Defending the Faith

Conservatives face huge obstacles in putting Anglicanism back together.

Timothy C. Morgan in Canterbury and Jerusalem | posted 10/13/2008 08:20AM

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The walls are crumbling and the roof is leaking at Canterbury Cathedral, one of Western Christianity’s most renowned worship spaces. Two years ago, church leaders began to raise £50 million ($100 million) to restore the historic cathedral where Archbishop Thomas Becket was martyred on December 29, 1170.

So far, the cathedral has only raised $15 million. But it is asking individuals to donate as little as $10 per month to sponsor blocks of newly quarried Caen stone, which was used in the original construction. Earlier modern renovations were made with cheaper, less durable stone that quickly eroded. This summer, during the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference for Anglican bishops, attendees could hear the sound of masons hand-sawing and hand-chiseling large blocks outside the cathedral.

Restoring Canterbury Cathedral may prove to be easier than restoring orthodoxy and unity to the 78-million-member Anglican Communion. This summer, global Anglicanism faced enormous controversy over homosexual ordination, same-sex blessings, and ongoing disagreements about ordaining women as priests and bishops. At least 617 of the world’s 880 bishops attended Lambeth at the University of Kent, about two miles from the cathedral. Though not invited to Lambeth, Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson, an actively homosexual bishop whose 2003 consecration drew a firestorm of criticism, was on campus to meet with top Anglicans, as were many other gay activists.

But some 230 bishops, mostly from Africa, declined the invitation of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to attend Lambeth. Instead, conservatives rallied about 1,200 bishops, pastors, and lay leaders in Jerusalem for the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON).

Archbishop of Uganda Henry Orombi, a leading conservative, explained in the London Times, “We believe that our absence at this Lambeth Conference is the only way that our voice will be heard. For more than ten years we have been speaking and have not been heard. So maybe our absence will speak louder than our words.”

Both conferences issued statements. Lambeth released 44 pages of the bishops’ often-contradictory theological reflections, which resulted from daily small-group discussions. Williams also reaffirmed three prohibitions: no more gay bishops, no more public, wedding-like services for same-sex couples, and no more boundary crossing by bishops to provide sanctuary for conservative dissidents. At GAFCON, leaders issued the four-page Jerusalem Declaration. That document condemned as a “false gospel” any church teaching that would undermine the authority of Scripture or the uniqueness of Christ, or that would normalize homosexual relationships. The declaration called for the creation of a new advisory body (Primates Council) to return Anglicanism to its orthodox roots, and launched the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans to organize conservatives. Orombi publicly read the declaration, reciting this line twice: “Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion.”

A Humpty Dumpty Moment

With a formal schism rejected, conservatives face enormous obstacles, including many internal differences over strategy for their ultimate goal of reunifying global Anglicanism without establishing a rival global body.

A key figure in this process is Archbishop of the Southern Cone Gregory Venables, based in Argentina. Alongside African archbishops, he has given refuge to bishops, clergy, and individual churches resisting litigation and censure by the left-leaning Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Typically optimistic, Venables realizes Anglicanism can never be the same. “I hope there is a way we can remain as Anglicans together,” he told Anglicantv.org. “Whatever is coming up will look very different. The toothpaste has been squeezed out of the tube and I don’t think we can put it back. We are not going to be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

As global Anglicanism has fractured, four major divisions, each having one or more subdivisions, have emerged:

• Liberals: The Left views normalizing homosexuality in the church as part of its global “prophetic witness for full inclusion.” But liberals have subdivided into a moderate group that is willing to abide by the three prohibitions for the time being, and another, more hard-line group that wishes to press forward with more gay ordinations and same-sex blessings.

• Evangelicals: Globally, evangelicals represent the largest segment of active churchgoers in the Anglican Communion. The two most distinctive subgroups are the charismatic movement and the confessing movement. Charismatic leaders invoke the East African Revival as a model for renewal and often affirm the ordination of women. The confessing movement focuses on doc-trinal renewal, drawing on the English Reformation. Many Reformed Anglicans do not support women’s ordination, but they are typically willing to be in communion with evangelicals who support it.

• Anglo-Catholics: These leaders are most evident in the Church of England. Earlier this year, 1,400 or more priests and bishops resisted the Church of England’s vote to permit women bishops. The most significant division between Anglo-Catholics concerns relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Many, but not all, Anglo-Catholics support full communion with Rome.

• Institutional loyalists: Also described as pragmatic traditionalists, loyalists compose the smallest group. They are scholars, bishops, and agency leaders who often hold high-ranking positions in seminaries, commissions, and councils. Some lean left; others lean right. But they are very attached to Anglican traditions and middle-of-the-road, process-driven decision making.

In working with these different groups, Archbishop Williams faces a politically impossible task. All but the loyalists are dissatisfied with his leadership. Williams personally supports inclusion of monogamous homosexual couples, as recently revealed in private correspondence leaked by a therapist to the British media and written before Williams became archbishop. But as a global leader, he affirms the church’s historic doctrine. During the Church of England’s summer synod, Williams attempted, but failed, to create safeguards for traditionalists who support an all-male priesthood. At the end of Lambeth, Williams cheered evangelicals with his public criticism of the church’s left wing. Yet he has not called for a specific penalty for bishops or priests who ordain gays or bless same-sex unions.

The Next 12 Months

Throughout the next 12 months, conservative Anglicans will face many tests of strength as they attempt to rebuild Anglican identity on the authority of Scripture and Anglicanism’s historic creeds and teachings. The biggest division between conservatives concerns strategy. Inside strategists favor using the so-called Windsor Process. Outside strategists support creating new structures to reform Anglicanism.

A key test occurs this month when Episcopal Church bishops are likely to initiate the removal of Robert Duncan as Bishop of Pittsburgh. Along with four other conservative bishops, Duncan is seeking to remove his diocese from the Episcopal Church. Outside strategists hope to create a new orthodox Anglican province for North America. The two-fold goal for conservatives is to preserve orthodoxy within their dioceses and to isolate the Episcopal Left.

Next year, leaders will meet to debate the Anglican Covenant. Inside strategist conservatives hope this document will reestablish doctrinal orthodoxy, place clearer limits on church autonomy, and detail the church’s joint mission and provisions for resolving disputes.

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