A SPREADing Weakness among the Separatist Faction?

Something I recently noticed in the Anglican alphabet soup: SPREAD. Its call for a new Anglican communion disjoint from that based in Canterbury has gathered attention, both supportive at SFiF and critical at the ACI. I have little to add to Radner's excellent reply on behalf of the ACI; anyone taking the covenant project seriously will likely look askance at calls for pre-emptive schism.

Rather, I want to speculate--and it is mere speculation-- about what SPREAD might hope to accomplish with its acerbic hyperbole, coming on the eve of GAFCON. First, it seems to me SPREAD's criticism of Archbishop Williams will not garner much support outside an already committed base of extremist Separatists. In fact, its critique of Williams sounds so shrill it is more likely to drive the curious away than bring them into SPREAD's fold. That shrillness and its attendant consequences seem intentional, not accidental. Why would anyone intend to adopt a divisive, shrill tone?

Well, second, Anglican critics of TEC and the ACC are already divided among themselves. Some wish to work for a covenant, others wish to separate now. Those working for a covenant have the advantage of working with the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and that advantage is hardly negligible.

Given the first two points, it follows SPREAD's approach is unlikely to gather new support from conservatives who wish to work for a covenant: witness Radner's reaction. Yet, SPREAD's acerbic tone is not entirely without positive effect for them. It seems, third, that critical hyperbole has become an Anglican trope of late, not just a curiousity at the SPREAD site, just because it has the effect of energizing the base. How else to break up parishes, fracture dioceses, fragment provinces, and split the Communion when most of the people occupying these levels in the church would otherwise find a way to get along? The base must be made to believe the other guys are not just mistaken or wrong, but malevolent and evil. The aim is not to bring new folks inside, but to make sure the folks already inside stay inside.

But why should SPREAD be so concerned to energize its base in such a costly manner? It just may be its base is losing its ferfor for separation--that is my fourth and final point, to which the first three lead. SPREAD's appearance is a sign of weakness, and in particular a sign of a willingness at GAFCON to stay within the AC. On the face of it, it would be no surprise if GAFCON's Separatists got "cold feet": the moderation of the covenant proposal recommends itself, and it is only prudent to examine alternative courses of action with judicious circumspection. Their base is willing to compromise and refrain from the requisite leap; they must be "reminded" of how awful the Anglican Communion and Williams, TEC and the ACC really are. Restraint is precisely what extreme Separatists behind GAFCON do not want: in effect, nothing happens except the beginning of another ten year wait for the next Lambeth, during which time Separatists will have to find some way of retaining their momentum.

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