An unfortunately low attendance at the just concluded Anglican Primates’ Meeting is a disappointing undertow in the news coming out of the gathering. According to a report in the Church Times, just 22 out of a possible 38 primates were present, though the place of one was taken by a provincial dean because the primate’s seat of the province in question, Central Africa, is currently vacant.
Especially significant is the absence of 7 primates on account of a boycott, attributed variously to the presence of the primate of the Episcopal Church USA, the actions of which they find objectionable, and to their assessment that attendance at a further meeting would be useless in view of what they regard as the failure of the Primates Meeting to ensure compliance with previous decisions of the group regarding the Anglican crisis over homosexuality.
The 7 boycotting primates represent the Indian Ocean, Jerusalem and the Middle East, Nigeria, Uganda, South East Asia, the Southern Cone, and West Africa. Of these, Nigeria, Uganda and West Africa together constitute a significant portion of the world’s Anglicans – probably at least 27 million out of the total 80 million. As with the boycott of the 2008 Lambeth Conference by Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, this highlights the depth of division in the communion and the determination of the so-called Global South Primates to continue to make their dissatisfaction felt.
Here is the report’s tally of the remaining absences:
Of the eight other absent Primates, the Primate of Congo was unable to attend because of visa difficulties, while the Primates of Mexico and Myanmar could not attend owing to health reasons. The Primates of Kenya and North India were absent because of “diary commitments”; while the Primate of Tanzania was not attending for “personal reasons”. The last two absentees cited “provincial matters”: the Primate of Sudan because of the recent referendum in his country, and the Primate of Rwanda, who was installed only on Sunday.
As with the relative amity at Lambeth 2008, the amicability evident in the Dublin meeting of the primates must be seen as partly stemming from the fact that those on the traditionalist side with the strongest views about the importance of the current crisis were not present to make their voices heard. Clearly they are not fulfilling their ordination vows to participate fully in the counsels of the church, probably because they feel absence speaks louder than presence. It is ironic that a stance purportedly based on the power of silence is in fact premised on shouting, not on conversation.