When the Bishops of the Anglican Communion met at the Lambeth Conference, in 1998, one of the key resolutions passed was number 1.10. The resolution stated that the Conference, "in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage". The resolution went on to say that the Conference of bishops, "cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions".
What happened in the years following is well known: in 2003, the Episcopal Church's General Convention gave consent to the election of a gay bishop, Gene Robinson. Subsequent General Conventions gave approval to individual bishops who wished to authorize the blessing of same sex relationships, trial rites for the blessing of those relationships; and finally, in 2015, the General Convention gave formal approval to same sex marriages.
There were plenty of warnings along the way that the effect of these actions would be to rupture the fabric of the Anglican Communion. To Mend the Net, a 2001 report produced under the leadership of two archbishops, Drexel Gomez and Maurice Sinclair, outlined a series of steps by which an Anglican province considered to be erring might be encouraged to repent and return to orthodox faith and morals. These steps would start with an initial request not to allow changes considered to be outside the limits of diversity and lead to a "godly admonition." A diocese or province that refused to cooperate would be reduced to "observer status," followed by suspension of communion, and, finally, as a last resort, the establishment of a new alternative province or diocese.
To Mend the Net was published in January 2001 and widely read by Anglicans. Conservatives in the Communion had high hopes. But when the primates met in March 2001, the report was referred for study to the the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission. And, while the published report continued to be a study guide among conservatives as to what ought to happen to set the Communion right, To Mend the Net was never officially brought up again. The Windsor Report, prepared in the aftermath of the Robinson consecration, and the attempt to implement an Anglican Covenant were similarly derailed and disregarded.
It took six years for conservative primates to take another run at bringing discipline to the erring provinces of the Communion: the Dar es Salaam meeting in February 2007. There, conservative primates from the Global South, tired of being outmaneuvered by conference organizers and western parliamentary tactics, succeeded in imposing an ultimatum: TEC would be subject to discipline if it failed to give assurances by 30th September 2007 not to authorize Rites of Blessing for same sex unions nor to consecrate persons in such relationships as bishops.
But, as with To Mend the Net, the will of the primates was once again to be frustrated, as then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, set aside the Primates’ decision by inviting the TEC bishops to the 2008 Lambeth Conference before the deadline. This resulted in the unprecedented withdrawal of over two hundred orthodox bishops (mostly from the Global South) from attending the conference. Those bishops and others inaugurated the first Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem later in 2008.
The most significant outcome of that first GAFCON meeting was the invitation extended to conservative Anglicans in North America to form an alternative province: the Anglican Church in North America. The rending of the Communion through the disobedience of Communion liberals had occurred, and the final steps envisioned in To Mend the Net--the suspension of communion and the establishment of a new, alternative province--had become a reality.
In retrospect, the tragedy of this history can more clearly be seen: the painful departure of thousands of North American Anglicans from their church homes, countless millions of dollars spent in litigation. All of this might have been avoided if the three Archbishops of Canterbury under whose watches all this has occurred had provided faithful, godly, unequivocal leadership.
But there is an even greater tragedy: "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? (1 Corinthians 14:8). Of the three great streams of apostolic Christianity--Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism--two stand unequivocally for historic Christian faith and morals. Only Anglicanism has equivocated at the highest level.
The churches of formerly mainline Protestantism have embraced the zeitgeist. Too many Anglican leaders have chosen the path of mainline Protestantism rather than biblical, apostolic, and catholic faithfulness. And damage has been done to countless souls through the ambiguous or downright immoral witness of these Anglican leaders and church bodies.
Many count it a sign of God's grace that, in this week's meeting of the primates in Canterbury, the GAFCON and Global South primates have finally taken an effective stand to restore godly order and discipline to the Anglican Communion. This is a first step--a baby step--that, though it goes in the right direction, does not go nearly far enough. Will this first step ultimately lead to the restoration of the Anglican Communion to historic Christian faith and morals? For that to happen a lot of hearts will have to be changed.
Witness these reactions from the Anglican left:
Disgraceful communique from the Anglican Primates, disciplining the US church for their prophetic commitment to gay equality."Prophetic commitment..." Conservatives have had to listen to this kind of talk for decades. It is the prophetic voice of Balaam who perverted the message of God.
@giles_fraser As a Deacon, I wonder, how do I now minister to the lost? What do I now say? Are those not Christ's arms outstretched?
And, finally, remember the liberal, Roman Catholic celebrity priest who was received into the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida in 2009? :
As you can see, there is a very great deal to be done to win the hearts and minds of even those who are Anglican clergy if we are to restore the Communion to faithfulness. Although we have been praying for such a restoration for years, we are going to have to work and pray as never before if we are to see the Anglican Communion once again embrace the apostolic and catholic faith, and submit its common life to the authority of Scripture.