structure of the Anglican Communion have never recognized ACNA.

The original deal between the American ultra-conservatives and the African bishops in 1997 was entirely based on opposition to homosexuality. Both sides needed each other. That worked 1997-2003. After that, however, the Americans wanted more, they wanted their African allies to throw TEC out of the AC and make them the replacement church in America, that is, the official Anglican province in America. That did not happen and it is not likely to happen. Once the African bishops got the Americans' support for their anti-homosexual agenda, they had no further need of the Americans who, stunningly, have now been left out in the cold. It turned out the Americans needed the Africans more than the Africans needed the Americans.

This is not to say that ACNA has been shut out forever. It seems to me the most important news from the gathering was the process not the product. ABC set up a process where the majority of primates can set the agenda and make decisions concerning the whole AC by majority vote. The majority can also impose punishment on the minority. Under this scenario, the majority can do whatever they wish. If they choose to throw out TEC and bring in ACNA, they conceivably could.

It appears to me that the whole momentum of schism, division, and dissention is fading. It may well be that the crisis of homosexuality has passed its peak and is on the downslope. If so, the impetus to split up the AC will fade too. Indeed, I suspect the punishment of TEC was less about TEC, since the sanctions are unenforceable, and more about intimidating the numerous other Anglican provinces that are following TEC's lead on homosexuality. If so, GAFCON/GS's new agenda is to contain and not eradicate homosexual rights. This would be a major turn of events. 

At any rate, due recognition should be given to an important story from last month. The long stratagem of the anti-homosexual ultra-conservative Americans to destroy and replace the Episcopal Church has failed.