What Would Intervention Look Like?

Address by Bishop Duncan

The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan
Source: AAC News
October 8, 2003

Presentation delivered by the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, the Bishop of Pittsburgh, for the AAC's Plano (Dallas)Conference: "A Place to Stand: Declaring, Preparing" 8th October, A.D.2003

One of my great learnings in recent months is that courage breeds courage.
And they said to him, "Prophesy, Bishop of Pittsburgh, prophesy!" 


In November 1999 four ECUSA bishops met with eight global south primates to deliver a message.  The threefold message had been developed at an American Anglican Council board meeting earlier that same year:  (1) the Episcopal Church in the United States is in a deplorable state theologically; (2) we cannot reform ourselves, and (3) we need intervention from the wider Anglican Communion.  Many other bishops and church leaders, both global south and ECUSA, were also present at that gathering in Kampala, Uganda, in the Great Lakes region of East Africa.  The clarity of Lambeth '98 - where Communion teaching about human sexuality had been definitively stated and where the missionary heart of Anglicanism to reach the whole world with the whole faith had been reasserted - had suffered fourteen months of rejection in diocese after diocese across the North American continent.  What could be done?

Since that meeting in Kampala, events could best be likened to having boarded a long-haul roller coaster whose peaks and valleys have extended several times around the world.  The Primates have met at Oporto, Kanuga, Canterbury and in Brazil.  "To Mend the Net" was brought forward by leaders like Drexel Gomez and Maurice Sinclair, New World Primates - true apostles - seeking to discipline other New World Primates - wolves devouring their own sheep.  The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) has met in places like Harare and Dundee and Hong Kong.  Consecrations have taken place at Singapore and Denver.  Fissures in the unity of the global south Primates have opened and been patched, just as has our own unity among the orthodox here in the States.  Sometimes we have asked, "Why can't they wait?"  But deep within us we have always understood our own temptations as well.  All of us in this place are having a hard time waiting just now.  Extraordinary leaders have emerged, among them are names like Peter Akinola and Yong Ping Chung and Bernard Malango and K.J. Samuel and Greg Venables and Terry Buckle.

Two General Conventions have intervened, each more self-willed than the last, such that a portion of the roller coaster cars have uncoupled, derailed and are hanging precariously near the summit of one of the hills.  New bits of geography have also been visited with names like New Westminster and New Hampshire and Reading, where other cars have derailed and in 2 of 3 cases been flung straight off, though some there are to be rescued.  Interventions have actually occurred.  Consider the courage of those who formed the Anglican Communion in New Westminster and the growing international coalition that now stands with them, including the Canadian Essentials bishops who have begun to risk their own security in the cause.  Consider the resolve of those who founded Anglican Mainstream in Great Britain, and who, together with the global south Primates, and (according to all reports) aided by the leader of the House of Windsor, actually turned back the appointment of Jeffrey John.  Though our eyes cannot always see it, the Old Testament truth that "those who fight for us are more than those who fight against us" must be remembered in these situations, and in all that we shall face.  And those who fight with us are not only mortals, as well you will recall in these Michaelmas days.

My brothers and sisters, the Intervention is well underway.  It has not been a quick ride.  Nor has it been one without vast anxieties.  But the Lord of all has been over it all, and He will continue to be so no matter how many more hills and valleys there are for us to negotiate before this roller-coaster is braked down and we are let off.  The intervention is well underway and I have described for you what it has looked like to date.  Please keep all this in mind as I speak about the next days and months, and to some extent years.


God willing, the defining battle of the war for Anglicanism's soul will be fought next week.  We need to be on our knees - and on our faces - before our Lord God Almighty for the men who will fight this battle.  There are 38 of them - the archbishops, presiding bishops and moderators of the Anglican Provinces of five continents - supported by a lamentably partisan General Secretary and his ACC staff.  In many ways the battle will be between the archbishops of the dynamic Global South and the archbishops of the disintegrating Old West (of which we in the United States are a part).  In the middle will be Rowan Williams, the 103rd successor to St. Augustine, whose presidency over the conflict will require the wisdom of Solomon, so that the true mother of the living child may take him away to raise him.  The West will do everything it can to see that nothing comes out of the two-day encounter.  The South will seek a clear and compelling decision.  Archbishop Williams will be faced with a choice between the vast majority of the Anglican Communion, with its heretofore bright missionary future,  and the Communion's long-ago identity in Britain, North America and Australia.  In his humanity, he will surely seek a compromise, but compromise will surely rend the baby in two pieces.  The South cannot compromise, nor can we, because to do so is to embed a lie so deeply in our gospel, that our gospel (but not that of Jesus Christ, of course) will eventually perish because of it.  My brothers and sisters, fast and pray, for this time "muddling through" will not suffice.

