The Fault Line Runs Right Through Here: And when is the Anglican quake?

Mama Cass sang the song, "California Earthquake," and the refrain went,

"So that may be, that may be
What's gonna happen 's
gonna happen to me
They tell me the fault line runs right through here." 

(As a treat you get to hear her at the end of this essay.)

The word out there in the alternative universe called the Internet is that the Anglican Communion is on the fault line.

It is something of an Internet sport to name the moment when it all came or will come tumbling down, when the Anglican Communion ceases to be a single large conglomerate family of churches with splinter groups that broke off or splintered people who simply wandered off, and instead breaks in two, with major landmasses pulling away from each other as if part of some prior large ecclesiastical continent, some Anglican Pangea, but now split.  

Has the Anglican Communion broken in two? Will it shortly? And why?

As to why the break, in the past several years various  primary candidates have been blamed for the break: the relaxation of divorce and remarriage canons, the ordination of women, the provisions for those bishops who did not agree to do so, the ordination of gay people, the ordination of a gay bishop in relationship, blessing same sex relationships, the establishment of the Anglican Church in North America and on and on. 

These of course are much too late and too small to constitute the basis for the fault line cracks. The real basis for the break, if it comes or has come, lies deeply encrusted under layers of fairly predictable squabbles about personal and corporate moral life.

Keeping ourselves "unspotted from the world", to use James' term, involves moral behavior, behavior based on a set of ethical principles derived from various authoritative sources, among them religious leaders, prophets, societies, and sacred texts, and the authority runs right down to the leaders of local congregations and the community of moral elders who put the dot on the "i".  

Regrettably the moral behavior of Christians in most ages and for most communities is determined by the lens of that community and those lenses are ground by leaders whose sense of ethical priorities is based on secondary engagement with the "stuff" of purity but a primary engagement with the rod of authority. This works West or South. Everybody gets to play the moral authority game.

To put it plainly, the break in the Anglican Communion is occurring because church leaders and rulers believe their moral authority is being threatened.  The secondary  ethics that derives from proof texting Scripture, the invocation of an overly simplified "natural law" philosophy and cultural bias gets the churches of the Communion in all sorts of trouble and yet it is that secondary ethics that guides those exercising authority. It is being challenged and the authorities who still rely upon that ethic, or whose authority is dependant on those leaders, are mad as hell.

The charge is being made that the churches of"the West" have succumbed to the ethics of a postmodern, post Christian, elitist culture that accepts homosexuality as "normal." This is bunk, but never mind - radically conservative church leaders both in America and leaders in other churches in the Anglican world have been quick to condemn "the West," in Anglican speak the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, The Episcopal Church, and any beholden to them.  

At the meeting of the All Africa Anglican Bishops this past week there was plenty of this sort of "West" bashing.  Where was the counter to that argument?  Apparently at the most in the silence of some Western guests, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.  It must have been hard to sit there, quietly.

The break, at least on this level, is one of perceived ethical and moral difference, but is really about authority and control.

The fault line runs right through here: we are divided by our understandings of just what constitutes Christian ethical standards and moral behavior and by our attempts to use our understandings for control.

There it is.

At some point we will better have a sense of what were the fracture points that led to this fault line opening and splitting the Anglican Communion into two, but here are several prime candidates:

(i) A first fracture point was the emergence of a radically conservative movement in The Episcopal Church willing to play hard ball politics in order to "win" The Episcopal Church for the conservative evangelical agenda or to see TEC fail completely as a church.  That movement believed (believes) that The Episcopal Church is a progressive adversary and danger to the movement to make the United States of America a "christian" nation worthy of the end times.  The various groups that fund, support and manage that attack on The Episcopal Church have collectively championed alliances with others in the Communion to marginalize The Episcopal Church in the Communion.  

To the extent that this has worked we are ending up with two very different bodies growing from the Anglican Communion. The one continues the proposition that we are a fellowship of quite different but mutually supportive bodies, the other that we must become a world wide Church with a single mind, one not surprisingly marked by conservative evangelical norms. In either case The Episcopal Church is diminished, at least for publicity purposes, and made marginal. As far as the religious conservative tactics are concerned, it doesn't have to work forever, only for a time. But it will produce fracture, and that's the point.

(ii) A second fracture point is the relative obliviousness of the churches of the West to the realities of its missionary endeavors. They were accomplished at great cost to the moral life of those churches and to the disorientation of the churches they established in what was mostly a colonial world.  There is no apology by "mother" churches that their missionary endeavors were the product of church and state collusion in colonial rule.  

