On Being Threatened

At the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church one seldom gets that many surprises. Very occasionally you get a vote that is closer than you expect but most of the things you hear are what you expect to hear. However, today I have to confess that I heard things that were genuinely surprising.

As is fairly well known, the Scottish Episcopal Church is currently considering amending its marriage canon in order to be able to keep the church together – specifically to enable the church to contain within it both those who wish to be able to marry same-sex couples and those who don’t wish to do so. There’s a chance that this might happen.

What we heard today is that the question has been asked of the Archbishop of Canterbury as to what, if any, the consequences of making this change might be. It would appear that the only consequence is very personal to the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

He met Justin Welby two weeks ago and was told directly by him that if the Scottish Episcopal Church goes ahead and makes this change then the Primus will himself be personally removed by the Archbishop from leading the World Anglican-Reformed Dialogue – an ecumenical series of international meetings.

It seems to me that we have come to a new place if the Archbishop of Canterbury is going to personally threaten the Primus of a province of the Anglican Communion if that province makes a decision.

There were a number of people at this afternoon’s synod meeting proudly wearing badges that said: “The Archbishop of Canterbury hath no jurisdiction in this realm of Scotland”. However, it seems to me that this Archbishop thinks that he has. (Not for the first time, I would note).

I asked a question about this today as I had heard the Archbishop himself say in public to the world’s press that he did not know whether there would be “consequences” (ie sanctions) against churches other than the US church which chose to move forward in terms of allowing gay couples to get married. This was in the press conference after the Primates’ meeting earlier this year. Indeed, the Archbishop said that he was simply one vote amongst the 38 Provinces and he could not predict how a future Primates’ Meeting would react to another province going down this line. What had changed since that press conference, I wondered, that made the Archbishop able to make this threat in private when he was so uncertain before the world’s press of what the consequences for other churches might be if they voted to bring about change?

The answer from the Primus this afternoon was that the Anglican-Reformed Dialogue convenership is in the personal gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury and not that of the Primates.

Thus, it seems to me that the crisis in the Anglican Communion has reached something new and genuinely shocking. It would appear that the Archbishop very precisely in his own role as one of the Instruments of Communion is now threatening individual Primates with sanctions if their own provinces vote for things that he as the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks that they should not do.

That is a serious development and one which should be noted by everyone. I can’t see that this can possibly be a postive contribution to keeping the communion together.

In all of this, our synod seems to me to be working to keep our church together and not force others to say what they do not believe. The Archbishop of Canterbury seems to be working on quite a different unity model whereby you can have your unity so long as you agree with him.

I think that the Primus’s response to all this was generous, measured and gracious. It was moving to hear him quote the Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church who has spoken of these sanctions from the position of being descended from slaves.

If the Primus is removed from this position as a consequence of the decisions of the Scottish Synod he will join a large group of people who have been removed from a ministry either because they are gay or they support those who are gay or because they are associated with those who are positive about those who are gay. This is how homophobia works in practise. I am shocked that the Archbishop should make himself vulnerable to the charge that he (rather than the Primates or the ACC or the Lambeth Conference) works this way.

I am familiar with the experience of being told that you can’t do things because of these reasons. I stand in solidarity with the Primus and all those removed from a ministry because of their identity as gay men and women (and also those who cannot minister solely because of their gender). David Chillingworth is potentially a very unexpected victim of homophobia. We must all stand alongside him if it comes to pass.

If the synod does vote in favour of trying to keep our church together in this way then I think we’ll be offering the Anglican Communion a model that has gospel generosity at its heart. Far from something that individuals should be punished over (regardless of whether they themselves vote or don’t vote for change), I think we’ve something to offer the communion.

The votes we have before us are not really about human sexuality but about what kind of church we want to be. The Archbishop of Canterbury is gravely mistaken if he believes that threatening other primates in his own role as “first amongst equals” in the Anglican Communion will enable church unity.

The opposite is very clearly the case.


  1. Kelvin,

    I am horrified by the position taken by the Archbishop against your Primus. I have long felt the Church of England Bishops have lost their way. Our seems to be a church that destroys the best of it’s people. I was glad to be asked to retire and now attend an Inclusive Church.

    Thank you for all that you are and for your deep understanding and wisdom and for keeping these issues before us. I wish I could say My faith was what it was but the way the Bishops seem to count compassion and integrity as less than the unity of the house of Bishops I find it hard to see God in the Church except in people like yourself.

  2. Iva Schatz says

    Amen! From this side of the pond.
    Iva Schatz

  3. Rosemary Hannah says

    Good grief.

  4. David Beadle says

    Appalling. As you say, this is exactly as homophobia works in practise, and the Archbishop’s protestations of repentance for it are entirely meaningless.

  5. Dear Kelvin, I think this paragraph is not quite right, as least as I see the situation:

    It would appear that the Archbishop very precisely in his own role as one of the Instruments of Communion is now threatening individual Primates with sanctions if their own provinces vote for things that he as the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks that they should not do.

    I think the bolded text should read, “the majority of Primates think” — the dilemma here is as you state earlier: one of the Instruments is feeling the need to submit to another of the Instruments — and it is true the ABC wears two hats in this, the Instrument hat and the Executive Chair of one of the other Instruments. This, I think, is where Welby has confused his roles. He does not have to submit to the will of the Primates in the exercise of his own office as primus inter pares, one of the four Instruments.

    However, since he chooses to do so, the result is much the same. A sad situation, and not terribly logical or ecclesiastical. I hope that the Episcopal Church of Scotland will not be unduly swayed by this shaky foundation, or unwelcome wind from the south…

  6. Meg Rosenfeld says

    Hang tough, Scottish Episcopal Church. We’re on your side.