Of course, nothing will be quite clear immediately.  That is generally the nature of even decisive battles and of most human encounters.  Everyone will "spin" the situation according to each one's needs.  It only became clear what Gettysburg was in the months after Gettysburg was fought.  Remember that Meade let the Southern Army escape across the Potomac.  It only became clear what D-Day was in the months after the beachheads were established.  Remember that from that day the war was won, yet more U.S. casualties would be suffered from that day until the war's end than had been suffered before that day.  Whatever is reported after next Wednesday and Thursday, please remember these truths.  Please do not attempt to jump off the moving roller-coaster from its highest summit.  Please trust that our God is over all of this, and that the Reform of His Church is just as assured as is His coming again in glory.  Perhaps we would do well to write the text of I Thessalonians 5:24 on our palms:  "He who has called you is faithful, and He will do it."


It will be messy, like the past.  It will be missionary, like the future.  It will demand our best: charity and trust and patience and courage, and every other New Testament virtue.

1.  A Godly Rebuke

I believe the first action of the intervention will be a rebuke to the Presiding Bishop, to the Bishops who voted for confirmation of Canon Gene Robinson, and to the Diocese of New Hampshire.  There will also be a rebuke to any who voted for blessing same-sex unions as "within the bounds of our common life," and more plainly to any who have instituted or permitted such blessings to go forward.  This is not Anglicanism and this is not Christianity - either catholic or reformed - and the Primates will say so.

2. A Call to Repent and Return

The Primates will demand - in some polite fashion - that the consecration of the bishop coadjutor of New Hampshire not go forward.  They will also say that, if he is consecrated, he will not be recognized or included in pan-Anglican meetings.  They will say this diplomatically, but they will say it.  Those who dare to participate in the consecration will be offered a similar future status.  There will also be some call to all who voted - bishops and their dioceses - for the dual innovations adopted at Minneapolis to publicly state that they are willing to turn from their endorsement of this schism, no longer in favor in light of the Primates' ruling.  A deadline of some months will be set for compliance.

3. What if the Primates should fail at #1 and #2?

Both #1 and #2 sound pretty un-Anglican.  So what if the Primates fail to issue a rebuke, and what if they should fail to call for repentance and return?  Quite simply, that failure would come at the price of a wrenching split in the whole fabric of the Communion.  I am convinced that the Global South would largely separate itself from the Old West.  The Archbishop of Canterbury would become little more than the titular head of a moribund and declining British, American and Australian sect.  The dynamic Anglicanism of Africa, Asia and Latin America would realign with a "first among equals" whose see might have a movable name, including places like Lagos or Nassau or Singapore or Buenos Aires.  I believe that Archbishop Rowan Williams understands precisely this reality, and that "muddling through" this time will not be good enough.  The last English empire is his to loose.  That is why I believe he, like the global south primates, needs something definitive to emerge from the gathering next week.  Virtually all ecumenical dialogue with Anglicans will also be dealt a death-blow without some clear repudiation of ECUSA's heresy.

4. American Arrogance

New Hampshire will go forward.  Presiding Bishop Griswold will not turn back.  An unknown number of those who voted "yes" at General Convention will persist in their schism.  The chaos in the Episcopal Church will deepen.  We will all face some deep financial trials.  Many lay people will turn, in frustration, to other Christian traditions.  Some leaders will also give up.  Many moderate dioceses (and their bishops) will determine that the safest course is to "distance" from the national establishment.  In some places court battles will ensue.  In most places there will not be the resolve or the energy to engage in legal battles.  We will see Magnificat truths before our eyes:  Like the fall of the Soviet Union, The Lord will cast ECUSA's mighty from their thrones and He will lift up the lowly.  I think we will see these things in the near term, in months rather than years.  One prayer warrior shared with me a vision toward the end of the General Convention:  "It will be like an orange that peels itself and whose sections fall apart of their own accord."   I had a confirmation of this in my own spirit.  (Another is the nearest to prophesy I will get.)

5. A Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes

In the midst of the chaos, there will be moments - hopeful moments - like Plano.  And, like "Plano", sometimes things will so exceed our expectations that "Plano" will have to moved to Dallas.  There will be whole dioceses standing, as there have been in recent weeks, dioceses like Albany and Central Florida and Fort Worth and Pittsburgh and South Carolina and Springfield.  More dioceses will join these six in the weeks and months ahead.  These dioceses will deepen their level of cooperation and interdependence.  Structures of the AAC will also help them to redistribute the world mission funds that used to pass through "815", and in many other ways, as the needs emerge.  Congregations in "hostile" or "confused" dioceses will also be emboldened.  They will start to see their allegiance as chiefly within this Network of  Confessing Dioceses and Parishes, and their funding will start to flow in this direction, just as the provision of episcopal ministry will start to come from that Network.  The Primates will not approve a second or parallel province - nor should they - but they will see this ecclesiola in ecclesia as the Episcopal Church with which they have Communion and common cause, the remnant as an Episcopal Church under judgment.  Nothing will be all that clear to any of us, as we seek to understand or describe what is actually happening.  This is the part that will seem most definitely "muddled," but we can rest assured that our God will be in it and on the other side of it.  Like Jesus' description of how the kingdom of God grows, we 'will know not how" and yet, as the months pass and various "fiery trials" are endured, we will see the Network grow and strengthen.

