Saturday, January 12, 2008

Anglican Schism Pros and Cons

If the Anglican Communion splits in two or more groupings; if individual Anglican Churches divide, what will be achieved? I understand that, from the inside of a pressure-cooker situation, getting out of the cooker can seem like a great idea (and may even be necessary - see below). But looking at the pros and cons from a more objective perspective, what would be achieved by schism? One apparent advantage is that each side can 'get on with our mission', unimpeded by energy sapping controversy. But against this we should weigh this point: a divided Anglican Communion is likely to result in groupings which still name themselves as 'Anglican' (with the exception of the USA where likely two groupings would be distinguished by use of 'Episcopal' and 'Anglican' respectively). So the non-Anglican person we seek to reach in our respective missions will be confused. Would they be any more confused if the mission came from a united Anglican church which contained within it a difference in polity over sexuality? Let's put this in another way: it is almost certain that whatever the machinations of the next twelve months, there will be committed Anglicans asserting one thing over sexuality and committed Anglicans asserting another thing. We are bound by our common name! A new arrangement of Anglican groupings will not change that fact one iota, except it would be possible to say that 'if you belong to our lot of Anglicans then you won't have to argue in synods and the like with the other lot (or lots) of Anglicans.' In an important sense, even if we are organised in different ways from 2009 onwards, we will still be living with the fact that Anglicans are divided in their beliefs, and this will continue to affect the Anglican approach to the mission of God.

Another aspect to consider is this: all Christians are aware of falling short of the ecumenical ideal of Christ himself, ut unum sint, that they may be one. Many Christians have striven for a long time now to move closer to that ideal. Arguably Anglicans have worked as hard as any other church, particularly in respect of the 'special' relationship we seem to have with the Roman Catholic Church within the ecumenical context of the Western Hemisphere. Anglican schism will undo much of the work to date, make progress towards unity much harder, possibly even impossible.

There are other pros and cons such as the seemingly inevitable journey to the law courts over property. But let me finish by acknowledging that the situation for many Anglicans, especially in North America, is very very difficult. An Episcopalian clergy friend of mine has walked from his church in the States with about 95% of the membership in order to form a new Anglican fellowship under the oversight of one of the African Anglican Churches. My friend has held off doing this when other colleagues have made the journey before him. He is a man of umimpeachable integrity, and a man of grace and gentleness. And he is resolutely committed to being part of the Anglican Communion. As someone living far away, whose 'insight' into the situation in North America is largely informed by blogs and news reports, I cannot judge the wisdom and rightness of these kinds of actions. I can only make the presumption that something I do not fully understand presses upon my brothers and sisters to make such departures a matter of necessity.* Incidentally, on the matter of property my friend and his congregation have taken the honourable, and, I suggest, biblically authentic option of walking from the property with no claim being made upon it.

*Update: as an example of the difficulty, consider this statement of one of the Episcopal Church's bishops, 'While I believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, I don’t believe he is the sole revelation of God’s self to the world. I respect and revere all those who have come to know God through other faith journeys. I can only speak out of my own context as a Christian, and I trust others to make the connections and translations into the understandings of their own faith communities. After all, the challenge before us as citizens of democracies is to define our rights and responsibilities to one another no matter what our beliefs are.' This is problematic theology, lacking a clear commitment to the creedal faith of the church. It is (so I understand) representative of the majority theological paradigm of The Episcopal Church of the USA. If you follow the link you will see that this view is held by a bishop who poses other challenges to the church!!

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