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