6. International, Poorer, and More Richly Ethnic

The Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes will extend across national borders from the beginning.  This is one of the most extraordinary features of what God is already doing among orthodox Anglicans in North America.  The most solid block of orthodox votes in the 74th General Convention was Spanish-speaking.  One diocese in that block is French-speaking.  Our brothers and sisters from the Caribbean and Central America, including even the Caribbean rim of South America, will be at the center of who we are, and how we must think of ourselves, and what a magnificent change this will be.  At the other end of our Network will be the orthodox of Canada, including all the native peoples of the Arctic.  At the end of this month, orthodox U.S. bishops of the American Anglican Council and orthodox Canadian bishops of the Essentials Movement will meet in Toronto to imagine the next steps for the "replacement province" of which the Primates are already speaking.  Part of our short-term work together will surely be cross-border episcopal ministry where intransigent revisionists threaten their fellow nationals.  The 49th parallel is an imaginary line of man's devising: it is not a gospel boundary?nor are any of the other borders with which we have been so much concerned in recent years.  These things are all a glorious part of the "realignment of North American Anglicanism" of which we so often speak.

7. Accountable and Submitted

We have confessed our complicity in ECUSA's evolution to its present state.  We have admitted our inability to reform this Church by our own efforts alone.  We have appealed to the Primates for intervention.  One of the marks of the unfolding intervention must be that we begin to listen to what godly leaders in the rest of the world have to say to us.  A team of us head to London at the weekend.  We do this to hear directly from those whose help we have sought.  What do they understand the decisions to be taken at Lambeth to have meant?  How do they believe we should proceed?  Accountability and submission to the wider Communion - never American long-suits - are behaviors we need to pay particular attention to as the months ahead unfold.  Similarly, our Network will need some means of mutual accountability and submission among us in order that the mistakes of the Church culture from which we are sprung not be repeated endlessly.

8. Gathering Up the Fragments

The unfolding of the intervention will enable other Anglican fragments to be gathered in.  The two score continuing churches split off during the last three decades must be approached.  The Reformed Episcopal Church must be acknowledged and restored to fellowship with us and with the Anglican Communion.  The Anglican Mission in America will need to be drawn alongside, wounds healed, wrongs forgiven and brothers and sisters reunited.  None of this should happen carelessly or with undue haste, but it can happen and it needs to be a part of our commitment. 

9. Women in Holy Orders

The decision to ordain women into the historic three-fold ministry has been a source of  great controversy and division among us, and remains so.  Experiences of joy and possibility have often stood alongside feelings of pain and betrayal.  We are only one generation into a several generation process of reception.  Yet in ECUSA we have never really entered into an honest process of reception.  In what is ahead we must allow this process to be lived out among us.  Force and repression of conscience are part of the sad story that brings us to this day of intervention.  We need to make godly provision for one another.  We need to develop understandings of how our two integrities can proceed alongside one another, until our Good Lord eventually makes this matter plain to our children and grandchildren.  There will be awkwardnesses as we shape our common life - just as there have been in this conference - but we will get better at it, and we can find a way to honor one another and to protect one another, if we will to.  Nigeria does not ordain women.  Uganda ordains women.  I suspect our wider Communion can help us.  Happily this is not a "Western" issue, but rather a communion-wide discernment in which we are all called to listen carefully.

10. Irrepressibly Missionary

What must characterize the intervention and our church life as it goes forward is that we are mission-minded, mission-centered and mission-driven.  Nothing less will do.  If our first concern in this movement is not for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, then let's quit now.  This alone will make it worthwhile.  This alone will justify all the struggle that is ahead.  This alone should be the purpose of a realigned and orthodox North American Anglicanism, resembling the missionary Anglicanism of the global south.


One of the observations of thirty years of ordained ministry is that God doesn't waste his resources.  Why am I hopeful as the next stages - almost certainly the defining stages - of the intervention unfold?  There are 2700 orthodox Anglican believers registered for this conference.  There were 4000 at the opening worship last night.  There are incredible leaders here - both men and women, lay and ordained, old and young, from every people, language and nation - all imagining a missionary future.  There are more than 100 seminarians here and 800 clergy, and lay leaders of every description and with every gifting.  My hunch is that - while I cannot describe the intervention all that clearly, as much as I have tried to - our God already has. 

And remember this, too, that courage always breeds more courage.

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