by Jan Nunley
[ACNS source: Episcopal News Service] Since the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire on November 2, nine of the 38 worldwide Anglican provinces have declared themselves to be in "impaired" or "broken communion" with all or part of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
The latest to assert its disassociation is the Province of South East Asia, one of the Communion's most conservative churches. The province includes Anglicans in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Nepal.
In a statement, the province said that it did not recognise the ministry of Gene Robinson "as a Bishop in the Anglican Church. We are no longer in communion with the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA and all those Bishops and Dioceses who voted for the confirmation of Dr [sic] Gene Robinson's election and those who joined in the consecration of the same.... If ECUSA refuses to repent, we will commit ourselves through our Primate to work with like-minded Primates for the realignment of the Anglican Communion."
The declaration came December 2 following a meeting of the province's synod.
Archbishop Yong Ping Chung said, however, that the province will remain in fellowship with those in the United States who oppose Gene Robinson's consecration. It is not clear how those relationships will be worked out in practical terms.
Not the first time
It is not the first time South East Asia's Anglican leadership has declared itself to be out of communion with other Anglican provinces that disagree with their policies towards homosexuality.
The church's Provincial Standing Committee adopted a resolution in February 1997 stating that the province would "be in communion with that part of the Anglican Communion which accepts and endorses" the Kuala Lumpur statement on human sexuality "and not otherwise". That statement, crafted at the "Second Anglican Encounter in the South" held in Malaysia, declared that "homosexual practices between men or women" are sinful and that "ordination of practising homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions calls into question the authority of the Holy Scriptures. This is totally unacceptable to us."
The statement was adopted by several other Anglican provinces, including Rwanda, as well as a number of evangelical organisations and conservative "continuing Anglican" churches. But a resolution urging adoption of the Kuala Lumpur statement, presented to the Lambeth Conference the next year, was not voted upon. Lambeth resolution 1.10 on human sexuality "notes the significance" of the Kuala Lumpur statement but did not incorporate it.
Cascade of declarations
First to declare themselves in a state of "impaired communion" with ECUSA over Gene Robinson's consecration were a group of Anglican primates of the Global South let by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who wrote on November 3 that "the overwhelming majority of the Primates of the Global South cannot and will not recognise the office or ministry of Canon Gene Robinson as a bishop.... A state of impaired communion now exists both within a significant part of ECUSA and between ECUSA and most of the provinces within the Communion."
But what impaired communion may entail is not made clear by the statement. "We cannot now uniformly define the further implications of this impairment created by ECUSA," the statement concludes. "As each province lives into the 'emerging' character of this impairment of communion according to the theological and legal demands of their respective churches, we pledge support of each other in our common response to the wilful decision of ECUSA authorities to oppose the Communion's teaching."
The Global South statement was followed by a cascade of declarations from individual provinces and dioceses.
On November 4, the Anglican Church of Kenya issued a statement declaring that the province "will not recognise the ministry of this one Bishop." While supporting "those Bishops, Clergy and laity in various dioceses in ECUSA who continue to uphold the historic faith and order of the Church," the Kenyan statement said that those who support Gene Robinson's consecration "have, by their own action, impaired communion."
On November 6, the Anglican Church of Tanzania declared that it would not recognise Gene Robinson or "any homosexual person who may be consecrated in future" as bishops, and stated that it is "not in communion, namely, Communion in sacris," with bishops who consecrate homosexuals to the episcopate, ordain them to the priesthood and diaconate, license them to minister, or permit the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses, as well as all homosexual priests and deacons and clergy who bless same sex unions.
Bishops of the Anglican Church of Nigeria declared on November 15 that they "condemn in its totality this consecration. We and our people will not recognise Gene Robinson and his ministry as bishop" and said the church is "breaking relationship not only with the Diocese of New Hampshire but with all the bishops and dioceses in ECUSA that have joined" in the consecration.
The Rt Revd Peter Adebiyi, Bishop of the Diocese of Lagos West, told the Church of England Newspaper that Nigerians in the United States were being instructed to leave Episcopal churches and "give us time to set up our own" congregations.
American priests would not be allowed to work or visit the church in Nigeria, nor would Nigerian priests be able to work in ECUSA, according to the newspaper.
The House of Bishops and Standing Committee of the Church of the Province of West Indies declared a state of "impaired communion" on November 17, adding that they will "maintain a formal relationship with the Episcopal Church (USA), as part of the Anglican Communion, while keeping the matter under critical review. However, we cannot accept the ministry of Canon Gene Robinson as a Bishop."
Uganda's House of Bishops resolved on November 21 to "deplore, abhor and condemn in the strongest possible terms" Gene Robinson's consecration and same-sex unions and that the church "cuts her relationship and Communion" with ECUSA "and with any other Province that shall follow suit". By December 4, the church's provincial secretary, Canon Stanley Ntagali, had been forced to backtrack slightly, stating that the Ugandan church "will continue to have partnership" with Americans opposed to Gene Robinson's consecration.
'We are not one'
Although the Province of Central Africa, which includes Anglicans in Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Zimbabwe, has not yet issued a statement, Archbishop Bernard Malango published a letter written to Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold on November 12 in which he chastised Bishop Griswold for participating in Gene Robinson's consecration after having signed a joint statement with the rest of the primates at their meeting in October. That document said that "as a body we deeply regret the actions of the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church (USA)."
"In charity and heartbreak, I call you to repent," Archbishop Malango wrote. "Until that time, you have broken our fellowship. To sit with you and meet with you would be a lie. We are not one. We do not share the same faith or Gospel. You should resign and let someone else lead; someone who shares the faith of the Communion - the faith of the church catholic."
Bishop Griswold explained in a letter to the US House of Bishops on November 11 that the phrase "as a body" was a compromise worked out in the meeting, at which Archbishop Malango was present. "I have been asked on a number of occasions how it was that I participated in the development of the statement following the meeting of the primates last month and then appear to have acted in contradiction to the text. As the statement was being carefully crafted, the primates quite purposefully included the phrase 'as a body' in acknowledging their 'deep regret' about actions of the Episcopal Church, intending the phrase to allow for a variety of opinions, while at the same time acknowledging the sentiments of the group as a whole. The statement was an effort by the primates to be descriptive of our collective concerns."
Commitment to dialogue
Somewhat less strident than most was a statement made by Bishop Mouneer Anis of the Episcopal Church in Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa on November 11. Bishop Mouneer declared that Egyptian Anglicans were "saddened" by Gene Robinson's consecration, even though "we accept that there should be diversity in the church" and that "we should welcome and include [homosexuals] in the Church and help them as well as heterosexuals to live in holiness". Nevertheless, the statement said, "We stand with the historical churches that uphold the apostolic teaching. We also share the same understanding of this issue of practicing homosexuality with our Muslim brothers and sisters with whom we live in the Middle East."
Bishop Meschack Mabuza of the Anglican Church in Swaziland, part of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA), said on November 13 that in his personal view "at present the church is divided on these issues, mainly because of self-interest and personal gain on the part of church leaders".
"In our own culture as Swazis, the issue of homosexuality is unacceptable even though it does exist in our midst. Personally, I have yet to be convinced of the theological acceptability of homosexuality," Bishop Mabuza said, but reasserted his commitment to join with other South African bishops in continuing dialogue about the issue.
Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service