Thursday, February 15, 2007

From First Things: Anglican Storm Clouds

hat tip to Captain Yips for this link (who saw it on Amy Welborn's blog)

Anglican Storm Clouds

By Jordan Hylden

Thursday, February 15, 2007, 8:21 AM

“I fear schism,” Rowan Williams told the BBC, and with good reason. Today the annual meeting of the Anglican Communion officially begins in Tanzania, and it is not at all clear that the communion will last the week. No fewer than thirty-seven Anglican archbishops have assembled at a hotel in Dar-es-Salaam, charged with the task of deciding what to do about the communion’s recalcitrant American branch, otherwise known as the Episcopal Church. Archbishop Williams’ biggest problem is that not all the archbishops are on speaking terms with one another. “I fear the situation slipping out of my control,” he went on to tell the BBC. Indeed, it may already have done so.

Archbishop Williams, in a sermon last summer titled “The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today,” noted that Anglicans have uneasily coexisted for generations as three distinct groups in one church: evangelicals, catholics, and liberals. Part of being an Anglican, he argued, is believing that all three groups have something to learn from one another. Most Christians would agree with his point. But the practical difficulty of it is that the three groups increasingly live in separate thought-worlds, each with its own distinct vocabularies and ideas about what it means to be a Christian. These divisions, long simmering beneath the surface of the maddeningly diverse Anglican brew, have now come to the surface in Tanzania. If this week’s meeting results in serious schism—which is a very distinct possibility—it will be because the three camps finally prove unable to talk to one another, and hence go their separate ways.

The liberal camp is best represented by Katherine Jefferts Schori and her Episcopal Church, over which she presides as top bishop. In recent years, Episcopalians have made headlines for the ordination of Gene Robinson, a non-celibate gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire. This in fact is the presenting problem for Anglicans this week in Tanzania. Against the repeatedly expressed wishes of international Anglican bodies, Schori, along with most of the Episcopal Church, continues to defend Robinson’s consecration. But the problem, unfortunately, goes far deeper than that. In essence, the theological position represented by Schori has reached the point at which it no longer exists in the same thought-world as traditional Christianity.

Perhaps the best examples of this are Marcus Borg, an influential Episcopalian biblical scholar, and John Shelby Spong, the outspoken former bishop of Newark. Neither Borg nor Spong believe in doctrines such as the Resurrection, the Atonement, the authority of Scripture, or the divinity of Christ. Spong, in fact, does not believe in God. Most Christians think these matters are absolutely essential, but in the thought-world of theological liberalism they are not. Much more central, from this point of view, is the Church’s role as servant to the world. Rather than preach the repentance of sin and forgiveness of Christ, the liberal church primarily exists to help create the “kingdom of God” by advocating for social justice, inclusion, and so on. In Schori’s new book, A Wing and a Prayer, it seems that she does, in fact, affirm doctrines like Christ’s divinity and resurrection. But for liberals such as Schori, such matters are relatively unimportant. For Schori, disagreement on such issues is possible, even desirable, within the Church. The only nonnegotiable doctrines have to do with the Church’s new central mission, defined as matters like gay rights and the UN Millennium Development goals.

Time and again, Anglican evangelicals have accused Episcopalian liberals of defying Scripture, while catholics have accused them of defying tradition and church order. But since neither scriptural nor ecclesial authority are primary points of reference for Episcopalian liberals, such arguments have had no avail, nor will they ever. Understood this way, while Schori will begin tomorrow’s meeting as an Anglican primate, we can confidently predict that she will not stay for long. She and the liberals whom she represents live in another conceptual universe and so will soon be politely asked to return to New York where they belong. The details remain to be sorted out, but it is likely that most of the Episcopal Church will be demoted to second-rank Anglican status, leaving an orthodox remnant to form what eventually will become a new Anglican province in the United States.

Read it all here.


Anonymous Lori said...

If there were a way for parishes to "hang on" while not being financially committed to liberal dioceses, and not being threatened by property takeovers, I could understand letting the "constitutionalities" of the split play out...but as long as we are required to support programs contrary to orthodox faith, and have the dread of inhibition/vestry lawsuits/etc hanging over our heads, reasserters will not be so inclined to wait much longer.


9:05 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home