Thursday, January 7, 2016


(Original post, Jan. 7):
What is an Anglican? Alas, there is the problem. It used to mean a person who was a member of the Anglican Communion. To be a member of the Anglican Communion, one had to be part of one of the thirty-eight provinces of the Communion. In the U.S., that was the Episcopal Church. However, in the last dozen years, many people not in one of the thirty-eight provinces have taken on the label of "Anglican" anyway and insist they are real Anglicans because they follow some version of the old English prayer book liturgies. In the Low Country alone, there are ten separate denominations claiming to be "Anglican." That means there are ten bishops going about between Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach claiming to be Anglican. At last count in the U.S., there were over seventy independent "Anglican" denominations. 

The independent DSC, not in the Anglican Communion, is obsessed with using the word "Anglican." It is everywhere in their public relations. It is as if one repeats a myth enough people will believe it is true. Just now we have DSC's "Anglican Leadership Institute." In a few days we will have "Mere Anglicanism." Etc. Etc. DSC even cooked up some bizarre and enigmatic scheme to declare "oversight" from Anglican primate(s) of Global South so that it could announce it had been "recognized" as Anglican.

Poor Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) Justin Welby. He is trying so hard to hold together something that has essentially already fallen apart. He has called a six-day meeting of all of the heads of the thirty eight provinces of the Anglican Communion to begin next Monday. One can only suppose things are so bad he needs six days to work on them. 

What can we expect to come of this meeting? In a word, nothing. Since 1998 there have been seemingly countless meetings in AC, all of which have amounted to essentially the same thing.

The fundamental, overriding, and inescapable truth is that this "Communion" is really only a friendship circle of 38 completely independent institutions scattered around the world. There is no central authority in the Communion. The four so-called "Instruments of Communion" have no power to intervene in any one church. They are: 1-the ABC, 2-the meetings of the primates, 3-the decennial Lambeth conferences, and 4-the Anglican Consultative Council. The last is the nearest thing to a "legislature" of the Anglican Communion, but it is only a committee from the various provinces that meets every 2-3 years and hands out advice. It has no executive, legislative, or judicial power. Indeed, there is none in the overall Anglican Communion. Moreover, the 38 vary in government themselves. TEC follows a system where almost all power is in the legislative branch, the General Convention. There is only a weak executive (presiding bishop) and no judicial branch at all. Many other Anglican provinces are headed by archbishops that have considerable executive power. This is true of most of middle Africa. 

Another problem is that the institutions of the Anglican churches and the classical practice of the Anglican religion are not necessarily the same thing. "Anglican" is really a nickname derived from "Church of England." The Church of England declared itself independent of Rome in the sixteenth century. Its purpose and mission was to be truly a national church. That would mean encompassing within the realm widely different traditions and viewpoints of Christianity. It would have to be tolerant of differing views. No one view could be "orthodox" meaning that the other views were unorthodox. In other words, Anglicanism was a generic Christian religion that had to reflect the society around it. This was classical Anglicanism, and it was this that the Episcopal Church (including South Carolina) incorporated into its life at its birth in the 1780's. Archbishop Welby still clings to classical Anglicanism. He said in his invitation to next week's meeting: "A 21-st century Anglican family must have space for deep disagreement, even mutual criticism." Well, good luck ABC because GAFCON, Global South and the like have declared an "orthodox" position that means the illegitimacy and intolerance of all others. In fact, GAFCON leaders recently publicly repudiated the hallowed crown of classical Anglicanism, the concept of the "Via Media."

The reality is that the old Anglican Communion has moved in a different direction and has been doing so for at least the last seventeen years. The direct cause of the problem of the division was the issue of homosexuality. The troubles started in earnest in 1998 when ultra-conservative Episcopal bishops joined with like-minded primates overseas to steer the Lambeth Conference into denouncing homosexuality as non-scriptural. The attack on equal rights for homosexuals served different purposes for the two sides of the coalition. The American bishops were rallying opposition to the movement in the Episcopal Church toward acceptance of homosexuality that had grown very strong between 1991 and 1997. The foreign prelates were mostly African bishops who were competing with Islam for converts in cultures that were historically strongly hostile to homosexuality. The alliance of the ultra-conservatives (perhaps 10% of the Episcopal Church) and the Third World (mostly middle African and south Asian) bishops formed the vehicle that moved to the division of the Communion. TEC's election, confirmation, and consecration of a non-celibate homosexual man, Gene Robinson, as a bishop in 2003 cemented this alliance. In America, the alliance set up the Anglican Communion Network (SC was a founding member) to unify and guide the ultra-conservative cause. In 2006, TEC chose as its presiding bishop a woman, and one who advocated equal rights for homosexuals. In 2007-08, four of the ultra-conservative dioceses (of a dozen) that had formed ACN, voted to break away from TEC. In 2012, a fifth, South Carolina, followed. As soon as the first dioceses voted to leave TEC, they set up a new church called the Anglican Church in North America that was headed by an archbishop (Robert Duncan, former bishop of Pittsburgh) who just happened to be the old head ("moderator') of the Anglican Communion Network.

