The six outgoing members of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion released a statement today disputing the contention of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) endorsed sanctions against the Episcopal Church at its recent meeting in Zambia.
Those sanctions were outlined in a communiqué from the primates, or senior archbishops, in January as a response to the Episcopal Church’s decision to allow same-sex couples to marry in the church. Welby spoke about the communiqué in his presidential address to the ACC.
“In receiving the Archbishop of Canterbury’s formal report of the Primates’ Gathering and Meeting, ACC16 neither endorsed nor affirmed the consequences contained in the Primates’ Communique,” the six signatories wrote. “There was no plenary discussion or decision with respect to the Primates’ Communiqué. From our perspective there did not seem to be a common mind on the issue, other than the clear commitment to avoid further confrontation and division. ACC16 did welcome the call for the Instruments of Communion and the Provinces to continue to walk together as they discern the way forward. No consequences were imposed by the ACC and neither was the ACC asked to do so.”
Those who signed the letter are: Helen Biggin of the Church of Wales, Joanildo Burity of Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, Bishop Ian T. Douglas of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Sarah Macneil of the Anglican Church of Australia, Vice Chair Elizabeth Paver, a canon in the Church of England and outgoing chair Bishop James Tengatenga of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. Their terms on the standing committee expired at the end of recently concluded ACC meeting in Lusaka, Zambia.
At a press conference on the evening before that meeting ended, Welby presented a different interpretation of the meeting, saying that the sanctions that the primates of the communion attempted to levy against the Episcopal Church for changing its marriage canons to allow same-sex couples to marry, “stood.” In a subsequent essay he argued that, “By receiving my report, which incorporated the Primates’ Communique, the ACC accepted these consequences entirely, neither adding to nor subtracting from them.”
Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Communion, endorsed Welby’s interpretation, saying in a statement: “The terms of the Primates decision about The Episcopal Church have been followed through as far as is possible and legal. To say otherwise is misleading and wrong.”
Welby and Fearon wrote in response to a letter by the Episcopal Church’s representatives at the ACC meeting—Douglas, the bishop of Connecticut; Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine, a deputy to General Convention from the Virgin Islands and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies—which noted that they had “participated fully” in the meeting, in contrast to the primates’ requests, that “ACC members seemed to have little energy for answering the primates’ call for consequences,” and that a resolution that would have “welcomed” the primates communiqué had been withdrawn.
The communiqué issued in January called for members of the Episcopal Church to be removed from ecumenical and interfaith bodies appointed by Welby; to be prohibited from serving on the standing committee of the communion and to be prohibited from voting on mattes of faith and polity in communion bodies.
It is not yet clear whether the two members of the Episcopal Church who were appointed to committees identified by the primates have been officially removed by Welby.
No member of the Episcopal Church chose to stand for election to the Standing Committee. Ballentine and Jennings said they had never intended to do so. Douglas considered running for chair of the standing committee, a position ultimately won by Archbishop Paul Kwong of Hong Kong, but decided against it.
“Looking at my life and my commitments to my family, my marriage and the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, I wasn’t sure I could commit the time that I believed the positon requires,” Douglas said. “Additionally, I didn’t want my candidacy to be interpreted as an up or down vote on the standing of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion. So to depoliticize the situation and keep us focused on the unity of the body of Christ, I chose not to run.”
At the ACC meeting, Ballentine, Douglas and Jennings voted on all the resolutions that came before the meeting, including adding youth members of the Anglican Consultative Council, and on a number of ecumenical relationships and on a joint declaration of the doctrine of justification.