Monday, October 01, 2007

Trouble in the Anglican Communion

The Anglican Communion, as most people are probably aware, has been in more than usual turmoil recently. I have written a little about this in this month's Parish Magazine . In brief, following the consecration of Gene Robinson, a gay man living in a committed relationship with a same-sex partner, as Bishop of New Hampshire, many Anglicans in other parts of the world, as well as some in the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) have been protesting vehemently. It is an immensely complicated situation, made more difficult by the actions of other provinces of the Anglican church who have now consecrated bishops to minister to congregations in ECUSA who are unhappy about the church's liberal stance on homosexuality. Normally it would be unthinkable for national churches to trespass on the territory of others; while we support each other as members of the Anglican Communion, we also recognise each others' independence.

There are multiple arguments involved; about church government, the interpretation of the Bible, the nature of truth, the nature of unity, and, of course, human sexuality and its expression.
The Anglican church has traditionally been very good at containing a wide variety of opinion and practice (we are the original "broad church"!), but there now seems to be an increasing likelihood of a split, not only between national churches of the Anglican Communion but also within them. There are pressures being brought to bear on church leaders, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, to insist on far tighter control on theological and moral issues, with far more closely defined boundaries of what is acceptable in doctrine and practice than hitherto. Queen Elizabeth I famously said that the Church of England should not be in the business of "making windows into mens' souls". The bitter turmoil of religious dissent had marked her own life and caused immense pain and suffering to her nation. While she tried to unite people into one church, she knew the danger of trying too tightly to define what people believed. The Church of England had been born out of a conviction that theological understanding and practice could and should change over time. The government of the church locally rather than from Rome, the Bible and liturgy in English, the abolition of requirement for clerical celibacy - all these had come in in her own lifetime, and each had aroused fierce controversy which had cost many lives on each side. She knew well that what some call an insistence on maintaining a changeless truth can very easily slip into religious intolerance, with disastrous results for all involved.

Everyone will have their own opinions on the rights and wrongs of the issues involved in this dispute. What matters is that we are all aware of the possible implications of the current situation and the threats to the traditional Anglican values of openness, inclusivity and the willingness to consider changes in doctrine and practice over time. If these are things we value they will also be things we will have to speak up to support in the time that lies ahead.

You can read more from Ekklesia, Thinking Anglicans, or the Church Times.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:33 pm

    I have in the past been an active member of the church of england but over the last few years have felt very out "cinque" with its direction. Therefore I don't know whether I am really entitled to make comment but I read your article with interest and it provoked some considerable thought.As with any family I feel we should be led by example. The whole business of sexuality seems to have been brought to the forefront of so many aspects of our lives, and even young children are now so "aware".I thought about my feelings as a mother if one of my children had announced they were gay.I would'nt like it but I would have to accept it and love them just the same(& their partner)who would become a member of our extended family. I don't really like the thought of children being adopted into gay relationships but having witnessed the adoption procedure first hand(my daughter having recently adopted a sibling group)I realise so many children are in care in this country and surely they are better placed in a loving home than in care. So there are many grey areas. We do have to learn to be liberal in our thinking but I also feel as with any family unit its leadership should try to be strong and wise, its children needing strong quidance.