The now formally resolved withdrawal of the Diocese of South Carolina from The Episcopal Church in at least one way shreds the Anglican Communion. Here is a body of Anglicans believing what Anglicans believe and wanting to preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in keeping with the reformed and catholic heritage of Anglican theology which has felt honour-bound to withdraw from the larger body which has the certificate of title to "formal membership" of the Communion. Consequently, at least for the time-being, this Diocese (despite ecclesiology which tells us that in the local the fullness of the church dwells) is not formally a part of the global Anglican fellowship of Anglicans formally communing with the See of Canterbury. Institution trumps true faithfulness to Anglican doctrine!
But in the process the Anglican Communion is shown to be a body incapable of being truly 'Anglican' because it is bound to support the member churches which formally belong (no matter what they believe, whether they treat dissenters well, or whether they practise the Christian faith in an Anglican manner) and it is not bound to support actual Anglicans.
Further 'Communion' is shown up to be something of a misnomer. Communion is our inclusion together in the great circle of love of the baptised gathering around the Lord's Table. But the reality of 'Communion' in the phrase 'Anglican Communion' is that we do not include in our circle of love those who seek to be Anglican. We exclude those who have become disturbed by trying to be Anglican within a member church which continues to move away from Anglican faith and practice.
All this is, of course, possible in a global movement which appears steadfast in its refusal to countenance a Covenant by which adherence to Anglicanism might be measured and through which non-adherence might be disciplined.
Here is the "money" quote in Bishop Mark Lawrence's address to his convention over the weekend:
"But I must say this again and again. This has never been about who is welcome or not welcome in our church. It's about what we shall tell them about Jesus Christ, his mercy, his grace and his truth – it is about what we shall tell them when they come and what we shall share when we go out.
We have spent far too many hours and days and years in a dubious and fruitless resistance to the relentless path of the Episcopal Church.
And while some of us still struggle in grief at what has happened and where these extraordinary days have brought us, I believe it is time to turn the page.
The leaders of the Episcopal Church have made their positions known—our theological and creedal commitments regarding the trustworthiness of Scripture, the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ, and other precious truths, while tolerated, are just opinions among others; our understanding of human nature, the given-ness of gender as male and female, woven by God into the natural and created order, is now declared by canon law to be unacceptable; our understanding of marriage as proclaimed in the Book of Common Prayer “established by God in creation” and espoused by Anglicans around the world hangs precariously in the life of the Episcopal Church by a thin and fraying thread; and our understanding of the church’s polity, which until the legal strategy of the present Presiding Bishop’s litigation team framed their legal arguments, was a widely held and respected position in this church.
Now to hold it and express it is tantamount to misconduct or worse to act upon it – is ruled as abandonment of this church. While one might wish the theological and moral concerns were on center stage, it is the Disciplinary Board for Bishops' misuse of the church’s polity that has finally left us no place to stand within the Episcopal Church. So be it. They have spoken. We have acted. We have withdrawn from that Church that we along with six other dioceses help to organize centuries ago."Dissent is not theft
Incidentally one of the most bizarre notions I have come across re being Anglican is the claim by opponents that +Mark and the Diocese are guilty of theft from TEC (i.e. they wish to 'take' the church properties with them as they depart TEC). Church property is a tricky issue as its ownership is both about the past, present and future being safeguarded through trusteeship (e.g. from foolish, spontaneous decisions by local parish meetings) as well as about the commitment of the present congregation which pays for maintenance, insurance, repairs and development as it utilises the building to the glory of God. But somehow a whole Diocese determining that it is seceding from the ties which formerly bound it to the larger national body while continuing to worship in the buildings it has guardianship over seems a long way removed from 'theft.' Certainly in a NZ situation the idea that the properties of my diocese (whose titular ownership is in the hands of the local trustees, the Church Property Trustees) ultimately belong to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia is nonsense. Their ownership is in the power of the people of the Diocese of Christchurch.
Anglicans Not Good With Dissent
A quick read of Anglican history is that we are not very good at coping with dissenters. Tolerance, broad church, inclusive church are Anglican concepts which look great on paper but in practise they hide a totalitarian resolve to exclude dissent which goes beyond margins not written down but assuredly held by Anglican authorities!