Those of you in the Episcoverse, who are the only people likely to care about such things, have probably already seen the Primates of the Anglican Communion’s non-announcement of the suspension of The Episcopal Church from various roles in the Communion (for the non-Anglican crowd, a primate is the head bishop of each church or province in our communion). Needless to say, I think this resolution is wrong on all points and the primates who sponsored and voted for it have made a huge mistake. Further, I am hurt and furious and struggling with all sorts of thoughts and feelings about the people who have done this. I think that this whole thing reeks of the structures of colonialism, and I suspect other motives on the part of many players. But I am struggling to love the primates and think well of them, and though I have some suspicions about their motives and various other factors in play, the only person whose sins I am intimately acquainted with is myself. I am also implicated in the colonial structures at work. So, I merely offer ten questions, more or less in reverse order of importance (yeah, I know, bad form in the age of tl;dr). Okay, fine, there’s also a concluding observation.
1.) To what extent are the positions occupied by many of the Global South primates colonial creations, continuing a colonial pattern of authority?
2.) To what extent have the Anglicans in those provinces worked through their own authority inherited from colonialism?
3.) To what extent is the so-called biblical doctrine of marriage a colonial creation? What about the understandings of sexuality, gender, and personhood it seems to entail?
4.) To what extent do the primates who have voted for this resolution represent their churches? I know for a fact that the position expressed in the resolution is not unanimously held in all provinces of the Global South.
5.) To what extent is what is presented as a post-colonial, global south-initiated movement actually funded and enabled by Americans?
6.) To what extent were all the primates aware of the background of the present controversy and of the narratives into which American conservative Anglicans and some of their own bishops fit this resolution?
7.) Why is same-sex marriage the make-or-break question? It seems to me that we are able to tolerate and even celebrate difference on much more fundamental matters. There are Anglicans who bow to the host as to the real presence of the body of Jesus, and there are others who think it’s just bread. There are Anglicans who believe that the heart of Anglicanism is our common liturgy, and Anglicans who don’t even celebrate the Eucharist every week. Some Anglicans are basically Thomists, some are basically Calvinists. On the topic of marriage, we have recognized the colonial dynamics involved in discussions of polygamy and leave it to each province to deal with on their own. So why is same-sex marriage such a big deal?
8.) Really, why is same-sex marriage the make-or-break question? We recognize each other as churches confessing the apostolic faith and celebrating valid sacraments. Our criteria for recognizing a church as apostolic are supposedly the biblical canon, the ecumenical creeds, the sacraments of baptism and holy communion, and the historic episcopate. And surely there is some wisdom to this. Is a disagreement about same-sex marriage more an obstacle to communion than the apostolic faith is grounds for it?
9.) I can think of so many better reasons to suspend The Episcopal Church. We used to have a bishop who publicly denied the divinity and resurrection of Jesus. We receive contributions from and invest our own funds in enterprises that continue to harm the formerly (or still) colonized world for our own profit. At the same General Convention where we approved a rite of same-sex marriage, we failed to pass a resolution asking our pension fund not to invest in businesses profiting from the occupation of the West Bank. So again, why same-sex marriage?
10.) So I guess the question lurking behind these last three questions is: What is communion? In former times, what it meant for two churches to be in communion was that their bishops prayed for one another. They actually displayed a list of all the other bishops in the world with whom they were in communion in their cathedral. To be out of communion would mean that one of them would strike the name of another from that list and no longer pray for him when celebrating communion. So what does it mean for us in the Anglican Communion?
An Orthodox deacon once told me the story of visiting some monks of Mount Athos who had excommunicated the Ecumenical Patriarch. (See? We’re not the only ones who have church drama). After hearing the abbot’s list of grievances against the patriarch, the deacon asked him, “So you not praying for him anymore? If he’s really messed up that badly, shouldn’t you pray for him twice?”
So what does being in communion mean? I think it means that we call Jesus Lord and pray for one another. As a very context-specific expression of that, we also have meetings and talk about things. So, to the primates of the provinces of the Anglican Communion in the Global South: We refuse to choose between you and our GLBT community. You can stop inviting us to meetings. You can even stop praying for us. But we will not stop praying for you.