The first colonial governor of the US occupied Philippines and the first Episcopal bishop of the Philippines arrived on the same boat.  That the governor later became President and the Bishop revered by the church there is perhaps mitigating, but the fact remains - the church arrived with the occupying powers and remained there without criticism of colonial rule. That was one example only, of course. The same was repeated over and over again across the Anglican world.  

There have been notable exceptions to the acquiescence of church to occupying power, and there have been notable apologies for collusion, but for the most part the missionary "mother" churches came, engaged, developed and then left without any formal recognition of their part in colonial expansion or the exploitation of circumstance. 

It is no wonder then that part of the fault line, part of the fracture, is unrepentant colonial history.  

(iii) A third fracture point is the concentrated effort of leaders holding minority positions on some of the issues of life in The Episcopal Church to bend the church to its positions and to find support and authority from what it terms "the majority of Anglicans" worldwide.  

These leaders charged The Episcopal Church and its leadership with abandoning the Gospel.  In doing so these leaders also opened themselves to the charge of abandoning The Episcopal Church.  In various ways they invented a unique argument for "jumping ship" to other jurisdictions and then from there to a new boat, the emerging Anglican Church in North America and its allies in several Provinces and from there arguing for a second world wide Anglican body (also in formation.) 

They have played this card so well that they have come close to convincing leaders in other churches in the Communion that a new post-colonial Anglicanism is at hand, that African Anglicans are at the lead, and that the old Western order is defunct.  It is unclear that they can make this stick. Meanwhile they have wreaked havoc with an ancient principle - don't spit in the soup, we've all got to eat.  It will return to bite them.

Part of the fault line, part of the fracture, is American ecclesiastical hard ball politics played out in the arena of international Anglicanism. 

(iv) But the major fault line / fracture is this: The fault line runs right through the power attributed to Primates - to heads of churches - in the Anglican Communion. These church leaders have taken upon themselves to speak in Anglicanism on an entirely different level than any mere collection of bishops might.  There is no warrant for any moral authority in the church based on the teaching role of a collection of Primates. There is no Anglican magisterium. But watch it, there  just might be around the corner, at a place where they sell the Anglican Covenant.

The primate is a bishop, and any Primate other than the one in a particular Church, who holds office in that body by its own charger and rules,  is simply a "foreign bishop."  The Pope qualifies as such a bishop, and for The Episcopal Church so does the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Primate of the Southern Cone. 

In this case the fault line runs right through the community of Primates of the Anglican Communion, beginning with the Archbishop of Canterbury.  If they do have a teaching role in the Communion they have exercised it poorly.

Their efforts to deal with the ordination of women was a disaster.  The patchwork of provinces who do ordain women began to constitute one sort of mass and the provinces who do not another.  The well remembered notion of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ died the death of the innocent long before the current "troubles." It died because leaders of the churches were neither mutually responsible or interdependent, and the notion that the Body of Christ might be something other than the actual organized church lay unimagined.  By the time the Primates got their hands on matters of mutuality and interdependence the argument had moved from sharing what we have and who we are to enforcing moral behavior - from sharing to control.

The single most damning bit of Anglican Communion activity in recent years has been the development of Primate's meetings from occasions for sharing to occasions for control.  The Archbishop of Canterbury has been as much party to the efforts to control as have other Primates and the current situation where it appears that some Primates will not attend Primates meetings so long as others (notably the Presiding Bishop) attend is in some part as much the ABC's fault as it is the threatening Primates.  

The question of who controls the Primates Meetings and to what end has overtaken the purpose of those meetings, and the 'enhanced' role given the Primates has been a source of new and divisive energy in the Communion. That role was strongly supported by the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and without much in the way of cautionary words. The first cautionary word might well have been to suggest that the Primates Meeting is simply a meeting for conversation and that no one is expected or required to attend.

The Fault Line runs through the Primates Meetings, and the break in to two large masses of Anglican peoples may well be signaled by the failure of the Primates to meet as a whole or to do so with such control mechanisms in place that the Primates Meeting ceases to be an "instrument of unity" but rather an instrument of destruction.

It is time to give the Primates Meetings a rest. A long rest.

The Communion can get along just find without their meeting.

