Suppose the Episcopal Church were to be declared out of communion with the rest of the Anglican Communion. To put it bluntly: So what?
Would the consequences of ECUSA being "out of communion" be so grave that the church should return to the traditionalist view rather than incur those consequences? Is staying in communion so important that ECUSA should resume automatically disqualifying gays and lesbians in same-sex unions (SSUs) as candidates for bishop? Should the church reinstate its traditional refusal to bless committed SSUs?
This question is getting more ink as General Convention 2006 draws near. We hear warnings by an emissary of the Archbishop of Canterbury: The bishop of Exeter, addressing the U.S. House of Bishops, has urged ECUSA to fully repent of having approved the election and ordination of a gay bishop living in a SSU in 2003, and to profess our full corporate allegiance to the Windsor Report.
There's a very good chance, however, that another bishop in a SSU will be elected soon in the Diocese of California. If this were to happen, then GC 2006 would be asked to vote yes or no on consenting to the election. If such a bishop were to be elected, consented to, and ordained, we could expect various traditionalist bishops, quite possibly including the ABC, to proclaim that we are out of communion with them and their jurisdictions.
To repeat: So what?
As near as I can tell, the consequences of being declared "out of communion" would be mainly symbolic.
• Officially, Episcopalians would no longer be welcome at communion tables in traditionalist Anglican churches. Exceptions presumably would be made for individuals, parishes, and dioceses that had professed their allegiance to the Windsor Report.
At the parish level, I doubt there'd be much practical effect. If I were to present myself at the altar rail in another jurisdiction, I wouldn't expect the priest to ask for my passport and (upon seeing that I'm an American) to require me to declare my position on gay bishops and SSUs.
The symbolic eucharistic shunning of ECUSA modernists by some traditionalists is already underway: It's been reported that at recent meetings of Anglican primates and of American bishops, some traditionalist bishops refused to attend Eucharist services where unrepentant ECUSA bishops were present. We can expect to see more of the same behavior.
• ECUSA priests, bishops, and deacons would not be "authorized" to act as such in out-of-communion jurisdictions. I can't see how that would have much practical effect. I don't know of any country where the local Anglican hierarchy could legally prevent a U.S. priest from celebrating the Eucharist, or a U.S. bishop from presiding at confirmation.
• Traditionalists would claim that the Episcopal Church could no longer call itself part of the catholic Church. That's not particularly troubling.
• Some traditionalist parishes (and perhaps even dioceses) would claim that they are entitled to take their property and depart the Episcopal Church. Bishop Duncan and his allies would claim that the so-called Anglican Communion Network is now the "real" Episcopal Church; they likely would try to evict the existing governing structure of ECUSA. We've already seen a few legal battles on this front. Fine; U.S. law is what it is, and these battles will turn out the way they turn out.
If I'm missing something, let me know.
If traditionalists are going to refuse to join modernists at the communion table, fine. We'll miss 'em. Probably we'll all be less effective at preaching God's good news than we could be if we worked together.
But life will go on.