Friday, March 23, 2007

Episcopal Bishops Win a Round in Navasota

Score one round for the Episcopal Bishops in their struggle to stay in the Anglican Communion—despite the efforts of the Global South majority to push them out (see March 12th post below).

The Houston Chronicle reported that in the closing statement of their six-day meeting in Navasota, the bishops (1) avoided any direct response to the September 30th ultimatum, (2) challenged another pressure tactic and (3) reaffirmed that “all God’s children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church.”

One bishop said they did not discuss the ultimatum. That seems highly unlikely—not to mention unwise.

But obviously they did at least discuss tactics with a degree of success—as indicated by their outright rejection of an initiative related to the ultimatum: the Global South’s plan to appoint a foreign pastoral council to oversee a few conservative U.S. Episcopal congregations who reject prayers for same-sex partners and bishops with same-sex partners. The foreign council was to be in lieu of individual Global South bishops taking such congregations into their own national churches, as the Anglican Church of Nigeria already has done.

The bishops called the plan spiritually unsound, a violation of church law and a capitulation to Western culture’s tendency to break difficult relationships rather than work to repair them. Clearly their stand aims to uphold the Anglican tradition that each national church is the master of its own house, in a worldwide communion that agrees to disagree on some matters.

Whether being “full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church” means the bishops will reject the moratorium on prayers for same-sex partners and bishops with same-sex partners remains to be seen.

As I noted March 12th, the bishops have no unilateral authority to accept it. The Navasota declaration can be read as an implied threat to reject it. But it is at least an attempt by the bishops to undo some of the pastoral damage done by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who agreed too quickly with the other primates in Dar es Salaam to issue the ultimatum and ask the Episcopal Church to consider it.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is said to regard the Navasota developments as “discouraging.” Of course, what is truly discouraging has been his capitulation to the Global South’s effort to revoke the sovereignty of Anglican national churches—which impacts not only the Episcopal Church (USA), but Anglicans in Canada and the United Kingdom as well. Perhaps Rowan Williams will yet grow a spine and tell the Global South bishops they have no tradition to stand on.

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