So, when will the quake hit?  Well, its hard to tell. After all the Anglican Communion is rather spongy land and the quake gets absorbed in its untidyness. But my sense is somewhere between the time of removing Episcopal Church members on Anglican Communion ecumenical discussion committees (this last Spring) and the next Primate's meeting where the "voice" of the 400 African Bishops will be represented by the Primates of the Churches and translated into control mode for the benefit of the decadent West. Some of the Primates will use their presence or absence as an effort to control the future of the Anglican Communion or to signal that indeed there is a new and different Anglican Communion right around the corner, ready to serve you.

The fault line runs through here. And when and if it happens there will be two Anglican continents, and perhaps a number of islands in between. 
Meanwhile, most of us will be about the work of giving and receiving from the bounty that is God's Grace in the Church as we know it.  But we know this: the fault line runs right through here. 

And those who break and cease to be companions on the way will have their reward.


  1. Hi Mark,
    This reads as a 'rant'. It is a very strange analysis of the situation because according to this the mess in the Communion is everyone's fault except TEC's. Perhaps that is the truth of it. But if it is this is not persuasive. For example it is not ACNA etc playing hardball politics which is responsible for the cool reception the PB received on her recent visit Down Under. It might have something to do with the centre of Anglicanism thinking TEC has made some wrong decisions if it wishes to enjoy mutual fellowship across the Anglican globe.

    If the Anglican Communion's breaking apart takes solid form with two named global entities one of them will become very small and it will not be the one centers on Africa. I suggest if TEC wishes to be part of a large Anglican entity then more attention could usefully be focused on TEC's contribution to the mess than on the groupings you name here. That attention might yield something more constructive than offered here as a plan for future Anglican peace.

  2. Mark-
    Not to put too fine a point on it, but isn't it 'wreaked havoc' rather than 'wrecked havoc' (Section iii)? ;)

    Mike in MD

  3. Peter...it is a rant. I'm in a ranting mood... really about other things as well. And yes, there is lots of blame to go around. Playing the control game is everybody's opportunity including TEC's. So I'll get to that in a follow up.

    But what does all of that have to do with all of us on the ground, as it were?

    More later

  4. Mike in MD... I guess some wreck and other wreak... but you are right. I changed it.

    I love the double sense - havoc being kind of a wrecking. The song comes to mind, "She's like a wrecking ball no longer connected to the chain."

    Got to love havoc, the great leveler.

    thanks for the correction.

  5. the mess in the Communion is everyone's fault except TEC's

    Did you miss the part where Mark cited TEC's bishop arriving in the Phillipines on a (US) gunboat? OF COURSE TEC shares in the blame!

    Would a thorough-going repentance of colonialism by the Anglican churches of the First World help, at this point? (I rather think the GAFCON bishops---and esp. Primates---see themselves as the heirs of those first gun-boated missionaries...so perhaps not.)

    GREAT post, Mark. I'd not heard this Cass Elliot song before, and am gonna have it playing in my head for awhile!

  6. I take your point, Mark, that a ranting mood needs an outlet :)

    Its the current mess, JCF, and its immediate antecedents which intrigue me as to whether key voices in TEC acknowledge TEC's contribution to the mess.

    But it is less a case, for me, of trying to 'blame' anyone or anything here, and more trying to read the signs of the Anglican times. I think the Communion, or significant part(s) of it, are changing before our eyes, which means that some hopes for future Anglican relationships read more and more like nostalgia for a bygone era, though perhaps not as far back as the gunships!

  7. Peter, it always comes back to numbers with you. For you it is always a comparison of whose is bigger. Enough! Have you not read sufficiently to know that most of us moving in liberal/progressive spheres are not playing a numbers game. Or having a popularity contest.

    The Most Revd. Katharine Jefferts Shori is not out to draw more crowds than the ABC. She does not care to be compared with African prelates and their clamoring throngs. She is a quiet, humble person, hopefully a bit like your own bishop, +Victoria, at least in demeanor, if not in theology. Twice here you represent that she was ignored in Oceania. Private correspondence with a number of clergy acquaintances Down Under tells me that is mostly wishful thinking on your part and that you are probably shocked by the amount of press her visit received in both your church's media and the secular media as well. Yes, she was quietly received in Christchurch, but I hear well feted in Hamilton! But again, she does not seek the adoring crowds. So get over it.

  8. Why, oh why, Father Carrell, should this be about who gets the bigger piece of territory? Isn't Jesus pretty clear on the subject of powers and principalities?

