A Nice Analysis from "First Things"
the Episcopal Church defended its actions in these terms, arguing that “Anglican comprehensiveness” means making room for all sincerely held beliefs, while “local autonomy” means allowing each Anglican national province to do as it pleases.
For most Anglicans, and indeed for most Christians, this understanding of church doctrine was difficult to accept. Each week, Christians confess in the Nicene Creed their belief in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” which among other things means that the Church ought to be united in professing the teachings of Christ and the apostles. But the Episcopal Church by its actions had called this into question. Unity in truth, it in effect held, no longer mattered. The situation was described quite accurately by Bishop N.T. Wright, a leading Anglican intellectual, as “doctrinal indifferentism.” The likes of it have rarely been seen in the history of the Christian Church, and to most Anglicans worldwide it was absolutely unacceptable. A solution had to be found. ...
Which brings us to the threshold of last weekend’s meeting in Tanzania. Many conservative Anglican leaders, such as Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, seriously doubted that the Episcopal Church would be disciplined for its actions, thus making the idea of Anglican unity and authority something of a joke and turning the Lambeth Conference (as Akinola famously said) into an “expensive jamboree.”
Akinola had good reason to be doubtful. Many of the more liberal Anglican provinces, such as Canada and Brazil, did not seem eager to discipline the American church. The problem was compounded by a certain level of conservative mistrust of the English church, whose archbishop, Rowan Williams, had earlier in his career been an advocate of same-sex unions. African conservatives made a number of moves to distance themselves from Canterbury, signaling their willingness to cut ties if need be.
Above all, it was Williams’ goal to maintain the catholic substance of Anglicanism while avoiding schism. On the one hand, Williams had to convince Anglican evangelicals to remain in a church that lacks the confessional clarity and simplicity of mainstream evangelicalism—even though evangelicals tend to discount the value of church unity if it appears to cut against scriptural truth. On the other hand, Williams had to convince Anglican liberals to discipline an American church with which they had much in common—even though liberals tend to discount both scriptural truth and church unity if it seems to cut against progressive goals. ...
The next move belongs to the Episcopal Church, and Anglicans can only wait to see how it will respond to the primates’ requests. For many liberals within the Episcopal Church, for whom the gay-rights agenda is a nonnegotiable justice issue, complying with the primates’ requests would be seen as acquiescing to bigotry. The liberal argument in favor of delaying full homosexual inclusion has long been to wait “for a season” so as to “continue the conversation,” thus tactically awaiting the best opportunity to win the greatest gain. But this argument lost much of its luster at Tanzania, since the logic of subscription to an Anglican Covenant (a new and excellent version of which was also unveiled in Tanzania) means that the Episcopal Church would need to bind itself to the decisions of a largely conservative global Anglican body. The civil-rights-era argument that “justice delayed is justice denied” will thus appeal strongly to many liberals, some of whom are already tiring of an endless conversation that seems every time to end with conservatives having the last word. Still, there remains an outside chance that Episcopalians will join together to accept the primates’ requests, thus preserving the church’s Anglican status.
It has been a long road, and much uncertainty lies ahead. But what uncertainty remains is principally related to the decisions now facing the Episcopal Church. As for the Anglican Communion, its choice has been made. Years from now, it may well be that we will look upon this week as a crucial turning-point in Anglican history, crucial as anything since the English Reformation. For the Anglican Communion has finally decided to live up to its name: a global communion of churches, diverse yet united by a common faith and mutual hope, seeking together the mind of Christ, living humbly and prayerfully under the authority of Scripture. So may it remain.