Stephen Hale comments on the meeting of Primates of the Anglican Communion recently concluded in Canterbury.

Stephen Hale is the Chair of EFAC Australia

The Primates of the Anglican Communion met in Canterbury (UK) in mid January, to discuss the future of the Anglican Communion in light of the crisis that has beset us in recent years. The GAFCON and Global South Primates (including Archbishop Foley Beach, the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America) and our Primate, Archbishop Philip Freier, were present at the meeting.


Perhaps the most important news to come from the gathering is that the Primates have agreed that the canon on marriage adopted by the Episcopal Church (TEC) "represents a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage." As such they have agreed to impose sanctions on TEC restricting their involvement in ecumenical affairs, from the standing committees of the church, and from any decision-making about doctrine or polity for a period of three years. The final statement from the Primates can be found at www.primates2016.org.

Chair of FCA Australia, Richard Condie (newly elected Bishop of Tasmania) has commented helpfully. ‘While it might be argued that these sanctions do not go far enough in disciplining TEC for its error, and that the sanctions should have been extended to the Anglican Church of Canada, it seems that at least this decision is in the right direction. It provides some hope for the reform of our denomination.

Please join me in giving thanks to God for the faithfulness and courage of the GAFCON Primates in holding to biblical orthodoxy in these meetings. Comments from them can be read at gafcon.org/news. A comment from Archbishop Foley Beach can be read at the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) website www.anglicanchurch.net.

There is much that one could say about this but it was inevitable that what they concluded would fail to satisfy either side. On the other hand it would appear to reflect the much more confident and decisive leadership style of Archbishop Justin Welby compared to his predecessor.

One of the things I learnt from the somewhat dispiriting experience of participating in the 2008 Lambeth Conference was that the TEC has had a radically different history to most of the rest of the Communion. They fought a war as a nation to separate themselves from England. They had their own prayer book and not The Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty Nine Articles have never been a founding doctrinal guide. The TEC is a very different church and they have embraced a radical inclusivist agenda as their main mission and focus.

Fundamentally there are profound and significant theological differences at the heart of this. At the same Lambeth Conference I was in a small group with three TEC Bishops and it was a daily battle for 10 days to resist the re-reading of the biblical text.

From my point of view one of the huge tensions in relation to the varying responses in relation to the issue of marriage is that, in the main, it is one where the tension plays out in different ways in different places. It is true to say that those who hold a traditional view and who come from the two-thirds world are in a context where those views are not at odds with their culture. For those of us in the West upholding biblical orthodoxy is costly and complex because our culture is fast moving away from what has always been held to be true in the areas of human sexuality, gender and marriage. At the same time a diocese like Sydney is almost unique in the Anglican Communion and there is almost complete unity on this matter. For those of us in mixed dioceses it is more complex and challenging. This was captured at the Anglican Futures Conference in Melbourne last March where three of our New Zealand brothers shared how this is working itself out for them in three different ways in three different dioceses (Auckland, Nelson and Christchurch). One was the leader of a church that has left the Anglican Church, another in an evangelical diocese where it wasn’t a practical issue and another where they were involved in ongoing dialogue with a high degree of tension.

While our contexts vary we still have to keep coming back to what the Scriptures teach and how we make sense of that in a rapidly changing Australia in 2016. As the leader of a church with a large cohort of young adults I am increasingly aware of how challenging this is. At the same time it is equally complex for many of our mature adults who have same sex attracted adult children.

We can be thankful that until now the Australian bishops have sought to work in unity and have committed themselves to uphold the clear fundamental principles expressed in Faithfulness in Service — ‘faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness.’ We need to pray for the Primate as the bishops continue to wrestle with this issue. We can also be thankful that the primates have stated that the position of the TEC "represents a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage."