Anarchy in the UK?

OK, not quite anarchy in the UK, but at least an eruption of sorts.That simmering pot of ecclesial stew--uncomfortably spicy but dependably stable--has simmered over its edges and spilled over its bounds. Or: the contents Williams managed to repress for so long have been emphatically expressed.

First, Father Dudley blessed a SSU between two ostensibly active gay priests; he was duly reprimanded by the relevant authorities, but to some conservatives it seemed Dudley had been merely slapped on the wrist. Moreover, it seems Dudley had not been the first (last paragraph in the linked article): blessing SSUs a covert practice already established in the Church of England? Then, following GAFCON, foreign bishops Venables, Orombi and Jensen crossed the Church of England's borders in an effort to woo parishes, clergy, laity, etc away from the Sees of Canterbury and York, prompting condemnation from Williams and Sentamu--and even several lashings from Wright. Finally, the CoE has committed itself to ordaining women as bishops, prompting worries that traditionalists will split to Rome or effect schism.

From the Anglican Communion Institute

It seems events have overtaken the old TEC (and Canada!) vs the rest of the Anglican Communion drama. Consider the latest emission (thanks, Katherine) from the ACI, here: the thing is dead on arrival. E.g.:

A second issue that requires immediate attention is the vulnerable state of those Anglo Catholic dioceses and parishes in TEC that do not believe that the ordination of women is in accord with catholic tradition.

Oh dear. And those within the Church of England? It gets better, believe me:

Though the issue is a disputed one, it is nonetheless the case that the Communion has judged this practice a matter of “reception” rather than "right". Within TEC, however, the ordination of women is no longer treated as a matter of reception.

Now that's rich. Shall we say "Within the CoE, however, the ordination of women is no longer treated as a matter of reception"? I think we shall. Finally:

If no remedy is provided them, two results will follow—the splintering of TEC and the Communion will continue unabated and the counsel of the Communion to treat the ordination of women as a matter of reception will have been rebuffed in a way that further weakens the claim of Anglicans to belong to a communion rather than a federation of churches.

Shall we say the same counsel applies to the Church of England? I think we shall; the CoE apparently has rebuffed the counsel of the Communion. Hey, by the way, did "the counsel of the Communion" come up during the debates at Synod, and if so, did the notion "have legs"? Or shall we say the notion is significant primarily in the minds of Seitz, Radner and Turner, who seemed to need it as a cudgel with which to bludgeon the Episcopal Church and Canada--will they now turn their rhetorical weapons against the Church of England? Will the Church of England have to join the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada among the banned in covenant proceedings? My, what would that look like?

After all, one could make a case that the ACI's initial item,

First and foremost among these is the already announced intention of a significant number of bishops within TEC to allow clergy within their dioceses to bless unions between members of the same gender,

is so broad that it snags or at least soon shall snag the Church of England. The key weasel word is "allow": if Dudley is not disciplined, then he should count as having been allowed by the bishops of the CoE to bless a SSU in their jurisdiction--just what TEC is accused of tolerating. Moreover, given the rather radical motions passed by Synod over ordaining women, is ACI still confident the CoE can be counted on to hold the line on blessing gay SSUs or ordaining actively gay bishops? Has not the CoE's position already demonstrably eroded with its toleration of gay civil unions?

Finally, notice how in their zeal to isolate the Episcopal Church, the authors conveniently leave out the Anglican Church of Canada--an innocent oversight? They also make no mention of other bishops in the Communion who seem willing to move in the Episcopal Church and Canada's direction on homosexuality: the Church of Ireland is ready to move our way, and is considering whether to allow gay unions. Scotland has long been close to TEC on the question of ordaining active gays--their Primate has an interesting theology--and recent comments from Primus Jones--as well as from the Archbishop of Mexico--call for tolerance on homosexuality. We can count on New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa, and much of Australia to be at least sympathetic. The ACI sweeps this support for the Episcopal Church "under the rug" without mention--why? It could be intellectual laziness or dishonesty, but it seems more likely that the covenant process under Gomez and the ACI's leadership needs the fiction of the Episcopal Church as a radical loner in its Communion narrative in order to get the covenant it wants in the end, namely--in their words--

a covenant that “is in line with our common classical Anglican heritage of biblical, historical and reformed formularies of faith and ecclesiology,”

presumably one that institutionalizes opposition to ordaining actively gay bishops, blessing SSUs, and that provides special arrangements for those opposed to ordaining women.

