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Australia: Crises of faith
VirtueOnline-News ^ | 6/30/2006 | Barney Zwartz

Posted on 06/30/2006 5:47:00 PM PDT by sionnsar

ANGLICAN leader Rowan Williams labours hard for the King, but even he cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again. His "theological reflection" this week proposing a two-tier worldwide church not only recognised but would finally cement the barrier dividing conservatives and liberals.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual head of the world's 77 million Anglicans, is a gentle man, a fine scholar and a peacemaker, but bridging the gap between groups so heavily polarised is simply insuperable for anyone.

All sides agree it's about much more than homosexuality, the immediate battleground: it goes to the core of how churches should relate to their culture and each other. But the dissension is intensified because sexuality is such an emotive issue - for the progressives, it's a matter of justice and human rights; for the orthodox, it's about truth and fidelity.

The issue hit the headlines in 2002 when a Canadian bishop approved a blessing for same-sex unions, then again in early 2003 when a celibate gay was proposed as Bishop of Reading in England (he withdrew). But the sparks became a forest fire later that year when Gene Robinson, a man in an active gay relationship, became bishop of New Hampshire in America.

Williams was virtually forced to act this week to buy the worldwide church more time after last week's national convention of the Episcopalian Church of the United States of America (ECUSA) did not retreat enough to satisfy those who resented their appointment of a gay bishop in 2003. Just yesterday, Nigerian Anglican leader Peter Akinola provocatively appointed Canon Martyn Minns of Truro Church in Virginia as missionary bishop to Nigerian churches in the United States.

Williams sent his reflection, which has been widely admired as peaceable yet realistic, to the 38 Anglican primates (national leaders). He conceded that he could not fix the fractures over sexuality, recognised that the faultlines ran inside national churches as well as between them, and criticised the Americans for acting unilaterally.

He suggested a two-tier church, built around a "covenant" of shared beliefs that churches would have to choose to sign. Those churches that opted out could be associate members, in a reduced relationship and without a vote on the church's ruling councils. Clearly, conservatives would dominate.

According to Australian primate Phillip Aspinall, everything hinges on what kind of covenant. "A legalistic document that is coercive is unlikely to win support, especially in Australia. Autonomous national churches will be reluctant to relinquish power. If one or two members of a family have caused distress to the rest of the family who see them as transgressing the norms and expectations of family life, a family will discuss what those norms and expectations are. A covenant of that sort, which makes explicit what has been tacit until now, has a chance of winning the hearts and minds of the communion."

To Australia's leading Anglican conservative, Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen, it's a turning point. The reflection "is a very helpful piece of work. It's cautious, but he's bound to be cautious. It contains hope, though I think it's a little romantic. It identifies where the problems are and, best of all, he brings us back to the Bible. The man who is charged with the responsibility of keeping us together and has exhorted us to stay together has recognised that it's nearly impossible."

How did matters get so far awry? As with any global political dispute, it's a mixture of principle, posturing and pragmatic politics on all sides, of complex motivations, divided loyalties and shifting agendas. For example, the Africans who have led the opposition to the American liberals have been influenced not only by theological conviction but also by cultural misunderstandings and colonial resentment. It's rather a thrill to tell the Americans where to get off.

How events unfold from here is hard to predict. But developments do highlight several important trends in the worldwide church - and not only the Anglicans. Most churches are wrestling with similar issues, and the Uniting Church of Australia faces a challenging national assembly dominated by a discussion of sexuality next week.

First, internationally, Williams' recognition highlights the shift in gravity from the Western church to the global south, especially Africa. In some ways, the most important Anglican today is Peter Akinola, whose flock numbers some 18 million. On any given Sunday, more Anglicans go to church in Nigeria than in Britain, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia combined. The faith may be stagnating in Western churches, but it is flourishing in Africa, Asia and South America.

"It's very clear that Western churches do not call all the shots," says Aspinall. "The new balance has been emerging for some years." Leading Anglican laywoman Dr Muriel Porter says Africans will increasingly dominate "by sheer force of numbers and sheer force of willpower. More progressive forms of Anglicanism, by their very nature, are willing to tolerate more points of view, or don't crusade in so determined a fashion."

But conservative First World forces who have allied with the Africans, including the Sydney diocese, have brought considerable sophistication in dealing with the media, and lots of money, she says.

A second trend is the rising dominance of the conservative, evangelical wing of the church, whose numbers are growing while most liberal churches are in decline. Evangelicals say this is because they are faithful to the Christian message, including sexuality, rather than floating in the winds of culture.

Sydney lawyer Robert Tong, a member of the international commission dealing with disputes over homosexuality, says the conservatives are the faithful Anglicans. "They have not moved from the Anglicanism they inherited, whether high church or low. It's the other folk who have innovated."

