There are many families who bring their children up with the expectation that they will marry their life partner rather than live together outside of matrimony. Recently Teresa and I have had the joy of participating in wedding celebrations of three very fine young couples who have deliberately chosen to follow such expectations. But what are parents to do when such expectations are not followed? Eject their children from future family gatherings? Threaten to disinherit their offspring? These days one does not hear of such things happening. Rather parents bite their tongues, keep praying for their children, and try to treat their married and unmarried partnered children equally in warmth of welcome and depth of hospitality.
Now that TEC has not only confirmed the election of Mary Glasspool, but also confirmed its commitment to be a church teaching an extended doctrine of marriage to include both heterosexual marriage and homosexual partnership, the Anglican Communion, with or without a Covenant in prospect, will make a decision about the future inclusion of TEC.
That decision may only be implicit: diaried meetings will continue, no one will be turned away, thus, de facto, the Communion will continue to include TEC. Predictably this will be accompanied by the self-exclusion of some member churches. The decision may be explicit: member church after member church may reject the Covenant on the grounds that they believe its adoption will mean the exclusion of TEC. Or, ++Rowan could make a statement to the effect that - like parents in my narrative above - he will continue to be in communion with TEC even though he disagrees with their theology of marriage. Such a statement could also be reason for further self-exclusion, but it would set a direction for the future meetings of Communion bodies. Then, of course, the Communion could make a decision otherwise: TEC will not be welcome because it does not share in the common doctrine of marriage as generally espoused across the Communion. But either way, there will be a decision.
Here I want to suggest that the Communion carefully consider all possibilities. It should realistically consider the impact of not moving to exclude TEC, or at least to confine its involvement to a 'second tier' of the Communion. But it should also consider being like the parents above when faced with the reality of difference in understanding within a family: with some pain because of the difference, nevertheless inclusion will continue. To exclude TEC is certainly reasonable: a Communion works best where common doctrine undergirds it. But inclusion has a reasonable argument supporting it too.
I think that argument goes like this. It is desirable to have a church pure in doctrine and in practice. But church history shows us how rarely this has been fulfilled, and how often fulfilment has been temporary rather than permanent. People stuff up. An global example is before our eyes right now: the Roman Catholic church, much admired for its doctrinal purity by many conservative Anglicans, cannot gain much traction out of the quagmire of paedophiliac scandal. Should it be shunned by the remainder of the Christian global community? Or should we continue to work relationally on encouraging our Roman brothers and sisters to follow Christ, repenting whenever and wherever some among them need to do so? Of course we should, and we would be doing so conscious of our ongoing disagreements with aspects of Roman doctrine, and with the pain of being out of eucharistic communion with Rome.
TEC has chosen a path. Some of us in the global Communion think they should repent of it. All of us need to recognise that that is not how TEC understands the situation: they are boldly pioneering a new way in Christ! (For as fine an apologia of this way as anything I have read, read Mark Harris here). Are we to revile TEC (as various commenters seem to do without hesitation) and exclude it from fellowship? Or, like parents in the first paragraph above, do we now swallow hard and bite our tongues? Do we give TEC the space to continue their pioneering journey, even though within our hearts we have grave doubt as to where it will lead? Might we offer this grace, not because we do not care about their doctrinal difference with us, but simply because God affords us grace, impure and imperfect as we are, in our own doctrine and practice?
There are many issues here. Posing these questions with a bias towards continued inclusion is by no means a last word on a difficult situation. What fellowship will TEC offer those in their midst who do not agree with this now confirmed new doctrine of marriage? Why not also pioneer a new way of being Anglican in North America which includes ACNA as a province? (Yes, I know that ACNA would need to cease talking about replacing TEC and ACCan. But could those commenters on the internet who call ACNA "wannabe Anglicans" cease talking in that way also?!). What will the future of the Communion be? Africa and Asia-less?
To return to my first paragraph. Life can be much more complicated than imagined there. The parents may open their home at Christmas time to all their children and their partners, married or unmarried. But it is always possible that the married children will not agree with such an inclusive stance, and the Christmas table will have empty seats. Who would be a parent then?