Dr. King and the Primates

Already much has been written about the recently-completed meeting of Anglican Primates in Canterbury, England.  Some consider it a success because the Anglican Communion avoided a schism; some regard it a failure because the Episcopal Church is likely to be sanctioned because of our approval of official marriage rites for same gender persons, thus (according to them) changing the church’s doctrine of marriage.

There is much hue and cry that the Primates’ meeting has no official right to take this kind of action, since it is not actually a legislative body at all but was originally intended (like the Lambeth Conference, really) to be a rather informal gathering for mutual prayer, study and support. Others, deeply offended and even hurt by the Primates’ decisions shared today officially in a communique, have suggested that we withdraw from the Communion or, at the very least, refuse to continue funding an organization which seems to find us something of an annoyance at the least and a pariah at the worst.

I certainly do not believe that we should withdraw from the Anglican Communion. We are still in communion with the See of Canterbury (which the breakaway groups, including the so-called Anglican Church in North America, are not) and we are still full members of the Anglican Consultative Council, the only official legislative body in the Communion which alone has the power to admit new provinces into the Communion. To my knowledge, there is no mechanism whatsoever for the expulsion of a Province.

Nor do I believe that we should withhold funds from support of the Communion. I have preached and taught for over forty years that good stewardship means giving freely, with no strings attached, and that it is wrong to try and influence decisions or punish those with whom we disagree in the church by threatening to renege on a pledge of support.

I agree with those who believe that the Episcopal Church has been prophetic in a number of the actions we have taken — liturgical revision, the ordination of women, and now the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons. Often, actions we have taken have taken the form of a kind of “civil (or ecclesiastical) disobedience” and any proponent of such a witness will tell you that it is not only expected, but absolutely necessary, to suffer the consequences of such actions. Only then, is the moral authority actually demonstrated.

While painful to say the least (as were the jail cells of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King) the pain can be endured if we are certain of the rightness of our cause and that the ultimate victory will be ours (or, in this case, God’s!). Both Dr. King and Archbishop Desmond Tutu had that kind of confidence…and so should we.

Two quotes from Dr. King (whose day we celebrate today…or on Monday) have provided me with a deep sense of peace in all this. I have used them both before in this very discussion of the Primates’ meeting and its results. I share them again with you, hoping for that same peace:

Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.


The arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.


In other words, we should bless those who persecute us, bless not curse. And, although it may take a very long time, one day…in God’s good time…we will…all of us…be one.


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