Communion is not a new issue

CanterburyNuke2So here is how things stood early this morning in the ongoing drama that many call “As Canterbury Turns.” A cheery Los Angeles Times story informed the world:

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA – As leaders of the world’s 77 million Anglicans gathered here amid fears of a split in the church over divergent views on gay bishops and same-sex unions, a spokesman said the first day of discussions was characterized by “intense listening.”

There was, we were told, no talk of schism. A spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church was encouraged by a positive report on the status of her church and the wider communion:

“I think it’s very positive that they saw past some of the rhetoric and looked at what the church is doing,” the Rev. Jan Nunley said. “It’s clear that there’s still work that has to be done and conversations that need to continue, but it’s very encouraging that they’re dealing with us squarely.”

But a statement by a group representing conservative Episcopalians criticized the report for minimizing or ignoring evidence that the church had not complied with the requests for change.

However, it appears that things were not going quite this smoothly at levels deeper than the public remarks of spokesmen and spokeswomen.

Thus, it was not long until Ruth Gledhill was back — read this online for all the links — with a digital blast under this headline: “Communion broken in Dar es Salaam.” Here’s some of the key information:

Seven Global South Primates declined to share in the Eucharist at the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania today. A further two, including Bernard Malango of Central Africa, went to the service but did not communicate. This is significant because Malango was one of the ‘Gang of Four’ who authored yesterday’s [Episcopal Church] report. …

(F)eelings are running high enough for the GS Archbishops, led by Nigeria’s Peter Akinola, still to have felt unable to take communion alongside TEC Primate Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori. This was the first communion service of the meeting … .”

Click here to go to the website of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, to read the statement by the conservatives who took this very public and painful stand. However, here is a key quote:

We each take the celebration of the Holy Eucharist very seriously. This deliberate action is a poignant reminder of the brokenness of the Anglican Communion. It makes clear that the torn fabric of the Church has been torn further. It is a consequence of the decision taken by our provinces to declare that our relationship with The Episcopal Church is either broken or severely impaired.

Scripture teaches that before coming to sit with one another at the Lord’s Table we must be reconciled. (Matthew 5:23-26 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-29) We have made repeated calls for repentance by The Episcopal Church and its leadership with no success. We continue to pray for a change of heart.

Want one more detail? Gledhill also notes that, during an Evening Prayer rite, Jefferts Schori read — off her laptop? — the following:

“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

The mainstream news and Anglo-blog coverage of this is just getting started as everyone awaits the crucial draft of a new doctrinal covenant that the British are finishing up right now. (Yes, I saw the Washington Post articles today. All in due time.) It looks like the release of this text will be delayed until after the Sunday newspapers are printed and, perhaps, even after the pre-purchased airline tickets of many of the reporters and bloggers have forced them to go home. (Someone correct me if I am wrong on that.)

Here is the crucial point, for journalists covering this emotional and complex story. You have to remember that this Eucharistic Communion story is not new and it is not linked to sexuality alone. I first heard about this highly symbolic gesture almost 15 years ago. Here is a look back at that, in a column I wrote for Scripps Howard that focused on a stand taken in the United States by Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison, an Anglican historian and the long retired bishop of South Carolina:

… (It) has been a dozen years since he decided he could no longer, with a clear conscience, receive communion during meetings of the U.S. House of Bishops. During a Bible study, several bishops had said that they believed they worshipped a god that is “older and greater” than the God of the Bible. Others said they could not affirm this belief, but would not condemn it.

“This is apostasy,” Allison said.

When it came time for all the bishops to go to the altar and receive communion, Allison declined. “If you do not share the same faith, you cannot share the same communion,” he said, recalling that moment. “When people start talking about new revelations and creating some kind of new faith, that’s when the red flags have to go up.”

holytrinity finalrich r2 c1The key is that some people truly believe the ancient standards on the issue of Holy Communion, that it implies a recognition of a common faith and common doctrine.

That is not what Communion means to millions of modern Anglicans, but, then again, there are millions of other Anglicans who still believe that. It is hard to have a communion when people do not agree on the meaning of Communion or Holy Communion.

