Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Unraveling of the Anglican Communion

For some time now -- ever since ECUSA's unilateral decision to consecrate V. Gene Robinson as a bishop -- the Anglican Communion has been unraveling, but since it was such a loosely based agglomeration of churches to begin with, hardly no one has noticed. And yet, there were warnings aplenty.

From the October 2003 statement of the Primates who gathered specially in London before the consecration scheduled for November:
If [V. Gene Robinson's] consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level ...
From the Windsor Report of a year later:
In terms of the wider Communion, and our wider relationships with a number of key ecumenical partners, the consecration [of V. Gene Robinson] has had very prejudicial consequences. In our view, those involved did not pay due regard, in the way they might and, in our view, should have done, to the wider implications of the decisions they were making and the actions they were taking....
There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart.
From the statement issued by the Primates meeting at Dromantine in February 2005:
Whilst there remains a very real question about whether the North American churches are willing to accept the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion, the underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity is obscured, and the effectiveness of our common mission severely hindered.
From the statement issued by the Primates meeting at Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania) in February 2007:
The response of The Episcopal Church to the requests made at Dromantine has not persuaded this meeting that we are yet in a position to recognise that The Episcopal Church has mended its broken relationships... We are deeply concerned that so great has been the estrangement between some of the faithful and The Episcopal Church that this has led to recrimination, hostility and even to disputes in the civil courts....
The strained attempts by the collected Primates to hold on to unity took two directions after the Tanzania gathering: on the one hand, they placed their hopes in a new Anglican Covenant; and on the other, they tried to establish arrangements for alternative pastoral oversight within the divided churches of Canada and the United States. Both attempts came to naught.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was unable and unwilling to do what was necessary to save either of the two initiatives. Consequently, the bishops of ECUSA (who received their invitations to Lambeth as though nothing had happened) had no motivation to change course. Indeed, the latter were only too willing to see the Primates' efforts fail, without their having to do anything overt to torpedo them. And Lambeth itself was both a collegial dud (thanks to the imposed but phony indaba gimmick) and a financial disaster.

By 2008 the hostility and disputes inside ECUSA spilled over into the uncanonical depositions of four orthodox bishops -- three of them diocesan (+Schofield, +Duncan and +Iker). The lawsuits picked up in earnest, and largely remain unabated to this day. These blatantly illegal actions by the new Presiding Bishop of ECUSA directly brought about the formation of what in time became the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). The division of ECUSA was now formal -- even if most of those whose actions had led to it refused to recognize what had happened.

Dr. Williams' dithering over Lambeth, ECUSA's thumbing its nose at him over pastoral oversight, and its continued actions against dissident bishops and clergy, greatly widened the fractures in the Anglican Communion. Over three hundred bishops from African denominations refused to attend Lambeth, and a number of the Global South primates announced GAFCON's first gathering, timed to take place before Lambeth 2008 even convened. The division within the Anglican Communion was now formal, even though again most refused to recognize what was happening.

After the events of 2008 within ECUSA, there was no longer any reason for the revisionists in ECUSA to hold back in the slightest. The 2009 refusal by bishops in ECUSA to honor a moratorium on further confirmations to the episcopate of priests in same-sex partnerships wrote finis to the career of Dr. Rowan Williams as the Archbishop of Canterbury. He had made a personal plea to General Convention not to proceed with the approval of the elections of two lesbian-partnered women to the episcopate, which that body spurned (one could say: contemptuously).

The broken Communion limped along, with all pretenses of unity ringing hollow. The seventh and last meeting of the Primates was a total failure to heal the splits within the Communion in January 2011. The paper on the "purpose of the Primates Meeting" adopted at its conclusion now reads rather plaintively in light of the widening fissures. The new Archbishop has not even bothered to try to resurrect the body, which is now irrevocably sundered.

General Convention 2012 completed the dismantling of the Windsor Report by formally (and again, uncanonically) licensing bishops to authorize same-sex blessings within their jurisdictions. Rowan Williams resigned as Archbishop as of the end of the year. His replacement, while listening to the alienated primates, has been unable to reverse the causes of their alienation, and indeed, has only added to them with the recent moves by the Church of England to authorize same-sex (but theoretically celibate) partnerships between clergy.

In short, the Windsor Report's much-touted "Instruments of Unity" have failed to fulfill their calling. The Lambeth Conference, after the precedent set in 2008, has no further Communion-wide purpose, and the Church of England will probably not agree to finance it again. The Archbishop of Canterbury has lost all his stature within the Communion, and is now having trouble even keeping the Church of England together. The Primates Meeting is dead. And the crevasses that have opened wide in the Communion have rendered the Anglican Consultative Council into a meaningless gathering for futile debates and pursuits -- much like Jonathan Swift's Academy of Lagado.

