Anglican Leader Speaks to Episcopal Pro-Gay Ruling

Says Communion May Be Heading for “Two-Tier” System

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LONDON, JULY 29, 2009 ( Archbishop Rowan Williams, the leader of the Anglican Communion, has spoken to the decision of the Anglican church in the United States to go forward with ordaining homosexual bishops and blessing same-sex unions.

In his statement Monday, Archbishop Williams addressed the decisions made at the Episcopal general convention, held early this month.

The declaration, titled “Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future,” expressed concern about the U.S. church decisions regarding same-sex lifestyles, noting that “a realistic assessment of what [the] convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed.”

The archbishop said the issue is a matter of “whether the Church is free to recognize same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.”“In the light of the way in which the church has consistently read the Bible for the last 2,000 years,” he said, “it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.”

In consequence of this reality, the archbishop further expressed hesitation with the ordination of same-sex clergy.

“[A] person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the church’s teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.”

Still, the Episcopal Church is overwhelmingly in favor of the move to ordain homosexuals (the vote in the Houses of Bishops and Deputies was more than two-thirds in favor) and bless same-sex unions.

What to do?

Faced with such a situation, Archbishop Williams recognized that there is a broader issue of “how a local church makes up its mind on a sensitive and controversial matters.”

He said that a local church needs “some way of including in its discernment the judgment of the wider church. Without this, it risks becoming unrecognizable to other local churches, pressing ahead with changes that render it strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe.”

The archbishop contended that to give un-challenged priority to local factors “would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches.”

“It would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent ‘community of Christian communities,'” he said.

Archbishop Williams contrasted the approach of those who see communion as “best expressed in a more federalist and pluralist way” with the approach that has “generally shaped the self-understanding of our Communion.”

Given that reconciliation of these perspectives might not be possible, the archbishop offered the “two-tier model,” saying “there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a ‘covenanted’ Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with ‘covenanted’ provinces.”

“[P]erhaps,” the church leader recognized, “we are faced with the possibility rather of a ‘two-track’ model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure.”

Ecumenical relations

The Episcopal decision obviously has consequences not only within the Anglican Communion, but also for its ecumenical relations.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, addressed the Anglican Communion at their Lambeth Conference a year ago.

He noted that the blessing of same-sex unions is one of two issues under consideration by Anglicans (along with the ordination of women) that poses deep problems for ecumenical relations with the Catholic Church.

“In light of the tensions of past years in regard [to questions on human sexuality],” Cardinal Kasper said on that occasion, “a clear declaration from the Anglican Communion would offer us greater possibilities to provide a common testimony on human sexuality and matrimony, a testimony painfully necessary for the world of today.”

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Full text of archbishop’s statement:

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