As Bishop Jack Spong likes to put it, he can say the Nicene Creed and believe what he is saying because he has, in his own mind, redefined many of the words.

There are millions of Anglicans, and quite a few bishops, who do not accept that approach to the Catholic faith. Thus, they do not want to be in Communion with Spong and those who share his beliefs.

So here is another question worth asking: Are there any significant doctrinal differences between a Jefferts Schori and a Spong (the speaker at her 2003 retreat for her clergy while she was bishop of the Diocese of Nevada)? Perhaps that is the major question in Tanzania right now. If so, there is more to that question than the issue of same-sex unions.

However, reporters who are paying attention are sure to notice one other thing: There were fewer archbishops who declined to attend this Mass than there were at a similar meeting in 2005. The financial and neocolonial power structures of the Anglican establishment may be winning.

Stay tuned. Perhaps this is just getting started.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Isn’t it interesting that if Third World Anglicans crumbles in their passion for orthodox Chhristian and Catholic doctrine it will be because of White Wealth and White Power. But although this possible angle is brought up on “Get Religion” somehow I don’t think the MSM will be too quick to even look at this probability.

  • Frank Lockwood

    The 2006 General Convention statement of “regret” and the call for “restraint” may have swayed primates in the middle.

  • John

    Deacon John: That is a distinct probability and has started to happen. Consider the statements of Louie Crew who asked why the African Anglicans are accepting ECUSA’s money when they are not in communion with ECUSA. When the African Anglicans returned the donations, MSM wrote how the African Bishops do not care for their flock because they stood up for their belief. Americans (especially the ECUSA HoB) tend to view the world of social justice through the lens of the civil rights movement in the 1960s in USA and what is worse, try to thrust this worldview, as the only acceptable “liberal” view, on the rest of the world. Apparently, they do not want the church to become a “tail-light” in the new movement of acceptance of homosexuality in USA.

    After the various pronouncements of the ACC and Lambeth in the late 90s early 2000, Integrity Uganda was founded in a country (and an Anglican Church) that was staunchly opposed to homosexuality. The organization is funded by Integrity USA which is supported by ECUSA. Here we have a quasi-church organization which really is not accountable to GC or any other democratic body, funding an alternative theology in a conservative Anglican country. Note how they get around the pesky business of “boundary crossing”. The Ugandan experience was an eye-opener to the Nigerian Anglicans and the proposed Nigerian anti-homosexual laws have a clause that does not allow financial support of pro-homosexual (Nigerian) organizations from organizations outside the country.

    The idea that the rest of the Anglican world should bow to vicissitudes of post-modern Western Civilization and “theology” that ignores the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is a form of cultural imperialism.

    Frank: As far as I know, the Primates haven’t accepted the sub-committee report. The sub-committee had three members from the West and two from African provinces.

  • bls

    Let’s see.

    You have now written not one, but two posts that include a graphic of a nuclear explosion over Canterbury Cathedral – simply because a report was issued saying that TEC has adequately responded to the Windsor Report. And you’re questioning other people’s perspective?

    The explanation given by the absent bishops had absolutely nothing to do with ++KJS’ theology, or with what you imagine it to be; it explicitly talks about whether TEC has “repented,” or not – which is of course a reference to the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop in 2003. Which event violated no tenet of either the Nicene or Apostes’ Creeds, our doctrinal statements.

    Thus, the Gene Robinson issue has literally nothing to do with “heresy,” “apostasy,” or Jack Spong. One would think intelligent people would know and be able to use the English language correctly.

    Now you’re off, too, on still another heresy-hunting expedition, and attempting to smear ++KJS by association with something that happened 15 years ago that has literally nothing to do with her. And attempting to smear millions of Episcopalians at the same time – and all of this because they don’t agree with you about homosexuality, and because you are losing that argument.

    This is really getting sickening.

