Anglican Congress seeks convergence among conservatives

December 10, 2002

More than 250 Episcopalians and 'continuing Anglicans,' mostly from the US with approximately a dozen attending from Canada and other Anglican provinces, gathered in Atlanta's Cathedral of St. Philip December 4-7 for the U.S. Anglican Congress (USAC).

Convened by the Rev. Richard Kew and billed as 'Anglicans Uniting for the Coming King,' the gathering originated in meetings following the 2000 General Convention in Denver, and was held partially in response to resolutions from that convention and of the 1998 Lambeth Conference calling for dialogue with the 'continuing Anglican Churches.'

'Anglicans come in many flavors,' said Kew in opening the meeting, and indeed the scheduled worship services and music ranged from the charismatic-flavored praise choruses opening every session, provided by the Alleluia Community of Augusta, Georgia, to Evensong with the Rev. David Moyer, president of Forward in Faith/North America, as cantor.

Yet the diversity only went so far. With the exception of a service of Compline from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, led by the only woman officiant, and a Holy Communion rite from Kenya, all services were taken from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

It was clear that not all theological flavors of Anglicans were welcome. 'This gathering says there are many out there who have not bowed their knee to Baal,' declared Bishop Ray Sutton of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), which split from ECUSA in 1874 and is not considered a 'continuing Anglican' body. Ecumenism, he said, only matters 'among the godly remnant. It means nothing beyond that.'

Through a different lens

Convergence--a term frequently used to describe the coming together of three streams of church renewal: charismatic, evangelical/reformed, and liturgical/sacramental--was the goal set for the meeting by Bishops Sutton and Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh in a joint session early in the congress. 'My task is to help congress participants see the world of North American Anglicanism through a different lens than the one to which we have all grown accustomed, through the lens of convergence rather than the lens of competition,' Duncan said. 'To come here my worldview had to change: from focus on a denomination to focus on a movement, from focus on the Episcopal Church in the United States of America to focus on North American Anglicanism, from seeing boundaries to seeing possibilities, from denomination-building to kingdom-building.'

Duncan related that one major turning point for him occurred when he could not bring himself to attend the daily Eucharists of the 2000 General Convention. 'I needed simply to be fed by God's Word and Christ's Sacrament, not challenged with all the ideas and isms and alternative lifestyles that were the constant confrontation of every other part of the convention,' he said. So he began attending separate Eucharists sponsored by Forward in Faith/North America and was soon asked to join the liturgical rota. 'I ordain women. So do most of the AAC [American Anglican Council] bishops. Forward in Faith is unalterably opposed. But they were asking me for presidency, despite our deep theological disagreement,' Duncan said.

Separated histories

'Our histories are important. The matters over which we did split are significant,' Duncan acknowledged. 'Finding ways to acknowledge that language in liturgy does matter to us and does diverge among us; finding ways to honor one another and accommodate each other over the thorny issue of women in holy orders--where some can't and others must--these challenges of our separated histories must be taken seriously, but they need not imprison us, and that is what this Congress is all about.'

Sutton recounted his first meeting with Duncan in which, he said, both realized that 'what we had in common was greater than where we might differ,' and that in turn 'our churches had not been static.' Later, Duncan preached at the REC's triennial council, asking forgiveness and reconciliation between ECUSA and the REC. 'A century-old tear in the body of Christ has begun to be sutured by the grace of God,' Sutton said, and called for the formation of 'a spiritually orthodox alliance to oppose the axis of evil heterodoxy that has invaded the western Church…There is a spiritual global warfare going on.'

During a question and answer session, one of the conference participants, ECUSA Executive Council member Dr. Louie Crew, asked Duncan and Sutton if reconciliation and convergence could be extended to other parts of the Episcopal Church, including liberals. 'There are some things we are not sure we can go forward together,' Duncan answered. 'We will deal in charity but I don't know how we will get past' disagreements on understandings of the Bible regarding sexuality, he said. 'We have more kinship with other traditions than in our own home.'

Kingdom Norms reaffirmed

A previous 'summit of Anglican leaders,' held in Atlanta in November 2000, generated an agreement on 'Kingdom Norms,' which was affirmed by 19 of the 23 bishops present at the USAC meeting. Bishops of the Episcopal Church signing the document were Duncan (Pittsburgh); Jack L. Iker (Fort Worth); Keith L. Ackerman (Quincy); and Alden M. Hathaway (Pittsburgh, retired). Signers who are bishops of the Anglican Communion were Maurice W. Sinclair, retired archbishop of the Southern Cone; Malcolm Harding of the Anglican Church of Canada (retired); Archbishop Bernard Malango of the Province of Central Africa; and Francis R. Lyons III of the Iglesia Episcopal Anglicana de Bolivia.

