14 August, 2008

My Crystal Ball

There appears a certain cynicism about the future of the Anglican Communion's remaining in one piece, and truth to tell, in my darker moments, I have been known to share in many of them. Our friends at virtue online, for example, appear to have pronounced the communion dead and called for the undertaker. While there is reason for great concern, especially in light of the strains on the communion caused by TEC in particular, I believe that the rumors of the communion's death are slightly premature. The question is, in my opinion, what shape it will take in the next few years, not whether it will continue to exist, nor even whether TEC will continue as a part of the Anglican Communion. It simply cannot if the communion is to hold together. Nor can the Anglican Communion's ecumenical efforts toward Rome survive beyond mutual goodwill and cooperation. The days when healing the schism with Rome was a possibility are forever gone due to the Church of England's recent approval of female bishops. Things have indeed gone terribly awry.

We read, for example, that in the Diocese of Fort Worth, several priests recently approached the local RC bishop apparently with an eye toward corporate union. Bishop Iker insists that there is no plan for the Diocese to unite with Rome, but rather to realign with an "orthodox province" of the Anglican Communion, leaving the impression that the priests who were granted the meeting did so with an eye toward taking their parishes into the RC Church. In fact, one Ugandan writer suggests that this is the ultimate solution to the crisis in Anglicanism. Where he goes awry, however, is in his characterization of the party lines as "fundamentalist" vs. "liberal." I am certainly no fundamentalist. One cannot be trained in an RC seminary and emerge as one. I am, however, doggedly conservative in my politics and when it comes to my faith, and I certainly do not believe that 815 and like minded bishops are taking TEC down a road with many similarities to what I was brought up in or taught. Is there reason to hope? What is likely to happen next?

Looking into my crystal ball, I see little hope that if the Anglican Communion manages to hold together, that TEC will be a part of the communion in 10 years. The Global South will not allow that to happen, and Canterbury certainly doesn't relish the prospect of losing well over half of the membership of the Anglican Communion. On the other hand, it doesn't really want to forfeit the financial contributions that TEC makes to the communion worldwide. However heterodox the leadership might be, as a church we are nothing if not generous. The Global South also will not stomach the prospects of a female Archbishop of Canterbury any more than they will a gay bishop. The only answer, then is that the Global South will secede from the Anglican Communion. With the Common Cause churches consisting both of Anglican Communion bodies and "continuing Anglican" churches, the safest assumption, it seems to me, is that the Global South as a whole will unite with the Common Cause churches and form a real "continuing Anglican communion," one with unquestionably valid Orders, succession, adequate financing, long established seminaries for those aspiring to Orders and absolutely no prospect of female clergy. This may well be the only way forward with Rome if the prospect of healing the schism with Rome is the goal.

But what of the proposed Anglican Covenant, you ask? While I am strongly in favor of a Covenant uniting the communion, I sincerely doubt that there will be any appetite for it, especially if it defines who is and is not part of the communion, much less if it contains any provisions for expelling a church from the communion. We want unity, but not if it means limits on what we can do! It would also, if it is worth having, put a halt to so-called "prophetic actions" on the part of constituent churches, again anathema to 815. Bottom line, 815 may talk a good game, but when the rubber meets the road and it is time to opt in or out of the covenant, I see no chance at all that TEC will opt into it. Apparently, neither does Bishop John W. Howe.

This leads naturally to the question of whether it is important at all to be in The Anglican Communion. On the one hand, it is a huge part of our identity as Episcopalians, and the defining trait of being an Anglican. Anglicans by definition are in communion with the See of Canterbury. On the other hand, is simply being in communion with Canterbury necessary to be authentically Anglican? The bodies of the "continuing church" continuum would certainly deny that it is. They after all have maintained the polity and liturgy that predate TEC's lapse into heterodoxy. After all, they would argue (and I know, having been in one of these bodies for years), that it is the faith and praxis that defines Anglicanism, not simply a relationship with His Grace of Canterbury. The problem is, however, that the alphabet soup that is the continuing church movement has developed largely out of power struggles and ego clashes. Fortunately, this seems to be slowly resolving itself, but the majority of these bodies are not a realistic option if one wants to be able to move to a new city and find a parish of the church he left in his previous hometown. We humans are social animals. We need to be connected to one another, especially in our faith. Even in the free church movement, we find institutions like the Church of Christ (Pentecostal), Southern and American (northern) Baptist Conventions, to name but a few. Communion equals connectedness and we need it. This is perhaps the strongest argument for preserving the Anglican Communion. It is also one of the chief arguments for its demise, because connectedness for its own sake is not enough. It is necessary for those we are connected with to share at least an irreducible minimum of core beliefs, and the Global South is saying that that is no longer the case. If push comes to shove, and I believe it will in the next few years, the Global South will take their ball (and people) and find another arena for their faithful.

What will this look like in the United States? For one thing, it would eliminate the "border crossing bishops" problem. If the "invading" bishops are no longer part of the same communion, how would they be any different from a Methodist bishop entering into negotiations with a parish or diocese, or a "continuing church" bishop, for that matter? It would no longer be a question of parallel jurisdictions, all owing allegiance to Canterbury. It would be two distinct bodies altogether.

We would also see the continuing spectacle of entire dioceses taking their leave of TEC, and 815 continuing its endless litigation against those departing. I believe that only when 815 starts to feel the financial burden it is imposing upon itself by this litigation will it voluntarily stop the intimidation through litigation process it has embarked upon. Unfortunately for all, 815's pockets are deep indeed.

So what, if I am right, happens to the Anglican Communion? If the Global South defects as it surely must once there is a female Archbishop of Canterbury, then we are left with the churches of the British Empire, Canada, TEC and the churches in Europe in communion with Canterbury. It will still be the Anglican Communion, but drastically pared down and a mere shadow of its former self. It will survive, to be sure, but its glory days will be forever gone.

Can this be averted? Ah, that's the question. The answer is, of course, that it can, but I don't believe it will because it would take genuine metanoia on the part of TEC, Canada and even the Church of England to bring it about and there are too many egos at play and a sense of certitude that they are right. As Bishop Howe states in the article linked above:

My sense is that the Archbishop totally underestimates how myopically focused the American House of Bishops is on "the full inclusion of LGBT persons” as a "Gospel imperative." This is not just a significant PART of the Gospel for most of our Bishops; this IS the Gospel - it is THE great issue of our time: as abolition and civil rights and women's rights were in their times.

Can you say hubris? This is dangerous stuff. They are willing to take the church over the precipice in the name of "inclusion" and pat themselves on the back all the while. Be afraid. Be very afraid, and while you're at it, pray without ceasing for the Anglican Communion to find a way out of this mess.

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