3/30/07

Anglicanism Recap

I have avoided commenting on the current crisis in the Anglican Communion for some time because so much has been happening of late, and so unusually quickly, and I don't want to jump to premature judgment (and because I have been quite busy with real life).

A few weeks ago the primates (archbishops who head the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion) met at Tanzania to decide, among other things, what to do about the American (Episcopal, ECUSA) Church that has failed to comply with 2004's "Windsor Report" which required that the American Church should consecrate no more practicing homosexual bishops, should disallow the blessing of same-sex unions, and should apologize for the church-wide crisis that has been caused. The Primates proposed the creation a "primatal vicar," an administrative and spiritual leader (but probably not a bishop) who could provide oversight to orthodox Episcopalians as an alternative to the current hierarchy of the church, and they also gave the Episcopal Church until September 30th to decide whether the American Church would comply with the Windsor Report.

American leaders initially balked at these ideas, arguing that a September deadline did not provide enough time for the ECUSA's democratic processes to work. Last week the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, USA, met in Texas and rejected the idea of a primatal vicar -arguing (correctly, perhaps) that it would create two de facto Episcopal Churches - and some bishops began talking of schism from the Anglican Communion. The gauntlets appear to have been thrown.

So what will happen? Only time (probably more of it than one would expect) will tell. I believe the Episcopal Church will ultimately split at some point in the future and the Anglican Communion will restructure itself to create some sort limitations on the autonomy of the provinces in favor of a more centralized authority that could deal with such crises in the future.

The Church will split because there is simply no moderating position to be had. One side - the smaller liberal side - believes that God created homosexuality and affirms it just as he does sex between a husband and wife. To them denial of "gay rights" is contrary to the will of God (whether we are talking about marriage or ordination or whatever issue, I find the language of "rights" in the church extremely unhelpful, since it is secular/legalistic language with little or no theological reference point - we have no "rights" before God, only gifts from him). The other side - the conservative majority - believes that God has revealed his plan for human sexuality in the Bible which condemns homosexual practice and that anything beyond that Biblical vision is sinful and contrary to the will of God. This side sees homosexual desire not as God-given but as a product of our corrupted and fallen nature, like so many other desires we all experience. As one commentator put it "they [the ECUSA leadership] want to make a sin into a sacrament." When we stop talking about "rights" and reframe the question in theological terms, we see how vast is the divide between the two sides.

The internal logic of each position necessitates an "all or nothing" approach because they have completely opposite theological understandings of nature of homosexual inclination. For either side to compromise would be to betray their own convictions. I know that is a gloomy prediction, especially for those of us concerned with the unity of the body, but how can they walk together who both fully intend to go in opposite directions? At any rate the rest of us, in church (especially the UMC) and in civil society should watch carefully what is happening.

I would be very surprised if the coming split happened all at once or in as relatively neat a fashion as those before the Civil War (when the Episcopal Church did NOT split). Some parishes and dioceses will leave sooner, and some later.

I have been wondering aloud what implications this will have for the "full communion" talks between my own United Methodist Church (UMC) and the Anglican Communion by way of the ECUSA. Full Communion was supposed to have happened by 2012, but I suspect the Episcopal Church could be split and/or out of the Anglican Communion by then, so this raises the issue of just who it is we wanted to be in full communion with. A Methodist pastor and seminarian suggested to me that the UMC should seek to become an autonomous "international province" of the Anglican Communion, perhaps by 2020. As nice as I think that would be (assuming the Anglicans had their mess sorted out), I doubt many low-church Methodists or high-church Anglicans would have much enthusiasm for that. But then, stranger things have happened in terms of ecclesial mergers. If such a merger were ever to happen, I suggest that the UMC change its name back to our old name, "The Methodist Episcopal Church," or perhaps (even better) change it to "The Methodist Anglican Church." But we'll just have to wait, maybe 15 or 20 years, and see what happens.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Rick Killough said...

There is more that unites us than divides, brother.

I believe we Anglicans will have our mess sorted out (mostly) by the last day of the next Lambeth Conference.

I pray that we may be one again. There is much in Methodism that we need and should emulate right now. Even as a moderately high churchman, I believe there is a way to surmount the 'institutional' problems and effect reunion without compromising theology.

9:10 PM, April 01, 2007  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

In some ways I am on the "high" end of Methodism (which is to say, I am basically Wesleyan)and so I am hopeful that reunion can be achieved. It would be mutually beneficial, it seems to me. I also would be very surprised if Lambeth '08 did not finish the current crisis altogether, or at least take some decisive step in that direction.

9:56 PM, April 02, 2007  
Blogger Stephen said...

I would add one thing...

Is there some middle ground? I for one hope so, somewhere. As an outsider it seems like both sides want the split, while others such as the Episcopal church down the street from me(where I have morning prayer and communion) just want to be good Episcopalians and be left out of this. I tend to see this little church as the vast middle ground that doesn't make the headlines. They are comfortable with just trying their best to be good Christians and encouraging others to do the same. Sex and sexual orientation is not important to them. The sacraments, worship, and daily prayer...that is what is important to them. They are the ones I pray for when I pray about these world events.

Speaking of world events? Are any congratulations in order? Do spill!!! Email me if you want

4:02 PM, April 03, 2007  

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