Sunday, October 23, 2011

By 2018

By 2018 some things about the Communion will, believe it or not, have become clearer than they are today. The shape and substance of the Lambeth Conference (presuming it even happens) and the Who's Who on the attendance register will tell us a lot about the future of the Communion. As will the "GAFCON 2" which surely will have taken place by then.

Michael Poon of Singapore has just written a brief summary of the present situation and its challenges, entitled "Undercurrents in the Anglican Communion." Percipiently he asks whether the different blocs in the Communion will take up some lurking questions which he enunciates:

"1.To church leaders in sub-Sahara Africa, does the strong protest against Western decadence in fact reveal a deep anxiety on your ecclesial identity? Jean-François Bayert in his seminal essay "Africa in the world: A history of extraversion" pointed out that African leaders are disposed to mobilise resources from their relationship with the external environment in order to legitimise their own authority and enhance their social status. [See African Affairs, No. 395 (2000): 231-237.] External connections, therefore, are indispensable to African societies. The Church of England and the Episcopal Church have acted as chief reference points for African churches. Does not then the perceived Western decadence provoke a deep identity crisis? Can African churches in fact use the present crisis as an opportunity to rediscover the sources of their inner security? Which means African churches need to develop a more coherent understanding of their ecclesiology

2.Is GAFCON the only valid expression of Anglican evangelicalism, especially the only way to keep faith to John Stott's legacy in today's world? Arguably, John Stott created evangelical structures and helped to shape most of the present leadership in the southern continents. The formation of many top Anglican leaders worldwide can be traced to EFAC, Langham Trust and related networks. GAFCON organisers Chris Sugden, Michael Nazir-Ali and Vinay Samuel merely inherited the infrastructures that John Stott left behind. At the same time, does not John Stott offer a more generous ecclesial vision, and a more charitable way to speak the truth in love, than what GAFCON offers? The deeply-divided evangelical Anglican fraternity worldwide –across the GAFCON and Global South networks – needs to come together to sort out their internal wars. They owe this to their fellow Anglicans – and to John Stott.

3.Is American Christianity in fact using the churches worldwide to be theatres for its domestic religious wars? In what ways should American Christians moderate their imperialist ambitions to set standards and offer solutions to the rest of the world? From the end of the 1940s, American Christianity has been exporting their religious quarrels overseas. The conflict between two Princetonians in the 1940s and 1950s – Carl McIntire of the International Council of Christian Churches and John McKay of the World Council of Churches – is a case in point. Since then, ecumenicals and evangelicals have fought turf wars in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Do patriotic American Christians – with huge suspicion on what is 'un-American' – really want to come under foreign church leadership? Or are many of the present ecclesiastical arrangements matters of marriage of convenience?"
That should keep us all busy! Importantly, Poon directs us to questions which between them challenge all the main blocs in the Communion's present struggles, questions which could be answered in such a manner as to keep us all drawn towards the love of God which empowers our love for one another in Communion. We have until 2018, I suggest, to answer these questions in such a manner that Lambeth 2018 will represent a Communion on the mend. If not, Lambeth 2018 will likely be the last hurrah of the broken Communion.


carl jacobs said...

Clearly, these three undercurrents are not the only shaping forces at work. But they are a starting point.

They are?

Question One subtly distracts attention from the very real theological conflict by substituting some amateur psychologizing for argument. We are told that the GS isn't fighting for truth. It is suffering an "identity crisis." The problem is not liberal infidelity but conservative anxiety. That makes fixing the "identity crisis" the way to solve the conflict.

Question Two not so subtly blames GAFCON for any conservative divisions. GAFCON is held up as representative of the "separatist" organizations that so threaten Fulcrum's Institutional bias. And yet Fulcrum has never offered any solution to the problems that have driven the "separatism."

Question Three seems sort of even-handed at first glance but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that he is talking about conservatives between the lines. Who after all 'exported the fight to Africa?' Who should be worried about being under 'foreign church leadership?'

I read this article as a carefully worded accusation that conservatives are the cause of the conflict in the Communion. The 'starting point' as it were. And that is exactly what I would expect to read on a collaborationist website like Fulcrum.


Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I have already commented on my blog 'kiwianglo' on the Michael Poon article. I'm not sure whether Michael would agree with you on the putative unlikelihood of the next Lambeth Conference. I think he has a rather more open and positive view of how the Communion will weather the storm than you appear to have in your remarks here.

Although Dr. Poon posits the following question to his readers:
Is GAFCON the only valid expression of Evangelical Anglicanism? even he does not give a definitive answer; although his reference to the late John Stott (as guardian of that tradition) might be considered by radical Evangelicals to be some kind of an answer.

Michael Poon is one of the more eirenic voices of the Global South, but his reference to Messrs Sugden and Vinay, 2 C.of E. supporters of the latest GAFCON invasion of the territory of the Church of England by the Archbishop of Kenya's ordinands into A.M.i.E., as truly representative of U.K. Evangelicals does seem to be out of order. I'm not at all sure that 'most' Evos in the UK, either, would see eye to eye with their endemic hompohobia.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
I do not have time or energy at the moment to debate with you the subtleties of the counter-argument you mount, but I would like to point out that Michael Poon, though writing here on Fulcrum, is a "voice" within Global South, and Global South is a rather larg bloc of the Communion. Were Global South to work with the lead here from Poon it would be a rather large "collaborationist" force!

Mark Baddeley said...

I think Poon's short essay is important, as I think he reflects the kind of 'mood' of a number of global south leaders.

I find it curious that, yet again, we have someone 'just ask some questions' - but they're clearly very Socratic questions. It seems to be a very 'Anglican' way to make one's point.

