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Austen IvereighJuly 22, 2009

Only days after the the Episcopal Church (TEC) at Anaheim. Calif., defied the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference by agreeing to resume gay blessings and consecrations of actively gay bishops -- read MSW here -- comes news that 34 American bishops have defied the defiers. The rebels have issued a "letter of dissent" from the decisions taken at Anaheim and say they agree to the moratoriums and to the Covenant process agreed at last year's Lambeth conference of Anglican bishops worldwide.

Lost already? Here's a quick recap of the slow-mo train crash that is the Anglican crisis:

In 2003, the North-American Episcopalians (now called TEC) -- membership: 2m -- consecrated Gene Robinson, a divorced man in a civil partnership with another man, as bishop, against the express wishes of the 38 Anglican primates, or heads of provinces. This precipitated a long-simmering crisis over homosexuality within the Anglican Communion (membership: 80m).

  • The developing-world Anglican churches demanded that TEC be disciplined. The Archbishop of Canterbury calmed the crisis by appointing a commission to suggest how Anglican unity could be strengthened. The Eames Commission produced the Windsor Report (2004), which laid out two conditions for TEC remaining in the fold: the Church should not ordain more gay bishops, and should desist from approving same-sex blessings. In 2006, TEC agreed to these moratoriums.
  • Although Gene Robinson was not invited to last year's Lambeth Conference, the once-in-a-decade meeting of Anglican bishops worldwide, TEC was. This was unacceptable to 280 developing-world bishops (about a third of the total), who boycotted the Lambeth Conference, and set up their own parallel Communion, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA), which does not recognise the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Dr Williams persuaded the delegates at Lambeth to agree to a process leading towards a Covenant, which is the beginnings of a Catholic-style ecclesiogy of communion, but without "papal powers". It will involve some degree of agreement on doctrinal questions.
  • Last week, at Anaheim, the bishops at the TEC Episcopal General Convention voted 104-30 to develop liturgies for blessing same-sex relationships, while the motion to allow the consecration of gay bishops passed 99-45.

Quite what was actually decided in the Los Angeles suburb is a matter of dispute  -- especially among those who were there. But it's clear that TEC's commitment to maintaining the moratoriums is over. Writing recently in the Guardian, Jim Naughton, canon for communications at the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, saw last week’s vote as a chance finally to “push back” what he calls Dr Williams’s “centralising agenda” and his attempt to impose “a single-issue magisterium on the issue of homosexuality”. This piece at Episcopal Cafe offers a fascinating example of just how strong in parts of the TEC is its  anti-Catholic prejudice: Dr Williams's efforts are seen as "Romanesque" and examples of "Catholic authoritarianism". 

Yet "there are many American Episcopalians, inside and outside the present TEC, who are eager to sign the proposed Covenant," writes the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright -- and the dissenters' letter bears this out. Bishop Wright adds that their "aspiration must be honoured" -- implying that those in TEC who did not vote for abrogating the moratoriums should be in some way recognised by Canterbury.

So we now have the prospect of Canterbury recognising those in the TEC who agree with the Covenant, and not those that don't. That split adds to the other between TEC and the breakaway conservatives in the Anglican Church of North America (membership: 100,000) which is seeking recognition from Canterbury.

The point is, "schism" is not the right word for what is happening. A schism refers to a part of the Christian body separating from another. But the TEC is insufficiently united in itself to break away from the wider Anglican Church; and the Anglican Communion is insufficiently united to constitute something that can be broken away from.

It's much more complex, and messy, than schism. It's full-on balkanisation.

But out of chaos, order is emerging. Anglicans are splitting into two camps: a core of Anglicans -- those committed to the Covenant process -- are coming closer together, under Dr Williams's leadership, while the rest are spinning away from Canterbury and from each other.

The real split is not over homosexuality but between "Catholics" and "Protestants", the key historic tension within Anglicanism. The fissures do not run cleanly between provinces and churches, as the Anaheim rebels show. But this crisis is forcing people to choose. This is the real division: between those who believe in a Catholic ecclesiology and those who do not.