From 2003 to 2013 -- it took just ten years for ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada to unravel the Anglican Communion. Which fact goes to show how loosely knit it was in the first place: the rebellion against papal authority which began the movement replaced that authority with the English monarchy -- but its Erastianism could not be imposed upon the branches which the Church began to found in other countries. Those branches came to view themselves as autonomous, and none more so than the Americans, who had to fight the English for their freedom.

Yes, Americans had to fight the English, but not for their religious freedom as Anglicans. England instead fully cooperated in establishing apostolic succession in the branch that would bring about the Communion's unraveling, just 225 years later. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York who ordained the first American bishops did so on the latter's promise that "We are unanimous and explicit in assuring your Lordships, that we neither have departed, nor propose to depart from the doctrines of your Church. . . ." (see this post for more details).

So much for promises. ECUSA is now part of only one-fourth of a Communion, while the vast majority of persons who call themselves "Anglicans" are part of the other three-quarters. The Archbishop of Canterbury has cast his lot with ECUSA, as have those denominations which depend on ECUSA for financial support.

Money, however, cannot a Communion make. Instead, as ECUSA's wealth grew exponentially from the 19th to the 20th century, we must now conclude that with greater wealth came greater  irresponsibility -- just as it did with all the great and wealthy families of the world. Money, indeed, has unmade a Communion.

Meanwhile, ECUSA continues blithely along, acting as though nothing of moment has happened.

And of course, since in its own collective mind it is not responsible for anything, then of course nothing has happened.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.


  1. Only Jesus can restore sight to the blind.

    "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free," Luke 4:18

  2. Perhaps the best, "happy issue' resulting from the wreckage caused by Episcopal-Anglican wanderings from steering a wise course over many years now will be truly effective efforts in achieving some real organic unity of Christian groups of many stripes than what has been offered by earlier Anglican Communion efforts. What I foresee relatively soon is substantial and organic church unity among conservative denominations of many differing backgrounds (and there may also be an accompanying realignment involving liberal denominations whose membership numbers have been significantly small for a long time). Ar unity of conservative denominations has been a logical thing for some time but has largely not occurred because the status quo was simply more acceptable and comfortable than overcoming practical and theological difficulties related to achieving unity. Given recent cultural and legal developments that should be expected to continue, a unity of conservative Christian denominations will be highly appealing to large numbers of conservative Christians and the path to achieving that unity could surprisingly be easier to tread than has been imagined. .

  3. It's worth reading

  4. History from the perspective of tradition will not look kindly on befuddled, amiable +Rowan, who should have met Griswold and Schori at his door and politely told them goodbye and have a safe flight back. And don't bother booking for Lambeth. "There is a tide in the affairs of men..." but Rowan was just not that kind of man.

    Of course, this would require--in addition to some fire in Rowan's belly--a staunchly traditionalist hierarchy with the full support of the monarch, which hasn't been the case for some time now.

    I moved on to the Antiochian Orthodox, pausing on occasion to think what might have been.

  5. One could take a few ganders at the Eastern Orthodox, who countenance several 'gay' bishops and others of their ilk, but who subscribe to the same testaments of faith that make them 'Orthodox'. Even serial sins of the flesh do not prevent 'Orthodoxy' in faith, only repentance, perhaps countlessly, is necessary, as long as one believes the truth of the 'Orthodox Faith'. That is saves us in the end, true belief and true repentance, and only God and one's confessor knows the latter.
    Jim of Olym

  6. Anti-Gnostic, I have declined to publish your comment in reply to Auriel Ragmon because, while his strayed from the topic, yours would take the thread completely off-topic. I suggest that you contact Auriel Ragmon directly at his blog, and put your question to him. Meanwhile, I ask that future comments adhere to the thread of the post -- thanks.

  7. My moderating of comments now has to extend to williamp, who also wants to respond to Auriel Ragmon's remarks about gay Orthodox bishops above. May I remind all who want to comment on the post: the topic is the unraveling of the Anglican Communion (in which the LGBT movement played a definite role, to be sure), and not gay tendencies in other denominations.

  8. Replies
    1. To Milton and our host:
      Yes! It is comforting to your flock to have at least often, if not frequent, of your commentary. And further, again "yes!", keep us...especially this writer on topic. This should be at the very least a blog-area centred around things that spread out from the actions of Henry VIII and the subsequent flow of the currents of Orthodoxy from that point. That is still a very large body of thought, and with no particular humility, possibly the most important area of study and inspiration since the 1600s.
      After my three required readings (so as to understand to the best of my ability) of our leader's most recent entry into his blog, my agreement with each of his points is total.

      El Gringo Viejo