Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Anglican Competition

A couple of posts below I make the slightly radical suggestion that a way forward for the Anglican Communion would be to suspend Anglican Communion operations (committees, commissions, conferences) for twenty years or so and see what happens. Mark Harris has noticed this and (I think) assessed it as the wrong way to go. Fair enough, though I notice his way forward has a certain amount of prescription which to all intents and purposes implies some kind of covenanted restart to the Communion!

Either way, we are in a period of Anglican Competition: competing ideas for the way forward (muddle on, suspend operations, suspend even expel a member or two), competing proposals for how we might be bound together (Covenant or not, in Communion with the ABC or not), competing notions of what form our binding together might take (global church, communion, federation), competing groupings (GAFCON, Global South, TEC and its allies), and competing alternatives to Anglican-by-virtue-of-formal-membership-of-the-Communion (ACNA, Anglican Ordinariate).

It is very hard, I suggest, to see a way forward here in which the Anglican Communion as we know it currently is not considerably weakened. With each passing month we see further fragmentation and deeper disagreement. If 10 primates do not show up at the Meeting in January 2011 then we have a significant underlining of the crisis we are in. More importantly, their absence will almost certainly (based on past performance of the ABC in the presence of the PB) lead to no decision which clarifies the future of the Communion. It will muddle on, failing to grasp the challenge of formally suspending from membership either the protagonists or the antagonists in the present crisis, and lacking the power to insist that all member churches front up at the same table of discussion.

The way will open up for some form of GAFCON and/or Global South to pursue more vigorously a vision for global Anglican life which will be at variance with the vision (or, for that matter, lack thereof) of the official Anglican Communion. Bit by bit that vision - given a fair wind and some carefulness in articulation - will draw in other dioceses and parishes from around the Communion. Effectively the Communion will formally work in two tracks (even three) because there will be the track of the Communion itself (three quarters of the primates, roughly one quarter of the people membership) and the track of those not on that track.

It is not as though the vision of the official Anglican Communion, dominated by a progressive theological agenda, will not have some attraction itself. It will be supported, but it will be on a downhill slide as long as its major supporters are member churches in the Western hemisphere. Uniformly these Anglican churches are declining in numbers ... and numbers matter when it comes to some things: keeping churches open, paying for ministers, funding costs of administration.

Over time, my guess is that the present Anglican Communion will wither on the vine. A different Anglican entity will dominate in 2100. It will be closer in spirit and organisation to a global Anglican Church. It may be scarily fundamentalist. If there is some form of the Anglican Communion still in existence it will be like the SCM in our NZ universities: it still exists, no one knows how it keeps going, and it is virtually invisible.

Historians will look back and wonder why in the first part of the 21st century Anglicanism lost its way with irretrievable consequences as a catholic-and-reformed church, with a liberal heart. They will conclude that an unwillingness for any leading figure, apart from the ABC himself, to compromise was the principle reason for the demise of the Communion.

7 comments:

Andy S said...

Titus 3:10-11
10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;

11 Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.


Even in the Anglican Communion as it exists today would do you feel comfortable and in communion with all the Bishops?

And maybe more pertinently would you feel comfortable sending your children to worship and learn of Christ in a church led by some of these people?

What would you do if a child of yours was told, for example, by a so called priest that the resurrection was only "symbolic" ie a myth? Would you let them go back to the church where that was said by the leadership?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andy S,
I am trying to concentrate in these kinds of posts on the 'big picture' of the Communion (and other forms of expression of global Anglican life). There could be bishops here (denying the resurrection) and there (promoting homophobia) whom I would steer clear (as far as possible). But I know of no member church which in its written doctrines (prayer books, constitution, similar) denies the resurrection or promotes homophobia (to take just two instances of possible heresy or pastoral bad practice). Potentially we could all be at the same table of discussion if not communion.

Anonymous said...

"Historians will look back and wonder why in the first part of the 21st century Anglicanism lost its way with irretrievable consequences as a catholic-and-reformed church, with a liberal heart. They will conclude that an unwillingness for any leading figure, apart from the ABC himself, to compromise was the principle reason for the demise of the Communion."

