An Emerging Mainstream Consensus?

The remarkable, and incoherent, Joint Standing Committee report of the ACC seems to indicate and confirm movement away from service to the Separatist agenda among the "instruments" leading the Anglican Communion.

The report, like the HoB document, embodies an unresolved, destabilizing tension: commitment to moral principle essential to Christian life is combined with an acquiescence to failure about implementing the moral principle in the life of the church. Commitment to inclusion and civil advocacy for homosexuals already places them in a class apart from the reprobate and criminals; such normalization implicitly recognizes no sound reason for keeping homosexuals apart from the life of the church. When, in the next breath, these reports go on to promise to keep homosexuals apart, they set up the relevant tension so many have noticed, left and right. How can the promise be kept--given the moral commitment to inclusion? It seems inevitable that in time the promise will finally dissolve.

How much time? It seems the restraint of the HoB and ACC is pragmatic, a measure meant to achieve an end: keeping the CoE together and TEC in the AC. As a corollary, with that dual end achieved, work will continue toward implementing the moral obligation of inclusion. But again, how much longer? This sounds like opponents of Jim Crow (or slavery) who did not want to agitate but promised in time segregation (or slavery) would vanish from the South. Of course, slavery went on and on, just as segregation went on and on. And this cognitive dissonance between moral principle--what too many in the Communion already know is right--and failure to live out the moral principle could go on and on as well.

Easy objection: when the Separatists separate, the Communion will be able to live with moral consitency and integrity. I will concede the point. The Communion then will not have this Sword of Damocles over its head, and consequently will not feel obliged to accomodate its religious extremists and assorted fanatics. Thus, from a Communion-centered point of view, it makes perfect sense to cheer Duncan and Iker on--and whoever wishes to march behind them--to wherever they are going, provided they are going outside the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. And it makes sense to cheer each and every ill-timed African ordination of a dissident cleric into some foreign province--especially if those foreign provinces gather together under some new banner somewhere else. In fact, one would hope for perfect efficiency here--a really big tent that could gather each and every mumbling, grumbling, fissiparous separatist. It could be better for them in the long run, and better for their Gospel witness--not to say ours as well. God bless!

But what are the chances of actual separation? Especially one clean enough to gather all and only the vehemently fissiparous? They are not that good. In fact, the JSC and HoB are set against such a clean break; these documents aim at prying modertate conservatives away from radical conservatives. Thus, even if there is another grand southern secession, it is unlikely to spread far enough to bring the desired peace. And we will have to live with, and live out, the tension embodied in these documents in some way that will bring integrity to the life of the Communion.

The good news in this is the widespread tacit acknowledgement of the very moral principle which can lead to blessing SSUs etc. There is a consensus around that--and a consensus too that a split so violent as to break apart the CoE should be avoided now as unnecessary. Surely the hope is that in time the split will lose force. Here, as before, the church is content to see its moral principles gradually implemented by the secular state before the church gets around to adopting them in earnest: Cyrus anointed to show us the way home all over again, again and again. So be it.

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