  7. LGBT I says

    It makes this one ashamed to be English.

  8. Larry Rosenfeld says

    “The votes we have before us are not really about human sexuality but about what kind of church we want to be.”

    Perfect!! Thank you. Good luck!

    -from one of your ostracised American brethren.

    Larry Rosenfeld
    All Saints’ Church
    San Francisco

  9. Fr Jack H Haney says

    Thank God for speaking. This TEC Priest in the USA is in agreement with your assessment. Justin Welby is NOT Pope Justin. His authority is only ultimately within the CofE. We’ve been down this track before in the 1990s with George Carey and debacle of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Just how binding are those resolutions on the churches in the Communion–more a confederation as I see it. I know that may be a debatable statement.

  10. It is time to call out Justin for the tyrant he has become. See my blog post (and graphic) at http://blog.deimel.org/2016/05/no-anglican-tyrant-redux.html.

  11. Roland Olliff says

    And one day God Almighty will decide, mean while be the very best you can for Christ.

  12. LF Buckland says

    Thank you, Kelvin, greatly impressed by what you have written here, and particularly impressed by your comment re the Primus’ gracious response. Strong support for him, and admiration too, that he has made this stand.

  13. The ABC hath no jurisdiction in the Scottish Episcopal Church, but he does have the authority to appoint Communion reps to ecumenical dialogues. Maybe we should change that. But who else would do it? The ACC doesn’t meet frequently enough. In any case, hang tough SEC. We are with you!

  14. I’m a member of the Episcopal Church here in the USA. I hope that the Scottish Episcopal Church will go forward an allow clergy to perform same-sex marriages. I believe as the church we should be an inclusive body and let God do the judging.

  15. Bertrand Olivier says

    I am horrified but not surprised at this development Kelvin. Not looking forward to our General Synod going through our Shared Conversations when so clearly the path is in the wrong direction.

  16. David Balfour says

    Thanks for this Kelvin. I too am shocked that the ABC thinks he has this sort of clout. But then English imperialism is not new. So glad the motion was approved and by such a big majority in each house. What I heard of the debate made me very proud to be part of SEC. Blessings

  17. Jim Pratt says

    Our Primate here in Canada needs to take some lessons in assertiveness and speaking directly from your Primus.

  18. Martin Reynolds says

    Now, folks, lets get real about this.
    The Primus of the Scotish Episcopal Church has been a part of the discussions so far, he was part of the last gathering of Primates.
    That meeting seems to have had two parts in order to accomodate the Ugandans who have forsworn attendance at any of the formal meetings or “instruments” of communion. By synodical decision it appears Uganda has seperated itself from the Communion, not even electing representatives for the ACC, until it gets what it wants.
    It may be that it was only after they left that a Primates Meeting could begin, hence the aparant sleight of hand.
    But the Primus was there and voted and so consented to this process by his presence and actions.
    I do not recall, because it didn’t happen, a statement from him distancing himself from the actions of the meeting nor announcing that the meeting had departed from past practice by replacing consensus with majority, or that it had exceeded its brief.
    It amazes me that he should have bothered to journeyed to see Welby. The situation must have been obvious.
    The Primus should not wait to be sacked, he should resign and it would be best if next year, a mind of house resolution was passed “requiring” the Primus not to attend meetings of be Primates until it had ceased to behave in this way.

    We really can’t expect anything other than this behaviours from Welby and his ilk, they are buried in dishonesty and double dealing. It requires Scotland to be kind but firm.

  19. Dean John Tyrrell, CD says

    I applaud the Abp of Canterbury for representing the vast majority of the Anglical Communion against the forces of societal pressure. We have had too many wushy washy primates in the recent past. Churches that wish to go down the path that the Episcopal Church has taken should expect the consequences.

    • Larry Rosenfeld says

      Dear Dean (name or title?) John Tyrrell –

      Can you explain the source of your allegation that the Episcopal Church is motivated by “the forces of societal pressure,” and not by John 13:34?

    • I applaud the Abp of Canterbury for representing the vast majority of the Anglical Communion against the Grace of the Gospel: FIFY.

  20. The Revd Dr Keith Riglin says

    Thank you, Kelvin, for yet another well considered post, and for the clarification that the proposal before the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church is actually about holding together diversity rather than impossing a position and is thus a model for the Anglican Communion.
    The strange (for it is strange) position of the Archbishop of Canterbury seems quite un-Anglican. As Kelvin’s heard me comment before, it seems to me to go against the spirit, if not the letter, of Articles XXXIV (concerning “every particular or national church” – a principal of the Reformation), XXXVII (concerning the jurisdiction of a bishop of another church in the affairs of England – the badge “The Archbishop of Canterbury hath no jurisdiction…” isn’t only funny, it’s true), and even XXXII (where a Church, at the time divided on whether or not clergy should marry, stepped back and spoke of personal judgement and discretion).
    I do not wish to see the Anglican Communion become nothing more than a loose federation, but nor do I wish to see us become a monolithic “papal” institution. The Archbishop of Canterbury jeopardises his important role as one of our instruments of communion by actions which imply the latter and undermine his important role in worldwide Anglicanism.

  21. Poor Justin. If he gives no lead, he is attacked as weak;if he says what most of the Anglican Communion (and even more of the ecumenical world) believes, he is called bullying. Thank the Good Lord for Benedict XVI and the Ordinariates.

    • I don’t think that’s fair. No one is saying he shouldn’t say whatsoever he likes. The question is whether he should be in the business as ABC of symbolically removing someone from a particular role which is entirely in his gift as a sanction for a province making a decision.

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