The New Shape of Anglicanism? | Liveblog | Christianity Today

Timothy Morgan offers the following post about Anglican Happenings at Christianity Today’s live blog.  My comments follow.

The New Shape of Anglicanism?

Leaders of 1,300 Anglican/Episcopal churches seek status as new North American Province.

Timothy C. Morgan

Less than 1 week after the official opening of the Lambeth conference in the UK, the conservative Common Cause Partnership has issued a press release, declaring their joint intention to request that leading Anglican primates recognize their 1,300 congregations as the new North American Province.

Granted, this was a widely anticipated move. But this effort puts the fat in the fire on a day when Lambeth attendees are having tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace following their very public march through official London for adoption of the Millennium Development Goals to fight global poverty and improve the standard of living for the world’s 3 billion poor people.

{Read it all}

There are, of course, some practical issues to deal with in the request of the Common Cause Partnership.  For instance, how can GAFCON, which claims to be a fellowship and not a Church unto itself, recognize Common Cause as a “province.”  A province of what exactly, if not the Church of GAFCON?  That, coupled with the issue of the GAFCON leaders being self-appointed smacks of the same sickness that has brought down the American Episcopal Church, i.e. a willful desire to go one’s own way.  The only difference are their opinions.

The second practical issue to clear up is the fact that not all of the various ecclesial bodies within the Common Cause partnership enjoy the same degree of fellowship with one another.  Some members include Dioceses that are still within the structure of The Episcopal Church, various bodies that have left at different times over issues as varied as the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Women’s Ordination and now the sexuality controversy.  Because of their differences on these matters (save sexuality issues) there is no inter-changeability of ministries within the members of the Common Cause Partnership, which is, of course, one of the first issues to be dealt with on the road to unity.  How can anything calling itself a province of a Church include within it groups that don’t recognize one another’s ordination?  This issue is heightened in the case of the Reformed Episcopal Church, which joined Common Cause while the Anglican Province of America, with whom they are merging, declined to do so for these very reasons (why would you join in fellowship those whom you believe to be wrong in regards to women and the Prayerbook just because you agree on issues of human sexuality, when it was those other issues that drove you to separate from TEC to begin with?)

I’m afraid all this talk of “realignment” within Anglicanism sans Canterbury is little more than the self-deception of conservatives who are doing as much to turn a Church that has been growing and evolving into an international Communion, into little more than a partisan fellowship of the like-minded, as the liberals are on the other end.  What they fail to realize is that unless their is a solution that emerges from an evolution of the Communion, such as many are working toward through the Covenant, the hopeful future establishment of an Anglican Faith and Order Commission etc… then they are doing nothing but establishing sects that may or may not achieve and maintain any recognizable form of unity–and it certainly won’t be recognizable as a global communion.  And if indeed that does happen, and fragmentation continues, it begs the question of what it has all been for.  After all, aren’t there any number of ways to be protestant and use the prayer book liturgy without all the fuss and bother of the current politics in the Anglican Communion?  It boggles my mind.  If one isn’t willing to work for a solution that leaves a stronger international communion, then why wouldn’t you simply form an independent Bible Church that happens to use the BCP (whichever version you prefer)


  • Hotspur

    As the due representative of the peanut gallery…

    Just kidding…but I am not a member of your church so I mostly refrain from commenting on these very well written and articulate posts just because I have a different point of view.

    That said: so what do you think the AC is going to wind up having to do in order to set things right eventually?

    (that’s either a softball pitch or a change-up…)

    Yes, I’m aware that you gotta have faith and all that (and I do agree…) but I distinctly remember a previous presiding bishop coming to Sewanee roughly 20 years ago predicting the events of today (including gay clergy…) and concluding that the Anglican Communion will probably have to turn into the Anglican Commonwealth (with the Archbishop of Canterbury acting in the same capacity of the Queen) in order to keep the very different factions from breaking apart.

    Messy marriage as opposed to a messy divorce I guess?

  • Jody+


    Thank you for your comments, and don’t hesitate to comment on something if you want, different opinions and different backgrounds can always add something to the discussion.

    In regards to what the Anglican Communion is going to have to do, I believe Rowan Williams is attempting to do it, i.e. that is Anglicanism (as well as other Christian churches) have forgotten what it means to think theologically and have instead internalized the political ways of speaking and acting that are abroad in the culture. Some of this is perhaps inevitable–a look at history would reveal that. But while the influence of politics might be inevitable, the ignorance of one’s own tradition and a tendency to shape the tradition to one’s own liking is not–nor is it desirable. I believe the changes made in the structures of the Lambeth Conference this time, while deserving of some criticism, are at least having some of the desired results in encouraging the Bishops to think and act like Bishops rather than partisans. The presentations seem to have been chosen to challenge people from various perspectives and the focus on Bible study and the particular role of the Bishop is, I think, foundational work that has too often been neglected.

