Anglicans Close to Split

This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of others authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

June 19th, 2008

The worldwide Anglican Church has come close to a splitting point. Those branches that reside in industrialized nations are considered far to liberal to be seen as within communion by those who hold sway in the developing world. Led primarily by a handful of conservative bishops in Africa, as much as half of the Anglican communion may sever from the body headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and set out to become a new church.

Although it is quite likely that vastly different cultures play into the friction that may lead to scism, so too does a sharply divergent view of Scripture. Western Anglicans (Britain, Canada, and the Episcopal Church in the United States) view Christianity as a guide to know God and find kinship in social justice, humanitarian efforts, and guidance for living. The Global South are more inclined to see Christianity as the manifestation of God’s divine commandments for a sinful world.

And the issue over which this comes to a head is homosexuality.

Westerners find gay people to be valued children of God who are to be treated with love and equality. The Global South finds gay people to be sinners and to be denounced. Even accepting gay people as equal is considered to be a sinful act and requiring of repentance, not only from God but from those who are offended by equality.

Westerners are not likely to apologize for acting out of social justice. They may have been able to be convinced to slow efforts towards justice but they are not about to repudiate their compassion and love and apologize for it to those who find only judgment and condemnation in the faith.

So there’s a bit of an impasse.

Now it appears to be serious. Led by Peter Akinola, a man who has no use for civil liberties or social equality, the Global South is threatening to break away.

The Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, states in one section: “There is no longer any hope, therefore, for a unified Communion.

“Now we confront a moment of decision.

“If we fail to act, we risk leading millions of people away from the faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures and also, even more seriously, we face the real possibility of denying Our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“We want unity, but not at the cost of relegating Christ to the position of another ‘wise teacher’ who can be obeyed or disobeyed.

“We earnestly desire the healing of our beloved Communion, but not at the cost of re-writing the Bible to accommodate the latest cultural trend.

“We have arrived at a crossroads; it is, for us, the moment of truth.”

He said schism could only be avoided in the unlikely event that churches which tolerate homosexual clergy and same-sex blessings change their ways.

“Repentance and reversal by these North American provinces may yet save our Communion,” the archbishop wrote.

He referred to the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops which takes place next month, as effectively a lame duck event because he and other “orthodox” bishops will not attend.

I suspect that this schism is inevitable. The conservatives are meeting to plan their next steps.

And, though sadly, I believe that it is best in the long (very long) run.

It is my reading that the conservative nations will leave. And that there will be a corresponding split in the United States wherein a handful of churches will leave the Episcopal Church to join with the Global South.

And considering the political history of the Global South bishops, we can expect that this scism will result in rampant corruption and a likely scenario is one in which the power of the church will be used to prop up and support totalitarian or fascist regimes throughout Africa. I, of course, hope that I’m guessing incorrectly.

But once free of consideration for angry foreign Anglicans threatening division, I think that this will allow the Episcopal Church to follow their conscience and champion social justice causes, including the full equality of gay persons in society and the church. And I believe that a freer Anglican Church would change the language around the morality of discrimination.

This potential break is likely to be devastating to those in Christian Africa that are gay, democratically inclined, or theologically liberal. Further, considering the extent to which charity towards the continent is provided by Western Anglicans, this will also undoubtedly bring harm to the sick, poor, and hungry.

But I am hopeful that ultimately it will result in a freer society in the West and in the gradual recovery of lost brotherhood, but this time a brotherhood unhindered by demands of a return to legalism and dogmatism.


June 19th, 2008

In Australia, this issue is playing out in a fascinating way.

Peter Jensen, the anglican archbishop of Sydney is a vigorous anti-gay campaigner, and the Sydney anglicans are very conservative, “bible-based” church-goers.

However the rest of Australia’s anglicans are more closely aligned with the mainstream church. The church controls huge wealth here, and should a split occur, the wealth will stay with the mainstream church. This means that Jensen and his followers will have to choose between the money and their homophobia.

Somehow I can’t see Sydney’s anglican archbishop being forced to preach from a tin shed in the outer suburbs, so I’m backing the money.

There’s a very long but very readable account here.

Ben in Oakland

June 19th, 2008

Sounds like a major power play, with akinola seeing himself as the new pope, or casear marhcing on rome, or some such nonsense. I’m sure homosex has ‘something’ to do with it, but my guess is that it is as much an excuse as it is a cause.


June 20th, 2008

Ben, your observations are pretty perceptive.

Of course, the real interesting thing is that there are enough…colorful personalities in this drama that while Akinola appears to be the leader of this group for the time being, most expect there will be a pretty heated battle for power in this new “Anglican” church post-schism.


June 20th, 2008

And don’t forget trans people, too.

I’m not Anglican, but I love them. While less and less likely, i really hope they remain unified. a schism would be hurtful for everyone and threats of schisming are only saber rattling – you won’t change anyone’s mind and just because the heresy is in another group doesn’t make it go away. it’s another case of Protestant/Essenic isolationism where instead of confronting a challenge they retreat into their own closed communities and pretend that as long as a few people have correct theology then everything is ok.

what saddens me as well is that the foundation of Anglicanism is in fact unity in the face of schism. When England was threatened with being split between Catholics and Protestants, the Anglican Church appeared as a way bring everyone in peacefully. And they don’t have to split now either. unforunately, the Archbishop’s refusal to acknowledge the bishophood of Robinson at Lambeth has shown the administration is no longer interested in dialogue or compromise as it was 400 years ago.


June 24th, 2008

The worldwide Anglican Church has come close to a splitting point.

A quibble:

There is no worldwide Anglican “Church”. There has never been a worldwide Anglican “Church”.

There is a worldwide Anglican Communion of 38 separate, equal and independent national churches. For the first 110 or so years after the the US War of Independence, the Church of England didn’t recognize them because American clergy wouldn’t take oaths to the English Monarch so non-recognition of each other is not new.

These Anglican churches only chose to meet together at international conferences about 120 years ago. The first Lambeth Conference took place in the late 1880s, over 300 years after the establishment of the Church of England and 110 years after the Americans broke off. The Lambeth Conference have issued all kinds of resolutions in the past that would strike us as archaic today: banning the remarriage of an innocent party in an adulterous relationship, banning interracial relationships, banning birth control and banning the reception of communion by anyone who wasn’t confirmed.

I am a lifelong Anglican and never heard anything about the “worldwide Anglican Communion”, nor did anyone seem to care much about the “worldwide Anglican Communion” when I was growing up. This only became part of the vocabulary over the gay issue and it is only so that the anti-gay right-wing, which is a tiny minority in North America, could stack the numbers against the dominant progressive wing.

It is sad that those meetings won’t include everyone, but this is not the first and only time this has happened. It’s just the latest one.

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