Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Conservatism versus conservatism (3)

Just when one might hope things get better for conservatism in the Anglican Communion, they may have gotten worse with this stringent examination of the meaning of GAFCON by a leading Global South theologian. If I understand this divergence of opinion correctly it boils down to different answers to this question: are conservative Anglicans committed to remaining and working wholeheartedly within the Anglican Communion? I think it’s a statement of fact rather than a deprecatory judgement to say that GAFCON represents conservative Anglicans less than wholehearted about the Anglican Communion. Many bishops at GAFCON will not also be at Lambeth, and this event has been organised without reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury (let alone the ACC or the Primates Meeting or the Joint Standing Committee).

But there are other conservative Anglicans who are committed wholeheartedly to the Anglican Communion united around the Archbishop of Canterbury. These conservatives include the Anglican Communion Institute, a number of folk associated with Global South, and relatively insignificant folk such as myself. As I understand this wholeheartedness, it is in the face of the strong liberal ascendancy in western/northern/Australasian parts of the Communion rather than in denial of that ascendancy or with naïve belief that somehow the influence of liberalism can be made to quickly disappear. By contrast the less than wholehearted conservatives are reserved or even rebellious towards the Communion precisely because they have decided the liberal ascendancy will not go away and they think that Anglican mission and ministry will advance better through some form of disconnection with liberal Anglicanism. In broad terms the two kinds of conservatives can be described as (so-called) ‘federation conservatives’ and ‘communion conservatives’.

I am sure there will be conservatives of both kinds at GAFCON (and so there should be so that there is continuing dialogue and so that each grouping has first-hand rather than internet-hand knowledge of latest news and views), but I presume that federation conservatives will be in the ascendancy. By contrast one would expect from bits and pieces on the internet that the number of federation conservatives at Lambeth will be quite small relative to the communion conservatives.

When the situation is described in this way then one can move to a next step of seeing the advantages and disadvantages of both strategies without denigrating either side (which all too often happens in comments on the internet). For conservatives there is sorrow whatever happens, but perhaps for communion conservatives there is a double sorrow if the federation conservatives disconnect in such a way that actual separation takes place, for then we will be a much smaller minority in the western/northern/Australasian part of the Anglican Communion than would be the case if we stuck together and remained wholeheartedly within the Anglican Communion.

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