    The irony in all of this is of course that many “conservatives” have been highly critical of the structural changes because it rejected a parliamentary model and they wanted a clear and decisive vote. Yet at the same time they have to admit (and indeed many of their actions have been predicated upon) the fact that such a vote on issues of human sexuality was taken at Lambeth 1998 to no real effect in the US. The issue has never been about voting, but has instead always been about authority and structure.

    On the other side, “liberals” have lauded the non-parliamentary structure in the expectation that “nothing” would come out of Lembeth to challenge their forward movement in areas of Sexuality, open communion of the unbaptized etc…

    I believe both factions were incorrect in their assessment, and both are being disabused of them during the conference. As i have said, the important changes, if they are to be made, are primarily about structures and authority. Conservatives who have called for discipline of what they view as unfaithful and wayward behavior have desired action when their is no mechanism to act in the decisive way they desire. On the other hand, liberals have tended to place faith in a view of the Communion that has not taken seriously the bonds of affection that tie it together and the moral claim our brothers and sisters can make upon us even–perhaps especially–when their is no mechanism in place for “discipline.”

    What I believe is happening now is that Archbishop Williams and the others who organized the Lambeth Conference, whatever its faults (and their are faults) have provided the sort of environment that is favorable to interaction and the formation of consensus. In refocusing on the role of the Bishop, on the Holy Scriptures themselves, on relationship building between Bishops from disparate parts of the Communion with various theologies, they have provided and opportunity for the discussions and debates of these important issues to occur in an environment that is not as likely as a parliamentary debate to cause polarization. By creating an environment where the Bishops can interact in a non-threatening way they have, in effect, helped to provide a place where the reports of such folks as the Windsor Continuation Group with it’s suggestions about international principles of Cannon Law and the Anglican Faith and Order Commission can be heard and debated on their merits with some of the partisan lenses hopefully at least, used less often.

    All of this is to say that I believe the conference is, in many ways, going about this in a fitting manner. If there is to be a way forward in the Anglican Communion that is worth going, it has to be one that begins in going back to the font of what it means to be in Christian Communion and it has to involve a reclamation of Anglicanisms great theological and ecclesiological resources.

    I believe that those folks who advocate for a federation rather than a stronger communion are in important ways rejecting part of what makes the Anglican tradition unique among other Christian bodies, and were their vision of the future to come to pass it raises the real question of why anyone would bother to be part of it. It really would (in my opinion) make more sense to go ahead and become totally congregational and simply form a community church that uses the BCP.

    There are several reasons I believe those who advocate for a loose federation, such as the former PB you mention are actually incorrect in their assessment of Anglicanism as a whole.

    On the one hand, most of the people who argue with great fervor for such a course are within the Episcopal Church. Historically, this advocacy is a great reversal, as some members of the Episcopal Church were instrumental in helping pave the way for the evolution of the Communion as such–and even now some of the Communions strongest defenders are from the Episcopal Church–in fact our best theologians such as Ephraim Radner, Phillip Turner, Chris Seitz etc… There are a couple of things that I believe underlie this reversal. The first is a shift in theological education that saw a lessening use of distinctively Anglican resources in the training of clergy to such an extent that people (including priests and Bishops) have often come to view the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism as whatever they want it to be–it has become a wax nose, taking on the characteristics that they want it to have in contrast to Roman Catholics or fundamentalists. The other thing that seems to happen in the Episcopal church is that our exeriences as Episcopalians are universalized across the Communion. Episcopalians have a heard time recognizing, given our lip-service to diversity, that we are actually quite a monochrome church. Not only are there relatively few of us, we really don’t have the same degree of theological or liturgical diversity that is present in many other Anglican provinces. Episcopalians have also come to see “democracy” in religion as an Anglican characteristic, when in fact it is mostly distinctive to the Episcopal Church in the US.

    The second reason I believe folks who argue that a federation is the natural future evolution of the Anglican Communion is because they seem to be missing a huge chunk of foundational Anglican ecclesiology dating from the Reformation and forming a link with the pre-Reformation Church. Many people will talk about Anglicanism’s nationalist/Erastian qualities, but fewer discuss the counter tradition within Anglicanism, which is a reverence for conciliarism and a desire to move toward a Conciliar form of church governance. It is this subterranean ethos that has been driving the development of the Communion to date and underlies many of the assumptions made in our ecumenical dialogues, as well as in the Windsor Report etc…

    I believe that the way forward that is worth going forward with, is one that follows this deeply ingrained thread of Anglicanism. I cannot say whether it will win out over those on right or left who desire a looser form of connection, but I can say that if it does not win out, I believe that Anglicanism will fragment into so many pieces that it will become little more than an aesthetic choice to be Anglican.