That strategy of isolating TEC, long pursued by ACI and other critics of the Episcopal Church, seems to have come undone with GAFCON expanding its efforts to target the Church of England: much of what animates GAFCON to deny TEC's authority will animate it to deny the CoE's authority--but why stop there? The ACI's latest missive would tolerate the formation of factions like GAFCON in the Communion commited to crossing boundaries to poach people, prelates and property: this is sublimated in their rhetoric:

as the recent GAFCON conference has shown, the sort of face-to-face conversation for which the upcoming conference is designed can, despite internal divisions, produce real results

"Real results" indeed; we may well see GAFCON "deny the authority" of Ireland, Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and on and on without end, as GAFCON's super-special Primates see fit: GAFCON as a machine geared up to destroy the remnants of catholic authority in the Anglican Communion.

The ACI means to resist schism, one supposes, by working the covenant into an instrument to appease conservative tastes: communion, maybe even more particularly communion with the Sees of Canterbury and York, means something or other to them: just what, in the wake of GAFCON's ecclesiology? Whatever: this missive, by catching the Church of England, Canada--and who knows how many other provinces in the short term--in a net designed to entangle the Episcopal Church alone aids GAFCON's efforts to sow division at the very same time it seems to weaken the covenant process by all but openly inviting factions to make it an instrument to their particular struggles. GAFCON has no monopoly on inept theology. Aren't there any adults left in the Communion interested in brushing these ninnies aside so that serious, cogent work on the covenant might get done?

Why the Sudden Rout of the Anglican Right?

Not long ago it seemed the fortunes of the Anglican right were waxing, and that TEC would indeed be isolated or expelled from the AC while being quartered by foreign efforts to poach parishes and dioceses. That seems like a long time ago, though of course Anglicanism's right wing will continue poaching because, having defined itself negatively, it only knows how to keep doing the unsuccessful things it has already done: failure sublimated again and again as "Renewal" will not rouse evangelical suspicion. The right overreached in its border crossing in the US, pace Wright's dismaying equivocations--but the right failed to learn from that, and now Canada and England are victims of right-wing aggression, an aggression that cannot see itself as it is, that cannot limit its lusts, an aggression incapable of moderation.

I have already noted the incoherence in GAFCON's program. At root the incoherence comes from another absurdity, so far as I can tell: wanting biblical authority to stand while wanting biblical authority to fall. Let me explain. GAFCON and its sympathizers make a point of the need to obey biblical authority: let the Scripture's plain sense reign on the issue of homosexuality. In this sense they wish biblical authority to stand, and will claim this authority is at stake. But, as duly noted on the Anglican Continuum, GAFCON et al obstinately refuse to acknowledge plain-sense Scriptural condemnations of divorce and ordaining women--and maybe even of abortion. In that sense they want bibllical authority--as they conceived it in treating homosexuality--to fall. And that is no accident--their integrity depends on holding together groups whose self-serving, selective reading of Scripture gives them their identity. In short, GAFCON makes the main issue to be Scriptural authority, on which it does not have a coherent and principled position. Logically speaking, anything follows from a contradiction. What would you like to "infer" from an incoherent stand on Scripture? Whatever you really, really want to infer: like a power to deny the authority of the catholic church (Jerusalem Declaration, #6 & #13).

Maybe--finally--parties throughout the Communion outside the Episcopal Church are waking up to what the Anglican right has unleashed. Even if they do not see it in quite the way I do, they may nevertheless sense that with GAFCON, the limits that should be there are not there, that something has gone off the rails, something is missing. That recognition is late, but welcome.

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