The nice thing about prognostications into the distant future is that it can be used to buttress one's own position rhetorically, safe in the knowledge that we will all be long dead and really have no idea what "historians" will say or know. Historians' judgments don't matter; the eternal God's does.
The other thing we can be fairly sure is that our prognostications will be wrong. Remember that in 1900 the mainline churches of the USA declared the 20th century 'the Christian Century' and produced a (still extant?) journal of that name, with the broad thesis that Protestantism and western culture would carry all before it (not least in the colonized Arab lands and Asia) in unstoppable progress. How has it turned out? Yes, the Gospel has spread, in some places; but there has also been WWI, WWII, Communism, resurgent Islam, Europe's loss of faith etc.
The demise of old style Anglicanism really belongs within the patchwork quilt of the 20th century. But depicting Rowan Williams as the only reasonable fellow with hotheads to the right and fools to the left is really silly. Many people respect and like him who disagree profoundly with him, because the issue isn't "compromise" (which is a political term to do with balancing forces in competition) but faithfulness to the truth and the maintenance of godly discipline. Williams has always been an instinctive liberal who does not really understand evangelicals (whose confidence he has forfeited by his maneuverings in ACC) and whose delphic and prolix style only confuses people, so that they have stopped listening. Some of us thought this would be the outcome in 2003.
Al M.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Al,
I do not presume that hotheads in the Communion are the problem. My experience and observation of the likes of ++Jefferts Schori, ++Duncan, and ++Jensen is that they play a cool hand, committed to this or that position with dispassion.

You observe: "Many people respect and like him [++RW] who disagree profoundly with him, because the issue isn't "compromise" (which is a political term to do with balancing forces in competition) but faithfulness to the truth and the maintenance of godly discipline." But this does not get to the heart of the matter: each side in the matter believes they are acting faithfully to the truth and maintenance of godly discipline. The fact is, there is competition for which version of the truth prevails in the Anglican church (or for whether we are a church with space for several versions to gently compete through a period of evolution of belief). If we do not 'balance forces', i.e. compromise, then we will fall apart.

I do not think it mere rhetoric to make supposition about what future historians will think about the present circumstances. The present circumstances yield a number of clues as to which way historical judgement will fall. Even if, by God's gracious love and power, 2100 saw the existence of a restored, renewed, and reproducing healthily Anglican Communion, I imagine it will have historians who will pore over the entrails of this decade!

Anonymous said...

RE: "But this does not get to the heart of the matter: each side in the matter believes they are acting faithfully to the truth and maintenance of godly discipline."

Right -- and the fact that each side's gospel is antithetical to the other actually means that there won't be "gentle competition" but massive conflict. As I've said before [for the past 7 years] you simply can't have leaders who hold mutually opposing values, foundational worldviews and goals residing in one organization without organization-demolishing conflict.

There's not -- and there never was -- going to be any compromise. And poor Rowan's desire to compromise merely demonstrates that he never had understood the stakes or the gospels in antithetical conflict.

I expect -- to prognosticate -- that *that* will be his legacy, rather than a more kindly one. He was a man who simply could not grasp the nature of the gospels in conflict and who radically radically misread the situation and thereby, to mix metaphors, muffed the ball.

It's always been about "choosing who you lose." And the longer he has insisted on not leading and not choosing -- the greater and more extensively damaging the actual losses will be.

Every year that goes by -- the Communion loses more by the lack of deciding the year before. As one of my friends has said so often -- every year the action needed to bring things right becomes greater and greater and greater, such that the refusal to act by RW merely inflates the actions necessary year by year.

So his "choice" about whom to lose ends up being more and more significant as the years go by.

It is very sad. But at this point the runaway train is hurtling down the mountain and I cannot conceive of anything that will stop it.

I think we'll have three different medium-sized entities at the end of the day: raving revisionist TEC and her allies, fumbling [and still clueless about the juggernaut of TEC's revisionism and what delights will be in store in the coming decades from that diminishing organization] "we'd sign anything if it could only go away" moderate COE and her allies, and the rest of the traditional Provinces.


Sarah

Hermano David | Brother Dah • veed said...

Watch out Little Stone Bridges, you are slobbering again. You cannot pass up the opportunity to rave against "raving revisionist TEC."

I think that as the years pass you will find that if CoE is not a TEC ally, then she likely stands fairly alone. I see two camps emerging. The one with TEC as a respected sister Anglican province and the one without TEC, that pretty much has provinces with mostly that in common, that they are against TEC.

Anonymous said...

RE: "Watch out Little Stone Bridges, you are slobbering again. You cannot pass up the opportunity to rave against "raving revisionist TEC."

Now now, sweetie, don't go demonstrating the truth of my adjective all over again as you did last time. Surely once is enough!

; > )