With GAFCON, Global South and the Anglican Communion officialdom all trying to call the shots on Anglican futures, an ongoing question which drives this blog from year to year - the question of Anglican unity - is worth a review.
It is quite clear to me, probably to you too, dear readers, that the bonds of affection remain tautly strained. As the 21st century moves forward added tensions from (say) 2003, are moves in opposite directions re local contexts: so gay marriage is more and more legally approved in the West, while in two key Anglican provinces, Nigeria and Uganda, legislation is moving in the opposite direction. Churches in each sphere (understandably) are wary of moving out of step with the state.
In the sphere I know a little bit about, the West, there is the continuing twist, wound ever more tightly, of Anglican churches living in a state of desperation as the forces of secularization push the church around like a juggernaut, measured statistically by (overall) declining numbers. If the gospel is good news for 'all the people' does that mean bending and flexing in the direction of the people re the new status quo re love, sex and marriage? Or does the gospel mean that as much as ever we have seen before in the history of Christianity, God's gospel people must live out and stand for distinctively different (i.e. holy) styles of living? Let's face our history honestly- it is not a good guide as to what to do now. The church in its mission has sometimes made great progress by shunning the paganism around it and insisting on disciplined holiness; other times it has made progress by embracing the culture of the people to whom it proclaims the gospel.
Undergirding all Christian unity is truth. Some kind of common understanding lies beneath all claims to unity. Anglicans (it seems to me) have been quite good at maintaining some kind of unity on the merest sliver of common understanding! Think ++Desmond Tutu's profound, mischievous (and ultimately inadequate), "We meet." Part of the strain on the bonds of affection at this time is the recognition that unity in the pluralist, post-modern 21st century (i.e. don't tell me what to do) requires more than a sliver of commonality. Thus the question of Anglicans reading the Bible together (a recent Communion project, full of description, devoid of prescription) has become urgent. But urgency has not yielded much re unity (e.g. see above as both GAFCON and Global South take initiative, even though closely aligned theologically).
I wonder if one day we will look back on the past fifty or so years as the messy beginnings of a 'new hermeneutic' for Anglican churches as we read the Bible. Much has challenged our reading of the Bible through these years, especially in respect of developments in human society. Whether we engage questions around roles and status of women, the purpose of marriage in an age of proficient contraception, the value of life in a world of medical advances (e.g. a scan could give plausible reason for abortion, to give or withhold certain drugs towards the end of life is to have a previously unknown power over death), complicated calculations re war (aside from the Second World War, stand up all 'just war' theorists who are supremely confident that any other war of the last one hundred years has been a justified war) or simply attempt to determine who is poor, who is not, and what economic justice looks like in global economic terms, we have huge challenges trying to apply the Bible to these matters according to a consistent hermeneutic.
I say 'huge challenges' rather than 'impossible' because I acknowledge that some think there is a consistent hermeneutic available. But I wonder, really wonder whether there is such a consistent hermeneutic at this time. Even if that hermeneutic is at hand, who or what will articulate it, how will it be recognised and received, when will it be widely applied in fruitful ways?
Perhaps these musings chart a reason for staying together, even in great tension: we do not yet know what future common ground we will find ourselves agreeing to. Thus separating now for reason of the differences immediately in front of us would be wrong because it is a prejudiced understanding of the future. For the sake of the children, the Anglicans of tomorrow, we should stay together.
Nevertheless, we have problems, real problems which trouble us today. Perhaps we ought to give room for GAFCON, Global South and the Anglican Communion office(rs) to take initiatives. From one or more of these may come the road ahead.