Damian Thompson, writing about the enthronement of ++Justin Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, makes a couple of astute points for Anglicans worldwide to ponder.
Reflecting on ++Justin's own journey in things spiritual and ministerial, he observes,
"Archbishop Welby comes from the evangelical wing of the Church, but he strikes me as someone very close to the Anglican centre of gravity. His evangelicalism is enriched by Catholic spirituality; he would be happy in any church setting – you might call him a post-churchmanship Anglican."
I think that is pretty good. Better than a silly Guardian assertion that ++JW represents a takeover of the C of E by HTB! The future Anglican church - emerging from the present - needs to be 'post-churchmanship'. It is no insult on the anniversary of Cranmer (21 March) to propose that Anglicanism in the 21st century will express its Cranmerian heritage if it continues to refresh what is 'common' to us by moving beyond our familiar divisions in churchmanship.
But Damian Thompson's blogpost headline makes another point re the future of Anglicanism.
"The new Archbishop of Canterbury, enthroned today, must wish the gay issue would go away. But it won't."
I interpret Damian to mean that despite various attempts to find a way for the issue to "go away", including wishful thinking that it would simply cease to be an issue, it isn't going anywhere. Whether it is the continued pressing from within the church for the acceptance of same sex partnerships or the continued pressing from without the church by governments/parliaments for socio-political change to relationship status, Anglican churches, at least in Western countries are not able to (bad pun coming up) put this issue to bed.
In other words, is it time for Anglicans who wish the issue would go away (I number myself among their ranks) to
(1) acknowledge that the issue is not going to go away
(2) address the question of whether we are at peace within if we continue with divisions for the foreseeable future,
and if we are not at peace about that,
(3) work on a way for the issue to go away, an Anglican accommodation which draws inspiration from all previous Anglican accommodations.
I assume, from comments here previously, that:-
some readers are at peace with continuing to live with division/tension on the matter,
some readers would like the issue to go away because a way is found for other Anglicans to accept their totalising solution (such as full acceptance of gay marriage or full and final rejection of all talk of blessing of same sex partnerships),
some readers in their hearts feel the only eventual way forward to get beyond the issue is separation/division/schism,
and, perhaps, only a very tiny minority of readers are keen to find an accommodation (perhaps daunted by the belief that a much larger majority are not so much averse to accommodation as utterly sceptical that it can be found).
My reflection here is that whatever we feel we would like to happen there is an inexorable logic in the situation: if we wish to remain in an Anglican church (and an Anglican Communion) with some breadth of theology in societies embracing acceptance of gay partnerships we cannot make the issue "go away" without an accommodation. We may hate that thought because it smells of 'appeasement' or 'compromise'. But do we need to get over such feeling? Could we help ourselves by analysing accommodation here in terms other than appeasement and compromise?
What if we thought of accommodation as 'making space' for sincerely held but opposing views? As we have done since the 19th century divide over "Anglo-Catholic" and "Evangelical".
Or, if we imagined accommodation here as offering 'hospitality' to those who are different to us (or, if you prefer, 'us')? As we have done in the late 20th century to charismatic Anglicans (but weren't able to do in the 18th century to Methodists).
Or, could we envisage accommodation as providing 'opportunity' to those exploring church in different ways? As we are doing for Fresh Expressions of church - a provision which carries with it lots of questions and scepticism but not, finally, rejection.
Just to head off a 'red herring' here: the depths of theological objection to the blessing of same-sex partnerships let alone to gay marriage are very deep just as the heights of theological approval of the same for those who approve are very high and there is not necessarily a straight-line analogy from the specific gulf here to the examples of division-overcome-by-accommodation above. The point to consider is not whether this is a division no worse than other divisions (if you like, a second-order division, like others, rather than a first-order division) but whether this specific, even unique division can be accommodated. Or not.
And if not, are we reconciled to a very long future of division, or are we going to separate?
There are not, as I understand the logic of the situation, an infinite number of options. ++Justin may or may not be on the right track with his talk of 'reconciliation' but he could help us with his tidy mind by asking whether we understand the limited options and whether we understand the implications of each and, in particular, do we have any strong ambition to move beyond the "gay issue" or not?
Epilogue: I have no great ideas at this stage on what an accommodation might look like. I also suggest that accommodation would not necessarily be weighted in a 'liberal' direction. Part of where my posts have been going in the last few days and weeks has been to underscore that the strength of the church at large rests on conservative congregations in a "post-Christendom" West (Shawn's astute comment yesterday about this acknowledged), and even more so in parts of the world which never enjoyed the blessings of Christendom.
[Publishing comments over the next 30 hours may be spasmodic].