Sunday, November 25, 2007

An Anglican Counter-Reformation?

Some of my friends have accused me of writing extra blog entries lately as a way of avoiding writing my thesis. Well, that's true. The bright side is that followers of the Church of the Orange Sky are treated to my regular ramblings on religion and police brutality. Having already violated my own rules on not discussing politics on this blog, I'm going to preserve what tatters of principle remain by not mixing the two in a single post.

Intrigued by the schism in the Canadian Anglican church, I decided to go to church this morning, at an Anglican church a few kilometres from my apartment. I'm lucky to have a liberal Anglican church within walking distance (or maybe unlucky; I'll bet going to one of the new "South American Canada" churches would have been much more fun). Unfortunately, like most of the Anglican churches I've been to, the average age looked to be about 65. I'll say one thing about the evangelicals, they're damned good at bringing in attractive, impressionable young people. (They also found cult-like missionary groups which, among other activities, conjure exciting acronyms for their projects and post impressive dance videos on YouTube.)

To their credit (at least in the eyes of me, Dave the Heretic), these Anglicans didn't make that big a deal of the so-called spiritual crisis. The priest did spend a couple of minutes on the subject, claiming somewhat dubiously that he "hadn't intended" to talk about the schism but it "just came up" while he was speaking. Right. Well, I suppose it could happen.

The default position of the liberal Anglicans seems to be basically the polar opposite of the Anglican Network I wrote about a couple days ago: the mainstream Anglicans are the real Anglicans, it's too bad that some conservatives feel they no longer want to be part of the church, and it's sad that they've decided it's more important to impose particular interpretations of the Bible and particular positions on social issues like homosexuality than to remain united in Christ by taking communion together. To the liberal churches, acceptance of gays and lesbians is the latest in a series of social issues the church has had to overcome in racial and sexual discrimination over the last three hundred years. As I recall, the Anglicans weren't exactly leading the charge on such issues in the past, nor are they now, given the church's schizophrenic (and some might say hypocritical) stance on blessing gay and lesbian marriages. It's a compelling notion - Anglicanism as ecumenical and inclusive - which doesn't seem to be wholly borne out by the national and global schisms over homosexuality.

(On that note, it seems the conservative churches also intend to "protect" the priesthood from female ordination. Incidentally, this year is the 340th anniversary of Margaret Fell's Women's Speaking Justified, one of the foundational Quaker tracts on women's rights in religious teaching.)

Rebel bishop Don Harvey apparently gave an interview to 100 Huntley Street a day or two ago. That's Canada's evangelical talk show, for those of you who try to avoid religious television; its corporate web page is horribly crowded but contains the requisite invitations to "receive Jesus," request prayer, and "make a donation." Implausibly, Harvey claimed that one of the reasons the Anglican Network approached the South American Anglican church because its headquarters was in the same time zone as Newfoundland. Perhaps Harvey has forgotten that Newfoundland has its own time zone. It's a "short term arrangement... [that] could last for years."

Harvey is almost as good as Gunrunner Pat or Big Gay Ted in his next pronouncements. He explains that the Anglican Church of Canada "is not faithful and is under judgment." Under Harvey's judgment, presumably, since to my knowledge individual preachers still lack the authority to proclaim God's own judgement against the church. (That didn't stop Pat Robertson, for example, from mocking citizens of Pennsylvania for their rejection of creationist textbooks and hinting at divine disasters in store for the state, perhaps aided by cheap assault rifles purchased with Gunrunner Pat's conflict diamonds.) In the close of the summary I've linked to, Harvey tosses ecumenicism to the curb with the typically evangelical claim that there can be no negotiation because "we are standing for... essentials." This is ridiculous. If Harvey really wants to live under South American Anglican jurisdiction, he could always move there and save us the trouble. That way he wouldn't have to step off the reservation and try to provoke a schism.

In the meantime, the Anglican Church's response has not been particularly praiseworthy. Archbishop Fred Hiltz is said to have written a letter, to be read in all churches, denouncing the South American church's interference in Canadian Anglican affairs, and threatening that Anglicans who leave the church will not be permitted to take their church property with them.

It's interesting that the church of tolerance's first organized response to a doctrinal challenge is an attempt to re-impose order by coercing churches back into line through property threats and an attempt to expand what is effectively a border skirmish with South American Anglicanism. If anyone's looking for proof of an international Anglican schism, this is it: the South American church is apparently willing to sponsor Canadian dissentors and no one else in the global communion, either the primate in England or some other regional church, is (at least publicly) willing to mediate or even to speak out on the subject. What the church should do is permit any parish to leave the national church if they feel they are no longer capable of worshipping in fellowship with Canadian Anglicans and want to be South American Anglicans instead. It seems fundamentally wrong that the mainstream church, given its established positions on tolerance and inclusion, would attempt to maintain the status quo through discipline and coercion.

Ideally, an invitation to leave would provoke churches to choose sides, immediately, and if there are enough liberals left in the church (which I believe there are), the inability of the Anglican Network to seduce more than a small handful of breakaway parishes would establish pretty conclusively that the schism is not critical. There have been independent Anglican churches in various places before and hopefully, over the next twenty or thirty years (assuming there are still Anglicans in Canada in thirty years), the present debates will die down and the churches will find some way to make a peaceful reconciliation.

On the other hand, the church hierarchy probably feels it would be taking quite a risk by letting slip the reins of control. It's a battle they really can't afford to lose, since the Anglicans probably have neither the people nor the dollars to found rival churches in breakaway parishes. Even if they win on this issue, establishing the precedent that parishes can make their own decisions about doctrinal issues might do major harm to the ability of the established hierarchy to maintain control over the churches. Ironically, that hierarchy is a large part of the reason the church is in trouble to begin with. When lay people and clergy voted to approve same-sex unions this summer, it was the senior level - the bishops - who vetoed the proposal and fell back on the inane compromise that gay marriages were not anti-Christian but still would not be blessed. That's kind of like saying ordaining women isn't wrong but still probably shouldn't be done, which is still the default position of the Canadian Evangelical Baptists.

So, the Anglican Church of Canada talks of tolerance while threatening top-down punishment, and the Anglican Network of Canada talks of bottom-up revolution while practicising exclusion and soliciting institutional support from South America. Ultimately, though, to both sides this is rapidly turning into a jurisdictional dispute: which group of elites gets to decide, for which churches, what doctrines should be followed and which should be disposed of. Neither is doing much credit to the Erasmus-style ecumenicism which supposedly helped guide the formation of the Church of England in the first place.


Anonymous said...

Thank you.I like your clear ideas.

I have google alerts set to bring me as much information as possible.

One of these days, I will read THE solution & we can go back (forward) to living the second commandment.

Shalom !
Coline Bettson
St. Paul's Anglican Church, Dauphin, Manitoba

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