Thursday, 29 January 2004

Canterbury under siege

Last week, The Tablet published an article by Stephen Bates under this title.
The full text of this has now been added to the Tablet website, and can be found here. This article includes many details of how English conservative evangelicals are involved in these plots. Some key extracts:

Many ironies resound around the debate about the future of the Communion. English conservative evangelicals, who could never stomach the idea of a pope and Curia - forms of authority which are indeed inimical to the whole Anglican tradition - are calling for the imposition of some form of centralised authority within a traditionally autonomous Church. This, they believe, would discipline provinces that step out of line doctrinally. By this, of course, they mean provinces that don’t toe their particular line, as on homosexuality - for this is a debate about authority and political power more than sexual practice.
This authority, as they perceive it, is far too precious to be entrusted to one man, particularly someone like Rowan Williams, so an executive body can decide what is right. As Maurice Sinclair, the evangelical former Archbishop of the Southern Cone, the archdiocese [should read province] which stretches from Peru to Tierra del Fuego but yet contains only 22,000 Anglicans, has argued: “Some light-handed but wise-headed supervision of a collegial nature would do us all good. Authority in the Anglican Communion would continue to be distributed authority but it would gain the necessary coherence we cannot afford to be merely a loose federation or a separating family.”

What the American traditionalists say they want is alternative - or adequate - episcopal oversight: the ability to call in like-minded bishops to supplant the authority of those diocesans with whom they have fallen out, probably because the bishop supported Robinson’s consecration. This has its precedent in the Church of England where a decade ago parishes which could not approve the decision to ordain women could opt for like-minded flying bishops.
Thus was the pass of episcopal authority sold as a short-term expedient. But why should such a precedent be limited to women’s ordination? If you don’t like this bishop, choose another. This is congregationalism that some militant conservatives in the pressure group Reform would endorse.

Money from Ahmanson’s foundation has been channelled to at least one English evangelical organisation, the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, whose leadership has been active in stirring dissent in the Anglican Communion during the current crisis.

In the US, the traditionalists believe they are a persecuted minority, prey to liberal bishops. In England, by contrast, the conservative evangelicals, with whom the Americans might otherwise have little in common in terms of forms of worship, believe that they are on a rising tide in a numerically declining Church and that their views should prevail.
Some are still not reconciled to Rowan Williams as their archbishop. When he was invited, after some agonising, last September to lead prayers at the evangelical national congress in Blackpool, the organisers set aside a separate room so that those who could not bear to be in the same room as the leader of their Church - even while he prayed - could maintain their pristine consciences. Even though he forced his old friend Jeffrey John, the gay but celibate canon theologian of Southwark, to resign from his appointment as suffragan Bishop of Reading last summer - an appointment Williams had earlier endorsed - he is still not entirely trusted by the militants.
They want to push him further, or tell him to get out of the way. At a conference held with the American conservatives in Charleston, South Carolina on 8-9 January, the traditionalist leaders were making clear the archbishop had to choose to back them or be cast into outer darkness. The Revd Chris Green, vice-principal of the highly evangelical Oak Hill Theological College in north London - and one of those who organised the Blackpool conference - told the Americans: “There are very senior figures among evangelical circles in Great Britain who would like to say to you: ‘Elect your own presiding bishop and force Rowan Williams to choose’.”
One of his colleagues, the Revd Peter Walker of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, spoke of a growing archway of interest between Anglicans of the global south and northern conservatives, becoming stronger every day regardless of any future involvement by the archbishop: “This is the picture I have in mind. The question is whether Canterbury will be the keystone of the arch or will be left out.”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 29 January 2004 at 11:19 PM GMT | TrackBack
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Hi, Simon,

Thanks for the link to Bates’s article in the Tablet. Interesting stuff! What I always find a bit strange about his treatment of Anglican matters, even in this article in the religious press, is the absence of any consideration of possible reasons why homosexuality seems to bother a far wider range of Anglicans in the States than it does over here. He doesn’t elaborate on his remark about the clash between the (presumably mildly “high”) liturgical practice of the Yanks and the support of English evangelicals. I think that I’m probably a bog-standard English spike - nominally against gay marriage or the consecration of “open and notorious” homosexuals, but not terribly exercised about it and completely supportive of gay rights in the secular sphere (e.g. as a union rep). I wonder if nobody like me exists in ECUSA!

Alan Harrison

Posted by: Alan Harrison at February 2, 2004 05:09 PM