From the REC, the signers were Sutton (Dallas); Leonard W. Riches, Presiding Bishop; Daniel R. Morse (Memphis); and James C. West, Jr., (Somerville, South Carolina). Bishops Richard Boyce (Seattle), Peter Brewer (Dunwoody, Georgia), and Walter H. Grundorf, (Goldenrod, Florida) of the Anglican Province of America (APA) also signed, as did the Anglican Mission in America's (AMiA) John H. Rodgers, Jr.; Charles H. Murphy III; and Thaddeus R. Barnum.

Bishops present who had not signed the document at the noontime close of the conference included Peter Beckwith (ECUSA, Springfield); William Skilton (ECUSA, South Carolina) and Peter Riola (Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches).

Only half of those listed on the congress website as part of the original 'summit of Anglican leaders' registered for the December meeting, which was originally scheduled for Dallas last June. The decision to hold the Congress at the Cathedral of St. Philip generated some controversy for Dean Samuel Candler and Atlanta bishop Neil Alexander, neither of whom hold the same views on human sexuality as the members of the congress steering committee. That resulted in misunderstandings and what Candler termed 'betrayals and broken agreements' about his addressing the group.

Fourteen men identifying themselves as 'the young leaders of the Anglican Way in America,' the majority from the Episcopal Church, signed a letter pledging themselves to be partners in 'the re-evangelization of North America.' Men made up more than three-quarters of the gathering, and more than half those attending were ordained. Fewer than a dozen ordained women were registered for the meeting.

Anglican essentials embraced

Participants also embraced an Americanized version of the Montreal Declaration of Anglican Essentials, the founding document of Anglican Essentials, a group that emerged from a 1994 meeting in Montreal, Canada, sponsored by Anglican Renewal Ministries, Barnabas Anglican Ministries, and the Prayer Book Society of Canada. According to Kew, the U.S. meeting was modeled on the Montreal gathering.

The Declaration of Anglican Essentials, modified by the Rev. Leslie Fairfield of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and Bishops Sutton of the REC and Rodgers of the AMiA, differed from the Montreal document only slightly, affirming basic doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the authority of the Bible.

Calling marriage between a man and a woman 'the only sexual relations that biblical theology deems good and holy,' the declaration said that 'adultery, fornication, and homosexual unions are intimacies contrary to God's design' and condemned 'divorce, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, pornography, parental absenteeism, sexist domination, abortion, common-law relationships, and homosexual partnerships' as prone to result in 'weakening of the family ideal.' It also termed 'homophobia and all forms of sexual hypocrisy and abuse' evils 'against which Christians must ever be on their guard.'

In breakout groups, participants pondered groups of questions concerning their hopes for the outcome of the conference, what they considered priority issues for Anglicanism, further steps towards cooperation between various 'orthodox' Anglican bodies -- particularly in light of the women's ordination question -- and the possibility of 'parallel provinces' organized on an ethnic or theological basis. The results were reported back to a plenary session, and organizers said they will be used in determining the creation of an 'Atlanta Covenant.'

'Mini-conferences' focused on such topics as reaching children, church planting, evangelism, healing, the episcopate, the relationship between Christianity and Islam, and a session on the future of the Anglican Communion, led by Sinclair.

Change and convergence

The bulk of the meeting was taken up with hearing from speakers who focused on the need to adapt to demographic changes in global Christendom, and the necessity for those who identify themselves as 'orthodox' or 'traditional' Anglicans to focus on 'convergence.'

'If the factions in the Church of England, the high church and the low church, could ever come together, the place would become a very troubling hotbed of love and charity,' said Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, quoting C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. But the Church of England, and indeed Anglicans in the global North, aren't where the action is, said Jenkins.

He noted that the global North has reached population stability or decline, but in the global South populations are still growing and will not level off for decades to come. 'This means that, even apart from conversions…more and more of the Christian population of the world is going to be a Southern Hemisphere population,' Jenkins said, 'and that does take account of the disaster of AIDS.'

The Christianity--even the Anglicanism--embraced by the global South is different from the mainstream faith of the 'ice-bound' North, which Jenkins labeled 'Unitarian.' 'The churches that are flourishing across the global South…overwhelmingly tend to be very charismatic,' he said. 'They take concepts like spiritual warfare very seriously. They believe in spiritual healing, they believe in dreams and trances and visions.' Jenkins suggested that deep poverty, urbanization and globalization means that 'Christianity of a Charismatic kind…makes wonderful sense in large parts of the global South in ways it cannot any more in much of the North.'