    And why, oh why, should TEC continue to consent via silence, to folks whose ground of being is offended by TEC's ordination of women, which is inarguably where much of the current wrangling starts? Isn't Jesus also pretty clear on that subject?

    Mark's rant is typically civil and un-rantish, regardless of whether or not he includes all the points from the other side.

    This is a rant: Glenn Beck=the Taliban=Bob Duncan/Peter Akinola.

    This is a rant: The ABC is re-enacting Chamberlain's Munich Agreement.

    Mark doesn't rant. Or barely.

  9. Its the current mess, JCF, and its immediate antecedents which intrigue me as to whether key voices in TEC acknowledge TEC's contribution to the mess.

    Well, that's your framing, Peter.

    We all have those.

    Mine is, former ABC Carey---w/ the help of reactionary, looking-for-schism (US) Americans and their $$$$---colluding w/ reactionary bishops at Lambeth '98, which was the catalyst for the "current mess".

    But that Mess was always coming, what w/ missionaries which always represented the most reactionary segments of the (Global North) AC, let loose---w/ the help of those colonial gun-boats!---on the Global South.

    Would that there was a more genuinely African POV in "African Anglicanism"! (Y'know, the perspective that God/gods just made some people "different"---ala a "Third Sex"---and didn't go literally ballistic about them. That's the African POV that those white missionaries, w/ the help of the colonial overlords, worked so thoroughly to ELIMINATE)

  10. Hello

    David: I am not at all shocked by the press coverage of ++Schori's visit to NZ, which was reasonable and modest. As far as I am aware she did not visit Hamilton. But my note about her visit includes Australia. A land of many dioceses, yet, as far as I know, she visited just one of them.

    Devon: Jesus is far from clear about the 'ordination of women.' I support the ordination of women, but I understand that commissioning Twelve male Apostles while also saying nothing specifically about 'ordination' is a situation in which I hesitate to say that Jesus was 'clear' on the matter.

    JCF: Yes there are different ways of framing the matter.

    To you all I simply say re 'numbers' or 'territory' that I would prefer to belong to a large Anglican Communion and not to a small one, but I sense that if your, and Mark Harris' arguments and attitudes prevail, then the chances increase that my church, with yours will belong to a small Communion. If I understand your comments correctly that would not be a cause for sadness on your part.

  11. A cause for sadness? I cannot speak for others, but I have been sad about the divisions in the Communion for years now. A bishop in whose home I feasted on goat and who was later a guest in our home and in our bishop's ignored an invitation to meet with that bishop when he visited the US and presided at a confirmation service without permission from the local bishop. The friend who helped me decide to go to seminary is now a priest in ACNA. Yes, I find the prospect of a much smaller group of Anglicans with whom I am in communion a cause of sadness. But I find the prospect of being part of a communion which is very un-Anglican in its insistence upon uniformity much sadder. I struggled for years with the question of whether I could belong to a church in which my pacifist convictions were in the minority and decided that I could because the Episcopal Church honored those convictions. I am willing to be in a communion where my convictions about same-sex relations are in the minority, but the majority appears unwilling to allow that and appears intent upon "purifying" the communion by casting us out. Sad indeed.

  12. My error Peter, I meant to say Auckland. (Hamilton is where the LDS Temple is located.)

    From the press coverage, both your church's and TEC's, the stated purpose of her trip, which was placed on the books a year prior, was to meet with the primates of the two churches. And that was what she did. In the context of the visit to NZ she visited both Auckland and Christchurch. She preached and also was engaged in presenting ideas and engaging in open discussions.

    Everything was low key, just as it was planned to be from the very beginning. Your comments regarding the low key visit are red herrings meant to lead us to believe that much more was expected from the trip, when in fact nothing more was expected. The trip was a success, not the failure that you want to imply.

  13. While I find the plate tectonics metaphor for the current troubles interesting, I think you stopped a level up in peeling this particular set of plates back. I think a case can be made that the first culprits were not religious conservatives seeking to either change or destroy
    TEC but rather secular political types using those conservatives as pawns in their control game. The real effort is to get rid of what (with interesting timing) Glen Beck dismissed as, "liberation theology" over the weekend.

    As long as TEC and other communities cry justice to power, they are targets of the IRD and other similar secular types who could not care less about that Jesus fellow. They do care a lot about getting rid of Nathan, Jesus and the rest of those justice types.