    There are certainly enough conflicts making this path a difficult one. The desire of “conservatives” for differentiation from the leadership of the Episcopal Church often amounts to little more than a desire for re-branding and their solutions are far too often not theologically well-founded, but that does not make the desire any less real. Similarly, the ways in which “conservatives” have went about forming relationships based upon affinity with folks in the rest of the Anglican world seems little more than a working out of this same consumerist impulse. That doesn’t mean their (our) concerns are unfounded, merely that I think they are seeking a treatment for a symptom while feeding the disease.

    So, at any rate, I suppose my answer would be to hope for a messy marriage. I hope some of that was helpful.

  • Hotspur

    My favourite story about explaining the practical difference between Anglicans and the other denominations is the time a friend of mine took a member of the Roman Catholic Church to see a stained glass window in a war memorial.

    “What do you see?”

    “Line of soldiers charging a German machine-gun emplacement…”

    “Look closer.”

    “(gasp!) Wait…is that Jesus?”

    “How can you tell?”

    “He’s the only one not wearing a gas mask…

    …or carrying a rifle.”

    “But you do notice he’s carrying an English flag…”


    “That’s just…so…wrong!” (with a smile)

    And that’s the Episcopal Church I remember well. The semi-closeted C of E in the States…before we had women in the ministry who forced all of us to take the church aspect more seriously.

    (Females in ministry made us sober up and wise up IMHO…it’s a good thing overall…as a former Sewanee seminary head once said: “Nope, they didn’t have female apostles back in the day. G-d knew that empowered females would only be laughed at. But don’t you think that if G-d had to do it again today that there’s a better than 50 percent chance that Jesus would appear as female?”)

    Time to out myself: I converted to Judaism soon after graduating from Sewanee…

    (My standing joke is that the Episcopal Church was just not liberal enough for me)

    My college sweetheart and I have a little girl who’s being raised Jewish. She’s a loud, proud Jew who has asked more than once why we’re so quiet compared to the parents of her friends at Temple…

    Mom: “Sewanee experience” Dad: “Chaplain had a large stick…”

    I don’t miss much from the church except:

    1. John Donne’s hymns during Advent

    2. Tradition

    And I think that’s where we can both agree about what’s going on at Lambeth. If the Anglican Church has any practical hope of staying together…it will largely be based on her tradition of staying together to form Christianity’s version of “the thin red line.”

    There’s nothing wrong with good traditions.

  • Jody+


    Thanks for your comments, I especially appreciate the story (anyone familiar with Sewanee cannot help but think of the stained glass at All Saints Chapel). Such nationalism is a besetting sin of Christianity generally, and is often more prevalent among protestants and Orthodox than it is among Roman Catholics, for the simple reason that the Pope provides a bit of a counterweight to such thinking.

    But it does persist, and is usually attached to a sort of triumphalism or assurance that God has chosen “us” (pick your nation) as a new covenant people. Again, this is an interesting thread that runs through Christian Rome, to Medieval Europe and its successor states in the west, and through Byzantium and Orthodox Russia in the east. It’s more cartoonish forms can be found in end-times literature that sees the US as a force only of good and first the Soviet Union and now Russia + Iran as tools of the anti-Christ.

    There are positive aspects to believing that the Almighty is watching over you–as long as you believe he’s a critic and not simply affirming everything we do–which is the problem with such nationalism. But there is something compelling in that sort of confidence. Perhaps if we keep the evils in front of us we might be able to discern exactly what it is.

    For myself, I think it’s partly where you point–that there’s nothing wrong with good traditions. That there is something right and powerful about taking the best of the tradition, with its insistence on rejecting one’s own self-interest, one’s own way, in favor of the way of the God who calls the best out of all of us in the service of others.

    I can understand why you’d miss John Donne’s hymns or other Anglican/Christian traditions–but tradition in general? One of my best professors in college was a Reform Rabbi who, though his vast knowledge of the Jewish tradition of biblical interpretation, helped inspire me to my current vocation. We share a great and vast ocean of tradition, even if we (Christians and Jews) often fail to recognize it, focusing instead on what has separated us.

    I hope you’ll keep coming and adding your perspective here. After all, I am the “Ecumenical Officer” for the Diocese–which includes interfaith relations. If I can’t encourage a give and take on my own site, I’ll be hard pressed to encourage it in the Diocese.

  • Hotspur

    Thanks for the standing invite. I’ll behave myself (when in Rome and all that…)

    My first in-depth introduction to Anglicanism came from the chaplain of a British Army para unit in Belfast. He made sure we understood the martial traditions of the AC. I was an Army brat so that made an impression on my pre-teen self. It was probably not the healthiest of impressions in retrospect…

    Just got back from the new parent orientation night at the community day school…

    12 parents in the room (stop laughing…)

    2 Chabad, 4 Orthodox, 3 Conservative, 3 Reform…

    7 Ashkenazi, 4 Sephardic, 1 Norman

    Wow…not in Kansas anymore.