I was asked yesterday if I was going to comment in this space on events last week in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

I certainly have no unique or profound insights to offer. The situation is complex and painful.

On Thursday 14 January 39 Primates of the Anglican church from around the world meeting in Canterbury imposed sanctions against the Episcopal/Anglican Church in the United States.

The sanctions mean that for the next three years, Anglican leaders from the US will not be permitted to vote at international Anglican conferences and assemblies. They will not participate in decision-making “on issues of doctrine or polity,” and will not be authorized to represent the Anglican Communion on interfaith commissions.

No one has been expelled from the Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Church around the world has been embroiled in conflict over the church’s approach to homosexuality for more than the past decade.

In 2008 the parts of the Anglican Church that believe the church should discriminate against people on the basis of how they feel called to express their sexuality banded together in an expression of international Anglicanism called GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference).  Out of this conference, an alternative to the worldwide Anglican Communion came into being in the United States and in Canada known as the Anglican Church in North America.

Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America was present at last week’s gathering of Anglican Primates in Canterbury but with no official status and no vote.

At the moment, officially the Anglican Church around the world remains in tact with a few splinter groups on the edges. But in reality there remain deep divisions in our community.

In the midst of all this I know three things.

1. I value the fact that being an Anglican connects me to an expression of Christian community that transcends the narrow cultural expression of Christianity represented by my own little national body of Christian faith in Canada.

In a world that is so often fragmented and where the dominant expressions of international community exist for economic gain, it remains important that there be an Anglican expression of community united across cultural divides by commitments other than merely financial growth.

2. I value the fact that being an Anglican means I am part of a church that works hard to welcome all people.

Any community must have parameters to preserve some sense of common identity and to protect its members from harm. But, the Anglican Church, as I experience it, seeks to extend as fully as possible an unconditional welcome to all people who do not pose any threat to other members of the community and who live within the prescribed laws of the land.

The problem facing the Anglican Church is that the value of being an international community runs into conflict with the value of inclusion.The wider the cross cultural expression of Christianity we embrace, the deeper the tension becomes between the people we can embrace and the restrictions we feel we need to impose on inclusion in our community.

The cultural context for a Christian in a village in Uganda is vastly different than for a Christian attempting to embody faith in Victoria, British Columbia. We inhabit different worlds. What we can welcome in Canada may not be welcome in Uganda. Unless we are able to live our faith in ways that respect the values of our wider community, we will never embody Christian faith in a way that speaks to our particular context.

3. I know that, being in community means being willing to stick with people whether or not we are always in full agreement.

Of course there are issues that are “deal breakers.” The bonds of community cannot expand endlessly. There are certain behaviours and beliefs that justifiably make it impossible for a community to remain together.

For Anglican leaders in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda, Congo, and some in North America, the issue of same-gender relationships is a line in the sand. The Anglican Archbishop of Uganda Stanley Ntagali has called

all God-fearing people and all Ugandans to remain committed to the support against homosexuality.

Archbishop Ntagali is prepared to walk away from the Anglican Communion if parts of the Communion persist in extending full inclusion to all people.

At the moment Anglicans in the United States are unwilling to walk away from the worldwide Anglican Communion. The leaders of the Anglican Church in the US remains committed to the worldwide Anglican Communion despite deep and painful divisions.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America Michael Curry has responded to the Primates’ meeting in Canterbury with words that embody the grace and expansiveness that demonstrate the vision I cherish for the Anglican Church. It is important to hear his words through to the end:

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/video/statement-primates-meeting

The Episcopal Church in the United States is not going to back away from its determination to extend a full welcome to people regardless of how they may experience the mystery of their sexuality. GAFCON Anglicans are not going to wake up tomorrow and conclude that they should welcome people in same-gender relationships into full participation in the church.

It is hard to know what the way forward might be. But as Archbishop Michael Curry declares,

We are part of the Jesus Movement, and the cause of God’s love in this world can never stop and will never be defeated.

 

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