    FWIW I wrote about that aspect on my little blog this weekend.


  14. "There is no warrant for any moral authority in the church based on the teaching role of a collection of Primates. There is no Anglican magisterium. But watch it, there just might be around the corner, at a place where they sell the Anglican Covenant."

    Yahoooo! Damn straight!!! Throw my hat down and time to dance!!! You just said it Mark --it's about power. Plain and simple. Thank you --and honey, this essay ain't no rant.

  15. Father Mark,
    Believe it or not I was going away quietly when I stumbled upon your latest missive. At Real Anglicans I have expounded upon what I think you began your post. My response was far too long for your comments section. Suffice it to say that what you touch on is the tip of the iceberg and what you say actually does not go far enough.

  16. Fred Schwartz, who keeps needing to stop this stuff and write a dissertation has not stopped, Thank God, and so over at Real Anglicans he has written something. He references it but does not give the url. Here it is... Go read. http://realanglicans.blogspot.com/2010/08/we-are-at-war-culture-war.html

  17. Interesting post - thank you.

    I think the dividing line, the underlying fault line, has more to do with two issues:

    1. How do we read, interpret, and apply the bible?

    2. Are we willing to accommodate a diversity of approaches to (1) while finding our unity in Christ and our integrity in our sincere efforts to live as Christians in this faith in Jesus Christ.

    If the answer to (2) was yes, then there would be no quake, but just an openness to diversity.

    (1) of course runs right back through the centuries of Anglicanism, but manifests itself today in a 'divide' between those who regard the bible as 'inerrant' and those who regard it as 'profound but fallible'.

    I think the tidal movements are almost beyond the control of primates because they are to do with deep convictions about how to 'do' the bible.

    And maybe in the end, that's the point? That it's impossible to control?

    But, for each person, there is the challenge... in our own life, in our own culture... to die to self and seek the presence of Christ.

    With love,
    Susannah Clark

  18. Peter,
    I was present at Bishop Katharine's reception in Auckland, and I can affirm that she was received very warmly indeed, by representatives of the dioceses of Auckland, Waiapu, and Waikato & Taranaki, together with folk from the Maori and Pacific branches of our church.
    If her reception in Christchurch was more cool (news to me), then I think that is a comment on the peculiarities of your diocese, not on how she, or TEC, are perceived in the wider communion.

    Edward Prebble

  19. I don't think I've ever disagreed with a Mark Harris post, and certainly don't with this one. Full Disclosure: I've known him for several years and we were once in the same religious community. There is no Anglican Magisterium, and with luck, there won't be once the Anglican Covenant disappears. The Bishops of GAFCON,Southern Cone, Anglican Church in America, or whatever new group is this week, making all the noise seem to think we have to listen to them. Guess what? We don't. We are not the Anglican Church. We are the Anglican Communion. And Fr. Peter, just for the record, it was no "innovation" for us to ordain a bishop in a same sex relationship. He's just the first who was honest enough to be who he is. And Mark, thanks for the Momma Cass. It does make me feel old (er) but nice to hear her again.

  20. I don't think I've ever disagreed with a Mark Harris post, and certainly don't with this one. Full Disclosure: I've known him for several years and we were once in the same religious community. There is no Anglican Magisterium, and with luck, there won't be once the Anglican Covenant disappears. The Bishops of GAFCON,Southern Cone, Anglican Church in America, or whatever new group is this week, making all the noise seem to think we have to listen to them. Guess what? We don't. We are not the Anglican Church. We are the Anglican Communion. And Fr. Peter, just for the record, it was no "innovation" for us to ordain a bishop in a same sex relationship. He's just the first who was honest enough to be who he is. And Mark, thanks for the Momma Cass. It does make me feel old (er) but nice to hear her again.

  21. Since the average age of the ECUSA is nearly 60 (and rising), it's hard for many outside the church, even many of us progressives, to take these kinds of infighting seriously. From the secular point of view, it looks as if you're two old ladies fighting over something someone left behind years ago and claiming "He liked me better, he'd want ME to have it."
    The rest of us are increasingly indifferent to religion, any religion. The IRD is not causing your problems, it's not even making them that much more serious. It's the fact that the "progressive" leadership was complacent and thought that because it was going with the flow on race in the 1960s the rest of society would always follow along with its pronouncements even with huge social and demographic changes.
    Laziness and self-absorbtion, not outside plotting.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.