The "official," "authorized" word from Tanzania

CanterburyNuke1It's hard to know where to start with all of the coverage of the Anglican primates story, now that the late-late-night negotiations are over and the official statements are out. (Yes, the Canterbury nuke graphics are back -- even though a schism was avoided -- because of the explosive nature of some of the results of the conference.)

First, let me clear up a key point in the Associated Press report by Elizabeth A. Kennedy -- which led to a few puzzled emails coming my way. Here is how that wire story begins:

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania -- Anglican leaders demanded yesterday that the U.S. Episcopal Church unequivocally bar official prayers for same-sex couples and stop consecrating any more homosexual bishops to undo the damage North Americans have caused within the Anglican faith.

In a statement ending a tense six-day meeting, the leaders said that past pledges by the U.S. denomination on homosexual unions and consecrations have been so ambiguous that they have failed to mend "broken relationships" in the 77-million-member global Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of Anglicanism, must clarify its position by Sept. 30 or its relations with other Anglicans will remain "damaged at best."

For starters, there are two crucial documents being discussed. One is the rough draft of a global Anglican Covenant that is supposed to draw some theological borders for life in the communion (don't hold your breath on that one). The second is the statement mentioned in Kennedy's lede -- the Communique stating the decisions reached by the archbishops during their closed-door sessions.

The AP lede makes it sound as if the Anglican Communion has somehow tried to ban all "prayers" for gays, lesbians and bisexuals. The word "prayers" is just too vague and "official" further confuses the point.

This is crucial, because the this is the section of the communique by the primates that is open to some spin and interpretation. Here is the actual statement itself:

... (We) believe that there remains a lack of clarity about the stance of The Episcopal Church, especially its position on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions. There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.

What Kennedy meant to write was that the primates took a stand against "authorized" and, thus, official, Rites of Blessing on same-sex unions. In other words, formal, Prayer Book-style rites that resemble marriage are out. But there is the rub. The Episcopal Church has not -- as the communique mentions -- created an authorized rite of this kind. What has happened is that many dioceses have started using informal, unofficial rites of their own. Anglican insiders usually call this a "local option" approach.

Many people are going to read the AP lede and be further confused.

So read the materials on your own. There are all kinds of websites running all kinds of info on the fallout from Tanzania, but here are some essential places to start. On the left, head back to daily episcopalian, Father Jake Stops the World and epiScope, the official Episcopal Church website. On the right, head over to Titus One Nine, the CaNN Web Elves and Stand Firm in Faith. You will find all kinds of links at these sites to documents, press coverage, transcripts, reaction statements, etc.

For Episcopal leaders, the key question, as always, is: What did The New York Times say? Here is the lede on that story:

Facing a possible churchwide schism, the Anglican Communion yesterday gave its Episcopal branch in the United States less than eight months to ban blessings of same-sex unions or risk a reduced role in the world's third-largest Christian denomination.

Anglican leaders also established a separate council and a vicar to help address the concerns of conservative American dioceses that have been alienated by the Episcopal Church's support of gay clergy and blessings of same-sex unions. Although the presiding American bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, agreed to the arrangement, some conservatives described it as an extraordinary check on her authority.

The directive, issued after a five-day meeting of three dozen top leaders of the Anglican church gathering in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, constituted a severe rebuke of the small but affluent American branch. Conservative Anglicans described the communique as a landmark document that affirms the primacy of Scripture and church doctrine for the world's 77 million Anglicans, only 2.3 million of whom are Episcopalians.

CanterburyNuke2 01That's a solid summary. However, as you can see, these lede also raises the same question: The primates tried to ban the blessing of same-sex unions. But will the Episcopal Church's leaders insist that the document only bans "authorized" rites of this kind? Thus, since there is no such national rite, there is nothing "official" to ban. That's the question.

Out of all of the stories that I have seen (The Washington Post ran a wire report, even though the primates seemed to focus attention on the legal wars in northern Virginia!), I think that Cathy Lynn Grossman's report in USA TODAY was the most ambitious -- trying to sum up both documents and the possible impact of these conflict on other oldline Protestant denominations. Here is the top of that story:

Leaders of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion -- deeply divided over the biblical view of homosexuality and other issues -- ended a contentious six-day meeting in Tanzania Monday with the first steps toward a set of core principles spelling out who is truly Anglican and who is not.

The feared schism and expulsion of the liberal U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church, did not happen, but a new set of requirements was issued in yet another effort to quell seething tensions between the western church and the conservative churches of Africa and South America.

The USA's Episcopal Church may be tiny, with just 2.2 million members, but the affluent, historic denomination has influence in American culture far beyond its numbers. The choices it makes and the consequences it faces may well be played out in other, larger Protestant denominations.

At the end of her report, Grossman spotted another key wording that will lead to debate. The rough draft of the covenent says that Anglican churches will commit to:

... (U)phold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, biblically derived moral values and the vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member Churches.

Once again, there's the rub. Can Anglicans agree on what the Bible says about these issues? Ditto for centuries of "catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition." If Anglicans could agree on the content and authority of scripture and church traditions, this conflict would not be dragging on and on, decade after decade.

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