In 2008, on the eve of the Lambeth conference, hundreds of Anglican bishops, including ultra-conservative Americans and many from Africa and south Asia, united by opposition to rights for homosexuals, met in Jerusalem to form a shadow government of the Anglican Communion. They called it GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference). It adopted "The Jerusalem Declaration" that denounced homosexuality and rejected the legitimacy of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Lawrence of SC was an enthusiastic participant (six months earlier,in his consecration, he had vowed before God and everyone loyalty to TEC). GAFCON and its overlapping ally Global South soon recognized ACNA as the only legitimate Anglican church in the U.S. and its archbishop as a fellow primate. This, in effect split the Anglican Communion into First World (esp. England, Canada, U.S., Australia, New Zealand) and Third World (U.S. ultra-conservatives and middle African and south Asian). The First World clung to the old Anglican Communion structure. The Third World moved to GAFCON while giving lip service to the old AC. Apparently the only way the ABC could get all the primates together this time was to include, at least briefly, the archbishop of ACNA which the ABC has never recognized as a legitimate Anglican authority. If the ABC recognizes the legitimacy of the ACNA archbishop he will be recognizing the end of the AC as we have known it.    

The Episcopal Church has had four great reform movements since the Second World War: civil rights, women's ordination, new prayer book, and homosexuality. Only the last led to schism of dioceses. That is because of several reasons, one of which was that the Americans were aided by well-funded and well-organized activist agencies as the Institute for Religion and Democracy (1981) and its off-shoot the American Anglican Council (1996), which were politically motivated right-wing associations devoted to destroying liberalism in the Episcopal Church (and in America). Another reason was that the ultra-conservative bishops in America linked up with powerful overseas allies starting in the 1990's. In the 1990's, 1/3 of TEC was conservative, and one-third of that, or about 10% of the TEC, was ultra-conservative. (Conservatives were ones opposed to equal rights for homosexuals; ultra-conservatives were ones who refused to accept TEC's decisions on homosexuality.) The effect of all this was to split off part of the Episcopal Church.

So, it remains to be seen just what the well-meaning ABC can do to preserve something resembling the old AC. Perhaps it is after all an anachronism. It was created in the mid-nineteenth century as an expression of the British Empire when it was just reaching its height of glory. The world we live in now is vastly different. The peoples of the old colonies are not so willing to recognize England-America as the power center of their religion, or their world, any more. And, they have the numbers and power to back it up.

Addendum (Jan. 8):
Late on Jan.7, the Associated Press reported that the Vatican is acting to encourage unity among the Anglican primates meeting next week. For the meeting, it is lending one of its oldest relics, the carved ivory top of the pastoral staff of St. Gregory the Great, the pope who dispatched St. Augustine to Canterbury in 597. Conventional wisdom holds Pope Francis is trying to heal divisions in the Anglican Communion and calm issues that might impact on the wider Christian church. I say, more power to him. See: .

If the Vatican's policy is to heal divisions in the Anglican Communion, this is a reversal of earlier attitudes. In early October of 2003, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI and predecessor to Francis, sent a letter of support to the American Anglican Council-led convention of ultra-conservative Episcopalians in Plano TX urging them to hold for "truth." This Plano meeting of Oct. 7-9, 2003, was a repudiation of the decisions of the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church and the starting place of a chain of events that led to the breakaway of the majorities of five dioceses of TEC. The Vatican also set up the Ordinariate to encourage Anglicans to leave their churches. Thus, the Vatican has reversed a policy of encouraging division to one of healing division. The well-named Pope Francis believes it is more important to care for God's creation than to stand in judgment on it. "Who am I to judge?," he said. He would have made a good Anglican.