Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This Just In: Anglicans Still in Crisis

As the CofE prepares itself to choose John Senatamu somebody as its new Archbishop of Canterbury, it seems that some of the colonials are getting restless.

Per the Telegraph, a coalition of "traditionalist" bishops (the headline's word, not ours) from "Africa, the Americas and Australasia" is arguing that Canterbury ought to lose its central place in what's left of the Anglican Communion.  The story goes on to make these guys sound like Edward Said, crusading against the current structure for its "Anglocentric view of the world" and outdated colonial structure.

The Telegraph article is written with an abominable lack of clarity, and may well leave non-Anglican readers confused.  Herewith, some clarification.

The bishops are members of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which the BBC labels "a dissident movement."  That may be a bit strong; they dissent principally from the gay stuff as embraced by the (D&FMS of the) PECUSA and, less warmly, the CofE.  The FCA General Secretary, Archbishop Jensen of Sydney, is quoted as saying that the FCA "is the mainstream" which "represents the vast majority of Anglicans."  We have no idea how true that may be.  

In any case, the FCA grew from the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON.  It's central confession is "The Jerusalem Declaration," a 14-point document which lists many of the usual Anglican things (it likes the 1662 BCP, the Ordinal, and -- ahem -- "the four Ecumenical Councils"), but fires two distinct shots across the Anglo-American bow:
[Article 8] We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.
[Article 13] We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.
In short, gays should keep their pants zipped and Episcopalians are anathematized.  So far as we can tell, these are the only points in the Jerusalem Statement which set it apart from the sort of thing Anglicans always say; therefore, it is fair to argue that they are the distinctive burden of the document, and that insofar as the FCA is "traditionalist," its traditionalism resides in a claim to conservatism in sexual matters and a disavowal of those who disagree with it.  Whether and to what degree these are in fact traditional values is open to debate, but that's for some other post.

Nothing new here, of course.  What is somewhat new, though, is the attack on Canterbury's historic centrality.  It has been building for a while, as the FCA Chairman, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, explains in his keynote address:
It is now generally recognized [i.e., within the FCA] that the instruments of [Anglican] Unity[,] e.g. the Primates Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth conference … no longer command general confidence.
Subsequently, when the Global South Movement Primates gathered in China last September felt compelled to state in a communiqué that;  ‘the Anglican Communion’s instruments of Unity have become dysfunctional and no longer have the ecclesial and moral authority to hold the communion together’.
Archbishop Jensen puts it more bluntly in a different (and better) Telegraph article:
 ... the route to heaven does not go through Canterbury.
These are all strong words.  Nor, to Lutheran ears, are they unreasonable, in the sense that they make unity in doctrine -- rather than, say, unity in ceremonies -- the sine qua non of church relations. 

And yet it is not entirely clear that this is what traditionalism looks like, least of all Anglican traditionalism.  While there may be no binding reason that the Primate of All England ought also to be the figurehead of worldwide Anglicanism, it is both historically true and symbolically fitting -- and neither history nor symbolism should be lightly discarded.  This is the most basic statement of traditionalism, and those who do not subscribe to it must be viewed with caution.

Moreover, such primacy as Canterbury enjoys within the communion is itself largely symbolic and administrative, rather than executive.  Rowan Williams has negotiated, albeit without much effect, not because he loves negotiation but also because his position gives him no power over the church leaders with whom he must negotiate.  In contrast to, say, the Pope, the archbishop of Canterbury really is primus intrer pares, with emphasis on the pares. 

So, to be blunt, these guys don't sound especially "traditionalist" to us, nor even -- to use the word they generally prefer -- "orthodox."  They sound, to be frank, like people who are so exercised over one comparatively minor point of moral theology that they have raised it up above all the other elements of their church's teaching and practice.  Mind you, this is how Luther must have sounded to some of his critics, and indeed it is precisely the way some Anglo-Catholics have portrayed him. So history may judge the FCA more kindly than we are inclined to do. 


Unknown said...

So would you consider the gay issue to be the gateway to a bigger issue of power & influence to those who want to move away from Canterbury? It sounds to me the FCA want to make all the decisions, but to do that they need to wrest away the power to do that.
Am I being cynical again?

Father Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to think so, although it could be that it all started with the sexuality stuff (both gay people and, for a lot of the churches involved, female priests) and then blossomed into something more.

Of course, there isn't a lot of actual power at stake here. Apart from the property squabbles in the US and some African countries, this seems mostly a matter of bragging rights -- who gets to claim the title of "true Anglican."