THE BISHOP of Maidstone has said that ‘he will no longer be able to accept’ invitations to Christian meetings where bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church are participating, ‘unless their broken communion is recognised in the arrangements’.
His decision comes in the wake of last Thursday’s controversial vote at their General Synod to alter their Canons. The call to remove the words ‘man and woman’ from the marriage service was carried by a small margin.
The Rt Rev Rod Thomas, the traditionalist bishop who was appointed as the Bishop of Maidstone by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2015, partly to ‘enable those with a conservative evangelical view of headship to flourish and to be assured that the Church of England has a respected place for them’, said that the decision by the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) to change its canons of marriage is ‘very serious’.
The SEC General Synod voted in favour of removing the doctrinal clause that states that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“By its actions it is denying the goodness and authority of God’s Word to us in the Scriptures. As a result it is breaking communion with the majority of Anglicans worldwide,” said Bishop Thomas.
“This leaves me with no choice but to recognise that the SEC has walked away from our communion, so I will no longer be able to accept invitations to Christian meetings where bishops of the SEC are actively participating, unless their broken communion is recognised in the arrangements,” he added.
In an immediate response to the Scottish vote, conservative group Gafcon criticised ‘revisionist theology’ during a press conference where Archbishop and Primate of the Province of the Anglican Church in North America(ACNA), and sitting primate on the Gafcon Primates’ Council, Archbishop Foley Beach represented the group.
He explained that the Gafcon Primates had asked his Province, ACNA, to take on the task of providing a missionary bishop for Scotland and consecrate the chairman of the Gafcon-affiliated Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), Canon Andy Lines.
“We continue to have a crisis in the Anglican Communion as the virus of revisionist theology and practice continues to spread to various Provinces,” he said.
Archbishop Beach pointed out that The Nairobi Communiqué from the Gafcon meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013 ‘clearly stated that the Gafcon leadership would not ignore the pleas of the faithful who are trapped in places where false doctrine and practice occur’.
In his statement, the Bishop of Maidstone also announced that the number of evangelical churches in the Church of England that have passed resolutions under the 2014 House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests now exceed 100.
The resolutions by individual church councils ask bishops to make special arrangements to honour their understanding of men’s and women’s ministries. Bishop Rod said that he knew of a further 50 churches that were moving towards passing resolutions.
“It is very heartening to see so many churches working hard to make a success of ‘mutual flourishing’ as commended in the Declaration,” said Bishop Thomas.
“However, it is important to recognise that the compromises involved are only possible because most of us regard this as a matter of church order and therefore something on which we cannot agree to disagree.”
He said that it was ‘not possible with the issue of sexual relationships’ to ‘agree to disagree’. The issue ‘goes to the heart of what God has made us to be, and of his great design to free us from sin for eternal salvation’.
“I therefore welcome the steps that Gafcon is taking to support those who are seeking to stand firm by the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexual relationships, and wish to assure Canon Andy Lines of my prayers as he becomes a missionary bishop,” he said.
During their April meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, the Gafcon Primates decided to provide a missionary bishop for Europe with the initial focus on those in Scotland and Anglicans in England outside the Church of England.
Archbishop Beach said that the decision by the Scottish Episcopal Church to change the biblical and historic definition of marriage ‘has highlighted the need to respond to the cries and pleas of those Scots who today have been marginalized by their leaders’.
“The attempt to redefine marriage is not one that a faithful Christian can support,” he said.
Archbishop Beach said that following the Canons of his Province, the Executive Committee of the Province was not only consulted, but also voted unanimously to support the move while the ACNA College of Bishops discussed and decided to accept this responsibility.
Archbishop Beach explained that ACNA have also appointed an oversight Committee of Bishops to provide guidance and accountability for Canon Lines during the time of his consecration process and to support him after he is consecrated a bishop.
Archbishop Robert Duncan is chair of the committee, which consists of three diocesan bishops: the Rt Rev Bill Atwood, the Rt RevCharlie Master, and the Rt Rev David Hicks.
Archbishop Beach explained that the Consecration will take place on the morning of 30 June in Wheaton, Illinois, and the service will include Primates, Archbishops and bishops from all over the world.“Although the Anglican Church in North America is the consecrating Province, this is an initiative of the wider Anglican Communion,” he said.
“As the Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, I consider it an honour to serve the Scots in this way,” he declared.
“It is my hope that the missionary bishop will lead an effort to plant dynamic churches all over Scotland which are Jesus-centered, practicing the teaching of the Bible, and holding to the long-standing tradition of the Anglican Faith,” he added.
However, in a letter to Anglican leaders, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned of ‘disturbance and discord’ and ‘cross-border’intervention’caused by the appointment of a missionary bishop.
Archbishop Welby reportedly wrote that such an appointment ‘would carry no weight in the Church of England’.
The SEC voted in houses with 80 per cent of bishops (four) voting in favour and one against, while just over 67 per cent of clergy (42) voted for and just over 32 per cent (20) against and 50 laity (80.6 per cent) for and 12 laity (19.4 per cent) against.
Responding to the vote, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, the Most Rev David Chillingworth, said that ‘this is the end of a long journey’.
“We have studied, thought and prayed,” he said.
“In the life of the church, end points are often also starting points.
Bishop Chillingworth called the move ‘a momentous step’.