These are questions for Other People, not for Poon or for people who share his views. There are questions for the Africans (and he's Asian), questions for GAFCON (and he's most definitely not), and questions for American conservatives (and again, he's not). Everyone other than Poon and people like him has a question to answer.

And they aren't really open questions - you can't imagine Poon entertaining the answer - "no, us Africans aren't in anyway being prompted by a deep anxiety on our ecclesial idenity"; or "on reflection, yes GAFCON is the only valid way to keep faith to John Stott's vision"; or "no American Christianity isn't exporting its domestic religious wars to the world." He's given us three statements, each with a question mark at the end.

What's noticeable for me about the questions is what's missing. Could we add a question about how Asian concerns for face might be affecting how church leaders from Asia are responding? Could we add a question or two about how church leaders in England (particularly Lambeth) are behaving in peculiarly
English ways that are possibly problematic? Sure we could. But that would distract us from Poon's railroad tracks to move us in the direction he wants (and I have no problem with him wanting a direction or wanting to move people, I'm just pointing out that is what is going on here).

For me the important bit in the essay was the last paragraph, not quoted:

The alternative is bleak. Breakups will be messy, and will certainly lead to huge membership loss. To lead the Anglican faithful in a continuing internal conflict that promises no resolution is a grievous sin. In this world that is in desperate human need, there are greater causes for sensitive souls and bright minds to devote their lives.

That has encoded into it a diagnosis of the problem that automatically excludes GAFCON as even valid at all (let alone whether it is the sole valid way forward). I think it even raises a question mark over whether his own Primate should have absented himself from the recent Primate's meeting.

Those, like his own Primate, who have absented themselves see this as ultimately an issue over the gospel itself (the same sex issue being just a symptom of something more fundamental). What are the greater causes Poon sees than that? Probably nothing, which means he doesn't see this as ultimately about the gospel at all. Hence, it is just another disagreement that we should learn to work around.

I agree with Carl that we should expect this on the Fulcrum site. But I think ultimately Poon's view isn't going to carry the day in the Global South as a whole. I think they'll decide that there are more grievous sins than not finding a resolution to this that satisfies all parties.

Anonymous said...

"The deeply-divided evangelical Anglican fraternity worldwide –across the GAFCON and Global South networks – needs to come together to sort out their internal wars..."

The division is more in England than anywhere else, and has a lot to do with the deliberate creation of "Fulcrum" as a counter to the Church of England Evangelical Council.
"Fulcrum" has been bitterly opposed to GAFCON and denounced its gathering. To judge from its website, I don't think "Fulcrum" is very large but it is favored by the English Establishment when it comes to dishing out miters, and much of its energy is taken up with attacking conservative evangelicals.
So maybe Michael Poon should look in the mirror when he writes these words?

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

Michael Poon, though writing here on Fulcrum, is a "voice" within Global South, and Global South is a rather large bloc of the Communion.

I am aware, but I am less interested in who wrote the piece than I am in who published the piece. Fulcrum has a particular point of view. They publish in support of that point of view. The fact that Fulcrum found a voice within the GS to represent that POV simply means they were seeking out a statement against interest. But that doesn't change what I said. Fulcrum sees no problem with co-existing with liberalism. Fulcrum objects to any conservative effort to separate itself from liberalism. Fulcrum consistently finds fault to its Right for threats to the Institution, and demands concessions from those to its Right in order to protect the Institution. This article neatly fits into that paradigm.


Anonymous said...

Mark Baddeley: "Socratic questions ... railroad tracks'

Good catch - yes, this is clearly question framing that wants to take us down a certain track. And yes, we all do that, but you do us a service in pointing out the one-sided nature of this framing that will not direct the same questions equally to "Fulcrum". Surely among the more prominent questions for a Singaporean Christian should be: how do commend the Anglican faith in China? GAFCON signifies recognition that the "center" of world Christianity has moved south and east.

Father Ron Smith said...

I would think that GAFCON have enough problems in their own backyard with systemic injustice, to ever think seriously of helping China into the 21st. century of freedom in Christ. Or perhaps the blindfold is still on.

Mark Baddeley said...

Father Ron,

Yes, I think the blindfold is still on. Maybe you could take it off?


Glad that was helpful. Again, not wanting to impugn Poon's motive or behavior at all, just wanting to point out that this 'here are some questions' is a rhetorical device to Make A Point.

I have to say I am scratching my head at Poon's concern that Americans (and I presume the rest of us Global Northerners) don't want to be under the authority of someone from the Global South, at the same time as he seems to want a Lambeth-led solution. If there's anything the last couple of years has shown it is that the one thing Lambeth is not prepared to do is share any real power with the Global South.

Anonymous said...

"If there's anything the last couple of years has shown it is that the one thing Lambeth is not prepared to do is share any real power with the Global South."

I agree. Rowan Williams has shown great skill (to put things neutrally) in neutering the Lambeth Conference from any real decision-making (one of its historic functions) while gerrymandering the ACC. This is precisely why the Global South has lost confidence in him.
Michael Poon fails to deal with this elephant in the church.

As for China, one of the greatest growths in church history is happe ning there. How are Anglicans involved? I know some who are.

Father Ron Smith said...

Perhaps the reason the ABC does not encourage divisive leadership from the Global South, is that it is just that - divisive - and not in any way encouraging of traditional Anglican 'Unity in Diversity'. If Global South really wants to 'go it alone' - and that seems to be the direction in which it is heading, then perhaps it has to break away. But don't let them assume that they would be typically Anglican.