Tuesday, January 12, 2010


While my own arguments for a theology of unity based in Ephesians and John 17 are hopeful that the Covenant will be signed by all member churches, the Communion will hold together and will find ways to draw into its fellowship Anglican churches not currently members of the Communion, I fear that intransigence over two convictions will prevail. Realistically the Covenant may not be signed by all current members.

Although the Communion could remain intact with a mixture of Covenanted and unCovenanted member churches, a formal, definitive schism in the Communion is a real possibility we must reckon with when the two convictions below are acknowledged. The situation is, of course, complicated when we note that in some member churches (say, the Church of England) both convictions are held to and it is not crystal clear whether a majority holds to one or the other, and whether that majority would be a decisive one.

The two differing convictions lying at the heart of difference in North America and in the wider Communion are:

(a) there is inherent goodness in the faithful, stable, permanent partnership of two people – any two people of any gender – so this goodness can be blessed in the name of God by the church and a baptised person in such partnership, all other things being equal, may be ordained in the diaconal, priestly or episcopal service of the church. This, as far as I can determine, is the majority view in TEC though this view is not yet fully bedded down in the canons and liturgies of TEC. It may yet prove to also be the majority view in ACCan.

(b) With all peculiarities and variations in the biblical and ecclesial tradition acknowledged about polygamy, concubinage, divorce and remarriage, the Christian standard drawn from biblical and ecclesial ethics is monogamous marriage for life between a man and a woman or celibate singleness with this standard applying at least to those members of the church set apart for ordained ministry. This, as far as I can determine, is the overwhelming view in ACNA though it is also the case that some latitude is permitted for acceptance of remarried divorcees as ordained ministers.

In the history of the church we have had divisions over things which are seemingly little but which amount to a lot. ‘Proceeds from the Father’ or ‘Proceeds from the Father and the Son’ is a significant part of the division of Western and Eastern Christianity. Baptism extended to believers’ children divides Baptists from Presbyterians and Anglicans. Bishops divide Presbyterians from Anglicans (or should that be lack of bishops divide Anglicans from Presbyterians!)

Carving up the Anglican Communion into a ‘married or single’ sub-Communion or ‘married or single or same-sex partnership’ sub-Communion would not be a schism notable for being over seemingly little and actually amounting to little. It would be a schism over a lot – a different reading of Scripture, a different stance on ecumenical relationships, a different appreciation of the relationship between culture and theology, and a different understanding of Anglican heritage.

Intransigence over theological conviction is an admirable quality - to a point! We can admire, for instance, those Greek theologians who were unpersuaded by the logical charms of Augustine's explanation of the Trinity - many Western Christians are unpersuaded by that or other aspects of Augustinian theology. It cannot have been easy to be a Baptist in England not just for a few difficult decades but for several centuries. But the question arises whether, measured against an Ephesian theology of unity, intransigence is totally admirable. If God is one, and wishes for a unified church and world, but our understandings of God are two or more, and God's church is now many churches, has something gone wrong with God or with us? There used to be a bumper sticker, 'If God is not close to you, guess who moved?'. A new bumper sticker might be, 'If the church is not united, guess who divided it?'

On the verge of possible schism, is there a need to take a very deep breathe and commit to a very long pause in which we begin our theological work on human sexuality again, resolving to find a common theology ... however long it takes? Or will intransigence prevail!


Howard Pilgrim said...

Alas, Peter, one Christian's intransigence is another's valiant stand for truth. That is my firm opinion, and you will find me hard to persuade otherwise!

Peter Carrell said...

One can only lead the horse to water ...