Commentary by Robin G. Jordan
I believe that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is wrong in his insistence that expulsion is not the way to deal with sin. Among the reasons that the Episcopal Church USA has drifted into apostasy is that it has failed to discipline its leaders who have apostatized from the Christian faith and have espoused heretic ideas and practices – individuals like Bishops Pike, Spong, and Righter. As in the case of a rebellious teenager whose parents fail to set and enforce firm limits, the lack of discipline encouraged further rebellion. The Bible also tells us that if a sinner does not repent of his sin despite repeated admonitions to turn from his sinful ways, expulsion from the church is the next appropriate step – excommunication until the sinner has repented. Once the sinner has repented, he may then be restored to the fellowship of the church. The practice of the early Church was to place the repentant sinner upon probation for a period of time to ensure that his repentance was genuine.
Expulsion from the Anglican Communion may not immediately turn the Episcopal Church from its present course. However, it will discourage the spread of its heretical ideas and practices and serve as a warning to others. Williams’ reluctance to expel the Episcopal Church can be attributed at least in part to his sympathy with the position of the Episcopal Church on homosexuality. Like many liberals in the Anglican Communion he also confuses tolerance of sin with compassion and forgiveness toward the sinner. Expulsion of the Episcopal Church would force the Church of England to take a harder line against the blessing of same sex unions and the ordination of clergy involved in same sex relationships, that has been going on in a number of dioceses in violation of the Church of England’s stated position on homosexuality.
If the Episcopal Church USA is not expelled from the Anglican Communion, a split between the liberal Western (or Northern) provinces and the orthodox global South provinces is not unlikely. At the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham, England Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola called for the suspension of the Episcopal Church from all bodies of the Anglican Communion for the next three years. His motion was watered down and passed by a very narrow margin. While liberals in the Episcopal Church interpret this vote to mean that the Episcopal Church still has friends in the Anglican Communion and therefore need not fear any disciplinary action, what it does indicate is the growing division in the Anglican Communion which the Episcopal Church’s sanctioning of same sex blessings and consecration of a bishop living in a same sex relationship has exposed and exacerbated. Expulsion of the Episcopal Church would threaten the aspirations of liberals in the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of New Zealand, the Church of South Africa, and the Episcopal Church of Brazil to normalize homosexuality in these churches.
The churches in the liberal bloc are not free from conflict over the affirmation of homosexuality. The evangelical wing of the Church of England forced Williams himself to reconsider his decision to permit the appointment of Jeffrey Johns, an outspoken advocate of gay rights, who is involved in a same sex relationship. The revisionist Archbishop of Brazil has deposed the orthodox Bishop of Recife because the Diocese of Recife under his leadership has resisted revisionist efforts to normalize homosexuality in that church. When the revisionist bishops in the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church issued a statement saying that they had no objections to ordaining those involved in same sex relationships, the evangelical Scottish Anglican Network responded by announcing that it would have to reconsider its participation in the Scottish Episcopal Church. The evangelical wing of the Church of Ireland is strongly opposed to the endorsement of homosexuality. The Bishop of Meath and Connor has spoken out against civil partnerships in Northern Ireland. The bishops of at least three dioceses in the Church of South Africa have protested the actions of 2003 General Convention and the consecration of Gene Robinson. A split in the Anglican Communion is likely to lead to splits in the churches of the liberal bloc.
After the vote at the Nottingham meeting on the watered-down version of the motion calling for the Episcopal Church’s withdrawal from all bodies of the Anglican Communion for three years, Archbishop of Central Africa Bernard Malango was reported to have declared that the CAPA provinces would now take the matter into their own hands. The time had come for the leadership of the Anglican Communion to be shifted from Canterbury in the British Isles to Alexandria in Egypt. This report, however, has not been substantiated. If it is true, then a split in the Anglican Communion definitely looms on the horizon.
US Episcopalians form a very tiny percentage of the Anglicans in the world. Yet the actions of the Episcopal Church USA has done inestimable damage to the world Anglican community. They have not only harmed the mission of Anglican churches around the world but also they have set back ecumenical and interfaith relations. The bonds of affection that unite the Anglican Communion have been strained to the breaking point. Rather than insisting that it should be allowed to dictate the terms on which it can remain part of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church should voluntarily withdraw from the Anglican Communion for the good of the world Anglican community. This self-sacrificing action on the part of the Episcopal Church might keep the Anglican Communion together and certainly would go far in restoring the Communion’s damaged image as well as the bonds of affection between its remaining members. To press on in pursuit of its own agenda without regard to the effects upon fellow Anglicans as the Episcopal Church has done so far will only do more harm to the Anglican Communion. It will only confirm in the eyes of world Anglicans the recklessness and irresponsibility of the Episcopal Church and its leaders.
Whether or not the Episcopal Church USA is expelled from the Anglican Communion, the likelihood of a split in the Episcopal Church grows every day. The radical view of sin and salvation presented by the Episcopal Church at the Nottingham meeting rules out any kind of peaceful coexistence between revisionists and orthodox in the church. Anglicans have historically agreed to disagree on matters that are indifferent to salvation but not on those that are not. Anglicans have also viewed the Bible as the final authority in matters of faith and practice. For Anglicans, revealed truth, not shifting cultural norms, set the standard for a Christian’s moral behavior. To orthodox Episcopalians same sex affirmation involves a salvation issue. The Bible takes only one position on homosexuality. It is detestable to God. Indeed, homosexuality exemplifies the fallen human condition and humanity’s separation from God – the human race’s failure to live in a right relationship with God. Homosexuality is not the gravest sin but it is grave enough to keep the unrepentant homosexual practitioner out of the kingdom of God. The Bible makes no exception for homosexual couples living in a committed, loving, and physically affectionate relationship.
The Anglican Church of Canada's Primate Archbishop Andrew Hutchinson may be premature in his appraisal that the motion suspending the North American churches form the Anglican Consultative Council will have no practical effect.