Saturday, June 14, 2008

Has the anti-Christ come to the Anglican Communion?

A peach of a row has flown around the internet as an article by an (as yet) unnamed member of SPREAD urging the immediate cessation of conservative Anglican involvement in the Anglican Communion has been responded to by Ephraim Radner. The simplest way into the argument is via this thread on Fulcrum. Follow the leads from there, and work out for yourself whether SPREAD is the friend or foe of Maxwell Smart.

Radner is particularly passionate in his response as he adroitly defends Arhcbishop Rowan from scurrilous attacks in the SPREAD article, including an implied charge that he is (at worst) 'the' anti-Christ or (at best) 'an' anti-Christ.

The first article is very well written, clear, and cogent in its argument. Also utterly flawed! Why do I say this? With Radner I accept that the core biblical issue facing the Communion is not 'the authority' of Scripture but 'the interpretation' of Scripture. This is not to say that there are not elements in our Communion who deny the authority of Scripture, but to say that, even if we all vowed submission to the authority of Scripture a la the 39 Articles, there would still be difference among us over what Scripture means. Our challenge is to come to agreement where possible and to live with disagreement where agreement is not secured. The SPREAD article is flawed precisely because it offers no proposal for how to live with difference. It presupposes that all conservatives in agreement with Scripture on homosexuality and in disagreement with other Anglicans simply need to withdraw from the Communion, form another, and all will be well.

But it will not be well, as Radner recognises. Now Radner, whom I have had the privilege of meeting, is a very very bright fellow, but it only takes a sliver of his intellect to recognise that a GACOM (Global Anglican Communion of the SPREAD envisaged kind) will fail unless it develops an agreed methodology for living with difference. Consider these scenarios.

At the first of the 10-yearly meetings of GACOM in Lagos, a noted British female evangelical theological teacher (e.g. Jane Williams, as it happens, also wife of ++Rowan), is invited to teach (yes, sic, teach) the gathered throng of male bishops. A phalanx of these bishops spot this on the programme and signal that either they will not come to GACOM fullstop, or will at least absent themselves from this female-led teaching session. 1 Timothy 2:12 is invoked as the definitive reason for this absence.

(Of course, it could be that astute organisers of GACOM never invite women to teach men ... but that would, I both hope and dare to presume, be a problem for those conservatives such as myself and colleagues in the Nelson Diocese who value and esteem the ministry of ordained women, and see no difficulty in having a lay or ordained woman teaching the orthodox faith to men).

Or: at the conclusion of GACOM a great final and festive eucharistic service is organised. The anglo-catholics have been somewhat missing from the teaching programme, so the service arrangements are placed in their hands. Presuming some charity from the evangelicals they proceed to plan an order of service which uses fairly unambiguous language about the bread being the body of Christ and the wine being the blood of Christ. Keen to appeal to the multi-sensory nature of our bodies they bring out some icons, lots of candles, and prepare some incense. Unfortunately this is more than some evangelicals can sope with, and there is a walkout. GACOM concludes with a eucharist which is not, so to speak, a communion.

Or: a leading GACOM figure is invited to teach or to preside, but some present know that this figure has been divorced and is now remarried. This state of affairs is objectionable to some ... out the door they go.

My own simple point, which I came to a year or two ago now, is that if I have to find a way to live with difference with fellow conservatives, can I not employ the skills and attitudes required to do so - yes, even some compromises - in finding a way to live with difference with fellow Anglicans of whatever stripe?

An alternative point is this: is agreement on the ethics of one aspect of human sexuality sufficient basis to build an ecclesiology?

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