Well, the religion news is buzzing and your humble narrator might have to change his name.

Today, the Primates of the Anglican Communion, in a conclave meeting majorily voted to strip The Episcopal Church of the United States, (hereafter abbreviated TEC) of full particiation in the Anglican Communion (hereafter abbreviated AC). The measure effectively strips the church of any kind of vote in matters of pan-Anglican institutions and assemblies, and may not participate in any decision making regarding doctrine or polity. In other words, the Episcopal Church of America is welcome to continue paying for an entire third of the AC's operations budget, and to sit in the room while the adults talk, but two thirds of the primates agree that TEC should have no say in anything.

This was spearheaded by a group called GAFCON, the "Global Anglican Future Conference" - a group of folks who are trying to influence Anglicanism in general and TEC specifically to abandon what they see as grevious offenses against the gospel: to wit - not treating LGBT folks like second class citizens. Spearheaded by the likes of the Anglican Church in North America (who we'll call ACNA from now on) and a group of African bishops, specifically the Archbishop of Uganda - they're trying in their own minds to bring everything back to "the gospel" - which for them means no gay priests, no gay bishops, no gay marriage, and depending on whom you talk to, no female clergy either.

It's all part and parcel of growing tensions which started when a shot was fired across the Archbishop of Canterbury's bow with the election of the first gay bishop, Gene Robinson. The AC wanted to try not rocking the boat by suggesting this wasn't a good idea, and TEC honored the election process in his diosece. Now, the Archbishop of Canterbury is not a pope, but the polity of the Anglican Communion is episcopal - small e - meaning priests are under the jurisdiction of a bishop, and the bishops are directed by an Archbishop, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is a first among equals. In theory it was a major breach of church discipline for TEC to have gone against AC in such a manner. TEC, on the other hand, was ready to weather the storm.

Some churches, priests and bishops were quick to walk out on TEC. Shelby Spong being for all intents and purposes atheist and a TEC bishop was one thing. The election of female bishops was another. But in 2003/2004 - they had consecrated a practicing gay bishop, who'd divorced his wife prior to move in with another man. This for them was the last straw, and they started their own denomination, ACNA - seeking communion with the Anglican Communion as the "real" Anglican church in North America. They also fully intended to keep all church buildings, fittings, property and so forth including endowments, and were horrified when The Archbishop "stole" them from the breakaway folks because the property belonged to TEC proper, not the parishes, nor the church people in question. They were free to go, but for many reasons, especially legal and tax ones, they were required to sue to get the buildings and so forth back.

ACNA re-conned with the Africans, forming their own convocation, in a movement called the Anglican realignment, which was only about a decade ago. There seemed to be some kind of detente. ACNA levelled some furious lawsuits against TEC, were smacked down for the most part, and went away to realign with the African continent.

And now they've come back - GAFCON being a united front - and in the week of January 14 decided to threaten to walk out of the primate meeting because they were incensed that TEC was still part of the Anglican Communion and had not been brought to heel and made to walk back the various strides they'd made in LGBT rights. In a move that has rocked the Christian world (for those who care) - their tantrum resulted in a vote on the whole thing, and it came back voting to strip TEC of their full participation for three years.

The thing to note here is that this vote is in no way binding on the Archbishop of Canterbury and is no more than, in essence, the opinion of the primates at the meeting. But it's basically third and short and the two sides are lowering their shoulder pads and lining up against each other. On one side you have "tradition" and a "rigorous enforcement of traditional understandings and adherence to the Scriptures" and on the other, a more liberal reading of the Scriptures and the testimony and evidence of taking the steps, both individually and corporately across parishes - to accept everyone in the church, at all levels.

Of course the language from the one side was very tactful: "This agreement acknowledges the significant distance that remains but confirms their unanimous commitment to walk together...demonstrates the commitment of all the Primates to continue the life of the Communion with neither victor nor vanquished." Translation: "Heel."

And the response from TEC's presiding bishop, Bishop Curry, I will quote in part:

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain. For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.” Translation: "Suck it."

And whereas the head ACNA bishop "declined to comment" and the GAFCON folks expressed regret that this move didn't "call the Episcopal Church to repentance" - the trenches were certainly lighting up with vitriol. Unconstrained by the priest's collar or the need to dodge the hooked crozier of a bishop, Facebook and discussion groups were the place where the pus of the barely healed wounds flared up.

One poster on Reddit summarized it as: "Good news: Episcopalians excommunicated by Anglicans for same sex marriage perversion." Others took to Facebook to point out that the Ugandans and other African clergy had no problems calling for the torture, imprisonment and possibly execution of homosexuals in their own country, and supported other human rights abuses. One particularly sarcastic poster said that it was the pot calling the kettle black to have a bishop with polygamous priests - having two or three wives - in his jurisdiction lecturing anyone on the nature of "traditional Christian marriage". Some said this was God's judgment on TEC for ignoring "the clear prohibition on homosexuality in the Bible" and of course you had people continuing to excoriate "that witch" (unquote), meaning Katherine Scori - for "stealing the churches away from real Christians" and so forth. Some have simply said TEC should stop sending money to the AC, and to Africa especially - but that's monstrous. 

We have no idea as of the time of this writing how the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Welby, will respond. But he's perfectly interested in bringing ACNA into the Anglican Communion - in essence taking away the "franchise" of TEC away from it. He's also sided with the presbyterian Church of Scotland over his own Episcopal church in that region. In any case, the "hot potato" has been thrown into Welby's hands, with both sides looking for him to, as they so quaintly put it, "come up with a task force to heal the rift" 

Last September Lambeth House tried to avoid this sort of thing by suggesting that the two sides in essence "sleep in different bedrooms in the same house". Not quite divorce, but having the space to not think about the differences that exist between the "Law and Purity" folks and the "Grace and Acceptance" folks on the other. 

What few outside America realize is that TEC has been shaped as much by being on the wrong side of history more than once as it has been by adhering to the Gospel. Reverend Martin Luther King's children were not welcome in the Episcopal private school of Atlanta. Many years later, the first black bishop of Atlanta, a retired Navy SEAL and a bona fide awesome dude, wore the cope and vestments of the bishop of the time who laughed those children out of the building in a symbolic demonstration of the way a church can turn itself around (one notes that the city's seal is a Phoenix with the motto, "resurgens"). The Episcopal Church also at one point sided with slave owners, leading to schisms from the Church at the time, and the eventual creation of the African Episcopal church. It's had to do a lot of soul searching, a lot of apologizing, and a lot of healing with the communities it's wronged. It does NOT want to make the same mistake again with the gay community.

And many parishioners welcome their apostolic succession, and their Anglican heritage, but are quite prepared to walk, if push comes to shove. Even though apostolic succession can never be taken away from TEC no matter what, there will still be a link to its past and a community that they will lose. TEC itself is an agree to disagree coalition of this and this but also this (yes I know she's Methodist, this is purely allegorical) and this. If these two groups of people can co-exist in front of an altar, there's no reason we can't all hang in the communion.

But at this time, it's Episode 1 in the final countdown. 

I'll close with a poem that an Episcopalian posted to a story about the crisis:

He drew a circle that shut me out,
A heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit go win,
We drew a circle that took him in.

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