“By removing gender from our marriage canon, our Church now affirms that same-sex couples are not just married but are married in the sight of God.
“They can ‘leave and cleave’. They can express in marriage a commitment to lifelong faithfulness to one another and to the belief that a calling to marriage is for them to a calling to love, forgiveness, sacrifice, truth,” he added.
Bishop Chillingworth said that ‘A new chapter opens up – inclusion has taken a particular form’.He said that he recognised that the decision ‘is difficult and hurtful for others whose integrity in faith tells them that this decision is unscriptural and profoundly wrong’.
“For them this new chapter will feel like exclusion – as if their church has moved away from them.
“So the journey which we now begin must also be a journey of reconciliation,” he added.
Bishop Chillingworth warned that ‘every faith community must face the issues which are bound up with human sexuality – in their own way and in their own time’.
“Others will arrive at answers different from ours. And the Anglican Communion, which is embedded in our history and to which we are passionately committed – the Anglican Communion will have to explore whether its historic commitment to unity in diversity can embrace this change,” he said.
Bishop Chillingworth explained that while a vote in General Synod changes the canonical position of the SEC, ‘it cannot lay to rest the deep differences which this question exposes in this and every other faith community’.
He explained that the new Canon ‘affirms that there are differing views of marriage in our church’.
“Nobody will be compelled to do anything against their conscience,” he vowed.
“We affirm that we are a church of diversity and difference. We shall carry forward in our life two honourable and historic understandings of marriage – one which sees the marriage of same sex couples as an expression of Christ-like acceptance and welcome – and another which says that the traditional view of marriage is God-ordained and scripturally defined.”
The College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church will now adopt pastoral guidelines and principles to enable clergy who so wish to be nominated to the Registrar General for authorisation to solemnize weddings of same-sex couples.
“That is the journey. That is now the calling of this Church. We must and we shall address it with truth, graciousness and acceptance of one another,” he added.
The Church of England responded: “We note the decision of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church to amend its canon on marriage,” but added that ‘this is a matter for the Scottish Episcopal Church’.
“The Church of England is unable by law to marry couples of the same sex and the teaching of the Church of England remains unchanged.
“However this is a matter on which there is real and profound disagreement in the Church of England,” said a spokesperson.
“We are seeking to find ways forward rooted in scripture and the Christian faith as we have received it and which values everyone, without exception, not as a ‘problem’ or an ‘issue’, but as a person loved and made in the image of God,” the spokesperson added.
The Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury in October will consider how the Anglican Communion should respond. No action will be taken before then.
The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon,said: “The Churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous and free to make their own decisions on canon law.”
He reminded those concerned that the Scottish Episcopal Church is one of 38, soon to be 39, provinces covering more than 165 countries around the world.
He said that the decision by the SEC to approve changes to canon law on marriage ‘is not a surprise, given the outcome of the vote at its Synod a year ago’.
He said that while there are differing views about same-sex marriage within the Anglican Communion, the decision ‘puts the Scottish Episcopal Church at odds with the majority stance that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman’.
“This is a departure from the faith and teaching upheld by the overwhelming majority of Anglican provinces on the doctrine of marriage. The Anglican Communion’s position on human sexuality is set out very clearly in Resolution 1.10 agreed at the Lambeth Conference of 1998 and will remain so unless it is revoked,” he said.
“As Secretary General, I want the Churches within the Anglican Communion to remain committed to walking together in the love of Christ and to working out how we can maintain our unity and uphold the value of every individual in spite of deeply-held differences.
“It is important to stress the Communion’s strong opposition to the criminalisation of LGBTIQ+ people,” he added.
The Most Rev David Chillingworth responded, saying that the SEC ‘are deeply aware that yesterday’s vote puts us at one end of a spectrum in the Communion’.
“But many other provinces are in their own way and in their own time considering a variety of responses to issues of human sexuality,” he said.
“The Communion expresses a growing spectrum of diversity. In that context, reference to a ‘majority stance’ seems misplaced. It is part of the genius of the Anglican way that we express unity in diversity – as we have tried to do this week in Scotland.”
Bishop Chillingworth explained that while the SEC respects Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998 ‘it cannot be elevated into a binding statement of Communion policy’.
“Lambeth Conference resolutions do not have that force. The view of marriage set out in Resolution 1.10 was passionately expressed in our Synod’s debate on Thursday. It is one of the views of marriage which we uphold and carry forward in our diversity.”
He said that while the classic understanding of the position of Provinces of the Anglican Communion is that they do have autonomy, that autonomy ‘is exercised in tension with a balancing sensitivity to the interdependence of provinces within the Communion’.
“We, in common with other provinces, did not feel that the Anglican Covenant could successfully meet this need,” he said.
“The statement implies that the Primates’ Meeting will now fulfil this role. But such a role is not within their remit or authority. For the Primates’ Meeting was called together originally by Archbishop Coggan for ‘leisurely thought, deep prayer and consultation’,” he pointed out.
He stressed that the SEC ‘carries in its heart a deep commitment to the Anglican Communion’.
“We have been enriched by our Communion membership and we have in return made a significant contribution to its life.
“I understand that some will feel that the decision which we have taken stresses the life of the Communion. The question is how best the unity of the Communion can be sustained. We look forward to being part of measured discussion within the Communion about how that can be achieved,” he added.
The changes to the Canon will come into force 40 days after the end of General Synod in late July.