Two communions?

Chris Sugden  Evangelicals Now  November 2011

Are we currently seeing at least two Anglican Communions emerge, one led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the other headed by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church based on a different conception of Christian faith?

Members of The Episcopal Church  (TEC) made a presentation at the International Anglican Liturgical Conference at Canterbury in August where they role-played what a blessing of a same-sex union in church would look like.

TEC is courting the Anglican Church in Southern Africa.

The Presiding Bishop of TEC, Katharine Jefferts Schori addressed the Synod of Bishops of ACSA in Johannesburg on 26 and 27 September.  She spoke of the experience of colonialism and the colonial church in North America.  She was asked by the Bishop of Pretoria about consecrating actively gay bishops.  She said it was the in conformity with TEC canons and she was very sorry. She then left for the airport.

Speaking about the colonial history of ECUSA indicates the importance of resisting colonialism.  The Theological Education in the Anglican Communion programme run from the Anglican Consultative Council presents orthodox Anglican theology in Africa as the legacy of colonial theological imposition designed to pacify the natives. Is the implication that TEC is the vanguard of theological independence and liberty now as it was in 1776?

Some in ACSA were offended by this invitation since Katharine Schori has consecrated a Lesbian Bishop, declared Jesus not to be the only Saviour, sold a church to the Muslims rather than to orthodox Anglicans and presides over a process by which orthodox congregations are deprived of their churches and clergy of their livelihoods.

The process of approving Pastoral Guidelines in the Church of Southern Africa for those in same-sex unions has also begun. The Archbishop of Cape Town wrote to his church about “the development of Pastoral Guidelines in relation to the same-gender civil unions for which South African legislation now provides. Following requests to the Bishops for advice in relation to the pastoral care of people in such unions, and their families, the Synod of Bishops has, over several meetings, produced a document reflecting our common mind on this very sensitive issue.”

Here we see, as in the UK, a process by which the law of the state is used by the Church to accept that the fact of same sex couples in parishes changes pastoral policy, while avoiding doctrinal debates and undermining the doctrine of marriage.

Some may ask what is the problem with blessing this expression of love between one person and another?  Surely God is love.  But the question is what is proper and appropriate love, and what is its legitimate expression?

Same-sex partnerships have now become a defining issue for the church. On the one hand is affirmation of the human desire for love and faithfulness in which God is to be seen. This is a contemporary expression of panentheism – “God-in-everything” in which we are to approve of everything that appears to be good.

On the other hand is the need to have an external point of reference by which to judge issues of truth and goodness.  This is witnessed to in the word or text of tradition. We have literally two religions.

The problem we face is that Rowan Williams is trying to hold on to both positions. He is clear on the liberal side but vague about the external point of reference where he needs to have a much higher view of scripture.

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