A Christian superpower

In a similar vein, former TIME magazine editor David Aikman predicted that within the next three decades up to 30 percent of China's citizens will be professing Christians -- achieving a 'critical mass' in politics, education and the media that, coupled with China's growing economic and military power, could mean that 'the most powerful superpower of the late 21st century' will be a largely Christian China.

Illegal house churches, not the government-endorsed China Christian Council, will be the driving force behind the change, Aikman said, which is ultimately aimed at evangelizing the Muslim world and 'bringing the Gospel back to Jerusalem.' Their weak point, he said, is that fast-growing churches have fallen behind in basic Christian education and have become vulnerable to the teaching of cult groups.

Aikman said that three challenges face global Christianity in the coming century: massive urbanization, the recapture of the world's 'intelligentsia' through developing a 'post-modern apologetics,' and the influence of women in combating evils such as sexual trafficking.

Seduction of the culture

Archbishop Bernard Malango, primate of the Province of Central Africa, offered the gathering 'principles that might be helpful to keep in mind as we deal with the complexities of living in cultures that are increasingly at war with the Gospel.' Malango urged them to follow the example of the Biblical hero Daniel in resisting 'the seduction of the culture' and of personal gain.

He also spoke forcefully about the issue of human sexuality, saying it 'threatens to divide the communion.' 'It is not problematic because it is about sex,' said Malango. 'Africans don't like to talk about such things, but that is not the problem. It is not just it offends our culture even though that is the case. The true problem is that it is a salvation issue.'

Malango warned that bishops and dioceses that follow the lead of the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster in allowing same-gender blessings 'will be left standing out in the cold' and are 'putting salvation at risk. Anyone who thinks we will never speak out or act because Canada and ECUSA have so much money does not understand what it means to be poor and faithful,' he said. Jenkins later joined Malango for a panel discussion on the differences between Anglicanism in the global North and South.

British evangelist Canon Michael Green also addressed the group twice, wrapping up the meeting with a rousing summation in which he declared that 'without tyrannical and heretical bishops, much of the continuum -- the REC, the APA, the EEC, the AMiA -- would not have been propelled into separate existence.' To applause, Green said that were St. Athanasius, the opponent of Arius, alive today, he would have pronounced that 'the see of Philadelphia [sic] and the see of New Westminster were vacant, and new elections from believing candidates would urgently be needed.'

Ecumenism within Anglican family

A committee chaired by REC presiding bishop Riches will take the results of the conference 'forward.' 'The first step we're going to take is to identify at least one clergy and one lay representative from every jurisdiction that was present here and bring them together to constitute the task force to take what we understand to be the concerns of this Congress and find strategies, means, networks, whatever it takes, in order to implement those things,' said Riches. 'We are being asked to identify membership within a month, and my sense of things is that we want to strike while the iron is hot and get a first meeting of the task force in February.'

One of the conference participants, the Rev. Peter Toon, vice-president of the Prayer Book Society of the USA, has already identified the limited number of 'continuing Anglican' jurisdictions represented at the congress as a major obstacle.

'The bishops of the few jurisdictions outside of PECUSA represented at the Congress make up possibly 7 per cent of Anglicans outside the PECUSA,' Toon wrote in an online editorial. 'Whilst the momentum of the REC and other groups is towards the conservative end of the PECUSA and acceptance therein (e.g. the Diocese of Pittsburgh), the momentum of the other 90 per cent of non-ECUSA Anglicans is the opposite direction, away from what they see as the apostasy of the ECUSA…I think that it will now be nearly impossible to get them to join in this project, especially since a Reformed Episcopal Bishop is the leader of the steering committee for the future and (for all kinds of historical and churchmanship and doctrinal reasons) the major Continuing Churches tend not to take this jurisdiction too seriously.'

The other issue that is still unsettled is the ordination of women. 'We are all agreed that this is a question of reception,' said Duncan. 'Some of us are committed to it, some of us are not. But it actually doesn't have to be a church-splitting issue. It's too short a time to say that this is settled, and to say that those who believe in that way don't fit in here--that's not how it has to be.' Scripture is 'more complex' on the role of women than on homosexuality, said Duncan, and so opponents find it easier to reach common ground on sexuality than on women's ordination.

'To see this as a political action rally or something that is going to produce some sort of superficial entity that is a pressure group would be a misread of the entire situation,' commented Ackerman. 'Rather than striking up [ecumenical] relationships with those with whom we don't have as much of a common heritage, it just seems to make a great deal of sense for us to gather the Anglican family together.'

CORRECTION: In graf 13, line 4: deleted 'retired.'

Related Topics: