Ah, the Anglican Communion—Again
Finally surfacing again after a long spell of litigation, I came across two blog posts that deserve juxtaposition. Both have to do with the perceived future, such as it is, of the amorphous entity known as “the Anglican Communion.” Since I am an Anglican Curmudgeon, it seems fitting to weigh in.
The first post, by the Rev. Canon Mark Harris, follows a theme he has sounded on several earlier occasions. Entitled “GAFCON II: will it spell the end of the Anglican Communion?”, it treats the question it poses as purely rhetorical. All churches who remain in communion with the See of Canterbury will remain in the Anglican Communion, Canon Harris says, and neither ECUSA nor the Anglican Church of Canada have any plans to withdraw from that communion. And if the members of GAFCON do so, well—too bad, but it won’t mean the end of “the Anglican Communion.”
Contrast to this the second post, by the Rev. Dale Matson, entitled “GAFCON II: a Way Forward for Anglicanism.” In contrast to Canon Harris, Fr. Matson views the picture from the standpoint of one who is in ACNA. He sees the group that will be gathering at GAFCON II this next October in Kenya as the true future of the Anglican Communion. While the Archbishop of Canterbury is trimming his Church’s sails so as to remain abreast of Britain’s popular culture, the Archbishop of Kenya (who heads up GAFCON’s Primate Council, and who is hosting the conference) is sailing against the popular winds, and holding fast to traditional Anglican teachings on marriage, priests and homosexuality.
As a side note, it may have been simply fortuitous that the Anglican Archbishop of Kenya was backed up in his stance by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Nairobi, Cardinal John Njue, who told President Obama in no uncertain terms that his ideas on same-sex marriage were a non-starter among Africans:
“Those people who have already ruined their society…let them not become our teachers to tell us where to go,” said Njue in response to Obama’s statements promoting same-sex marriage. “I think we need to act according to our own traditions and our faiths.”
There is clearly a division among faiths occurring, which is based on a similar division among cultures. The Anglican Communion, such as it was, was a brave attempt to bridge cultures under the banner of one faith, ultimately stemming from the Church of England. But with that Church now splintering over the issue of women in the episcopate, and the majority’s treating the issue as one of straightforward “civil rights,” can the admission of openly noncelibate gays and lesbians to the Church’s episcopate be far behind? After all, that issue will be debated in the Church on that same ground of “civil rights,” which the English Archbishops recently cited in Parliament to support the measure allowing same-sex civil marriages.
And there you have it. For America, Canada, Britain, and many other European countries, it all boils down to “equal civil rights” for all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and their country’s churches feel bound to mirror, and thus to honor, in their own structures that which the legislatures (or judges, as in America) have decreed.
But for traditional Anglicans, including those in GAFCON, the Church is the keeper and guardian of the faith, and is not free to jettison Holy Scripture in an effort to accommodate the society in which it finds itself. For them, the concept of “civil rights” has no meaning in the context of the Church, where God’s laws, and not man’s, are paramount. No one has any “civil rights” before God, and consequently changes in Church doctrine and worship are not a simple matter of majority vote, as I explained at length in this earlier post.
As I observed in the post I just linked, ECUSA, ACoC and perhaps soon the Church of England, are following the steps to differentiate themselves from the broader stream of the faith, much as the churches in Syria and Egypt did in the fifth century: “it’s déjà vu all over again,” as Yogi Berra would say.
The Anglican Communion is no longer a functioning group; its “Instruments of Unity” are broken. To be sure, the Anglican Consultative Council still meets, and maintains on its Schedule of Members even those Provinces who no longer send delegates. Likewise, the Primates’ Meeting is now attended only by those who side with the “let’s keep pace with society” crowd; the same was largely true of the Lambeth Conference of 2008, and no doubt will be even truer of the next one (if it even takes place).
The majority of churches in the fifth century went on without the Syrians and the Copts; the majority of the former Anglican Communion will do the same today, without ECUSA and her allies—and if need be, without the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England. I am not sure that the continuing group will even want to call itself by the name “Anglican,” since they may prefer to leave that word to characterize those who have pulled apart to remain behind. If the group no longer is headed even nominally by the Archbishop of Canterbury, then what would be the point of keeping the name?
We are in a time of fracture and transition, but these events are nothing new. They have happened before, and doubtless will happen again. The final stages of separation will have been reached when all in the one group—and not just some outspoken bloggers—say “goodbye and good riddance” to those in the other group.
I am not sure how the Church Catholic—the one Jesus and His disciples bequeathed to us—will manage to overcome this latest setback to its unity. But because it is the Church, I am certain that it will. I may not be around to see what emerges from the turmoil, or I may not recognize it immediately, if I am there. Those who are so fortunate will know it by the fruit it bears, in being guided by the Holy Spirit, and may draw their strength from its survival against all the forces arrayed against it.
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