It was always likely that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the United States would precipitate further divisions in American Anglicanism. That unhappy, divided and increasingly apostate body (which, as Archbishop Carey told its assembled delegates, is picking up a sizeable part of the bill for Lambeth ‘98) has already been roundly condemned by other provinces of the Communion for its departures from revealed truth and biblical witness. By voting in Philadelphia to violate the consciences of those opposed to women priests and bishops, and by moving decisively closer to the acceptance of same-sex unions as morally neutral or equivalent to Christian marriage, ECUSA appears to have provoked an internal schism involving bishops of the Episcopal Synod of America and the American Anglican Council. (see ‘Open Letter’, page 30). If those bodies match their bold words with even bolder action the seventy-second General Convention of ECUSA may well turn out to have been a defining moment in the development of Anglicanism.
The question for the rest of the Communion – and the question which the Lambeth Conference must address, or be seen to be irrelevant to the needs of many millions of Anglicans world-wide – is how the Communion will treat those who cannot in conscience continue in Provinces which they believe to have abandoned faithful biblical witness, but who nevertheless wish to remain Anglican.
The first reaction of the Lambeth Palace spin-doctors will be to minimise the extent of the crisis. In this instance they may be right; we have heard angry words unaccompanied by appropriate action from American traditionalists before. They are past masters at drawing lines in sand. But even if the storm is not yet upon us, the gathering clouds are dark.
Provinces throughout the Communion (witness the Kuala Lumpur Statement) are restive and ill at ease. They wonder whether the Province which sees itself as the cynosure (and paymaster) of Anglicanism is really Anglican at all. And in other Provinces – not least the Churches of the British Isles – pressure for a separate body at arm’s length from recent and pending innovations is steadily building.
The bishops of ESA and of the American Anglican Council, who have so courageously witnessed in their own Church, should now strike a blow for those in other provinces who share their predicament and their concerns. They should write formally to every primate of the Communion stating their position and soliciting from him assurances of continued koinonia and support. They should place the Archbishop of Canterbury, as primus inter pares and focus of unity, in the difficult position of having to give or deny formal and continued recognition.
Despite his unfortunate experience in the past, Dr Carey returned, in his speech to the Philadelphia Convention, to the theme of heresy. ’..the greatest heresy of all,’ he told the delegates, ‘is the failure to live and work together as Christians when we disagree, and we dare not, must not, should not allow any issue, however personally sacred to each of us, to become a matter that divides the Church of God’.
It seems that some American bishops who heard him, think differently. They rightly suppose Unity apart from Truth to be an empty thing, not worth the striving after. They should now attempt, before it is too late, to awaken the Archbishop to the nightmare which must surely haunt his dreams: that of being the head and focus of a community wholly apostate and completely at unity in itself.