The ideal Anglican church is one in which everyone agrees about everything. For those who think such a church would be terrible, let me point out a resounding attractive feature of it: no committees would be required. :)
The next best Anglican church is the one to which most Anglicans belong most of the time. That is the Anglican church in which terrible disagreements take place but we continue to exist together in a form of coalition. We are able to do this, I venture to suggest, because in this Anglican church we find we are able to pursue different visions for how the church should be, what gospel should be preached and what missional activity is consistent with that preaching.
This is and has been the life of my church, ACANZP ever since the time when Bishop Selwyn arrived and promptly forged a coalition between his high church for settlers and CMS's low church for Maori and (later) evangelical settlers. Albeit with many bits bolted on so that we could also talk of our church as a coalition of progressive liberals, moderates, and conservative evangelicals, of three tikanga, and of those desperate for the church to break out into fresh expressions and those not at all desperate about changing anything.
Coalitions generally withstand ordinary storms of controversy, as our church has done. But can we withstand a perfect storm of controversy?
The brewing storm, previously suggested here in part 1, arises from divisions among us which are not proving easy to reconcile. It is this, should some final failure to reconcile be reached, which sets this current controversy apart from previous ones.
As a church we have managed to propose and receive a new prayer book acceptable to the whole coalition, revise our 1857 constitution to form a new three tikanga coalition, and introduce the ordination of women to all three orders without significant breakage to the coalition. We have also, to pick up a pertinent example, been a coalition which has absorbed change to the way we respond to divorce and remarriage after divorce. But this time things are not turning out so straightforwardly. We are struggling to find common ground.
When one group argues for the acceptance of gay marriage because it is just and another group argues against it because it is unsupported in Scripture, there is not just a difference in the ends of the argument but also in the means to the end!
But the perfect storm brewing is not solely because we have difficulty with arguments. Potentially we could work a lot harder on these but even if we did there are other elements in the storm. (And to those who say, "Haven't we already done a lot of work on the arguments?" I say, "Yes, we have done a lot of work, but it has not been hard work." We have not, for instance, taken a dozen of our best theologians, locked them in a room and told them to not come out until resolution of the arguments has been achieved!)
The storm is also brewing because we have division in attitudes. In my first part I noted that in our church there is a gulf between those who accept our relatively lax approach to sexual discipline and those who do not. Can we have agreement on new sexual ethics for our church if we are not agreed on taking sexual ethics seriously?
Then there is also a contribution because of differences in our understanding of authority in the life of the church. The key legal and theological phrase we are concerned with is "the right ordering of sexual relationships." Order is something which is determined by someone. If we are to determine a new "right ordering", whose orders will we follow? How will we determine whether that person/group has the authority to give the orders?
On the specific matter of homosexuality and the right ordering of sexual relationships, I suggest that we have a problem we are not facing, and that is the problem of authority. May General Synod order sexual relationships? May the bishops? Is it up to individuals? Or individual parishes or dioceses? Somehow that doesn't sound right! Does not General Synod (and all lesser bodies of the church) have to live according to the doctrine of Christ, that is, teach what Christ teaches? Thus we need to know how Christ orders sexual relationships. As many people have pointed out, on the direct matter of same sex partnerships, Christ never said anything! (If, as a church, we wish to say that we have disregarded Christ on the matter of divorce and remarriage, surely we are not to take our disobedience to Christ as a reason to make a determination about what is the 'right ordering' of same sex sexual relationships?)
In short, on what authoritative basis would we as a church institute a "right ordering" of sexual relationships different to what we have inherited from Scripture and tradition?
Part of our storm is that some of us think there is no such basis, some of us do not care whether that basis is secured or not, and some think they have found it but struggle to explain it in theological terms distinct from modern Western social democratic policy.