2014: The beginning of facilitated schism?

By Andrew Symes

Happy New Year! As we look forward to the months ahead, we want to wish each other all the best, to recall God’s intention to bless and not to harm, to hope for prosperity and well-being. Surely we hope and pray the same for the Church of England – the message of the Gospel touching more and more people, spiritual growth among those who are already churchgoers, and above all unity, an end to the conflicts over sexuality. Wouldn’t it be Scrooge-like in the extreme to say the opposite: the best thing for the Church of England in 2014 might be a split? The beginning of a facilitated conversation… to negotiate an orderly separation?
I need to say that this is not a policy statement for Anglican Mainstream or any other grouping. It is thinking out loud in a personal capacity. In a recent piece I noted how some Bishops are thinking: keeping the church together is paramount, and unity is dependent on the idea that all views are valid as long as they are sincerely held and peacefully expressed. But there is evidence that another view is emerging. One Bishop, writing recently to a clergyman in response to concerns about the Pilling Report, speaks of:
wrestling with the question of what you do when you and your fellow Christians differ radically from each other on ethical questions.  Do you walk apart or do you work at how to stay together?
Might it be possible that a Happy New Year in the Church of England might see, as this Bishop sees, an honest recognition that the differences over sexuality and underlying doctrinal and philosophical systems are so great that we need to at least talk about separating? Could it be a good thing to walk apart, rather than perpetuating the fiction that we all really believe the same things? And in doing so, could this be done peacefully, with justice, fairness and mutual respect, recognizing that there are still many areas of common interest, such as good administration of buildings insurance and clergy pensions, care for the poor and vulnerable, and the need to preserve the proclamation of the Christian story in society even though we might interpret it differently?
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