Last week (January 11-15, 2016), the Anglican Communion primates gathered in Canterbury for the first time in four years. The statement they issued at the end of their conversations singles out the Episcopal Church for special treatment because of recent canonical changes that broaden the blessing of marriages to include same sex couples as well as heterosexual couples.
Many deem the special treatment to be sanctions imposed against The Episcopal Church (TEC):
… for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.
The vast preponderance of Episcopalians and other Anglicans will be unaware that these sanctions exist, much less feel any pain because of their imposition. Indeed, TEC faces a much more important agenda than prioritizing internal Anglican Communion issues, i.e., self-renewal that will reverse the continuing decline, a need repeatedly addressed in this blog.
Concurrently, the Anglican Communion has at least preserved – perhaps only temporarily – an appearance of unity. The primates described their conversations as a gathering and not a meeting, a distinction that is more semantic than substantive. Unity within the body of Christ is important. Accepting the sanctions for three years, sanctions alter neither who we are nor how we journey as God's people, seems a small price to pay for contributing to the preservation of an appearance of Christian unity.
Critically, TEC's prophetic witness that God loves all people, regardless of gender orientation, continues unchanged. The statement that the primates issued does not disclose the views of individual primates or whether any of them supported TEC having broadened its understanding of marriage in ways that more fully cohere to the gospel mandate of God's equal love for all people. As the Most Rev. Michael Curry told the gathering,
Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.
Other members of the Anglican Communion (e.g., the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England) are moving toward expanding their views of marriage.
Today, the United States commemorates the ministry and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The campaign for racial justice civil rights did not begin with Dr. King, reach its apogee in his powerful oratory and tremendous accomplishments, or end with his death. Similarly, I am persuaded that the campaign for a truly inclusive church did not begin with TEC or end with the primates' meeting. TEC's witness and continuing Anglican Communion conversation about gender and marriage, even with the sanctions, are hopeful signs that God is not yet finished with the Communion and that love will triumph over bigotry and brokenness.