But Porter has a different account: to her, the bullies are winning. "The sad thing is that more moderate people have not stood up to it. They've been respectful - or negligent. They haven't said 'we hear you but we actually have this point of view'. It's how to deal with schoolyard bullies 101: stand up to them. If you don't, you're looking at worse."

Third, the church boundaries will increasingly be determined less by geography than theology. Already, Anglicans are creating networks across geographical boundaries, such as the Nigerian church in the United States. Peter Jensen says that dual churches will emerge or churches within churches. For example, there may be two distinct Anglican churches in the United States, a big liberal one and a small conservative one. Otherwise, individual dioceses may opt out of ECUSA and be linked to other churches or directly to Rowan Williams. Three orthodox dioceses there have already sought his oversight.

Paradoxically, with that, the influence of the Archbishop of Canterbury will be reduced. Jensen says: "His leadership cannot have the power it once did. It's not his fault." But his moral authority has been ebbing away. For example, he criticised the American church, but they have not accepted his criticisms, Jensen says. And as churches or dioceses opt out of his proposed covenant, his circle of influence will shrink.

A fourth point to emerge from the Anglican crisis is the difficulty of grappling with moral and theological questions from within very different cultural and social contexts. Cultural differences can be more influential than shared theology.

Dr Bruce Kaye, a historian and until recently Australia's top Anglican administrator, observes that American culture is distinctively built on inalienable rights. "Everything they approach is based on that individualist attitude to society, culture and community groups. It shapes how moral questions are dealt with, in churches and even by the Boy Scouts. It's quite a significant issue."

Africa, in contrast, inherited the British model of legal structures, reinforced by tribal connections. "It's a more communitarian outlook, but also more hierarchical. That's a big issue that will take more than our lifetimes to resolve," Kaye says.

Jensen agrees. "The American church has been greatly impacted by the civil rights movement, for blacks, women and gays. Put that with the missionary culture, exporting freedom to the world. They feel they are out ahead of the game, their business is to show us how to treat people, and we'll fall into line in the next 20 years. That's very American, very cultural."

Fifth, it highlights the power of the internet. Muriel Porter says: "It used to take longer for people to know what others were doing, there was time for debate, and not the same impetus for it to be an issue of who has power, which this is very much about."

With bloggers running daily accounts of last week's American convention, outsiders learnt not only the resolutions passed, as they always would have, but the discussions that led to them. It opened up their inner workings.

Sixth, notwithstanding some of the gloom above, another factor that leaps out is the resilience of the church. For ordinary Anglicans in the pews - in Melbourne, San Francisco or Lagos - not much will change, at least, not soon. As Peter Jensen says, Anglicans will become a loose federation - like the British Commonwealth, rather than the British empire - but they will recognisably remain Anglicans.

Aspinall says Australia is not standing on the edge of this precipice, even though the alignments found internationally are also found here. And internationally, too, he believes the church is heading in a positive direction.

One thing Williams may have achieved, and his primary ambition, is to buy enough time for the Anglican Church to reach its next Lambeth Conference, the 10-yearly conference of the world's bishops, in one piece.

Mind you, according to Robert Tong, funding for Lambeth is something no one talks about, but last time is was largely American-subsidized. "If they are made divisions into two they may not be so generous."


TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 06/30/2006 5:47:03 PM PDT by sionnsar
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To: ahadams2; angeliquemb9; Houston_Texans; impatient; weps4ret; kellynch; Crackhead Willie; meandog; ..
Traditional Anglican ping, continued in memory of its founder Arlin Adams.

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this moderately high-volume ping list (typically 3-9 pings/day).
This list is pinged by sionnsar, Huber and newheart.

Resource for Traditional Anglicans:
More Anglican articles here.

Humor: The Anglican Blue (by Huber)

Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 06/30/2006 5:48:07 PM PDT by sionnsar (†† |Iran Azadi| SONY: 5yst3m 0wn3d - N0t Y0urs | NYT: The Jihadis' Journal)
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To: sionnsar
1. Who died and made Muriel Porter (whoever she is) Archbishop? And why is anyone who dares to disagree with her a "bully"? In my experience, "leading laywoman" usually means "female without much else to do who made such a stink that they put her on a committee somewhere."

2. Does anybody else see the nasty racism inherent in the attitude towards the African Anglicans? They're "tribal"; they're "intolerant"; they are ignorant and incapable of handling sophisticated negotiations -- they have to import "conservative First World forces" to do that for them. What hubris! (I don't know anything about Abp Akinola's C.V., but I would guess that he's quite well educated. He's articulate and writes well.)

3 posted on 06/30/2006 6:30:34 PM PDT by AnAmericanMother ((Ministrix of Ye Chase, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment)))
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To: AnAmericanMother

When reading propaganda such as this I remember that it's the liberals who want to change the rules, not conservatives. Conservatives haven't left the church; the church has left them.

4 posted on 06/30/2006 10:24:40 PM PDT by gogeo (The /sarc tag is a form of training wheels for those unable to discern intellectual subtlety.)
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