  • Frank Lockwood

    When I said that the statement of regret and call for restraint appear to have swayed primates in the middle, I was referring not to the report of the sub-group, but to Friday’s Eucharist. It’s been widely reported that 14 primates refused to take communion with the head of the Episcopal Church in 2005, but that this week only seven abstained. The Living Church, which has done a stellar job covering the summit thus far, reports that five primates who abstained two years ago joined in this time. (One of those who abstained in 2005 has retired and another was unable to travel to Tanzania for health reasons…)

  • Larry Rasczak

    “During a Bible study, several bishops had said that they believed they worshipped a god that is “older and greater” than the God of the Bible.”

    So the Episcopal Bishops now worship Cthulhu?

    Not that I’d be terribly suprised at that…

    In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming – Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

  • tmatt


    wow. Great comment. You clearly have been following the details of the Communion discussion closely.


  • tmatt


    That is a major development. So now you have a 50-50 split in terms of church membership, but the First World now has a huge advantage in the voting within the primates. Like I said earlier, the Communion issue is crucial and there are signs that the Third World bloc is coming unglued.

    Here is the link to the Living Church news page:

  • tmatt


    If I remember correctly, the bishops were discussing a comment by the lesbian or bisexual priest Dr. Carter Heyward, a powerful theologian on the Episcopal left. The question in the circle was whether they would condemn, allow or agree with her statement about worshipping an “older and greater god” than the God of the Bible.

    For a look at Heyward’s work, see:

  • Stephen A.

    I’m not sure doing a head count of the number of bishops who take communion together is a great way of determining how far along the rift has widened, or healed. As noted elsewhere, stats lie, and this seems like a very subjective, and likely faulty, measure of that rift.

    The great unreported (or is it just underreported?) story here is what was alluded to before: the irony of the First World using its colonial economic muscle to get its way. Ironic, because many on the politico-religious left like to lay all sorts of evils at the feet of Western Colonialism.

    As for bls’s critique of this post on TEC, and the previous one, it’s obvious that TEC is falling away from the “third world’s” understanding of Anglicanism, since it’s near total obsession with Gay Liberation (as the Third World sees it) is counter to their views on the subject.

    The only question is how to cover this very, very slow break-up in a way that’s fair to both sides.

    Considering how the MSM covers most other issues, like politics, it’s unclear if they can keep their biases in check and delve into the depths required to report this fully and fairly.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    bls. –But not all doctrines are in the creeds according to Catholic Tradition. For instance if a Catholic formally denied the True Presence in the Holy Eucharist he would be in heresy or apostasy. This is true of the trashing of moral doctrines held since apostolic times. And in issues in dispute the Bible is supposed to hold far more weight than the Episcopal Spongs of this world would have it.
    And as Stephen said–the break-up of the Anglican communion-if it finally comes- is taking place very slowly–especially if you trace it back decades to the step-by-step slow Episcopal tossing to the wind of both sides of their so-called “Middle Way.” That is the ditching of any resemblence to Catholicism (except smells and bells) and the eviscerating of Evangelical passion for the Bible. This slow Episcopal acquiesence to the “world, the flesh, and the devil” makes it very hard for the MSM to cover it because the MSM seems to have amnesia for anything more than a few years back.

  • Larry Rasczak


    That was a pun on “older and greater god”…

    Haven’t you read Lovecraft?

    Though to be honest, I don’t think anyone could get thrown out of the ECUSA for chanting “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” in a service.

  • Joel

    Rather than debate theology, here is an actual question about how the press covers religion. In its news roundup, the front page of the Wall Street Journal on Saturday said:

    Seven Anglican leaders refused to take Communion with the head of the U.S. church, which supports gay ministers and same-sex unions.

    Shouldn’t that be who and not which? Is it accurate to say that TEC supports such gay rights, or only to say (in the context of a 4-line news snipper) that the head of the TEC is a gay rights supporter?

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    To address Joel’s good question: The Journal got it right. General Convention, which meets every three years, establishes the Episcopal Church’s stands on everything from The Book of Common Prayer to tithing to gay rights.

    General Convention has left no question, in recent years, that it favors ordaining gay clergy and allowing dioceses to make their own choices on whether to bless same-sex unions.

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