Monday, 9 March 2009

Suddenly it’s over for the Anglican Communion

Like a dam that has been under pressure for some time, the Anglican Communion has, I believe, suddenly and irrevocably broken. They think its all over? It is now.

As evidence of this, I would ask the reader to consider what happened at the last Primates’ meeting. Indeed, as a ‘starter for ten’, I would ask if you can recall when it was held and where. (Answers: February, Alexandria.) The key outcome was the appointment of a team of Pastoral Visitors to act, in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as “consultants in situations of stress and conflict” across the Communion (as if we still can’t admit what that really means).

The verdict of traditionalists involved in the conflicts in North America, however, is “too little, too late.”

But in any case, who is interested? Who cares? Who is getting excited by these attempts to address the issues that first gave rise to what is still being called the Windsor Process?

Compared with Dromantine or Dar es Salaam, the Alexandria Primates’ Meeting was a ‘fizzle’. There were no boycotts, there were no fireworks and, most importantly, there were almost no press. That is to say, those with an instinct for a story realized that there was ‘nothing to see here’.

Meanwhile, despite warnings to the contrary from earlier meetings, legal actions continue unabated in the United States, and in both the US and Canada, plans for integrating same-sex relationships and blessings into the theology and liturgy of the Anglican churches continues almost unabated.

In short, at the structural level in North America, the revisionist ‘Liberals’ have won.

They have called the bluff of the Communion as a whole, and they have simply by-passed the reconciling posture of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Knowing that, in the end, they can do what they like and get away with it they are, unsurprisingly, pressing ahead. If the election of a Buddhism-practising bishop can be accepted without a whimper both within TEC and beyond, then clearly the end of the moratorium on consecrating those in active gay relationships cannot be far off.

Looking at the ‘Thinking Anglicans’ website — a useful bellwether for these things — it is clear that no one really believes in the fight any longer. Not that the revisionists have given in, but rather that no one is really bothered. Eventually, and inevitably, TEC and the Anglican Church in Canada will resume ‘business as usual’ on the sexuality agenda. Indeed in my own view the Canadians are currently ahead of the Americans in this regard. Meanwhile, traditionalists have taken their own structural steps which mean that eventually their attention will have to return to the ‘mundane’ subjects of preaching, teaching and spreading the gospel. A church cannot live on controversy alone.

GAFCON was a great illustration of what global Anglicanism could have been, but there is no clear path ahead for the movement. The Nigerians want to get on with mission their own way, in their own backyard, as do those from Sydney, who are pressing ahead with their ambitious, but intensely demanding, outreach. Get-togethers are great, but they cannot provide the daily agenda.

And the truth is, since global Anglicanism is no longer the prize, there is nothing really left to fight over. And if there is nothing over which to fight, who will bother fighting? I don’t believe Dr Katharine Jefferts-Schori really gives a fig what Rowan Williams or anyone else thinks of her. In the end, TEC will become an increasingly independent body, at the centre of its own network. The global agenda for TEC will be the expansion of its influence in Africa, not the need to remain in Canterbury’s good books.

In North America, there will, for a time at least, be two competing ‘Anglicanisms’, one recognized by GAFCON/FCA, the other embraced by Canterbury and claiming the moral high-ground as the non-separatists. This will become a matter for sheer ‘economics’ — numbers and income deciding who is eventually left standing where. Much the same will happen in Canada.

The real question for us in these islands is what will happen here, and specifically what will happen in England. It is clear that Wales and Scotland are already realigning theologically with TEC/Canada. There are many who hope and expect that England will do the same.

The launch in this country later this year of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans therefore has an urgent question to address, which is how to deal with the new situation of realpolitik. We are no longer looking to ‘save the Communion’. It is lost. The urgent question is whether we can save ourselves.

Revd John P Richardson
9 March 2009

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  1. Thanks John. Insightful, challenging and disturbing. I guess we all have to wait and see what comes next.

    Mark Thompson, Sydney

  2. One of the few times I wish I were still in TEC, so I could with any legitimacy write the local bishop and Standing Committee. However, the game has been over, at least in North America, for some time now.

    +Cantuar is going to visit the General Convention this year, and he should at least get a view of what the real TEC is. Not that he will act of course, but at least there will be no room for any illusions.

  3. What does 'realpolitik' mean here? One realpolitik view is that faithful, stable, same sex relationships lived out openly in Western society are here to stay. Canada, TEC, Wales and Scotland arguably are exhibiting a realpolitik approach to this phenomenon in Western society. Has the fight for an ideal Anglican Communion been lost? Possibly, perhaps probably. But is that solely because TEC etc have proved stubborn opponents? Could it also be that deep down we are recognising our changed society is racing further away from us the more we fight such battles? (I am not so much trying to argue a point here as seeking insight into why the wind may have gone out of our sails. But it is also possible that this phase which disturbs you is a lull before another storm!)

  4. John,
    You wrote, "Indeed in my own view the Canadians are currently ahead of the Americans in this regard." I agree with you on that and it has been puzzling that the focus has been more on TEC than on the ACofC. Perhaps this has been a symptom of the negative opinion that many in the world have of the US. So, I appreciate your more reasoned assessment.
    As to global Anglicanism being no longer the prize, I suspect that you are right, at least in the sense that those who wanted, in my view, to remake Anglicanism confessional rather than relational have given up.

  5. Tudor Griffiths9 March 2009 at 18:22

    Thankfully there are some of us in Wales, having signed up to the Jerusalem Declaration, have not yet gone over to North America. But the overall analysis here is depressing but has the ring of truth.

  6. "The launch in this country later this year of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans....."

    John, what's this? Have I missed something? I thought I already was a member?...

    Neil Barber, Derby, UK.

  7. I can't see how a conservative church could hold established, national status in what is essentially a secular country. A split would be the obvious outcome, but there would certainly be no taking of assets with those who decided to follow a conservative path. Probably a good few years of uneasy co-operation is likely

    Mike Homfray

  8. The Rev. Richardson, simply speaking, has it right. There is nothing new in his proclamations, however he manages to summarize the situation on one page. Long term the Anglican Communion is toast as a united world-wide organization. I am a 63 year old cradle ex-Episcopalian whose parish left TEC six years ago for the greener pastures of the AMiA. Although this has been a successful organization, it began to practice some of the same old ideas of "control by the clergy" with no legally binding inut from the lay people who actually financially support the organization. Each "new" Anglican entity has its own ideas and practices. There is no reasonable way these entities can be bound together under one roof and be happy. My family has sought solace in a 84 year old Missouri Synod church. Nothing is perfect but we are happy.