The "Protestants" -- divided between liberals and conservative evangelicals, in radical disagreement over homosexuality, as over much else  -- cannot, by definition, come together, and will continue to fragment, leaving the "Covenant" Anglicans to come together around a firmer, more Catholic ecclesiology. Within the "Catholic" camp there will remain strong disagreements over homosexuality, but those are less important than the shared conception of Church.

Rome, of course, is firmly behind Dr Williams and the Covenant process: they know that at the end of it there is the prospect of an Anglican Church they can seek unity with. It'll be a lot smaller, necessarily, than the current Anglican Communion. But the prospects of unity will at last be real. It'll take years; maybe none of us will see it in our lifetimes. But my bet is that the before the end of Dr Williams' term the foundations for Catholic-Anglican unity will have been laid  -- even as he is depicted as having helplessly overseen the disintegration of the Anglican Communion.

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15 years ago
It's interesting to watch this take place once again in history.  It makes me thankful to have the Pope and the Magesterium.  The simple fact is, when you reject these pillars of unity, you split and schism.  This is why we have tens of thousands of Protestant denomenations out there.
Likewise, you see the Pius X folks splitting all the time into increasingly conservative branches.  The bottom line is, stay in the Church and, when reform is necessary, do it from within.  Otherwise you end up with messes like this to which there is no real solution.
15 years ago
Thank you for this most interesting analysis and "heads up" about what is going on with the Anglicans. I just want to make one small comment of interest - when I was in Africa some years ago I recall an Anglican bishop (my memory is fading so could have been a Methodist) related to the group I was with (as an aid to our understanding the culture) that the priests of the diocese decided not to preach to the people about adultry being wrong as that would seem hypocritical as almost all of them had sexual liaisons on the side!
15 years ago
I think you are spot on.  As a Catholic Anglican, I hope the result is something like you're describing
15 years ago
One wonders how many of the people in Catholic pews, and even some Catholic religious, are hoping that the TEC does well.
As time goes on and attitudes about homosexuality change in both the US and abroad, one wonders what will happen to the Church.  Certainly the Anglican balkinization will bring issues of Catholicism to the forefront and provide lessons to both duplicate and avoid.  it will certainly be interesting to watch, especially as certain generations age out of leadership.
15 years ago
This piece at Episcopal Cafe offers little about TEC, because it was written by me, and I live south of the River Humber from Hull, and write in my own perspective. You will find that Anglican Catholics are also divided, and the traditionalists are on the way out, and those to be left in Anglicanism are hardly Rome orientated.
15 years ago
Two Comments:
"comes news that 34 American bishops have defied the defiers. The rebels have issued a "letter of dissent" from the decisions taken at Anaheim and say they agree to the moratoriums and to the Covenant process agreed at last year's Lambeth conference of Anglican bishops worldwide."
The fact of the matter is that the 'dissenter' who spoke clearly and openly against the resolutions during GC were few in number.  They spoke against the ordination of those pursuing active homosexuality and they spoke against same sex blessings.  These included bishops such as +s Lawrence and Howe.  When they stated openly that they wanted to remain in the AC and wanted to be an integral part of the Anglican Covenant, a number of other bishops signed in with them.  What is very troubling is that these included not only a few of the more moderate bishops but bishops such as Grey, Howard, and the bishop of Puerto Rico (whose name eludes me).  Those three bishops and several others  not only voted yes and yes and yes to the liberal and homosexual agenda but have a reputation for extreme persecution against orthodox priests in their dioceses.  All of them have deposed many orthodox priests.  How can they, in good conscience, join the covenant bandwagon.  They are hypocrites.
2. The real split is not between catholics and protestants.  It is almost exclusively between those who have departed from the fundamentals of the Christian Faith (cf. the opening remarks at GC by the Presiding Bishop) and who have promoted the homoerotic agenda and those who wish to remain orthodox, following the scriptures as given to us by God.  These include the evangelical camp and Anglo-Catholics.  ACNA is a province comprised of Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals.  They are held together by the common and fundamental beliefs of the Christian Faith.  At some time in the future they will have to look hard at the most tendentious issues between them such as Women's Ordination.  But those as the true groupings that are dividing TEC (and other TEC subject provinces) from most of the rest of the communion.
15 years ago
Jesus dined with all people.

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