The Anglican Consultative Council met last week, while I was away serving as chaplain to our Sr. High Summer Camp. If you want to know what being an Episcopalian is about, talk to some of the really energized youth of the Diocese of Kentucky. Puts it all in perspective!
The ACC, which is probably the least-known but most representative of the Anglican Instruments of Unity, covered four major areas, which are summed up really well in an article on Anglicans Online by Simon Sarmiento. My personal take follows....
ECUSA presented it's theological rationale for the consent and consecration of Gene Robinson as well as our "Local Option" for same-sex unions in a document named To Set Our Hope on Christ, which can be downloaded here. I have read through it once and am very impressed. It bears the marks of many scholars such as Mark Mcintosh, Katherine Grieb and Timothy Sedgewick (among others) that I really respect. It is probably the best piece of orthodox progressive theology I have seen so far. I'll probably comment on it alone later in a separate post.
The most widely anticipated resolution was the one dealing with the participation of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada (I'll call them ACOC) in the Anglican Communion. What resulted has been reported by various journalists as either "Conservative Anglicans fail to censure North American churches over gay issue" or " US Church excluded for gay stance." Pretty diverse.
What happened was this:
- Nigeria put forth a resolution affirming the Primates' request that ECUSA and ACOC voluntarily withdraw their ACC delegations for this one meeting, but also included that the ACC "further requests that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada withdraw their members from all other official entities of the Communion for the same period."
- Nigeria moved that the ACC go to closed session, which ejected the observers from ECUSA and ACOC.
- The resolution was modified. The clause above was deleted and a new one was added, that the ACC "interprets the reference to Anglican Consultative Council to include its Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Finance and Administration Committee." Thus excluding us from two entities that we were not represented on anyways.
- The resolution passed, 30 to 28 with four abstentions.
My interpretation is a positive one. Some venomous people had been expecting (read hoping) that the most representative of the Instruments of Unity would "throw ECUSA out" of the Anglican Communion. The modification of the resolution and the narrow margin of passage indicates to me that the Anglican Communion is in no way united on the issue of whether our differences in human sexuality are enough to divide us. Delegates who did not approve of ECUSA and ACOCs' actions had the opportunity to administer a pretty mild reproof, and did so only by a very slim majority. IMHO, this means that any talk about a majority of the Anglican Communion that is so angry that it is willing to eject ECUSA is so much wind.
The other major work was a change in the representation of the ACC. A modification to its constitution made the primates Ex Officio members of the ACC, and relegated clergy representation to the orders of priests and deacons. So the ACC, which used to be half laity and half clergy of all three orders is now to be made up of one third primates, one third clergy, and one third laity.
As an American Episcopalian, I find this highly troubling for several reasons.
- Our history has always been one of lay empowerment - this comes out of the American Revolution and our unwillingness for bishops to be lords like they were in England. It is also based in our belief that ministry is the role of all baptized believers. This new configuration decreases the role of laity and heightens the role of clergy and bishops in the ACC. I believe this underscores the difference between the Episcopal Church and some of our Anglican sister provinces where lay involvement in church governance is much reduced or non-existent. This difference may come into play when we begin further deliberations. If the Anglican Communion becomes more clericalized, are we really comfortable with that? The other instruments of unity are all bishops. Why not leave the ACC tilted in the other direction?
- The theological distinction seems murky. Since when was a bishop not clergy? They were considered clergy under the old constitution, but now they are a separate third? In our own governance, the House of Bishops is separate, but they do not have power in the House of Deputies. I would say that the ACC is now unbalanced, with clergy by the traditional definition) having a two-thirds majority.
- It grants de-facto status to the Primates Meeting as a subcommittee of the ACC, not only giving them extra power, but giving them a historical "pedigree," since they are otherwise a pretty new innovation. While I believe work needs to be done to clarify how the instruments of unity interact, I am concerned that this is more of a "co-option" than an interaction.
The ACC also commended moving forward with the listening process to the voices of GLBT Anglicans which has been called for in Lambeth resolutions for thirty years. We'll see.
Finally, the ACC commented on reports about divesting from Israel as a protest against treatment of Palestinians. My guess is, this will get a lot more nasty.
The ACC also thanked ECUSA and the ACOC for our presentations.
All in all, I think ECUSA and ACOC came out well, but I am concerned for the future direction of the ACC.