Episcopalians won’t see changes stemming from limits on the church’s participation in the worldwide Anglican Communion put in place by top Anglican bishops (primates), according to the U.S.-based church’s Presiding Bishop.
“We’re not changing – so there shouldn’t be an expectation that in the next three years the Episcopal Church is going to change,” declared Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry about the denomination’s approval of new gender-neutral marriage rites this past July. “This is who we are.”
Curry spoke the morning of Monday, February 8 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. at a press conference to “discuss the Church’s role in creating a more inclusive society.”
“My sense is that the overwhelming majority of the primates voted as a way of saying ‘we disagree with you, we can’t support your decision because we believe you have changed core doctrine and we disagree with that’ but they did not vote us off the island,” Curry shared. “They did not do that – and could have.”
Instead, the leader of 1.8 million U.S. Episcopalians said that overseas Anglicans had opted for a “moderated response that recognized we are still a part of the Anglican family.”
“There was clarity on our part, both about who we are as a church and about our love and commitment to the Communion, and there was clarity on their part that they disagreed with us,” Curry reported.
Categorizing limits on the U.S.-based denomination as “very specific and focused,” Curry explained that they were centered on ambassadorial and leadership functions, amounting to an “almost surgical approach” that tries to find a mediated way of expressing displeasure “in a way that was real but that didn’t go too far.”
In a January 14 communiqué authored during a gathering in Canterbury, England, the primates required that the Episcopal Church for a period of three years “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
Some U.S. bishops have questioned the primates’ ability to make such requirements, but Curry did not make a challenge to their legal or moral authority during the Monday news conference.
“Because we differ on a core doctrine, it would not be seen as appropriate for us to represent the Anglican Communion in ecumenical, interfaith, ambassadorial relationships. That’s fair,” Curry assessed. “Because we disagree on core doctrine they are asking that we not cast our vote on matters of doctrine or polity – not about our life together and a whole bunch of other things that get considered.”
Curry was thanked by retired New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, whose election and consecration as the church’s first openly partnered homosexual bishop in 2003 increased tensions in the third largest global family of churches and caused several overseas Anglican provinces to declare themselves in impaired communion with the Episcopal Church.
“Thanks for not throwing us under the bus – the LGBT community as well as the Episcopal Church, we’re proud of you,” stated Robinson, who now serves as a fellow at the D.C.-based liberal think tank Center for American Progress.
During his planned comments, Curry elaborated on two mission priorities established at the church’s General Convention this past summer: evangelism and racial reconciliation.
“The Presiding Bishop needs to be the Chief Evangelism Officer,” Curry trumpeted, declaring a commitment “to what I call the Jesus Movement – the way of God’s love in this world.”
The bishop lamented that “extremism is happening in Judaism, Christianity and Islam” and that a religious center “is very quiet and intimidated.”
Quoting British former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Curry said “The golden calf of the self has been raised by the children of Israel again.”
Curry pointed to Pope Francis as an exemplar of the “Jesus Movement.”
“He wouldn’t use the world inclusion, but that’s what he’s doing,” Curry determined.
Stating of religion, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God – period,” Curry elaborated that the “love of God is about self-sacrifice of self-interest for the good of others.” The Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop defined the way of evangelism as about “drawing towards the center – not about increasing Episcopal market share.”
“I’m in this business because we’re going to learn to live together – and the Episcopal Church will lead the way as part of the Jesus movement.”
“If I didn’t believe that our society could change, I wouldn’t be standing here right now,” Curry announced. “We are not victims of fate: we follow Jesus who was not a victim of his fate, death on a cross, but who rose from the dead. Because I believe that, I believe we can find the ways to become God’s beloved community.”
Curry also fielded questions about the St. George’s school child sex abuse investigation in Rhode Island, pointing to canonical revisions in the 1990s which tightened the denomination’s reporting requirements when abuse is alleged.
Dipping his toe into politics, Curry also recalled his time as Bishop of North Carolina and his involvement there with the “Moral Mondays” protest movement. Referring to actions of the state legislature as “not just” “whether you are a Republican or Democrat” Curry listed “means of voter suppression” alongside reduced funding for public schools, refusal to expand Medicaid or extend unemployment benefits, and passage of loosened gun restrictions as galvanizing factors for interfaith groups in the state.