The dance of the last fifteen years or so has been a repeat of an even older dance, one of struggle in which compromise for the sake of the dance has barley lasted out the tune of the moment. The most recent of these struggles began prior to the last Lambeth Conference in 1998 and have occupied a great deal of the collective time of Anglican Communion churches - too much of the time.
I believe that GAFCON, the Global Anglican Future Conference, held in Jerusalem in June 2008 marked a turning point. Prior to GAFCON the church division issues may have been about bad theology and bad practice on an Episcopal level - about Spong and Robinson and all the controversy for which they were the focal points. The bad dancers were in the West, and in the "older" churches. It was the US and Canada and even England that were to blame. Occasionally New Zealand would get a hit for outrageous prayer book language, or parts of Australia for thinking about lay presidency of the Eucharist, but mostly it was the North Americans who were the bad dancers.
After GAFCON the division is between some variation of Calvinism as interpreted by primarily English Evangelicals in an odd partnership with its opposite, a form of catholic ecclesiology in which conciliar and synodical structures and customs effectively negate the role of lay people, women, and other undesirables, on the one side and most of mainstream Anglicanism on the other.
Mainstream Anglicanism, represented by those Provinces and churches willing to maintain fellowship and affection with one another, continues to believe that episcopal churches synodically governed can maintain close relations with one another even if one or the other church or province acts in ways other churches consider inadvisable. Three-fourths of the bishops of the Anglican Communion will meet for the Lambeth Conference later in July. They will do so not because they are in total agreement one with another, but because they affirm a high level of fellowship and affection. Some will believe that same sex blessings are wrong, some will think that high church ceremonial encourages bad theology, some will think lay presidency absolutely untenable. Many will not question that their bishops are chosen by other bishops and not elected by their dioceses, some will not find it odd that their bishops are appointed by civil authority. The spectrum of theological understanding, belief and practice will be so great as to make it almost impossible to lump them all together, save for their belief that Jesus Christ is central to their lives and that they are called to serve in His Name in that portion of His Church out of which they were called. The bishops, like all of us, will dream universal dreams and live local realities.
For purposes of gathering, it will be enough.
This fellowship and affection has been tested by the variety of ways in which bishops exercise their vocations in the several churches, by the ways in which they are elected or appointed, by the differences of synodical governance represented in the different churches, and by the decisions those bishops and synods have made.
The decisions concerning the blessing of same sex relationships and the ordination of gay persons to all orders of ministry are only the last in a long series of differences. The ways in which clergy teaching outside the norms of conventional theology are dealt with (Colenso to Spong), the controversies over vestments and ceremonial for which bishops elected did not receive consent, the political views of clergy, the ordination of women, all carried communion wide repercussions and all were sources of distress. The Communion has grown through each of these and there is no reason to believe it will not grow through the latest round of struggle.
What GAFCON has done, however, is place its own adherents in a different context. No longer are they a party in party strife. Now they propose to exist within the Communion as the "real" communion, dismissing those churches they no longer believe are sufficiently "orthodox," willing to establish new structures they find more to their liking in North and South America, and proposing new unions with Anglican bodies not in communion with the see of Canterbury. The GAFCON crowd, now the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, (FOCA) has inadvertently confessed the truth of their plans to turn away from, overthrow, or replace the Anglican Communion as it is currently constituted.
The Jerusalem Statement says this:
"We urge the Primates’ Council to authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations and to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith.
We recognise the desirability of territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion, except in those areas where churches and leaders are denying the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread, and in a few areas for which overlapping jurisdictions are beneficial for historical or cultural reasons.
We thank God for the courageous actions of those Primates and provinces who have offered orthodox oversight to churches under false leadership, especially in North and South America. The actions of these Primates have been a positive response to pastoral necessities and mission opportunities. We believe that such actions will continue to be necessary and we support them in offering help around the world.
We believe this is a critical moment when the Primates’ Council will need to put in place structures to lead and support the church. In particular, we believe the time is now ripe for the formation of a province in North America for the federation currently known as Common Cause Partnership to be recognised by the Primates’ Council."
Those are not words of a church within a church. Those are the words of hostile takeover.
Those are not the words of a confessing Church, confessing Christ before Caesar, but rather of a church confessing their sins.
PRELUDIUM will continue to be concerned with the many sided problems of this period of time in the Anglican Communion and most particularly with the issues in the Episcopal Church related to governance for mission. Much of the time on this blog will continue to be taken up with the machinations of those who would destroy this church in order to save it. We will occasionally whack away at the general bullheadedness of its members, clergy and bishops who from time to time make matters worse. And there will be the occasional confession of errors made even here.
I am undertaking a new effort, a blog called "ACR: Anglican Communion Redux." Ironically in finding a web address on blogspot, my blogging host of choice, it turned out http://anglicancommunion.blogspot.com was available. I took it of course.
ACR is meant to be part of the conversation beyond the agendas set by that mishmash of organizations and para-church structures set on realignment, overthrow, takeover, or dispatch of the Episcopal Church. It remains to be seen if any of this will interest anyone. There will not be as much blood in the water, and so the sharks of Anglican land's Internet life will not be likely to drop by as often. A good bit of this is already taken up by such luminaries as Episcopal Cafe, which covers the big hitters very well indeed. I will of course cull bits and pieces from there and elsewhere.
But this blog will try to include links as well to the many fine essays and blog entries out there in Anglican blog land that don't make the big pages too often. In a collective way there is a lot of good progressive thinking going on and while it all doesn't push in the same direction, there are lots of bits and pieces that:
- honor our belonging to the Episcopal Church
- argue for inclusion of all baptized persons and the invitation to all people
- understand that as Episcopalians we work through all of this in conventions
- know perfectly well that bad politics and misuse of power sometime take the upper hand and produce bad policies and results which later have to be corrected
- honors our belonging to the Anglican Communion
- work for ways by which the many voices of the Communion are heard
- understand our commitment to fellowship and affection
- know perfectly well that community and self correction is always part of the Anglican willingness to live provisionally.
I believe these efforts are of vital importance to our common life and collecting at least some of them is reason enough for a ACR as a blog. More importantly, of course, will be the comments, corrections, redirections, new information and even essays that often come in comments. Moderation of those comments will be a bit more stringent than on PRELUDIUM. On ACR I will not be easily moved to post comments that are simply slamming the Episcopal Church or any other Church in the Communion or the Communion itself. This will be a blog for the building up of the Communion, not its tearing down.
It is time to get to work.