When you met together in January you made various pledges. These were communicated to the Anglican Communion and the world at large through a communique issued immediately after your gathering.
The communique was entitled ‘Walking together in the service of God.’ The desire for unity was central to your discussions. You imposed ‘sanctions’ against the TEC for redefining their marriage canon on a unilateral basis. It seems as though some form of sanction will now be imposed on the SEC (Scottish Episcopal Church).
There is nothing wrong, in fact there is something very right, in striving for unity. Jesus after all prayed that his disciples ‘may all be one,’ (John 20, 21). Of course unity is a contested subject, or motif. You expressed the notion of unity by reference to the tradition of the church viz a viz the doctrine of marriage and, the concept of pilgrimage; walking together.
But, surely unity is much more than this?
Many have questioned the legitimacy of the sanctions you sought to impose,the argument being that as a group you don’t possess legal and canonical powers. However, most would accept the argument that the Primates should be expected to exercise moral and spiritual leadership. The Anglican Communion has traditionally taken episcopacy seriously.
You now have an opportunity to exercise such leadership, together, in a single act of unity. Let me remind you of some the words you all agreed on in your communique:
‘The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.
The Primates recognise that the Christian church and within it the Anglican Communion have often acted in a way towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation that has caused deep hurt. Where this has happened they express their profound sorrow and affirm again that God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression.’
I accept that your wording leaves plenty of wriggle room open to you.
You could argue that all you have pledged to do is offer individual pastoral support to people, irrespective of sexual orientation (and what this means may also be open to interpretation.) As Primates you cannot, of course, be expected to offer pastoral care to each and every member of the flock.
How you deliver together, and in unity with each other, on your pastoral promises is therefore an interesting question. It is one you must answer because you have pledged to ‘walk together in the service of God’ in addressing the problems, and appalling consequences, of homophobia.
You also pledged to (publicly?) reject the use of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people. Again, this phrase is sufficiently ambiguous to allow different interpretations. You could also argue that the communique only relates to issues that directly relate to the Anglican Communion and, the Provinces in which it operates. You could further suggest that it is up to each individual Primate to offer their own individual response. But, would this pass the ‘togetherness’ test you have set yourselves on the issue of tackling homophobic violence?
You have accepted that the crimilization of same sex relationships is an act of violence and injustice, which no Christian should support or endorse. You should therefore have few problems in rejecting all other forms of homophobic hatred.
I hope that you will not be seduced by the potential for any such reductionist ambiguity provided by your wording.
If you are serious about the eradication of discrimination and violence towards same-sex attracted brothers and sisters will you issue a joint ‘pastoral communique’ (as evidence of your togetherness) condemning the atrocities in Orlando? A joint and global communique would speak both into, and beyond, provincial concerns.
Pastoral communiques (letters, epistles) are one way the church has traditionally, communicated with its members. Tradition, I understand, is something you value highly?
Justice, and perhaps wisdom, demand that you issue a strong and compassionately worded communique. The Secretariat for the Anglican Communion provides a mechanism for a quick and decisive response. The pastoral communique should be signed by the relevant primates and not by the secretariat on their behalf, in the interests of transparency. There is nothing as yet (13th June) on its website.
A joint communique would demonstrate that your commitment to pastoral care is a serious commitment. It would represent solidarity with the TEC and, that the communion is really committed to walking together. A joint communique would reassure the global LGBTI community, and the fathers, brothers, sisters and friends of LGBTI folk, that you care about all people and that you take the sins of the world seriously; that you are genuinely committed to the common good.
A joint pastoral communique would show that you continue to provide moral and spiritual leadership on a global basis. A failure to respond may well render any such claims implausible.
Will you act, together in unity as an expression of solidarity?
I hope and pray that you will.