Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Anglicans abhor organisational vacuum

One of the points I tried to make at our Synod on Saturday is that if the Covenant does not pass and the life of the Communion does not improve as a global body with a degree of organisational unity then another Anglican global body will emerge and gather strength. Emerging for a while now has been the GAFCON/FCA (Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans) movement which is taking another step forward in being the leading global body of organised Anglicans by holding a conference in London as I write, with leaders drawn from 30 or so Anglican churches. Let me say again what I have said before here, and two bishops and some clergy from our church in these islands!

What opponents of the Covenant have lost sight of (in my view) is that the debate about the Covenant has not been about two equally worthy alternative future scenarios for the 38 member church Communion: more tightly knit together Covenanted Communion versus looser unCovenanted federation or association of independent churches. (If equally worthy and productive for future organisation of Anglicans around the world, who wouldn't go for the latter with its greater freedom and its perceived non-aggression against gay and lesbian Anglicans!) Not at all. The issue has been whether the presentation of the global Anglican community to the world as part of our mission would be 'the Anglican Communion' as a genuinely geographically wide world body, theologically broad but with limits defined by the Covenant, and some commitment to internal discipline to hold ourselves together around a reasonable centre within that breadth, or something else (or somethings else) which would be less satisfactory (from the perspective of broad Anglicanism).

Well, the following scenario could be emerging with this present meeting in the midst of the waves the refusal of the C of E to approve the Covenant have sent around the Communion: the largest global body of organised Anglicans being led and shaped by the leaders of the most conservative Anglican churches in alliance with the most conservative leaders of other churches (e.g. Archbishop Peter Jensen from Australia), with a theology set by the Jerusalem Declaration and a smaller body of organised Anglicans (but always a bit disorganised because of a refusal to be bound by any particular theological discipline) which turns out to be dominated by white Western more liberal/progressive than conservative Anglicans (TEC, Canada, Australia, Atlantic Isles, ACANZP churches).

Sadly, neither body will be representative of the historic breadth of Anglican theology and ecclesiology. There may be something of a 'turf war' as to who claims the right to be called 'the Anglican Communion' (that is, the FCA leaders may remain within the Communion and assert their dominance in meetings such as the Primates Meeting where there is a signal that a push will come for that body not to be chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury). Either way, a lot is going to be lost by rejecting the Covenant. (That is not to say that some kind of guaranteed future for the Communion would emerge if the Covenant were to be signed: a lot would then depend on actual conduct of signing members).

In short, the new ABC could well be an ABC shorn of many Communion responsibilities. The shape of the Communion is going to be set, one way or another, by the sheer strength of numbers of global Anglicans intent on filling the organisational vacuum created by the debacle of the last decade and cemented by the refusal to support the Covenant by the previously dominating churches such as TEC and the C of E.

Yes, all this makes little difference to day to day life for Anglicans here in Christchurch (where the cathedral remains a daily issue, latest report, including an attempt by our Synod to improve communication and consultation here). But my prediction is that when we do find global Anglicanism mentioned in the newspapers of the future, the leading opinions are going to be shifting away from the old guard of slightly left of centre bishops and theologians (to say nothing of the airtime given to the far left Spongs) towards the right of centre leaders, mostly coming out of the new dominance of Africa and Asia.

For ages now the pundits have been saying that the centre of Christianity is shifting towards Africa. It is so and global Anglicanism is being drawn in the same direction.


liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

Who are the two bishops from AANZP at the GAFCON/FCA meeting?

Surprisingly, having pressed so strongly for it, you appear to be leaving out the Covenanted Anglican Churches as a significant group. In your earlier discussion pointing to a need to revise the "Covenant" you did not remind readers that that is now in the hands of the Covenanted Anglican Churches. Having pressed for the creation of this subset of the Anglican Communion, you cannot now ignore their existence.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
In reply: +Richard Ellena has gone,; I also believe that +Gabriel Sharma has gone.

Yes, I didn't mention the Covenanted Anglican churches of the Communion. It is not clear to me (yet) whether this group of churches would be a working organisation together with some impact on global Anglicanism. I think that impact is likely if the Covenanted group reaches the 20-30 churches mark. I also think that if the number reached over 30 of 38churches then the dominant global Anglican organisation of the future could be the existing Anglican Communion and I would expect that after a while the few rejecting churches would see the light and reverse their decision.

I guess my post today is premised on the scenario in which the Covenanted Anglican churches are of insufficient number and insufficient resolve to work together to be a strong bloc. As you know it is my publicly expressed view that the Covenant is without much practical effect on the character of global Anglicanism if at least 80%, and better, 90% do not sign up to it.

Father Ron Smith said...

If, as seems likely, the GAFCON/FCA crowd continues in pursuit of its objective - to take over world-wide Anglicanism, the New Zealand Bishop-Delegate will have to make his mind up - as to which version of Anglicanism he wants to belong to.

However, there is one other (former) New Zealander, Julian Dobbs, who was at Gafcon, who is now a Bishop in the schismatic group of mini-churches in North America - who gained his preferment when he moved out of TEC.

I guess there might be a few new archbishoprics going in GAFCON & ACNA soon, in order to manage the thousands of new churches being spawned in the U.S. by Gafcon Prelates. Their recent conference in London was probably a fruitful recruiting ground for keen N.Z.ers seeking preferment. Look how Archbishop Robbie Duncan shot to fame in a very short time.

All of this hype, though, is not to be confused with Anglicanism as we know it here in New Zealand.